§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am glad that the first opportunity I have had of addressing the House on behalf of my noble Friend the Minister of Power should be in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which is designed to deal with what is commonly considered to be a number of injustices.
I think that the principles on which the Bill is based will commend themselves fairly widely throughout the House. No doubt we may have arguments on detail both on Second Reading and in Committee, but I believe that there is general agreement that on the question of damage caused by mining subsidence there is need for a Measure of this character, which is designed to extend the principle of compensation to those affected—be they private individuals, local authorities or public undertakings—more widely than at present.
I am acutely aware that this is an extremely complicated and difficult subject, to which I must confess I have come only very recently, whereas I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have studied it for a long time and are fully aware of the intricacies of the problem. I hope that I shall be forgiven for the obvious inadequacies of my knowledge on the subject, but I shall try to explain why the Bill has been introduced and the main effects of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power, who has had long experience of these matters, in winding up the debate, will deal with the many points which I have no doubt hon. Members on both sides will wish to raise about the effects of the Bill.
Subsidence, with a short "i", or with a long "i"—I do not know which it is; and so far as I know both pronunciations are acceptable and will be used indiscriminately—has always been an inherent result of mining activities. If we remove coal from under the surface of the land 1179 the surface is bound to fall. I understand that when the fall of the surface is fairly evenly distributed over a large area, damage should not necessarily be serious, but it is because of the unevenness of the subsidence and movement of stresses horizontally through the soil that damage occurs. It seems quite impossible to avoid all subsidence damage in the working of coal. It can only be done, I understand, by sterilising large quantities of our coal deposits to a degree which would not be acceptable when we so much need all the coal we can win.
I believe that there are methods of reducing the extent of the damage. Harmonic working can help in some circumstances to reduce the amount of damage, but that has technical limitations and can be applied only to relatively small areas. I believe that power stowing can be used to reduce subsidence damage, but, there again, there are technical considerations and, in any case, the cost of power stowing may be as much as 20s. a ton, which cannot be acceptable in more than a certain limited number of circumstances. Therefore, we have to accept, even with all modern knowledge—here I speak subject to correction by hon. Members who understand these things from practical experience—that subsidence can only be limited to a very defined extent by modern methods of mining.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but we had better correct him on one point. He said that stowing costs 20s. a ton, but a recent estimate was 6s. a ton.
§ Mr. Maudling
The estimate with which I was furnished came, I think, from the National Coal Board, but I do not wish to be dogmatic about it.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
The evidence of the Coal Board before the Turner Committee was that the cost was 4s. to 6s. a ton.
§ Mr. Maudling
Perhaps we may have further discussion, but the figure quoted to me was 20s. a ton. In any case, we can agree that mining will cause subsidence.
As I understand it, therefore, the problem has always been how to give the owners of property, be they individuals 1180 or local authorities, proper protection and the right of support and proper rights of compensation if their land is damaged, while at the same time not imposing restrictions on the mining of coal which would be unacceptable. The legislation which has been introduced has always been designed to hold the balance between proper rights of support and compensation, on the one hand, and the importance of mining coal, on the other hand.
Perhaps I may start by saying a word or two about the law of support. The common law position is that whoever owns the surface of the land is entitled, unless he signs his rights away, to have his land supported; and he owns all the underground strata right to the centre of the globe, wherever that may be. He is also entitled by common law to have his land supported and not to have it undermined by operations by others owning contiguous areas of land. That is the basic common law principle.
In the course of time a number of statutory provisions have been introduced, some designed to protect the position of the owner of the surface and some designed to facilitate the working of coal. The mining codes, for example, give local authorities, public undertakings and railways rights to prevent the working of coal in certain circumstances on payment of compensation. The town and country planning legislation which right hon. Gentlemen opposite introduced gives local authorities the power, by planning legislation, to protect key points, because coal mining now has to be subject to planning permission.
On the other hand, to prevent the sterilisation of an unacceptable amount of the nation's coal, the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923, gave coal producers the right of access to the High Court when they could not obtain working rights by normal private agreement. Over a period, the common law position about the rights of support has been considerably modified, both from the point of view of the owner of the land and the point of view of the person who wishes to work the coal lying under the land.
The Turner Committee, which was set up in 1947 and which studied these matters with very great care and in considerable detail, recommended quite 1181 sweeping changes in the law of support and, in particular, recommended that existing rights of support should be taken away from people, I think without compensation, and, also, that support should depend in future upon a schedule of key points of national importance which should be protected—a schedule which should be drawn upon the authority of the central Government.
The Government do not accept that that is the right way of operating the law of support. We do not think it would be right to extinguish rights of support which often have been acquired by their owners at a high price to themselves—and properly acquired. We also feel that since the Turner Committee reported there has been a good deal more evidence of the working of the town and country planning legislation, and our impression is that that legislation is working very well and provides the local authorities with the necessary powers to insist on support where this is necessary.
Finally, we think that it is most important that the determination of the areas which should be given the right of support should be left in the hands of the local authorities and should not he determined by some central, national authority. For all those reasons we did not feel that in introducing this Measure we should make any amendment in the existing law of support, because our belief is that in practice it is working very satisfactorily.
The next question, and the question with which the Bill is primarily concerned, is that of compensation for the owners of surface rights when their buildings and structures are damaged as a result of subsidence. As I said, the owner of property, the owner of land, is entitled to have his land supported, and he is entitled to compensation if that support is withdrawn. But he can, of course, by contract dispose of those rights. He can give a lease to a mining operator either on the basis that he is compensated when a subsidence occurs or on the basis that he is compensated in advance; in other words, in the latter case, he lets his lease on terms whereby he gets a higher payment initially and has himself to carry the cost of the subsidence which may or may not take place later.
1182 As I understand, it is because of this difference that the present legal con-fusion and the present sense of injustice has largely arisen, for in many properties there is still a right to compensation for subsidence damage but in many other properties the right to compensation was signed away by previous owners, very often generations or even hundreds of years ago. The whole legal position has become extremely confused and extremely difficult to know with any certainty. There is a patchwork quilt of varying rights in mining areas which gives a great appearance of injustice between one man and another.
On this matter I should like to quote one or two remarks of the Turner Committee which seem to me to express the position extremely well. The Committee says, in paragraph 12 of its Report:…it remains no less true today that the result of these statutory and contractual encroachments has been to create an illogical and chaotic state of the law affecting specific properties and types of property. Out of this chaos has grown much of that real sense of grievance and unnecessary hardship which has led to the appointment of this Committee.The Committee also said:It also results in an uneven patchwork of surface rights which may well give the appearance of injustice even where none in fact exists. This appearance may well be intensified by the fact, fully attested by evidence, that it is only rarely that differences in the degree of protection enjoyed by surface properties are reflected in the price which has to be paid for them.I suggest that that description by the Turner Committee is extremely apt and is the whole justification for this Measure.
The Committee recommended on this point that every surface interest should be compensated for subsidence damage caused by the working of coal. That wide general recommendation, which was designed to clear up the whole problem of subsidence damage and to get away from this feeling of injustice, involved two new departures. First, it involved giving to local authorities rights of compensation for damage to pipes, drains and things of that kind, where, up till then, in many cases there had been no such right of compensation. Secondly, it involved declaring the principle that house owners and office and shop owners should be entitled to compensation for subsidence damage even in cases where previous owners of the property, as part of their agreement with the mining 1183 operators, had signed away any such right to compensation.
That, as I understand, was the recommendation of the Turner Committee. We should, first, consider whether this was a just recommendation and whether in principle it was right to say that, despite the fact that previous owners of a piece of land had signed away, for a consideration, their right to compensation for subsidence damage, nevertheless the present owners of the land should be entitled to be compensated if their property were damaged.
I think it will be the general feeling of the House that the principle enunciated by the Turner Committee is a just principle and that there is now such a widespread feeling of injustice on the wholly arbitrary incidence of damage and loss between individuals in some coal mining areas that the only way to clear the matter up is to accept the principle of universal compensation for the damage caused by subsidence.
This principle was accepted by the Labour Government when they received the Turner Committee's Report, but when they came to legislation they felt at the time that they should confine their legislation to small dwelling houses; and in the Act of 1950 there was established the principle that for all small dwelling houses—which, I understand, means the overwhelming majority of ordinary houses in these areas—compensation was payable when subsidence damage was caused, whether or not in the past the owners of the house or land on which it stood had or had not signed away their rights to compensation. That was the principle relating to dwelling-houses set out in the 1950 Act. The principle purpose of this Bill is to extend that principle to other forms of property; in particular, to local authority property, shops, offices, industrial buildings, and farmers.
I have taken the three categories roughly in order of the amount of money which will be involved. It has been estimated that the rough cost of this Measure will be about £5 million a year, though I must say that that estimate I put forward with the greatest possible caution, because one cannot be certain. It might well be that some consider the estimate excessive, while others might argue that 1184 it is too low. The best figure that I can obtain from those who have advised me is that, of the £5 million, the largest share will go to local authorities in respect of damage to their property and, in particular, to their service pipes, sewers, drains, etc. Next in order come shops, offices and industrial premises; and the third category, and quite a large sum is involved, relates to compensation to farmers, who do not at present have any right to compensation.
Therefore, this Bill is primarily an attempt to extend to a very wide range of property the principle of universal compensation, regardless of contractual right to compensation, which was applied to dwelling-houses by the 1950 Act. Whatever argument there may be about certain details, I hope that that principle will commend itself to the House today.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why churches and chapels are not included?
§ Mr. Maudling
All buildings and structures are included. I was merely giving the categories of those who would probably be the largest financial beneficiaries; but, certainly, this Act applies, as Clause 1 shows, to all buildings and structures.
I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I run briefly through the main provisions of the Bill. The most important Clause is Clause 1, which defines the properties that are covered. It says that the properties covered are land, buildings, structures and works. As the hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) has raised the point, that means all buildings and all structures. It will also cover service lines, pipes, roads, runways of airfields, and quite a number of things that have not been covered by previous legislation.
The obligation placed upon the Coal Board by Clause 1 is, first, to repair any damage; or, alternatively, if it prefers in certain circumstances to do so, to pay someone else to put the damage right. There is a definite limit put to the obligation on the Coal Board. It has to restore the property to a state in which it is reasonably fit for the use to which it was being put at the time the damage took place, but it has not the obligation to put it back to a better state than it 1185 was at that time. In other words, a building used for dwelling purposes must be restored to reasonable fitness for that use, but the Board is not obliged to restore it to a better state of repair than it was in at the time when the damage occurred.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
It may well be that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this point later, but it seems to be logical that it should have come just before the point with which he is now dealing. Does he intend, in the course of his speech, to explain why, despite the recommendations of the Turner Report, which are quite clear on the point, the whole of the cost of this Bill is to be borne by the Coal Board, with the exception, of course, of the infinitesimal sums covered by the Money Resolution in respect of assessors and remits?
§ Mr. Maudling
I certainly did not think that I should be allowed to move the Second Reading of such a Measure as this without dealing with that matter. Although my ideas of logical sequence may differ from those of other hon. Members, I was hoping to deal with that later. It is one of the most important points in the Bill. I should like, if I may, to run through the provisions of the Bill and then to deal with what I believe to be are the main criticisms, of which I think the first is that which the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) has in mind.
There is one other limitation contained in Clause 1. It is that where the cost of putting the building right would be more than the actual damage done to the building itself, the liability of the Coal Board is limited to paying the amount of damage suffered by the building which, I think, is perfectly reasonable, if one has a tumbledown building damaged by subsidence, it is not reasonable to have the Coal Board repair the whole of the building. I think that that provision is in the 1950 Act, and was a proper limitation on the operations of the Board. Clause 1 is the main operative Clause. It places on the Board, for this wide range of buildings, structures, and so on, the obligation either to make good the damage or to pay someone else for making it good.
Clause 3 deals with the possibility of circumstances in which, where the Board thinks that further damage may occur, it 1186 can defer the execution of repair work whenever it thinks it suitable for those reasons.
The next important Clause is Clause 4, which empowers the Board to take preventive measures which, I am sure, again, is obviously a wise precaution. Where the Board thinks that by doing certain preventive work it can prevent or reduce the subsidence damage it can either carry out the work itself, or ask the owner to do it and pay him for doing it. If the owner is unreasonable, and will not let the Board do the work, the Board is relieved from its responsibility for damage that may occur later. If the Board says to the owner, "To prevent damage you should do this", and the owner says that he will not, I think that it is reasonable to deny him compensation for later damage.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Would the Paymaster-General make it quite clear that that applies to local authorities which are building new houses? My own local authority has to install rafting underneath its new houses, which adds very much to the cost; and the subsidy is inadequate to cover that cost.
§ Mr. Maudling
This does not apply to the building of new houses. That is a point about which we shall, no doubt, have considerable discussion during the Committee stage. This particular provision refers to buildings and structures already in existence, and not to new ones. I understand that there is a central Government subsidy provided to local authorities to help them build the rafts under the houses.
§ Mr. T. Brown
What would be the position if the order were reversed? If the Coal Board refuses, because the subsidence has not settled, will the owner maintain his right when it has settled?
§ Mr. Maudling
I think that I shall be wise if I say that that may well be a point to deal with in Committee, because it is rather a complicated one.
Clause 5 deals with the very important subject of drainage, where damage can be caused both by the effect of subsidence on the drains themselves, and also because the subsidence may increase the amount of water which has to be carried by the drainage system in any particular area. Here, we have been working to 1187 the precedent of the Doncaster Area Drainage Act, 1929, which, I understand, has been working fairly well in practice.
The Bill, as it now stands, empowers Ministers to make Orders designating areas in England and Wales where the Coal Board will be obliged to carry out measures not only to remedy or mitigate damage, but, if necessary, to prevent it, in agreement with the drainage authorities. This extension of what is, I think, a system which is working well at present, should be widely accepted, but I understand that it is felt by many local authorities—and drainage authorities, in particular—that this procedure by Order, designating particular areas, is not satisfactory, and that it would be better to make this effective for the whole country straight away.
We had reason for making this procedure by means of Order—we did not want to impose too much of a liability on the Coal Board all at once—but I will certainly be willing, between now and the Committee stage, to consider whether we could meet the wishes of local authorities and drainage authorities in this particular matter and proceed on a nationwide basis rather than by Ministerial Order. I cannot, of course, give an undertaking immediately to do that, but I will certainly consider it.
§ Mr. Maudling
I cannot say exactly what is to happen in Scotland, but I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with that point when he winds up the debate.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
Would the Paymaster-General inquire of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture about recent complaints that the Doncaster area drainage scheme is not working satisfactorily, and that they have been suffering a great deal in that area during the recent autumn flooding? And would he make those inquiries before we come to the Committee stage of the Bill?
§ Mr. Maudling
I will certainly do that, but the information which I have received was that the provisions of the Doncaster 1188 Area Drainage Act have proved acceptable and are working very well, though we hope to improve them in detail.
If I may get on with Clause 6, which deals with the avoidance of double remedies, may I say that its purpose is that, where persons have private rights to compensation from the Coal Board and are also given a statutory right, they cannot exercise both, which seems to me to be a fair and reasonable provision. At this point, I should say that this Bill gives a good many persons—which, I think is the legal term—individuals, local authorities and public undertakings—new rights, but in no case does it take away any existing right.
I think that that is quite an important point that should be borne in mind when considering the main principle of the Bill.
§ Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles) rose—
§ Mr. Maudling
I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, but I have given way several times, and I should like to complete my speech without interruption, if I may.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but the point I want to raise is a rather important one. The Minister dealt with the question of extinguishing rights already in existence, and there is a requirement to give two months' notice to exercise rights under the Act. In the past, if notice has been given a little late, the Coal Board has been extinguishing this right. Win he consider that matter?
§ Mr. Maudling
I understand that the Coal Board or the Minister can extend the time limit in such cases. The point I was making was that, while the Bill creates new rights, it does not take away any existing rights.
Clause 6 also deals with local authorities and statutory undertakers, which are dealt with in the Turner Committee's Report, such as railways and canals, many of which have special arrangements with the Coal Board, which the Turner Committee recommended should be continued; and subsection (4) of Clause 6 does, in fact, provide that these special arrangements should be continued where the parties concerned wish it.
Clause 7 deals with the position of the small licensed coal mines, and it provides, 1189 in effect, that if the Coal Board has to pay compensation as a result of damage caused by the operation of a small licensed coal mine it shall be able to recover the money which it has paid as compensation from the operators concerned, which, once again, seems to me to be a very proper arrangement and an act of justice.
These are the main provisions of the Bill which is now before the House, but before I conclude I should like to turn to the criticisms which, I think, have been made of the Bill. I believe that these are criticisms of the Bill not in principle, but for three main reasons. The first one is that it places the cost of compensation on the Coal Board, and, therefore, on the consumer of coal; the second one is because it does not deal with indirect damage; and the third is because it is in no way retrospective in operation.
§ Mr. Maudling
I think that the hon. Member will discover that that is covered in the first point that I mentioned.
The Bill provides that the whole cost is to be borne by the Coal Board which, in effect, means that it must fall upon the consumer of coal, and if £5 million, which figure I have put forward only with reservations, is the correct annual figure, it will amount to 6d. per ton on the cost of coal mined, which we might say is not a large sum compared with the total cost of coal at present. It is, however, a significant sum, and I quite agree that it should not be placed upon the consumer of coal without careful thought.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Can my right hon. Friend say whether that figure of £5 million a year is the total figure, or the additional cost which this Bill will impose?
§ Mr. Maudling
The £5 million is the addition which is being placed on the Coal Board by the Bill, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing out that point. This is the additional burden which is being placed on the consumer of coal by the Bill in respect of compensation, and I am very glad that I have been able to make that clear. As I have 1190 just said, the £5 million a year represents just about 6d. per ton of mined coal.
The Turner Committee recommended that the additional cost of all these new obligations on the industry, or most of the additional cost, should be met by the Exchequer. This point seems to have become controversial, and my hon. Friend, who was a member of the Turner Committee, would be better able than I am to say exactly what the Turner Committee recommended, though it certainly was that most of the additional cost should be met. The 1950 Act, which was introduced by the Labour Government, did not accept this principle, but reached a compromise, for a number of reasons which, no doubt, seemed very good at the time, by which half of the additional cost of compensation falling on the Coal Board would be borne by the Exchequer, leaving the Board to carry the other half itself.
After considerable thought on this matter, we do not consider that the Exchequer should make any contribution at all to this particular burden. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I particularly want to deal with the reasons for this, because I believe that they are substantial reasons.
The Turner Committee—and, with respect, I think that on this point they were a little off the beam—in paragraph 86, said:…we appreciate the vital importance of not adding appreciably to the cost of getting coal.I think that that is a misunderstanding, because the cost of getting coal includes the damage done by getting it, and the cost of getting coal is not varied by any recommendations of the Turner Committee or by any Acts of Parliament. What we are considering is not the cost of getting coal, but who is to meet this cost.
§ Mr. Harold Davies rose—
§ Mr. Maudling
These are rather involved questions, and I should like to have the opportunity of developing my argument.
We are now discussing how to meet this cost, and the cost exists because of the damage that is done. Up till now the cost, so far as it has not been borne by the Coal Board, has been borne by the 1191 owners of property, who have had to repair their own property because, broadly speaking, their common law rights to compensation had been signed away in the past.
The effect of this Bill is to say that in all these cases in future, despite the fact that previous owners have sold their rights to compensation, the present owners will not be called upon to pay the cost of compensation, but someone else will have to carry it; and the question is whether it should be the Coal Board, and, therefore, the consumer of coal, or the Exchequer, that is to say, the taxpayer.
I must say, having thought about it for some time, that we really cannot see any reason why this particular element in the cost of getting coal should be carried by the taxpayer. This is part of the cost of getting coal, and it should be carried in the price of coal just as much as any of the many other different elements which make up the cost of coal winning. That is the principle on which the Bill has been framed.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
I, too, was a member of the Turner Committee, and I remember very vividly this long discussion, and one of the things which my late friend the former Member for Abertillery held out on was the point that for centuries now, in some cases, the private coal owners had no compensation obligations put upon them at all.
The minutes of this Committee should have been published, for then we should all see that some of these points have been considered and that some of us considered that when we gave the global sum in compensation to the coal owners on nationalisation of the mines we should have retained some part of it for this compensation. This was not an easy question nor was it dealt with flippantly, because we were well aware of its effect on industry, both nationalised and private, and on our exports.
§ Mr. Maudling
I agree that it is a serious criticism and that there is a balanced argument to be considered on both sides. The point which the hon. Member makes about compensation I will deal with in a moment.
It is the opinion of the present Government that compensation for subsidence 1192 damage does represent a particular part of the cost of getting coal, and that it would be wrong to provide payments from the Exchequer, that is, the taxpayer, to meet this particular part of the cost of getting coal. I think that there are quite good analogies here to put before the House. For instance, it is quite common for Parliament to place upon industrial undertakings new obligations of a social character which cost them money, but for which they are not compensated.
For example, the Public Health Acts placed an obligation upon industry not to create smoke or emit noxious fumes or poison rivers. There are other ways in which obligations have been placed upon industry to do things which Parliament has regarded as a social obligation, which put upon it a burden of expenditure, although they are not necessarily part of the industrial process. When those social obligations are imposed, no question of compensation arises.
I do not claim that it is a conclusive argument, though I think it is the stronger of the two arguments. I would claim that we have a proper precedent for saying that this is a new social obligation being imposed by Parliament upon an industry, and it is in accordance with logic and with precedent that the cost of meeting the obligation should be borne by the consumers of coal and should not be removed from their shoulders and a payment made by the Exchequer.
I know that it has been argued before in the House that something should be done to deduct an amount in respect of this matter from the compensation payments made to the previous colliery owners. I would suggest that that is not a conclusive argument, for several reasons. First, I do not think it is practicable at this stage. That is not a particularly good reason, but I think it should be stated. Secondly, the damage covered under the Bill is new damage taking place from the date when the Bill comes into being—[HON. MEMBERS: "New?"] Yes, it is new damage, though possibly the result of previous workings. One must remember that the Coal Board has been in being now for ten years.
My third argument is this. After careful examination, my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Fuel and Power came to the conclusion that if this had 1193 been taken into account in settling the global sum of compensation, the effect would have been negligible. Finally—and this is the strongest argument—it is wrong in principle. As I said before, this is an example of placing a new social obligation upon an industrial undertaking. When Parliament places a new obligation on a manufacturer of electricity, or upon any sort of industry, it does not at the same time give the industrialist a right of recourse to the man from whom he bought the factory.
It has never been, and, I think, never could be, the practice, when we place a new obligation upon someone, to say to him, "You can ask the man from whom you bought the property to pay part of the bill." In my view, the argument that this Bill should be used to provide for some readjustment of the compensation paid to the former coal owners is wrong in principle, just as it is not, as I understand, capable of being carried out in practice.
§ Mr. Thomas Hubbard (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
Is it not correct to say that, along with giving a new obligation, it is transferring an old obligation that has previously been discharged in part by the Exchequer? It is transferring an old obligation as well as creating a new one, and what was previously paid on account of the old obligation is being made payable now from the proceeds of the Coal Board.
§ Mr. Maudling
It is true that under the 1950 Act the Exchequer was paying about £250,000 a year, and that sum of £250,000, arising from that Act, is included in the £5 million to which I referred. That is a valid point, but, as I say, we are doing this for reasons which I have tried to explain, and we do not accept the principle that there should be an Exchequer contribution.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Let us suppose that the Government had been introducing similar legislation, and the mines had been privately owned, the Government taking the view, none the less, that provision should be made for compensation for those who suffer from the effects of subsidence. What would the right hon. Gentleman's reaction have been? Would he have imposed the obligation on private owners?
§ Mr. Maudling
The principles I have been advancing are exactly the same irrespective of whether the owner is private or public. Perhaps I might ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) whether he and his hon. Friends would be quite so anxious on this point if, in fact, it had been an obligation put on private owners and not on the Coal Board. I think he will realise, if he cares to look at it, that it is an argument which squares the circle.
I turn now to the other two criticisms which, I believe, have been advanced, the next of which is directed to the fact that the Bill does not cover indirect damage. Here again, I think one must recognise that there are in individual cases very serious problems arising. I am told, and I believe it to be true, that the number of individual cases is not very large; but the fact that the number of cases is not very large does not make the injustice in any particular case any the less. It is a very difficult matter.
We have come reluctantly to the conclusion, as, I think, the Labour Government did in the 1950 Act, that it is inevitable to confine compensation in these matters to damage as defined in Clause 1, namely, to buildings, structures, sewers, drains, pipes, and so forth. The reasons for not including indirect damage are really three. The first is that the extra cost of including it might be very considerable. Secondly, to draw the line is very difficult and once one moves outside the realm of direct damage and starts including, for example, damage to furniture from flooding or the cost of removal from one house to another while repairs are being done—[An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, that is the point."]. These are all points which, I know, we shall consider again in Committee. I will merely say that it has been accepted in the past, I think, that once one moves outside direct damage it is very difficult to see where one should draw the line.
Thirdly, I do not believe that there is a precedent either in legislation or in private agreements for going beyond direct damage. Even in private treaties no attention has been directed to private damage to farms, crops, and so on, it being always the practice to limit compensation to damage caused directly to buildings, structures, and matters of that 1195 kind. Those were the three reasons which led us to limit the ambit of the Bill in this way.
§ Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)
In an action brought by a private individual in a case where he has not sold his rights, the courts would give him full compensation for loss of goodwill and all disturbances. If it can be assessed by the courts, why not by a tribunal under this Bill?
§ Mr. Maudling
I was referring to precedents in statutes, where the right to compensation is given by statute, or to a right to compensation provided for in a private treaty. I speak subject to correction by my hon. and learned Friend, who knows so much more than I do about these matters, but I understand that, with the exception of some tenancies in Durham, it has been the almost universal rule that provision for compensation in private treaties has been confined to direct damage only.
I freely admit that it is not easy to make up one's mind. I know that my hon. Friend will be glad to consider whether any exceptions can be made, but I must say, quite honestly, that there are great difficulties in advancing beyond the principles which have been adopted up to now, for which there has been a large measure of justification.
It has also been suggested that the effect of the Bill should be made retrospective. I doubt whether, in practice, that that would be found possible. It would be very difficult to decide in the case of past damage, the cost of it, the extent of it, what it arose from, and how much of it was due to mining subsidence and how much should really be the obligation of the Coal Board. It is true that the 1950 Act was applied retrospectively to small dwellings, but I think I can here quote the Turner Committee, which said that there was a distinction, it being possible to do it in the case of small dwellings; only for small dwellings does it seem possible to make a Measure of this kind retrospective. We do not consider that it is possible to make the effect of the Bill retrospective.
I am glad to have had this opportunity of moving the Second Reading of a Measure which is designed to remedy what is generally thought to be a widespread injustice.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Has the National Union of Mineworkers been consulted about the Bill? I am not now asking whether the general secretary has been consulted; I am asking whether the union has been consulted.
§ Mr. Maudling
As the hon. Member knows, I come new to this office, but I understand that the National Union of Mineworkers did see the previous Minister on the matter. I am speaking rather "off the cuff", but I understand that to be so. Certainly, there have been widespread consultations with the many people interested. We have endeavoured to satisfy them all, and I am sure we have achieved clarification in a great many cases.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
It is important that we should have some authoritative statement as to the views of the Coal Board. Has the Board been consulted? Has this Bill its approbation, or is its approbation in any way qualified?
§ Mr. Maudling
I should like, if may, to leave this subject of consultation to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, because he has been concerned with the Bill for some time and has been personally involved in the consultations. In these matters, I believe it to be the job of the Government to express not the views of the Coal Board, but the views of the Government. Of course, there have been very considerable discussions with the Board on the whole subject.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Surely when the Coal Board is to be asked to find £5 million or whatever the amount of compensation may be, it might have been consulted about it. Surely the Board's consent to some part of the Bill, however qualified, should have been gained before the Government proceeded with the legislation.
§ Mr. Maudling
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might have listened a little more closely. I specifically said that the Coal Board had been extensively consulted about this matter—of course it has. It would be quite inconceivable that a Bill of this nature should be brought forward without consultation with the Board.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-upon-Lyme)
For the benefit of our discussion, should we not know the view of the Coal Board? Particularly in view of the fact 1197 that the Turner Committee said that the imposition of these liabilities on the Board would be an injurious burden, surely we are entitled to know, as a result of the consultations that the Government have had, what is the present view of the Board in 1957. It might make some difference to our attitude.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Since the price of coal is controlled by the Ministry, of which the right hon. Gentleman is now a Minister, and since the Bill, according to the right hon. Gentleman, will add 6d. a ton to the cost of coal, I presume that that has all been settled, that the Ministry will agree that the 6d. is passed on to the consumer and that the Coal Board will raise prices accordingly. Is that part of the agreement?
§ Mr. Maudling
What I was saying was that on these matters it is absolutely right and is the normal practice that the Coal Board is consulted at every stage throughout. In framing estimates of the amounts involved whether 6d. a ton or £5 million, the Board is asked for figures and costs. After all, the Board knows more about the matter than anybody else.
It would be quite out of keeping with any practice or constitutional position that this House should discuss the views of the Coal Board. The purpose of the Government is to advance to the House, after detailed consultation with the Board, what the Government suggests is right and just. That is what we are doing on this occasion. It would be quite wrong to discuss whether the views of the chairman of a nationalised industry or of the Minister were the right views for the House to accept, and I am sure that hon. Members opposite will appreciate that just as much as we do.
§ Mr. R. Williams
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House. In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), he gave the impression that consultations had taken place with the National Union of Mineworkers. Is it not the position that the right hon. Gentleman is very doubtful whether consultations on the Bill have taken place with the union, and that if such consultations have taken place the views of the N.U.M. have been ignored?
§ Mr. Maudling
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that. I am trying rather rapidly to ascertain the answers to the questions which are being put to me. I understand that my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Fuel and Power himself met representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers, but that there were no official consultations in the normal course of business. That, I believe, puts the position right.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me, because I was not present myself at the time, but that, I understand, is the position.
I am sorry to have delayed the House so long, but I have tried to deal with any points as I went along. I believe that the Bill is an act of justice which will be supported, broadly speaking, by the House. As I have said, there are obviously a number of small points that we shall have to deal with in Committee and there are some major points also, particularly as to where the incidence of the cost will fall, which undoubtedly we shall have to debate. We shall be anxious to listen to the views of hon. Members and desirous, so far as we can, of controverting their point of view when they disagree with us. Generally, however, I believe that this is a Measure which one can confidently recommend to the House, because broadly it is designed to carry out what we all agree is an overdue act of justice.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)
I am in some doubt whether courtesy requires me to congratulate the Paymaster-General upon his entry into the field of power or to commiserate with him in his demotion. Such unlikely events happen when family squabbles take place in the Tory Party, however, that perhaps we ought not to be surprised at any erratic changes that eventuate.
We on this side have always had a profound respect for the right hon. Gentleman's superlative courtesy and his excellent ability in discussing affairs related to economics and financial matters. Today, he has entered a new field of controversy and he has successfully walked the tightrope between technicality and practical experience, so successfully indeed that he might almost have been mistaken for an 1199 authority on mining subsidence. I hope, as I proceed, to reply to some of the points that he has raised.
However much felicity the Paymaster-General might have displayed this afternoon—and certainly he has been generous in the number of interruptions that he allowed—we find it necessary to register a protest which, we believe, will find a good deal of support in the country. I believe that I am voicing the opinions of all my colleagues on this side of the House when I say that we regret very much that it is not possible for the new Minister of Power to be present here to introduce the Bill. With all respect and deference to his elevation, we believe that it would have been more acceptable to all parties concerned if he could have been present to unfold the plans that are so vital to our economy. Indeed, his name does not even appear appended to the list of sponsors to the Bill. Except for the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the names of the sponsors are those of right hon. Gentlemen who are not now related to the posts they occupied when their names were included on the Bill.
In present circumstances, in the passage of the Bill and of any subsequent legislation relating to fuel and power, we shall always be left wondering how much authority resides here and how much resides in another place. The last experiment with "Overlords" cannot be said to have been a signal success, and once more to create the idea of a superman vested with such enormous powers is not likely to inspire confidence in the industries under the surveillance of the Ministry of Power.
After those preliminaries, let me say that the Opposition affords a qualified welcome to the Bill. Certainly, it is the most comprehensive piece of legislation produced in this field and its main provisions are a praiseworthy attempt to provide a solution to a long-felt grievance in mining areas. The reservations which we shall submit, however, are not of a trifling nature. I would say in parenthesis that my hon. Friends are bearing in mind various Committee points which will have to be raised at the appropriate stage. Our fundamental objection concerns the source from which is to be derived the 1200 money to provide the relief for aggrieved property owners. I shall refer to this later in the course of my speech.
Meanwhile, I suggest to the Paymaster-General that he withdraws the Financial Resolution and reshapes it in such a way as to permit us an opportunity of putting down Amendments which will remedy the obvious defects of the Bill. A Measure of this kind ought not to find the House sharply divided on one of its main provisions without adequate opportunity of amendment. This is a Bill which ought to leave the House with the unanimous support of both sides. We on this side are as anxious as anybody opposite to find a solution to this long-term problem.
I was glad that the Paymaster-General credited the Labour Party at least with pioneering legislation in this field. With pardonable pride, we can claim to have appointed the Turner Committee. That Committee presented a Report which was a realistic and modern approach to a grievance which for generations had agitated the mining areas. With the exception of the area affected by the Doncaster Area Drainage Act, 1929, nothing at all had been done to relieve the burdens of public and private owners who suffered damage, with nothing in their title deeds enabling them claim relief until the Act of seven years ago.
That Act, with all its shortcomings, accepted national responsibility. It was only intended by the Government of the day as an interim Measure, and it was admittedly less comprehensive than the Bill which is now before us, but it did not reject as completely as the present Bill the findings of the Turner Committee. The Turner Committee's Report, significantly enough, found almost unanimous support among Conservative Party Members, and it is a matter of surprise and regret that that enthusiasm is not reflected in the Bill which the Paymaster-General has presented today.
Some of us, like my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor), my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and other hon. Members behind me, with half a century's close association with the mining industry, know very well that there is no exact science about mining subsidence. Mining engineers cannot predict exactly what is going to happen. The average amount of 1201 subsidence is about two-thirds of the thickness of the seam that is extracted. Distortion appears mostly where there are faults in the strata or rib sides at the edge of workings. The areas which are most fortunate are those where there are deep seams, because where there is more cover there is less subsidence.
In recent years, subsidence has been somewhat mitigated by machine mining and long wall working. As a result, subsidence has, perhaps, been more sudden, but more regular, and with less erratic effect upon the surface. I have seen a howling green which subsided two feet at one end and by the time the next playing season occurred it had declined three feet at the other. Machine mining has lessened a good deal of these possibilities. Nor must we forget the contribution that the National Coal Board has made in the matter of more efficient stowing, and a good deal of time, skill and money have been put into this process. Although it has increased the production cost of coal, the National Coal Board has done all that it can to improve stowing and mitigate subsidence. I think that the Board is to be complimented on the share that it has taken in this regard.
Despite all the skill of mining engineers and all the thought that they can bring to the problem, while there is coal mining there will be subsidence. Recognising that simple fact, I believe, as I think the right hon. Gentleman said, that the entire House is of the opinion that all victims of subsidence should be compensated. Having accepted that principle, the question of who pays arises. Before I submit what is the unanimous opinion on this side of the House in reply to that question, I want to comment on one or two excellent provisions in the Bill.
There are some innovations which are particularly welcome. In particular, I commend whoever was responsible for drafting Clause 1 in such language as to include all dwelling-houses. The Act of 1950, in its limited scope, only took in those dwelling-houses with an assessment of £32 or less, which has since been increased to £50. But this Bill fortunately brings in all dwelling-houses of whatever assessment. I am sure that owners of houses of over that former assessment figure will be greatly relieved by this Measure. For the first time, the all-embracing language of this Clause admits local authorities to the right of compen- 1202 sation. Here I should like to interpolate a word of congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) for the campaign which they have conducted on behalf of local authorities to get justice in this matter. I am sure they must be feeling satisfaction that their efforts have met with some success and have culminated in this Bill.
This relief to local authorities is long overdue. Mining areas have been despoiled by coal-mining operations, and all the ugliness and inconvenience have had to be borne by the local ratepayers. Subsidence has restricted their enterprise, ruined their amenities in which they had great pride and bedevilled all their attempts at the development and improvement of their areas, and they have had to pay for it all. The area in which I reside loses 25 per cent. of the water it produces due to mining subsidence, and that has been going on for years. In towns like Swadlincote in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and places like the fringes of Stoke City one can see the effect on private and public buildings. Pipes disappear, cables are destroyed and buildings have to be shored up as a consequence of mining subsidence. Financially, the local authorities have been at their wits end to know how to cope with this problem, and nothing less than the all-embracing liability which this Clause offers would have satisfied them.
Another innovation is the preventive works which were mentioned by the Paymaster-General and which are provided for in Clause 4. Sometimes subsidence damage can be lessened by strapping, underpinning or shoring up, but I think that "prevention" is an ill-chosen word because mining subsidence cannot be prevented; that is impossible.
I have no great expectations from the results of these operations, but I believe that where the Coal Board calculates that expense and labour can be saved, it must be granted the right to intervene. Years ago, as most of my hon. Friends on this side of the House will know, it was well-nigh impossible for a surface owner who was aggrieved to get any information at all from the colliery owners 1203 about mining operations under his property. It was only with the greatest reluctance that colliery owners disclosed any particulars about their mining operations. But nowadays, thanks to the National Coal Board, the colliery surveyor's office is an open door to any claimant, and this has proved of mutual advantage to the property owners and to the National Coal Board. With that in mind, I think that preventive works, however small, should achieve the maximum amount of saving. The Minister cursorily mentioned the matter of land drainage and he extended a promise that this matter would be considered between now and the Report stage so as to provide some clarification.
Farming interests, where the land is contiguous to mining areas, have suffered badly because of mining subsidence. Often, without compensation, they have had to redrain their own land in order to get the full value of the crops from it. In Clause 5 powers are given to the Minister of Power and to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries jointly to make an Order to bring any area within the scope of the Bill. I presume that it is on that feature that the Minister has extended his promise. In this connection, we are most concerned about the words "in the national interest". That is a phrase which permits of very wide discretion, and we hope that between now and the completion of the Bill the Minister will make it possible for these areas automatically to come within the scope of the Bill without the issue of an Order. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, will give us a more extended promise on this matter.
In my constituency there are fourteenth century churches of great architectural value which are suffering from mining subsidence and are badly despoiled and depreciated. The National Coal Board has been as helpful as it can, but the amelioration that it can offer under present legislation has been all too inadequate, and the lamentable part of the Bill is that it offers no retrospection. The church authorities will deeply appreciate the prospect of compensation under Clause 8. It will not give all that they need to restore their churches to their pristine beauty, but without the provision many churches in 1204 the mining areas would degenerate into desuetude and ruin. To that extent the ecclesiastical authorities will be very gratified. In the past the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Coal Board never knew the responsible authorities to whom they could talk, but now, under the Bill, the recipients of damage payments are clearly defined. The church authorities and the Coal Board should be gratified with this classification of responsibility.
I have tried to give a fair appraisal of the Bill. The Opposition freely acknowledges the credit that belongs to the Government for the advantageous measures that are introduced in it, but our conversion on this side of the House to bi-partisanship is not complete, and, after so many bouquets, it is a pity that there have to be brickbats.
I come now to the main objection to the Bill and its outstanding difficulties. I said earlier that we believed that compensation for subsidence damage should be a national responsibility. The Government no doubt also accept that premise. Our difference with the Government is on how the responsibility shall be borne. There are precedents which might have influenced the Government in this legislation. In the case of war damage it was not only those occupants and owners of the houses who were unfortunately hit by enemy missiles who contributed towards war damage compensation; all property owners had to make a contribution. It is not only the towns on the coast that have to contribute towards restoring coast erosion; the Treasury makes a special contribution towards it. In the case of coal mining subsidence, however, after this Bill is passed, the Government will pay nothing towards the cost of compensation.
The Government provide a solution to a very old social problem, but spoil it by placing the responsibility on a single industry. Indeed, as if to add spite to injury, they take away the contribution that was made under previous legislation. Under Section 11 of the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1950, payments to the National Coal Board from the Ministry of Fuel and Power were, in the year 1951–52 £500,000, in 1952–53 £100,000, in 1953–54 £260,000, in 1954–55 £250,000, and in 1955–56 £250,000. Now this payment is to be discontinued.
1205 What are the Government trying to do to the coal industry? Do they want to increase its production costs? Are they trying to increase its adverse balance? Do they want to denigrate it and cause a socialised industry to degenerate? It is already bearing a burden of £10 million on imported coal, a matter on which the Coal Board has no discretion at all. Why should this industry be the draught horse to deal out largesse for the Government? I know that the Paymaster-General says that the price of coal will be increased by 6d. a ton and that the amount of £5 million a year is equal to one-third of 1 per cent. on a ton of coal, but is not that over-simplifying matters? It will not convince the Coal Board or the National Union of Mineworkers. It will take all the ingenuity and the propaganda skill of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to convince them that this is a fair way of dealing with the problem.
Can the Paymaster-General tell the House what happens if the 6d. per ton does not meet the cost? Do we increase the 6d., and is this to be an unspecified burden without any time limit at all? No wonder the National Union of Mineworkers is disturbed about the proposal. The miners know that the public in general will blame them and the National Coal Board for the increase in price.
§ Mr. Neal
It will prejudice the miners' wage claims because whenever wage demands are made by the National Union of Mineworkers production costs and debit balances are always quoted as reasons why the concessions cannot be made. I have found that to be the case when I have been present at negotiations. If the Bill is passed in its present form it will also restrict initiative in colliery planning. Perhaps that is a matter which the Government have not properly considered.
When the Coal Board develops a new area of coal-mining it has to consider the extra burden of payment for subsidence. That might be a good thing in its way, but in many cases the fear of the additional expense, now that it has to bear the cost of subsidence, might easily outweigh good engineering practice. We are always telling the Coal Board and the 1206 National Union of Mineworkers to increase the output of coal to the maximum. We might achieve that by incentives, but we shall never achieve it by imposing upon them this partial and ungenerous levy.
Here is a good Bill marred only by the Government's economy mania. If the Paymaster-General promises to amend the Bill, so as to place the financial burden where it properly belongs, we on this side of the House could promise him our unanimous support. When the Prime Minister broadcast recently he reassured the country about the economic situation. In the course of his speech he said:Britain has been great, is great and can be great in the future.Here is a chance for the Government to prove their greatness by accepting for the future at least the same proportion of financial responsibility for mining subsidence as they bear at the present time.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Nearly every kind of industrial activity involves doing some damage to its neighbourhood. There is often smoke, noise and smell, and even when these can be eliminated there is traffic congestion and other time and money losing and annoying circumstances. In Lancashire they say that, "Where there's muck there's brass." The converse is true. Where there's brass there's muck. Coal-mining is by no means the worst offender among industries, but the disturbance that it causes is remarkable in two respects. In the first place, it is more dramatic and, in the second place, it is more uneven in its incidence than the nuisances caused by any other industry.
No one who was a member of the Turner Committee could fail to be struck by these two aspects of the industry. The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) will remember, as I remember, a cottage on the side of a canal occupied by an old man who told us that in his youth he had stood on his doorstep and looked into barges on the canal. Now the occupants of the barges could look down the chimneys of the cottage. The ground had subsided and it had been necessary to build up the banks of the canal. Although the cottage had suffered no actual damage, one could see in an astonishing way what had happened.
1207 To witness the unevenness one has only to walk down the street of a Welsh mining village, where one can see most of the houses slightly but not seriously affected by mining subsidence and then suddenly come upon a case where the whole front of a house has fallen down for no apparent reason. It is this suddenness and arbitrariness that have given rise to the sense of extreme injustice which those who live in mining areas feel about subsidence. Moreover, as a result of the piecemeal bargaining and legislation which my right hon. Friend described, the wider public interest has rather often been neglected. It is these circumstances which made the Turner Committee think that the time had come for a fundamental reform of the law, which is now to be implemented.
The Turner Committee made two main proposals—first of all, that existing rights of support should only be retained or new ones required on the ground of public interest: and secondly, that all damage to surface interests should he repaired or compensated. As to the first of these recommendations—that relating to rights of support—this is really a special aspect of town and country planning. The House will remember that while the Turner Committee was sitting, the Town and Country Planning Acts were introduced and passed through this House and had not come into operation at all effectively by the date of their Report.
At the end of 1948 the Turner Committee could only say—paragraph 40, which is worth reading to the House—It seems to us reasonable to hope, therefore, that once the planning machinery is in operation, the possible area of damage by mining subsidence to surface areas at present undeveloped will be reduced. With regard to surface areas which have already been developed the position is naturally different, but in such cases mining development may be restricted by the Planning Authority with the consent of the Minister of Town and Country Planning in favour of a particular surface area or even a particular building. The general effect of the Act is that the Planning Authority can by refusing planning permission prevent the working of coal under surface areas which have no existing right of support but the grant of planning permission cannot override an existing right of support. In order therefore to get rid of an existing obligation to support, the National Coal Board must still, in the absence of agreement, apply to the Railway and Canal Commission, under Part I of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923.1208 The Report went on in paragraph 69 to say:We strongly recommend, therefore, that, while control or planning on an area basis should remain the responsibility of the planning authority, the right of support in particular cases should as a rule be determined ultimately by judicial rather than by administrative decision.Further proposals were sketched out in what was called the schedule of key points.
This Bill, as my right hon. Friend has very fairly said, ignores that proposal altogether. It does not touch rights of support at all. All existing rights will remain, subject of course to Part I of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, and conversely there will be no means of ensuring protection for particular buildings except under the planning Acts.
I am sorry that the law should have been left in that state. I appreciate what my right hon. Friend has said, that the planning Acts are working well and that they are dealing with the matter. But I think that just as the general law of nuisance is inadequate to deal with this problem from that angle, also the general planning legislation does not really cover the special difficulties of this case. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power will be able to tell us something more on how the planning Acts are working, how many applications have been made and how many refused, both to the Canal Commission and to the Planning Authorities, as regards rights of support.
As to the second recommendation of the Turner Committee, I welcome the acceptance of the principle of a general obligation to compensate or repair. Everybody in all quarters of the House is in agreement on that. The only question which is going to be debated is the source from which the compensation is to come. At the date of the Turner Report the total damage due to subsidence was estimated to be about £3 million a year, and of that damage £1 million was the estimated liability of the National Coal Board. That leaves a balance of £2 million which would have to fall elsewhere.
As the general law gives a right of compensation for all damage due to subsidence, it appeared to the Committee— 1209 and I think it must be right—that the right to do this further £2 million of damage had been bought and paid for by the National Coal Board. If I may put it the other way about, if the industry had had this obligation to pay the full £3 million at the time of nationalisation, that circumstance would have been taken into account in assessing the amount of compensation to be paid. The Turner Committee assumed that if Parliament were to decide as a matter of social policy to pay compensation for all damage done, it would not throw the charge on the National Coal Board a second time over.
The question, of course, as the Report points out, is primarily a political one. It was rot itself within the terms of reference of the Committee, but it was necessary for the Committee to consider the question because the procedure for obtaining and paying compensation must depend upon the answer to the question of where the compensation was to come from. The view that we took—and I think it was taken unanimously by all members of the Committee—was that it was desirable to throw upon the National Coal Board the greatest possible incentive to avoid future damage. My right hon. Friend quoted words from paragraph 86 and said that the Report was wrong, hut if he will look again I think he will see that those words referred to the need for avoiding subsidence damage and not strictly as he quoted them.
We thought that the best way of bringing about this result would be by throwing the whole liability for subsidence damage upon the Board and merely giving the Board a fixed payment to compensate it, so to speak, for what it had already paid out. I am glad to say that that is the principle which this Bill has adopted. It has adopted the principle of throwing the whole responsibility on the Board. What it has not done, as has been pointed out, is to provide for the repayment to the Board equivalent to what had already been paid out.
This omission operates to throw an arbitrary charge on the National Coal Board. It may be right to throw such a charge on the Board. It may be right to impose a charge on any industry for any reason, just as it may be right to grant a subsidy to any industry for some 1210 reason. But in my submission it is only right to do so as a deliberate act of policy. Casual overcharging is just as vicious as a casual subsidy. I do not like either, and I do not mind whether the industry is private industry or a nationalised industry. On principle, the accounts of the industry should be kept straight and it should not be charged twice over for something which ought only to be charged once.
I hope that the Government will have second thoughts and make a grant to cover the estimated amount already paid by the National Coal Board. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Before hon. Gentlemen opposite say "hear, hear", if they agree with my argument they must carry it to its logical conclusion. That does not mean footing the whole of this bill. It means repaying to the Coal Board what they have paid already. As long ago as 1949 this was estimated at £2 million. It is certainly substantially less today, and it is tapering off, so that the amount which I think is properly payable, on the principles I have enunciated, would be substantially less than that advocated by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal).
In connection with this argument, subsection (2) of Clause 7 shows that the Government are alive to the validity of the point I have made. From that subsection hon. Members will see that if the National Coal Board has itself made an agreement relieving it from subsidence liability, it is in effect relieved from liability under this Bill. That subsection is therefore fairly important. I do not know how many such agreements the Board may have made to date, but in so far as it has itself bought immunity, it will not be required to pay twice over. I do not know how far the subsection is intended to go. In terms, it is limited to agreements made up to the time of the passing of this Bill. Is the National Coal Board to be precluded from making any future agreements of that kind? That is the implication, but it is not categorically stated. I would like to have an answer to that question.
Alternatively, the House should know whether the Bill proposes that the Board should be allowed, by agreement, to contract out of the terms of the Bill. I hope sincerely that this is not the intention of the Government. We are going to wipe 1211 the slate clean, but we should not allow all the naughty boys to come and scribble on it again. I believe that if we once settle on a universal principle of compensation, we should keep to that principle, and preclude future agreements being made which will infringe upon it.
Broadly speaking, I think that this Bill is right in principle, I welcome it, and I hope that it will receive a unanimous Second Reading.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)
Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he clarify a point in order that I may be able to answer it when the time comes? He has said that the National Coal Board should be repaid those amounts which in the past have been paid for purchasing the right to avoid full liability for withdrawing the right of support? Could he say by whom he now suggests that money should be repaid?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
This is a question of social policy. Parliament, in its wisdom, proposes that the law should be amended and that payment should be made to certain people who are not now entitled to it. I think that this payment should come out of public revenue. I am not suggesting, and I hope I have made this clear, that all future damage should fall otherwise than on the coal producer, but I object to charging the coal producer twice over.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. William Stones (Consett)
If I do not deal specifically with the various arguments which have been brought forward by right hon. and hon. Members who have already taken part in this debate, it is because I wish to express my views on this Bill, which I sincerely believe to be the views of the majority of my constituents, in as short a time as possible.
I come from a very old mining county, the county of Durham. There we have many shallow mines. The coal seams are very near to the surface; very often there is just a few feet of rock separating the seam from the surface. As a result, quite soon after coal is extracted from any area, subsidence occurs. In those cases there is not a gradual settlement of the rock formation overlying the area from which the coal has been abstracted, but 1212 often there is a very quick and a very definite break right through from the seam to the surface.
Consequently, many properties mentioned in the categories contained within this Bill—houses, lands, sewers, drains, etc.—are affected by the disruption which occurs, and much damage is sustained as a direct result of mining subsidence. Wherever I go in my own constituency I see visible evidence of this fact. In one instance which comes readily to my mind there is a row of about half-a-dozen cottages lying at a crazy angle as a result of pit falls, as we call them, and often I have seen great cracks, and sometimes great holes, in the highways. In fact, I have helped to fill them up, as a result of subsidence affecting our highways. There is also extensive damage to street roads, drains, etc. throughout our county.
Over the last five years the cost of repairing the highways in County Durham damaged in this way has exceeded £30,000. I do not know the total cost of such damage, but it must be terrific. I agree that when such properties are damaged as a result of our mining operations it is only right that the owners of the property should either be suitably compensated or the property repaired, the cost being borne, of course, by an appropriate authority.
For this reason, I welcome the Bill. I know that many owners of house property have spent their life savings on the purchase of a house to live in, sacrificing quite a lot in life in order to do so. It would be totally unfair, in my judgment, to throw an additional financial burden upon them in the way of expenses incurred as a result of mining subsidence, nor would it be reasonable to expect local authorities to bear the cost of repairs, for the local authorities in mining areas would be very hard hit indeed. It is therefore right, in principle, that a general remedy for damage caused by subsidence should be provided. In this respect, I have no quarrel with the Bill.
Nevertheless, I have a complaint about the Bill. If the Bill becomes law as it now stands, the whole cost of repairs and compensation arising directly as a result of damage caused by mining subsidence is to be borne by the National Coal Board. It is estimated that the cost will be about £5 million per annum. 1213 That estimate may be correct, but, on the other hand, it may well exceed that figure if the damage caused by subsidence is greater in the next few years than is expected. If this is the case, then the cost of remedying the damage will be a greater burden still on the National Coal Board.
Government spokesmen past and present have spoken on this subject. The previous Minister of Fuel and Power said:Since subsidence damage is part of the cost of winning coal, the Government consider that this cost should be fully reflected in the price of coal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1956; Vol. 551, c. 654.]This may be good economic doctrine but it does not take into account the history of the subsidence problem. Much of the subsidence occurring now, and probably much of that occurring for some years yet, is due in my opinion to mining operations before the mining industry was nationalised, and at the time of nationalisation no funds, to my knowledge, were set aside to cover the cost of remedying subsidence in the years immediately following. It is very unfair to place the whole financial burden on presnt-day consumers, and that is what the Bill proposes to do; it proposes to place on them the cost of remedying damage caused by mining prior to nationalisation.
It would have been much fairer had the Government adopted the implications in the suggestion of the Turner Committee that they should meet at least two-thirds of the cost. For the National Coal Board to bear the full cost will mean increased coal prices, and neither the National Coal Board nor the miners can be held responsible far such increases. If the Government are not prepared to accept the full financial responsibility, I believe they would be justified in at least making a very substantial contribution towards the cost, at least for a few more years. If they do not do this, then I hope that coal consumers do not blame either the National Coal Board or the miners when they have to pay more for coal. If they do, it will be grossly unfair.
It is accepted that the newer methods of mining, the more rapid advancement of drivages and the solid stowing of areas from which coal has been extracted 1214 will greatly reduce the amount of subsidence in the future. I know that it will not prevent it altogether.
I was talking in a pit to a colliery manager one day, as an inspector of mines, and I suggested that there was only one way to prevent subsidence. His ears pricked up; he thought he was to hear a new theory, and he asked me what the method was. I replied, "The only way to prevent subsidence is to leave the coal in." Everybody knows that, but we cannot leave the coal in; we must get all the coal we can.
Such measures as are now being adopted, however, will tend to greater control of the roof and, what is more important, the more gradual settlement of the overlying rock formation, and consequently less disruption of the surface and damage to buildings and land. That is an acknowledged fact.
In the meantime, we shall be faced with heavy costs of remedying the damage, and I should like the Government to accept a fair share of responsibility for the damage caused by what might have been careless mining in the past. I put it no higher than that. The nationalised coal industry is constantly being criticised, particularly about financial deficits and the high price of coal, but it is true that the N.C.B. is faced with great financial obligations outside those involved in getting the coal to the surface. These include interest charges and the increasing losses on imported coal. Are we to add to the Board's financial obligations by making it responsible for all claims arising from the implementation of the Bill? I sincerely urge the Government to think over this matter again and to see whether it is possible to relieve the industry of what I consider to be an unfair and unwarrantable burden.
It may well be said in the course of the debate that if the miners are sincere in their desire to provide coal as cheaply as possible they should refrain from making demands for higher wages and better conditions. That would be an easy way out of the difficulty, but would it be fair to the mineworkers? I will not argue about the wages and conditions of the miners, but it is certainly true to say that for a very long time indeed the miners were not treated as well as they ought to have been in this respect. Now their position 1215 is much improved, and I do not think for a moment that the nation disapproves of this long-overdue change in the status of the miner. I can speak with sincerity and conviction when I say that the miners intend to maintain their present position in the ranks of the industrial workers and, wherever possible, to seek to improve their conditions still further. I do not think anyone can blame the miners for that.
If the price of coal rises as a result of some increase beyond the control of the miners and through no fault of theirs, it will be of no avail to expect them to forgo their reasonable expectations and demands on that account.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
There may be differences between us about the financial aspect and about where lines should be drawn, and I shall not go into that topic. I shall adopt the line taken by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), with whom I have had some very pleasant discussions on this subject, and approach the matter from the point of view that, however much we may differ on matters of detail or matters which we think are principles, we are concerned in the Bill to do justice. It has been said that in some respects we have to do rough justice, but the justice must not be too rough. I want to draw attention to one aspect of the matter which has not been taken into account. It may be described in some respects as a specialised point, but it is rather more than a Committee point.
There are certain important bodies, for example the Church Commissioners, whom one finds mentioned in the Bill, and other charitable bodies who are landowners and who are very much affected. When one approaches the matter with a fresh mind, one is puzzled about how these arrangements will work out. It is said that the object of the Bill is largely to avoid or to remove injustice. It is said, for example, that to do that the Bill in some respects goes so far as to allow owners who have signed away their rights nevertheless to benefit.
From inquiries I have made and from the information I have received, it seems to me that the Bill also has the effect—I am sure quite unintentionally—that certain owners who have not signed away 1216 their rights are deprived of the benefits of the Bill. If that is so, it looks as though there is something wrong somewhere. I can give a concrete example. Clause 1 deals with remedial work, that is to say, where the horse has already escaped from the stable, and work has to be done to remedy the damage which has occurred. Clause 4 provides for preventive arrangements, but that is an entirely optional matter for the Board and is limited to cases where the Board thinks that the execution of certain works will prevent or reduce subsidence damage.
As I understand it, the position can arise in a number of cases in which, under planning legislation—and this was not in the mind of the Turner Committee when it reported, because the law was then in a state of flux—a local authority not only has power but has exercised that power in a number of cases to require as a condition of development being permitted that action should be taken to lock the stable door in advance by requiring that building should be carried out in such a manner as largely to prevent damage from subsidence. As I understand it, under modern conditions in a number of places that can be done, although, of course, it is expensive.
When that is done, the owner has at once to expend the money required, because he is otherwise unable to get permission to do the building. There are very important cases where owners of land—for example, the Church Commissioners—have in the old days granted leases to the coal owners on the express condition that the coal owners would be responsible for subsidence—and, of course, the land owners received a lower rent in consequence. The position now appears to be this. Suppose the work required to be done for the purpose of anticipating the subsidence has to be paid for by the Church Commissioners, there would be no method by which they could recover the cost. There is the curious position that although this important body—in relation to important and valuable areas—has a legal right under its lease to be compensated for the subsidence at the expense of the coal owners, if it actually takes place, if, nevertheless, it is required by the planning authorities itself to take steps in the development to prevent subsidence taking place, and does so, then it can obtain no redress.
1217 What are the rights and wrongs of that and how it can be justified is a little difficult to see. It may well be that I am ignorant, and I am always prepared to find that one is ignorant about these matters, but it seems that that aspect of the matter has no been covered. If it is the intention that as a matter of general principle the National Coal Board should provide a general remedy for damage and in all cases provision should be made for the benefit of those who suffer from subsidence, it seems to be a very remarkable thing if, in a case where steps are taken in advance to prevent subsidence, there is to be no compensation in any way.
Of course, it must be borne in mind that under Clause 4 the Board has power in a number of cases not only to assist but to require this advanced precaution to be taken. However, the Board would be only human if it were to take no steps under Clause 4 in a case where the planning authority had taken action in advance and required the owner of the land to take the precautions in advance and to pay for them. It may be that the proper way to deal with the matter would be to provide some method of reimbursement or compensation, but it seems strange that if, in an excess of zeal, the Government should lean over to give an owner something in respect of a right which he has actually surrendered, in another case where the owner has not surrendered the right he should be given nothing. I am sure that the Government will look into the matter and see whether we cannot arrive at a conclusion which will carry out the general purpose we all have in view, of doing justice as far as we can.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
As I have lived with the problem of mining subsidence for a long time, I feel it is incumbent upon me to say a few words about the Bill. In the past hundred years, approximately 21,000 million tons of coal have been extracted from the mines, a vast amount. With that amount taken from below the surface, it is natural that one should expect mining subsidence. In my constituency, as in others, we have seen this trouble and the poverty, hardship and the financial loss which it has brought.
Only last September, I went round my constituency and saw a good deal of the 1218 type of property which is affected. Much of the damage from mining subsidence was caused by the working of pits when they were controlled by private enterprise. One is bound to feel sorry for people who live in subsidence-affected property. The National Coal Board has been as generous as possible, but where it has not been legally possible to give financial assistance the burden of the damage has fallen upon the owner.
The public should realise what we are talking about, and what the Bill means. The burden has been placed upon local authorities in mining areas. We have seen our services disrupted, and in some cases it has resulted in death, through fractured gas mains, and there has been no redress. No doubt it has all been caused by mining subsidence. When we consider the public outbursts which have occurred from time to time, we must agree that it is time someone made a financial contribution.
The first Royal Commission was set up in 1923 and made its report in 1927, but it was not until 1950 that a tangible contribution was made towards compensation. The Turner Report had just come out, but it was too early to act upon that Report. I welcome the Bill for what it gives, but I certainly disagree with the direction in which it moves. That is where some of my hon. Friends will be very vociferous in their protestations.
Anybody who is conversant with the mining industry will agree that we cannot afford to sterilise coal which lies beneath inhabited areas. Consequently, we must get mining subsidence. The Paymaster-General said that much of this subsidence could be prevented by solid packing. I would remind him that, in the main, solid packing is carried out only to prevent spontaneous heating, and it is a very costly job. In some cases solid packing has made it impossible to work the seam. I would not pay too much attention to that, however.
I realise that the National Coal Board works in close collaboration with local authorities. I can give an example of the way in which the Coal Board collaborated in this way in, I believe, 1951. It said, "If you build in this area there will be some movement. If you are prepared to build in another part of the district and allow us to get the coal 1219 out from here, it will be safe for building here in a few years' time." That was a very sensible arrangement.
We realise what such things will cost, but the National Coal Board will have to consider the position with a great deal of attention before it starts winning coal which lies underneath houses. It has been said that the estimated cost will be about £6 million. I hope that it will be no more than that, but we have no guarantee that it will not. There will have to be some rather judicial thinking by the Coal Board if that cost is not to be exceeded.
I have a feeling that the Government have not much respect for the mining industry. Since nationalisation everything has been piled upon it. We should be a little more respectful when dealing with the very vital commodity of coal. We should realise that, although this cost will no doubt be spread over the whole country, it will be of great detriment to wage negotiations inside the industry.
I feel that it is wrong to place this burden upon the industry. The Paymaster-General thinks that it is fundamentally right, and says, "Why should it not carry this burden?" He gave one or two examples to support his argument. I wonder if he has read the White Paper concerning the farming industry. I have no objection to these drafts being given to the agricultural industry. Only yesterday, in another place, reference was made to the fact that millions of pounds are to be given to that industry for the provision of buildings, for electricity, and so on. If it is right for this assistance to be given to the farming industry, it is equally right for the Exchequer to give something to the mining industry. That is my analogy, which is as sound as that of the Paymaster-General.
We accept the principles of the Bill, but we must make the Government realise that we are against placing the burden of this £6 million upon the National Coal Board. When the Bill goes to Committee, I hope that the Ministry will give serious consideration to this matter. When this increase comes into operation, if we ask householders all over the country what they think about paying more for coal they will say that they are not concerned about paying it, but they are concerned because the price is too much. It is all very well for the Government to tell 1220 us that industry must have coal. If the Exchequer made some retrospective grant towards the cost, at least the gesture would be appreciated by the Coal Board and by the National Union of Mineworkers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) stated that when wage negotiations are entered into the individual itemised points will not be looked at. All that will be considered is the total. The cost of imported coal and many other factors will mean that the price that the National Coal Board will have to pay in regard to mining subsidence will be lost in a mass of figures. Hon. Members opposite will then tell us what is wrong with the industry.
§ Mr. Roberts
Every hon. Member on this side will say that he is opposed in principle to this heavy burden being placed upon the industry.
I hope that we can at least bring about some modification of the Bill. If the Exchequer or the Treasury feels that it cannot act in that way I would ask for consideration to be given to the question of making retrospective payment. I do not know what the Parliamentary Secretary thinks about this, but if some retrospective payment could be made it would certainly be of some advantage to us—and we always appreciate the little drops that help the mining industry. I like the Bill for what it gives. I hope that we can make some progress in Committee, however, and bring about some of the alterations to which we have referred.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I should be out of my depth in a coal mine and I think still more should I be out of my depth if I tried to follow the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) into the intricacies of the National Coal Board's finances. I wish to deal with a rather superficial aspect of this problem, superficial in the sense that it is the land above the coal which concerns me. I do not know how many times during the last two years I have heard in this Chamber that farmers are being undermined. It is something of a relief to find today that is true; and if the "wolf" has actually come to the Chamber, it is equally with 1221 relief that I find that the Government have drawn most, indeed if not all, of the "wolf's" teeth.
The point that concerns me is the matter of compensation for the owners of farmland. The Paymaster-General spoke of compensation to the farmers. In fact, the compensation referred to in Clause 1 of the Bill is limited to the owner of the land, which is slightly different. It may be the same person, but it is a different aspect of property. As has already been pointed out, the compensation is limited to the remedial works for damage arising after this Bill becomes law. In the case of farmland, it is mainly in respect of houses, buildings, roads, water mains, wells, water supplies and so on; and, of course, the land itself.
In Clause 1 (4) the Board is empowered, where it considers the reasonable cost of the work exceeds the amount of depreciation in the value of property, to elect to make a payment equal to the amount of depreciation and not to the cost of reinstating the land. Although that may seem a Committee point, it raises a serious issue of principle. In the case of a field under drainage that measure of the compensation may be wholly insufficient.
No doubt hon. Members realise that drainage is absolutely fundamental to the process of farming. It is like a support in a mine. One cannot farm without good land drainage, just as one cannot mine without properly supported shafts. The cost of field drainage today in relation to the current market value of land is very great indeed. In any ordinary scheme, it may well be that the margin between the same land sold un-drained or drained is much less than the cost of doing the job.
That seems to me a wrong measure of values. I submit that it is quite wrong for the Board to judge whether or not that payment of a difference in the value should be made. The Clause says, "in the opinion of the Board." I suggest that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be brought into this assessment of damage and restoration. The procedure I should like to see is that the Board should normally give full payment in respect of this land drainage damage and that the work is in fact 1222 carried out, except where the Minister of Agriculture agrees that some lesser sum or action would be appropriate. As the Clause stands, there is likely to be a pretty wide gap between the amount payable and the damage done. If that gap is to remain, I should at least like an assurance that the Minister of Agriculture would fill it, or help to fill it, from the sum of money already made available to him for land drainage.
Clause 5 deals specifically with land drainage. The first question I wish to discuss has already been raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) and may have been mentioned by the Paymaster-General during the time when I was called from the Chamber. The Clause requires a joint order from the Minister of Power and the Minister of Agriculture before what might be called the "Doncaster Act" procedure for land drainage damage is extended to other areas of the country. I believe that this is cumbersome and unnecessary.
At the most four river boards and six internal drainage boards are likely to be affected, and it is limited to a relatively small area. I suggest that it would be right to allow any affected river board to rank for consideration without further ado. There again, a similar measure of the damage is suggested, with which I cannot wholly agree. Clause 5 (2) suggests that the National Coal Board shall carry out such measures as are "necessary, economic and reasonable." The word "economic" seems to me to beg a very difficult question. It depends whether we consider it purely in the context of coal getting or in the wider context of the preservation of agricultural land. It would be wiser to omit "economic" and to allow the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Power to agree together about what is necessary and reasonable. Automatically that would take the economic factor into account.
I wish to refer briefly to the occupation of land. As it stands, the Bill remedies the damage which would be suffered by owners. Naturally, that causes disappointment among those farmer-occupiers who through subsidence have suffered serious interruptions, and in some cases the cessation, of their means of livelihood. Clearly, one would like compensation to be extended to them, though I realise, as has been said, that that would import a much 1223 wider category of damage, and one difficult to define and measure, and against which there are precedents. I could not suggest that farmers should receive compensation for loss of income and not other people, and, therefore, their claim must stand or fall with the decision finally taken on this whole category.
There is one aspect of occupation to which I wish to draw attention and it relates to the Board's own tenants. The National Coal Board is a very large owner of agricultural land and before the Board came into being a practice grew up of granting damage-free tenancies to farmers. Without wearying the House with details, that simply meant that farmers took land and, if damage occurred, they had to put up with it. The farmer took land at a certain rent, and renounced in advance all claims against his under-mining owner. That was condemned by the Turner Committee, and it was agreed between the National Coal Board and the National Farmers' Union that the practice should cease and there should be no more such tenancies.
I understand there is a slight difference of interpretation. The National Farmers' Union would like to gee no more tenancies created in the areas of the former damage-free tenancies, while the National Coal Board limits itself to not granting damage-free tenancies over further areas of land. I would like to see damage-free tenancies prohibited in any Act dealing with mining subsidence instead of leaving the matter to somewhat informal agreement.
The issuing of damage-free tenancies is purely a commercial matter. The object of the former colliery owners and of the National Coal Board was to buy up land and to avoid what might well have been claims for damages costing more than the purchase price of the land. In 1946, the National Coal Board had the option of taking over farmland owned by the colliery undertakings, and it exercised that option very wisely from its own point of view. The result is that the National Coal Board is free to damage its own agricultural property and is not required to pay compensation to itself. That is perfectly legitimate under the common law, but I question whether or not it is in the national interest. I do not want to argue in detail that our stock 1224 of farmland is limited. Quite clearly it is. The only point here is that it is impossible to compensate the nation for the loss of its farmland, because there is no method of replacing it once it has been destroyed.
I fully realise the overriding need to get more coal as quickly and cheaply as possible. We must expect the National Coal Board to have a practical commercial outlook upon that problem. Therefore the Minister of Agriculture should be brought more closely into the working of the Bill. The market-value measure of damage to agricultural land is a false one. Book value may stand at a few pounds an acre but the true value may be very much greater. Some comparison might be made with values abroad. The value of agricultural land in Germany, for example, is several hundred pounds an acre for farm use in the industrial regions round about Cologne. That suggests that ours is under-valued.
It cannot be in the national interest for the National Coal Board to decide these questions. I am not clear, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can enlighten me, exactly how closely the Ministry of Agriculture is concerned. I would prefer to see explicit safeguards in the Bill so that the National Coal Board would have to do for its own land what under the Bill it has to do on anyone else's land. As I suggested in the slightly different context of damage to drainage, the Minister of Agriculture should normally have to agree where any compensation for work done was less than that required to put the land back into its proper workable state.
I am grateful for what the Bill contains. It will make a very great difference. I would prefer the Minister of Agriculture should come rather more directly into it and have an opportunity of being consulted about the way in which the operations of the National Coal Board take place. I do not know the technicalities, but it must often be possible to do something in a way which may be a little more expensive and may take a little more time but might do less damage to the land overlying the coal.
Harmonic working has been suggested as a helpful technical practice to avoid subsidence. A little harmonic working between the two Ministries might avoid 1225 a lot of damage in the future. I hope that some of the points I have made will be taken into account during later stages in the progress of the Bill, and met.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian)
I am afraid that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) was talking more in terms of opencast mining than of deep mining, with which the Bill deals. I am deeply concerned about the aims of the Bill because I come from a country which claims to have one of the oldest records, if not the very oldest record, in the history of mining. I can testify to the fact that there are more seams in our part of the country than in any other coalfield in Britain, plus a great many—[Interruption.] Possibly only Durham has a longer record of damage than ours in the history of mining. The National Coal Board is certainly in need of assistance in this matter, but we in Midlothian have had this problem before us for a very long time. All Scotland has the same problem, even the great City of Glasgow. That city was at one time the venue of many collieries. The City of Edinburgh, close to the borders of my constituency to the south-west, shows visible signs of undermining by coal excavation.
We claim in Midlothian and in the Lothians as a whole to have been the earliest place from which coal was shipped, away back in the sixteenth century or earlier. We have suffered greatly from undermining, and it has been made manifest that local authorities are not equipped to handle the results of mining subsidence. I have here the rating review, which shows that in many counties and burghs in the mining areas of Scotland the rates are as high as 30s. or 40s. in the £. Obviously local authorities cannot do anything to alleviate subsidence damage.
Who could do it? The Government have made a great concession in principle in the Bill, but I must warn them that the steps taken are not nearly adequate. I can see the Midlothian coal field alone having to spend £5 million annually. The Bill places responsibility for buildings, drains, etc., upon the National Coal Board.
Some years ago the House agreed to the great Esk Valley drainage scheme. 1226 That is now in progress and more than £1 million has been spent on it. It is about half completed. That scheme follows the basin of the River Esk from Penicuik to the sea. Already the county council has had to take remedial measures because faulty coal measures, which some say run from west to east and some say from east to west, deep below that basin, affect the scheme. The Esk is one stream from Musselburgh and at Dalkeith the river breaks into two, one branch going south-west towards the Pentland Hills and the other south-east towards the Moorfoots. Provision must be made for that great drainage scheme.
In the Valley of the Esk there are carpet works which are holding their own against Belgian competition. Some hon. Members know of the menace of Belgian competition. I am prepared to support the weaver of Midlothian against any foreign competitors, especially the Belgians, whom I am certain they would weave into the pattern which they weave into the carpet. One little tremor, and the finely devised machinery and our people would suffer great loss. Those mills stretch from Penicuik to the sea alongside the Esk. There are paper mills in the same situation.
We cannot expect the National Coal Board to sterilise every part of the coal field. If hon. Members look at the magazine Coal, which I am sure they all have in their possession, they will find a fine article there from the pen of Mr. Milligan, who was the production manager for Scotland. He is now industrial relations officer of the Board, and writes about the great drain which there is on the Board's finances in this respect.
After Sir Charles Reid presented his Report I often emphasised in the House that it would take hundreds of millions of pounds to re-equip the industry. Mr. Milligan shows in his article just what is happening to Rosewell, which is two miles from my home. That is one of the collieries which has a recorded history going back to 1700. Thousands of pounds must be spent to get to the bottom seams and that will menace—as the Newbattle collieries have done—not only the works, but local authorities which have a very fine record in the building of houses. One local authority in the area now owns 75 per cent. of the houses in the burgh. Another owns a 1227 district heating scheme the whole of which is served by one great furnace apparatus. The pipes there are in danger of being broken by mining subsidence. The seams of coal are from 8 ft. thick, to 2 ft. 9 in. thick.
Who is to compensate the local authority for all the damage which will be and is being inflicted upon it? Five million pounds will not last very long. What will be the effect of the spending of £5 million by the National Coal Board? We have large numbers of old-age pensioners. We are told that the price of coal must go up in accordance with the amount of money which is spent on this problem. Thousands of people live on small fixed incomes—civil servants who spent their lives in the great administrative centre of Edinburgh. Those people have no way of forcing up their standard of remuneration. They must suffer from the operations of this Measure.
I am speaking in no carping spirit. I am not opposing the Bill, nor am I attempting to oppose it. I am trying to persuade the Government that this is not the answer to our problems. No man is more conversant with that problem than the Parliamentary Secretary. Very recently he visited the core of my constituency, the great Lady Victoria Colliery at Newbattle which, since 1894, has vomited forth every shift 2,000 tons of coal and handled about 3,500 tons from the two adjoining collieries. While there the hon. and learned Gentleman examined the effects of mining subsidence. He visited the seat of the great Dalhousie family, Dalhousie Castle. In that valley he saw houses from which people had been forced. They have now gone to the City of Edinburgh.
I ask the Government to reconsider the question, because to tie this liability round the neck of the National Coal Board is not tying a millstone round its neck but a gravestone. There are good men on the National Coal Board who fully understand this problem. There is the son of Sir Charles Reid, a fine exponent of mining engineering in Fife, and also the man who was mines inspector for Scotland, Sir Andrew Reardon. They know the problems which we have to face. I am certain they would agree that £5 million a year will not do all that is required to be done.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. C. George (Glasgow, Pollok)
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Pryde) always takes us back into history and leaves us with very well-informed minds. Throughout the afternoon I have sympathised with those hon. Members opposite who have tried to bring before us the suffering which has been caused throughout the years in mining areas, as distinct from other areas, through subsidence. I have seen it because I lived in mining areas, and only those who have lived and worked there have seen the gnawing anxiety and worry which it causes.
Subsidence might strike sharply, suddenly and sadly, or it might wreak its vengeance on home, factory, church, road or railway over long, painful years before its full effect is shown. It is insidious in its work and causes grave loss. It follows no foreseeable pattern. Sometimes it seems to be in kindly mood and lets down buildings gently without their being rent or torn, as in the case of the houses near a canal which have been mentioned. At other times it is in a wrecking temper, and fantastic patterns can be woven.
I think of my County of Fife where, in Cowdenbeath, a sober man walking in the streets might be allowed to doubt his sobriety. Subsidence has caused the houses to lean over much worse than the Tower of Pisa leans. The streets have undulations in them like the waves of the sea. Those houses were the happy homes of simple people and have been damaged in that way by subsidence. The responsibility fell on them and on them alone. The great ambition in Fife and elsewhere is for the old miner to own his house. He wanted that bit of standing in the locality, that little stake in his own country. He got it, but very often it was ruined by subsidence.
That was all put right in respect of the smaller houses by the wise and kindly Act of 1950. That simply showed that the national conscience had at last, after many years, been awakened to this evil in its midst, just as it has wakened to varying evils in our time—the evil of unemployment, the evil of want and disease; and having been awakened to these evils, it has moved to abolish them. In moving to abolish this evil of subsidence it moved in 1950 a long way in relation to the smaller houses, and this 1229 Bill takes us along almost the entire road towards relieving everyone of any anxiety about subsidence. We all agree that that anxiety should be removed. The only difference is about who should bear the cost.
The 1950 Act was very limited in scope but it brought great joy and great relief to many thousands of humble people. The Bill is a logical and generous follow-up, and I very much welcome it. Everybody benefits, as the Paymaster-General said, and nobody is penalised except, as hon. Members opposite have been reiterating all day long, the National Coal Board.
Hon. Members opposite have an arguable case, but they are extremely conservative in their views. They say that no new burden should be added to the industry, however deserving the cause or great the need—and all day they have been impressing upon us how deserving is this cause and how great is the need for this legislation. "We want it", they say, "but somebody else and not the National Coal Board should pay".
In my opinion, they should think broadly, humanely and generously in this respect. This is a social advance, just as the abolition of unemployment, want and disease were social advances. Burdens were placed on industry and accepted by industry. Industry did not turn round and say, "This is a new advance towards progress and better conditions for the people of this country. It should not be a burden on us but should be a burden on the Treasury". This is a social advance, and in my view its cost should lie upon the industry which causes the damage.
When the House decided to pass the Mines and Quarries Act, another important social advance which will cost the National Coal Board far more than £5 million a year when it is fully implemented, we did not say that the burden should be borne by the Treasury. It was a new burden on the industry because of the desire for advancement in safety. That was accepted, and in exactly the same way, I suggest, this Bill should be accepted. It is a contribution to social advance and it will by no means cripple the National Coal Board nor add a tremendous amount to the present price of coal.
1230 Responsibility over that wide area where the National Coal Board had no responsibility in the past having been accepted, very important matters emerge. They have already been mentioned today. Not only do I think that this burden upon the National Coal Board should be accepted as a social advance but I also think that it will be accepted by the National Coal Board as a spur to the devising of better methods of working in order to limit subsidence. There is no doubt in the minds of mining engineers —and I was a mining engineer—that subsidence can be limited, although it cannot be prevented. Surely here is a new incentive. We have to pay for it now; therefore we must watch what we do a little better than we have done in the past. I suggest that that will be done.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) that since the Royal Commission sat, and even since the Turner Committee sat, new methods of mining, giving a greater rate of advance, are helping to limit subsidence. New machines are helping to limit subsidence. One was mentioned today in which I have an interest—a machine for stowing the waste. Better packing of the waste is being practised more and more widely and wisely by the National Coal Board, and that will limit subsidence. All that work will be intensified because of this new burden placed upon the National Coal Board, and I am certain that as a consequence of this new burden the subsidence of the future will be less than it would otherwise have been.
Let us look at what the Turner Committee said about subsidence. It heard evidence from the National Coal Board's mining engineers on the subject. We are always being told that we must go deeper and deeper in our mines, and the Committee was told that as we go deeper methods can be devised to let the roof down evenly and gently. The engineers look forward to a lessening of subsidence because of working at greater depth and working with better equipment in the light of modern inventions. They look upon that as a probability. We know that subsidence will be limited by modern methods of working.
In the Turner Committee's Report, from the evidence of the engineers of the National Coal Board three factors emerged with which they said they did 1231 not cope in limiting subsidence. The three factors mentioned were faults, rib sides and old workings. Those are the three factors which the mining engineers of the National Coal Board said, in 1947, that they could not control.
As hon. Members opposite know very well, faults are weaknesses in the strata which allow the roof to slide down rather more quickly than it does where the coal has been extracted away from the fault. In 1947 these engineers said, "Faults are there and we cannot help them. Subsidence will always take place". Since then, technical advance has brought in a practice which can help in this respect to a great extent—the practice of leaving a yielding pillar, a thin pillar of coal, near the fault, to be crushed down gently as the roof goes and allowing the roof near the fault to go down at the same speed as elsewhere. It overcomes that worry which the mining engineers of the National Coal Board had in 1947. It is another practice which this new burden will urge the mining engineers of the N.C.B. to put into operation and work properly.
The hon. Member for Bolsover also mentioned the danger of rib sides causing subsidence and said that that could not be controlled. I submit that in many cases the position of the rib sides in relation to property on the surface can be controlled by good planning. There is no need to leave the rib side anywhere at random; it can be placed in the proper position to limit the damage on the surface to a minimum.
We all know that the third factor, old workings, can cause serious damage, and we know that there is no easy method of dealing with that, but I believe that as a result of this new burden every effort will be directed by the N.C.B. engineers towards limiting subsidence. I believe that the country will benefit from rather than be punished by the steps proposed in the Bill.
If the mining engineers in England and Wales want to learn how to prevent subsidence, perhaps the figures which I shall give will show where they should go to learn. The cost of payments for subsidy damage last year varied greatly all over the country. It might be that that was purely fortuitous and due to natural conditions, but the differences are so striking that I must mention them. For 1232 instance, in Scotland it costs 1d. per ton to pay for all the subsidence damage, in the North-Western area it costs 8d. per ton, in the East Midlands it costs almost 6d. per ton and in the West Midlands almost 5d. per ton. There is therefore a great difference in the cost of subsidence in these areas. Is it that the mining engineers of Scotland know their job better?
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
Are the figures which the hon. Member is giving figures in respect of the present limited liability or is he extending his estimate to cover all subsidence? The fact that he used the term "all subsidence" might have been a slip of the tongue. He surely did not mean all the subsidence which would be covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. George
I referred to all the subsidences paid for by the National Coal Board last year, so the figures do not include subsidence which is to be provided for in the future. Scotland manages to control its subsidence at a cost of a penny a ton, and in the North-Western Area the cost is 8d. a ton.
§ Mr. T. Brown
But is the hon. Member aware that as between the Scottish and the Lancashire and Midland coal seams there is a difference in the stratification so that one gets a higher frequency of mining subsidence in some districts than in others?
§ Mr. George
I am well aware of the conditions which either limit or increase subsidence, but I thought those figures were worth mentioning in case the N.C.B. should think of sending its engineers to Scotland to see how that remarkable figure is achieved. On the other hand, this efficiency of the mining engineers in Scotland may have resulted from the natural reluctance of Scottish coal owners to pay for subsidence, and steps which were therefore taken to prevent it.
§ Mr. George
In that event, it may be that England will, in any case, learn how to deal more efficiently with the problem.
I believe that the first main effect of this burden which is to be put on the 1233 National Coal Board will be to force the engineers to study this question far more urgently, and to take more efficient steps in the future than in the past. There I would leave that point and turn, if I may, to one or two items in the Bill itself upon which I should like clarification.
I know that the purpose of the Bill is to remove, if possible, all hardship, and to treat everybody covered by this Measure and by the 1950 Act in exactly the same way but, reading only Clause 1, I do not think that that is achieved. The 1950 Act provides for payment for all damage done where coal and other minerals are worked, and makes no other qualification.
This Bill certainly provides that where… coal and other minerals worked therewith…are extracted and subsidence results the damage will be paid. But it goes on to say that the Board will not pay for damage caused where minerals are worked with coal but the coal is only ancillary thereto. It would seem to me that if a 4 ft. seam of coal were being worked with 2 ft. of fireclay, payment would he made for damage caused, but that it would not be paid if 4 ft. of fire-clay were being worked with 2 ft. of coal. I hope that my interpretation is wrong. Nevertheless, that is what the Bill says, and I should like the Minister's view on it. In any case, if there is room for any doubt at all, why not simply say that the Bill covers all subsidence caused by the operations of the National Coal Board?
There is another small but very human point. I am sure that the intention of the Bill is that tenants of dwelling-houses now included for payment for subsidence damage should be on exactly the same footing as those who already enjoy it. That was the purpose of the Turner Committee. The 1950 Act was very wisely and generously—and in full accord with the Turner Report—made retrospective to 1947.
We are now bringing in another class of dwellings, and I should like the Minister to remember that the Turner Committee said that payment for all dwelling-houses—all—should be retrospective. The position is that damage to dwelling-houses now to be covered will be paid from the passing of the Act onwards, but payment is not made retro- 1234 spective to 1947, and I think that, in equity and in keeping with the recommendations of the Turner Committee, there should be such retrospection.
§ Mr. B. Taylor
On the point of retrospection, the Turner Committee, in respect of some kinds of houses, did go back further than 1947. If the houses had not been repaired, but were repairable, the retrospection went back beyond 1947.
§ Mr. George
That is quite correct. I merely suggest that the Report as applied to houses under the 1950 Act should be applied to dwelling-houses under this Bill.
By Clause 1 (2) it is the duty of the National Coal Board to execute works as soon as reasonably practicable to make the property not less fit for its original purpose. So far, so good. But by subsection (4) the Board is given authority not to execute any of those works where the reasonable cost of repair is in excess of the depreciated value of the property, but instead to make a payment equal to that amount.
What troubles me about that is the very long time which may elapse before a decision is reached. It might be 1, 2 or 3 years before the Board could reasonably be asked to make a final decision. I do not think we should say that the Board has the right to do nothing, that it can let the property remain wrecked—with the tenants living in difficult or unhealthy conditions —until the Board makes up its mind either to pay a lump sum or to undertake permanent works. That wording is not tight enough, and in all cases of damage the Board should do remedial work. By all means let us allow it to take a proper time to make up its mind about the permanent work, but do not let us give it the power, as this Clause seems to do, to say, "We are going to do nothing."
This Clause goes very much deeper than that, and causes me a great deal of anxiety. In effect, it enables the Board to say "This house has been wrecked and is not worth repairing. We will pay you its depreciated value." Nothing more than that—the depreciated value. I want the Minister to remember that houses are homes, not statistics, and I want to give him the sort of case I have come across in local government 1235 work when property has been taken over compulsorily by a local authority.
There was the case of two old people in a house which had been their home for many years. Throughout the rest of their lives they had had no intention of leaving it. They meant to stay there and to die there. They had a home, and it did not cost them much. The local authority took the house for its own purposes and gave the old couple £200. The same thing can happen under this Bill. An old couple may have a home and be quite content to finish their lives in it. As a result of subsidence the house is wrecked and the National Coal Board will be permitted to give them the depreciated value of the house, which may be a couple of hundred pounds. The couple to whom I have referred had a home, and did not want £200. Now they have no home, and £200. What can they do with it? They cannot buy a house, nor can they build a house.
Here we are making new law. Why not deal with such matters in a broader way and force the Board in such cases to provide accommodation of comparable size, whether by buying old houses of the same standard or by building new ones? I cannot think that it is justice that we should, for national or even for local purposes, destroy a man's home and leave him without enough money to buy or build another house. I should like that aspect to be considered.
Looking at Clause 3, which deals with cases of anticipated future damage, I have much the same difficulty. The hon. Member for Midlothian has mentioned the very large number of seams in the Midlothian coalfield, and the Bill provides that, if it appears to the Board probable that further subsidence will take place—within such a period as would make it unreasonable that all or any of the permanent works …should be done, it can leave matters alone and do nothing. What does that mean? What is the meaning of the phrase "within such period"? I believe the N.C.B. will be reasonable in most cases, but we are making a law under which the Board can work the first seam as a result of which damage to houses will be caused. It might then reasonably say, "We are not doing any permanent works, until the 1236 second, third or fourth seam has been worked".
What is a reasonable period? It may well and truly be argued that it was not sensible to do permanent repairs to such a house until the working of the seams had reached such a depth as to give reasonable freedom from further subsidence. I should like this point examined again, because I feel that the words "within such period" are again too broad, and that there should be a limiting time of perhaps two or three years. I would suggest to the Minister that these are very important and intimate problems.
For a moment, I now want to turn to the question of drainage areas. I have been in Doncaster, and I was delighted to see that that system was working well. Indeed, it was working very well, and in spite of what we have heard today I am very glad to see that it is now to be extended to all England and Wales, but why not extend it to Scotland? We can envisage some parts of Scotland to which it might apply.
I went to Doncaster as a member of a local authority in order to examine the system with a view to having it applied in the Devon Valley in Clackmannanshire. In that valley, where the River Devon winds slowly to the sea, new mines have been sunk, and it is expected that the level of the area will drop anything up to 19 ft. It was thought then that this damage could be avoided by the use of the Doncaster method, and thereby, instead of converting that vast valley into a deep lake, it could be preserved for agricultural purposes.
I ask the Minister to think again about this point, and apply the Doncaster powers to Scotland. If it is not needed, there will be no harm in having the power to apply it, but I believe that the power could be useful in the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Turning to the last point that I want to raise, I have said that I thought that the future burden of subsidence would depend mainly on two factors; first, upon National Coal Board engineers tackling their job in a more efficient way, using modern experience to the full advantage; and, secondly, on the machinery operated under the town and country planning orders working efficiently and happily.
1237 I have heard it said several times today —it was said by the Minister himself—that that machinery is working well. The burden upon that machinery is great. We have, in relation to the liability of the National Coal Board, just opened up a vast area of the country where nothing exists today, but where houses, factories and may other structures will be built in the future. Unless great care is exercised, they can all be built in the wrong places and add a tremendous burden to the cost of getting coal. The instrument to prevent this promiscuous building taking place in the wrong places is the town and country planning authority. It is said that matters are working very well, but I cannot share that view, and I have some fairly wide experience in this aspect of the matter. In fact, I am very much afraid of the future if this tremendous burden is added, requiring clear decisions on so many technical points.
I have found great difficulty in Scotland, and it emerges in many ways. The Turner Committee, in paragraph 40 of its Report, said that it expected that, when this machinery got into operation, matters would come under control, and that we could expect a reduction in subsidence damage because of the operation of that machinery; but the Committee took cognisance of one very big weakness. This is that the town and country planning authority controls only new mines, and does not control the operations of old mines. Old mines can still go on and the old system will still operate, doing damage just as it has done in years gone by.
Here is one illustration of the weakness of that system. It arose in a town in Scotland—and I will give the Minister the name of the mine concerned if he wishes—where the National Coal Board went to all the trouble of designing a new shaft, and put in an application to the town and country planning committee. Opposition was at once created for purely local reasons, and the application was withdrawn. I cannot say with certainty why it was withdrawn, but I have a shrewd idea. It was withdrawn to overcome the opposition of the planning authority because the Board would continue to work the coal from the old pit, where there were no restrictions. The idea originally was to close down the old pit, shorten the roads and thus save 1238 haulage costs, and generally get greater efficiency, but because of the operation of planning control in that area and local prejudice, that scheme was abandoned, and the old pit still goes on, getting older every day, with costs rising instead of dropping.
I would quote another case in my own experience as a member of a local authority in which the operations of the National Coal Board were held up for more than two years because of prejudice on the local council, and the N.C.B. had to endure all the paraphernalia of an inquiry with the sifting of endless evidence which held up development for two years. The reason it was held up was that the system of town and country planning was not working well. But it does not act only in one way. I have seen it work the opposite way round, through a lack of co-operation from the National Coal Board.
I refer to the case of a large reservoir owned by a local authority, and incidentally I want to ask the Minister whether reservoirs are included in the terms of the Bill. Perhaps he will answer that question later, because it is not clear to me whether they are or not. The reservoir to which I refer supplies almost 20,000 people. The National Coal Board informed the town council that it was the Board's intention to work the coal under the reservoir and that the coal workings would destroy it. The Board advised the town council to get busy and find another source of water supply.
The council did so and was on the point of entering into the expenditure of £800,000, because the Coal Board had said "We will destroy your reservoir". On going further into the matter, the council found that it had rights about which it had not known. But the Coal Board must have known about them. The Board ought to have informed the council of the true position, but it did not.
As it happened the town council was completely co-operative. It said to the Board, "In spite of the fact that the coal is under the reservoir, if you can devise a system—here is one that we have worked out ourselves—which will limit the subsidence and let the reservoir fall slowly, we will let you work the coal."
1239 It had to go to the Court of Session to get the N.C.B. to accept the system of operation which would in fact not destroy the reservoir, but would slowly lower its level, and deepen it, so that it would hold more water. Years of anxiety were caused to the council, which was only saved from the expenditure of £800,000 by receiving outside advice. It was the duty of the N.C.B. in the first place to devise a system which would allow the reservoir to sink gently and to limit the amount of the surface subsidence, and not to alarm the council by threats of destruction.
I mention these matters to show that the system under town and country planning is not free from faults or dangers, but that it is most important that it should be. The Minister should have some examination made as to how the scheme is really working. People on local authorities and planning authorities are individuals with certain prejudices, blindness or stubbornness. Again, the architects employed as planning officers are not really qualified to learn much from the study of mining plans. I have seen them at it. With all respect to that great body of men, they are often as wise coming out as on going in. It is essential that the R.I.B.A. should introduce into its examinations a paper covering the effects of subsidence and the construction of buildings in areas whore subsidence is likely. We must equip these architects who are the planners with the required technical knowledge, so that they can go to the National Coal Board's officers and talk with them on level terms.
A lot of things are happening today which ought not to happen, and the Coal Board's engineers are being very reluctant to give an opinion. They will often reply very readily to the effect that certain coal will be worked, may he worked or is being worked, but they do not give any information on the question whether it is safe to build in the area or not. Architects of local authorities are not supposed to take any chances, and they do not. They either abandon areas which are perfectly safe or they take extensive and costly precautions which sometimes are not needed.
I have in mind a particular example. A housing scheme was planned. Application was made to the National Coal 1240 Board for clearance. The reply was that coal had been extracted under the area some eighty years previously. Had the architect really known about subsidence, he would have known that nine times out of ten, or, indeed, 99 times out of 100, such an area would be perfectly safe. But, not knowing any better, and being told that coal had been worked there, he was terrified of the consequences. He put in, needlessly, very heavy foundations costing his local authority many thousands of pounds. I believe that that sort of thing is going on all over the country.
We should not be complacent about how this machinery is working. We should look into it very closely, examine its weaknesses and arrange for the procedure to be tightened up. We must not overburden the system. We must find a way to make it work, for it is vital that, in the future, people who want to build, local authorities, industrialists or private individuals, should be guided to the right place. We should put the least burden on the local authorities and the planners in their investigations, and ensure that by sensible co-operation they build where there is the least chance of subsidence.
I welcome the Bill. I feel that it will get a very generous welcome in the country. I hope that I have been constructively critical about it; and if it does contain any weaknesses we have a chance to correct them in Committee.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
The observations of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), to which I have listened with great respect, seemed to me to give point to the argument submitted from this side of the House that the charge in respect of the outlay under the Bill should fall upon the Exchequer rather than upon the industry or upon the consumers. When we speak of the Coal Board being the people who are going to pay, we are not really stating the facts with complete clarity; when we refer to the National Coal Board in that context, what we really mean is that we shall throw the burden upon the consumers of coal. Quite obviously, the National Coal Board has not got some great fund or financial resources out of which it can provide money for this or any other purpose.
1241 The reason why I say that the hon. Member for Pollok has indirectly given force and support to our argument is this. He has, quite properly, pointed out that although he gives his approval to the Measure and welcomes it, he feels that he must advance certain constructive criticisms, pointing out the respects in which it does not provide for deserving cases. He has instanced with tremendous effect cases of people whose little homes have been destroyed and who would be met only by a depreciation payment. I am sure he will agree with me that he might also have referred to other cases where they would have been faced with a lawsuit, or where not only might all their personal belongings have been destroyed or damaged without their having any recourse whatever against anyone for recoupment but their lives also might have been destroyed or they themselves injured. In all those cases, the people concerned get nothing under the Bill.
I take the point from the hon. Member's speech that that simply underlines once again the fact that we are making an attempt to provide a partial solution for a part of this dreadful and difficult problem. The greater the problem, of course, and the wider the range that we wish to cover, the stronger becomes the argument that we, as a nation, must face it as a national question and must consider dealing with it directly through the Exchequer rather than impose a burden upon a particular industry or upon consumers of a particular commodity.
Followed to its logical conclusion, the hon. Gentleman's speech, so well informed and, if I may say so with respect, so effectively delivered, really has the effect of confirming everything which I have felt throughout the years in looking at this problem. It is a national responsibility.
I will go further and say that grave difficulties may arise from imposing this obligation upon the National Coal Board. Although ultimately the consumer has to pay, there is nothing at all automatic about that procedure. It is quite possible for the amount which is to be paid under the Bill to be far in excess of the estimated £5million, and I will refer to that point further in a moment or two. But let us assume that that figure is correct; let us take it that the Minister is correct in 1242 saying that it means 6d. a ton. We should be living in cloud cuckoo-land indeed if we thought that as soon as the National Coal Board pointed out to the Minister that it meant 6d. a ton the Minister would say, "Yes; put the price up by 6d. a ton."
These matters do not work like that at all. There would be a time-lag, and in the course of that time-lag all sorts of arguments would be used in relation to claims made in the industry. On the balance sheet, there would be a complete distortion of the true state of the Board's financial affairs. When one looked at the balance sheet, one would be looking not merely at the expenses and assets of the Board but one would see also these special statutory impositions imposing upon the Board a liability which it had never had before.
Certain serious consequences in relation to negotiations would follow from that. On the one hand, the public mind would be stimulated by that part of the Press which has very little respect for the truth and is so concerned to do everything it can to denigrate the nationalised industries. There would appear in the Press banner headlines saying, "The National Coal Board is showing a loss again." Of course, these figures showing millions of pounds a year as the result of these special statutory impositions having nothing whatever to do with the working of coal would be included in the balance sheet; and, just at the very moment when the public, looking in good faith at the balance sheet, would say to itself that the banner headlines were quite right, the miners themselves, not living in cloud cuckoo-land and knowing how to assess the value of the Press reports, would be saying to the National Coal Board, "That balance sheet with those payments shown in it is largely a work of fiction. If you are going to resist our claims on that basis, you might as well quote 'Robinson Crusoe' against us as quote that particular balance sheet."
That is the situation which will arise if the Minister and his Department time and time again yield to the pressure of the Exchequer in distorting the financial position of the National Coal Board as set out in the balance sheet and report. Here is an opportunity for the Minister and his colleagues, realising that there is an important dinstinction here between 1243 the working expenses of the Coal Board and the special liabilities which are imposed, to make an alteration in the way in which these matters are presented.
The balance sheet should be brought in at a certain time in the year so that there is a clear, factual and honest statement made of the position of the Coal Board, and then, at another period of the year, there should be a special report prepared setting out a schedule of the specially imposed charges, including such charges as this, so that people will have clearly in their minds that there is one set of financial responsibilities in running the industry and there is quite another part of the activities of the National Coal Board where there are special liabilities imposed upon it. If something of that sort were to be done, what is said in the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill—that the Board is to be responsible—would have some force.
The Board is to be responsible for £5 million a year. Let us consider that again. What would be the position if the Minister were to resist the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Pollok, if he were to say to him and to us, "Great as our sympathy is for the people who suffered so much, we will provide what is suggested in the Bill and nothing more? We will provide nothing for indirect damage, nothing for damage to the person, nothing for the payment of extra rent, and so on—we will do nothing of that sort. We will restrict the provision strictly to the terms of the Bill." The Government base their estimate of £5 million, presumably, upon the same facts as were before the Turner Committee when the estimate was, on prices ruling at the time, approximately £3 million; but concerning that £3 million, the Committee said, in paragraph 86:If the estimate of approximately £3 million per annum is accepted as a rough guide—and we would emphasise that in our opinion it cannot be taken as anything else—.It is a rough guide.
Let me link the amount and the fact that it is a rough guide with what was said by the Paymaster-General, who opened the debate today. When talking of the cost of stowing, he said that it would amount to 20s. per ton. Let us, however, read paragraph 42 of the Turner Report, which states: 1244It has been made clear both by the National Coal Board and by the Institution of Mining Engineers that the reduction of risk of damage to the surface would only in very rare cases justify the cost of solid stowing.…With regard to the cost of solid stowing, the evidence of the National Coal Board estimated that in the case of an existing pit the cost would be 4s. to 5s. per ton; and that in the case of a new pit planned for solid stowing the cost would not be very much less. It was similarly estimated that the cost would be further increased by from Is. 6d. to 2s. per ton where it was necessary to quarry the material required for stowing.Let us take the 5s. figure and forget the additional cost for stowing where quarrying is necessary. We find that the figure in respect of stowing, which was 5s., now becomes 20s. Let us accept the Minister's estimate for the purposes of the argument. If, in fact, that cost has gone up four times in the ten years which have elapsed since the Turner Committee's evidence was considered, to advance the estimated £3 million to £5 million is surely rather dangerous and far too conservative and, it may be, completely unrealistic.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Is the hon. Member assuming that the Town and Country Planning Act has not only been of no effect, but has had an adverse effect? Surely, something has happened meanwhile.
§ Mr. Williams
I am simply saying that if there are substantial increases in respect of one item, we must take into account the fact that there will be increases, not necessarily proportionate, in relation to other items. There would be point in the intervention of the hon. Member if I were arguing, which I am not, that because the 5s. has gone up to 20s., we should multiply the £3 million by four, which is not part of my argument at all. I am only saying that many of us who have gone into this subject and who have taken full account of the point to which the hon. Member has drawn attention feel that the figure should be much nearer £8 million than £5 million.
That being so, let us remember that we are saying to the consumers of coal in this country, "For the purposes which are enshrined in this Bill, we are going to charge you a sum of £80 million extra for coal in the next decade." In the same period, following the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), who was the opening speaker 1245 on this side of the House, if the situation is such that year after year we have to bring in imports of coal to the value of £10 million, it means that we shall be getting perilously near a figure of £200 million which is to be put upon the consumers for those two items for a ten-year period and which will be shown in the balance sheet as if it were part of the cost of working the coal.
I say that it is obviously wrong that that should be done from the standpoint both of telling the truth and of considering the responsibilities which all parties in the industry have. Quite obviously, on the National Coal Board side as well as on the trade union side, if they get much more of this both sides will surely say in private, "Let us put this Robinson Crusoe balance sheet on one side and consider the facts and merits of this claim regardless of the position which would emerge in relation to the price of coal."
I feel that the Government have not considered the full implications of all this and should think again about having departed from one of the fundamental principles of the Turner Report. When the Government come along and say that the extra charge is part of the cost of producing coal, that does not mean that is an argument based on principle; it is merely the assertion of a principle. I listened very closely to the Paymaster-General when he spoke today, and while he asserted the principle very clearly, I did not find that he submitted any arguments at all, let alone convincing arguments, to support the principle and to say how this entirely new idea should be justified. He spoke rather as if it were some well-established principle which ought to have been applied to the industry and was now being quite properly applied for the first time.
I think that I have made it perfectly clear that I strongly object to the charge in respect of the Bill falling upon the National Coal Board, as it is put in the Explanatory Memorandum. In other words, I feel that one should say from this House to the consumers of coal, "There are certain ways of paying the bill which will come as a consequence of this Measure. That bill can be paid, not by the National Coal Board, because it has nothing to pay it with; it must be paid by you, the consumers of coal, or 1246 by the miners, in not giving them as much as otherwise they would be entitled to get in negotiations." There would be a dickens of a row if that latter line were taken by the Government.
We should say that this burden is to be borne because it helps to make a great social advance. If we increase the range of the payment, in accordance with the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Pollok, it could be a very great social advance; and of course, being a great social advance, it should be borne by our whole society and paid by the Exchequer.
Having said that in relation to the cost, I want to refer in passing to a point made by the Paymaster-General in answer to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) to the effect that there had been consultations with the National Union of Mineworkers. I want to clear up that point completely and I hope that if I state the position unfairly, the Parliamentary Secretary will intervene now rather than deal with it in his reply.
The National Union of Mineworkers has, of course, been making its representations for many years in relation to the problem of mining subsidence. It has always stated, and has not on any occasion in any way qualified its view, that the charge is one which should be borne by the Exchequer and not by the industry. That is the view which has consistently been put forward by the National Union of Mineworkers.
§ Mr. Renton
Is the hon. Member saying that it has been the view of the National Union of Mineworkers that the whole of the charge should be borne by the Exchequer, or only part of it, as in the 1950 Act?
§ Mr. Williams
The view of the National Union of Mineworkers is that the whole of the charge should be borne by the Exchequer. It is not in any way prejudiced or modified by the limited Measure of 1950, which because it was limited gave us the chance of doing something for that specific purpose and did not involve the considerations that I am putting forward which arise on the Bill now before us. Because the Act of 1950 was a much smaller Measure, and because it was a temporary Measure in the sense that we all knew on both sides of the House that something much larger 1247 had to follow, it did not at all prejudice or modify the view of the National Union of Mineworkers that the payment should be made by the Exchequer. I think that I have cleared that up, and if the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that I am stating the position unfairly, he should say so.
I want to make this perfectly clear, too, that so far as the National Union of Mineworkers is concerned, it equally makes clear that it wants these remedies. There is no question of opposing the remedies put forward in the Bill. The Bill does not go far enough but in so far as it goes, it is good. I am now talking about what the Bill provides as distinct from the financial responsibility imposed by the Bill. As to the Bill itself, I think that I might put the point in this way.
As I understand the Bill, it places upon the National Coal Board the initiative only in one case, and that is where the Board itself may take steps with the consent of the owners or in other circumstances as indicated in the Bill to perform preventive work. Setting that on one side for the moment, the initiative in respect of all matters except preventive work must come from the person or persons entitled to issue a damage notice and serve it on the Board. Until the Board receives the damage notice, the Board is not obliged to take any of the three major steps which are provided in Clause 1.
When it receives the damage notice, it may take certain steps in relation to it, with which I need not weary the House now, because they are Committee matters. But this is a Second Reading point. When the Board receives the damage notice, it may do one of three things. It may, first, execute the remedial work, or, secondly, it may elect—and this is a matter entirely for the Board, of course—to pay the sum reasonably incurred by some other person in the execution of that remedial work.
The third thing that the Board may do is this. If it appears to it that, taking the value of the property immediately before it is damaged by subsidence and the value of the property immediately afterwards, the difference between the two, that is the amount of depreciation caused by the subsidence damage is less than the amount which would be necessary to perform the remedial work or pay someone else for performing it, then 1248 the Board can make a depreciation payment.
That, I understand, is the sum and substance of the Bill. I know that there are many other important provisions in it, but that is the basis of it. In relation to that, I want to put certain points to the Government, because there are certain matters which seem to me to be of considerable importance which obviously arise. There is, first, the case of property such as churches and schools. Let us consider churches first.
Churches are not properties which are normally offered for sale, and I see that the general plan in the Bill is to provide for certain measures in relation to churches which are subject to the authority of the bishops, and to provide in another way for the churches which are not. If such churches of either kind were damaged, and if the National Coal Board did not consider that it was an appropriate case for performing remedial work or making a payment in lieu of remedial work to a third person, the National Coal Board might consider that there should be a depreciation payment made instead, as they very well might do for obvious reasons.
One can quite imagine that there might be a church affected by subsidence damage, a church which had been there for perhaps some hundreds of years, and one can imagine that it would not be a saleable proposition in the market. Quite obviously that is so. That church might be seriously damaged by subsidence, and the cost of restoration might be absolutely prohibitive. The cost of depreciation might, in certain cases, depending on how well had been the upkeep of the church, be relatively small in relation to the damage suffered by that community. It is not clear in the Bill how that is to be assessed because the Bill slides off—and I make no complaint about this—to the point that in such cases it shall be a matter for regulations to be made by the Minister.
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the debate, will help a large number of people who have expressed anxiety to me about that situation, by indicating along what lines he feels the assessment of the depreciation will be made in the regulations. Quite obviously, that must have been fully considered before the Bill was drafted and 1249 is not a case in which he would feel that he was sneaking in anticipation of something which remains for consideration.
I should like him also to help me in relation to a point relating to depreciation where a local authority is concerned in respect of schools and dwelling-houses. If a depreciation payment is to be made, there is in the case of dwelling-houses a right to consultation. The right to consultation is not the same thing as a right to decide something by agreement. The National Coal Board may, in the first place, be of opinion that the reasonable cost of executing remedial work would exceed the amount of the depreciation in the value of the property caused by the damage. Clause 1 (4) of the Bill clearly throws part of the question entirely into the realm of the opinion of the Board.
There is no remedy before a county court there. It is a matter purely for the Board to decide. It is not a question of there being any arbitration or refereeing because, quite obviously, if an attempt were made to bring that particular question before a county court, the judge would be obliged to say, "The only question that I have to decide is what is the opinion of the Board, not in fact what the amount of the depreciation ought to be." I mention that because many of my colleagues have been under the impression that because there is a general right under Clause 9 of the Bill of referring disputes to a county court and in certain cases, to the land tribunal, that might apply to a dispute arising out of the consultation. It does not.
I do not refer to the position in Scotland, not because I have anything but the greatest affection and regard for my Scottish colleagues, but because I know nothing at all about Scottish law, and I would never, in any circumstances, be tempted to make a pronouncement about it.
§ Mr. Williams
So far as the Clause in relation to depreciation is concerned, it says in Clause 1 (4):… in the opinion of the Board …against which, of course, there is no appeal permissible. I am not saying that 1250 there should be. I simply want clarification. There is a proviso that the Board shall not make payment under the subsection except after consultation with the local authority.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up this point. It is possible, with a little ingenuity, to say that we leave the matter entirely to the Coal Board for it to be, in its opinion, a case in which a depreciation payment should be made but we do not leave entirely to the Board the question of the amount of the depreciation payment; and the Board will consult the local authority before a depreciation payment is made in the case of dwelling-houses but not in the case of other property. Then, presumably, if the person to whom the depreciation payment is to be made—the local authority in this case—were to disagree as to the amount, that would be a dispute under the Bill. Consequently, it would be subject to the jurisdiction of the county court in all cases where the rateable value was less than £100 or, by agreement, where it was more than £100.
§ Mr. Renton indicated assent.
§ Mr. Williams
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees. I am quite sure that he will be the first to agree that one has to start with an early Clause of the Bill, leap to the Schedule, find certain provisos and then go back to Clause 9 and at last the position appears to be clear, but I wanted to be absolutely certain of that before I left this part of my observations. I see that Parliamentary Secretary agrees and that, of course, would be a very substantial check on any attempt capriciously to estimate the amount of depreciation payments.
I spend a little time on this point because it is so important. Depreciation payments will apply in so many cases and quite obviously, generally speaking, the cost of remedial works, other things being equal, is likely to be more than the depreciation figure. If that is so, the depreciation figure is the one around which disputes under the Bill will centre. That being so, it seems to me right that we should pay attention to this, because here there is another point affecting cost which I do not think can be appreciated without careful scrutiny of the Bill.
1251 Obviously, if there is to be a fight with local authorities on one side and the Coal Board on the other, with cases going on appeal from the county courts to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, the administrative expenses entailed will be substantial and will add greatly to the estimates that have been given. I have spent a little time on that point, because it seems to me that when the Bill is actually being worked there will be more argument and fury aroused on this question of depreciation than on any other point that I can think of in the Bill.
In relation to the cost and the terms of the Bill, I was a little heartened by the observation of the Paymaster-General about indirect damage when he said that, notwithstanding the principle that he was putting before us, it was felt that there was such sympathy for this sort of case of indirect damage, both on the part of the Government and in all parts of the House, that if anything at all could be done in Committee he was prepared to do it. I am very grateful to him for that. I hope that he will be as generous as possible in Committee in dealing with these cases of extreme hardship, which are now absolutely outside the terms of the Bill but which may be brought in by Amendments in Committee. Although I have sharply criticised aspects of the Bill, I hone that it will receive a welcome and will work well in the future.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I shall try to be short. I feel on this topic less than the normal willingness which all of us have frequently to jump up to talk about things we do not fully understand. I represent a constituency where the matter is very well understood, and I have seen it, I think, as clearly as one who has not himself felt it can see it; but I quite understand that it is one of those topics which press very deeply into people's hearts and heads and which is very difficult for those who have not actually felt the teeth of the harrow to speak of without seeming grossly ignorant or perhaps rather superiorly unsympathetic; and I am deeply sympathetic about it.
I feel a certain inexpertness, too, because I am bound to say that on what has been the main topic of controversy this afternoon—and most other things have been discussed without controversy —I do not think there is a watertight 1252 case for either view; but I do not feel quite certain that I understand either case. With respect to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, who I think put his bit very well, I do not think that it was absolutely watertight. I thought that perhaps the more convincing argument came from my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Mr. George). Since I think I was the first to use "rough justice" in a personal interjection to one of my hon. Friends, perhaps I may say that there are many occasions in life, especially where there is a long history and there is a large society inside the general society concerned, where one cannot get logical justice, 100 per cent. logical justice, for any of the parties concerned.
My feeling is that this is one of those questions. The main urge behind the Bill is no doubt to do justice, but to do justice in a sense in which justice not only includes equity but an element of grace as well, so that beneficiaries of the Bill are in one sense to be better off than in some senses justice might have made them. I quite understand that it is dangerous to say, "We are doing rough justice and that is good enough." It is never good enough if we can do better. Here, first, I do not think that we can get strict, logical justice, and I am prepared on the whole to take the Government's point of view. Secondly, some of the arguments from the Opposition on this point have been far too high, so high (in my judgment) as rather to antagonise people who try to see their way through this very critical balance.
If I may say so to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), who spoke very persuasively to us today, there were one or two of the things he said which did not persuade me. One was his remark about the Financial Resolution. I would not hang a dead dog on any memory of mine of practically anything, and I have not had time to check this properly, but from the short inquiries I have made, I think that my memory of the Financial Resolution of the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1950, is right. My recollection of that is that it was a very tight one and, whatever else it did, it did not allow us to suggest that everything we thought a matter of principle, or which had been recommended by the Turner Report, should be put by Amendment into the Bill.
1253 The Turner Report referred to houses —which are personal things; people rightly have sentiments about them—and did not say only houses with a rateable value of less than £32, or whatever it was. My recollection is that it was not possible for me in Committee to move to increase that limit. So I do not think it was a very wise tactic to say that we ought to make it possible to move Amendments to make sure that there is ultimate agreement and that where there is no agreement at any rate there has been the widest possible discussion. I do not think that that one will do.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I, too, like good company, especially when it has become by the passage of time noble, but I do not think it meets the argumentative point I have put; nor do I think he was on strong ground, although I do not deny that his company may have been good, when he suggested retrospection. After all, the people who are responsible for what was done in 1950 are not on very strong ground in demanding retrospection in 1957.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Why did not hon. Members opposite make prospective what they now want to be retrospective? They had every chance to provide for the years from 1950 to 1957 to do forwards what they now want us to do working backwards. I do not find that very persuasive debating.
I was interested and pleased to find that it is not only in medicine or law that doctors disagree, because I think that the two most expert persons who addressed us today, the hon. Member for Bolsover and the hon. Member for Pollok disagreed extremely. The hon. Member for Bolsover took the line that if this charge were put on the National Coal Board it would mean that instead of following the best engineering practice the National Coal Board engineers would follow inferior practice in order to avoid this charge, whereas the hon. Member for 1254 Pollok told us that if we put this charge upon the Board the effect would be that the engineers would be able to do a great deal better and produce less subsidence than at present. I do not know whether we need to be frightened by the argument on that point, because our authority is just as good as theirs: anyone may toss for it.
I want to mention one or two things which may seem Committee points. Some, if not all, have been mentioned before. They are all, I think, Committee points which are also Second Reading points, and I think that my mention of them will in all cases be from a slightly different point of view from that taken by hon. Members who preceded me. One has not been mentioned yet. It occurs in Clause 1 (1, b)—"other comparable services." I suppose that it is deliberate that "other comparable services" occurs in paragraph (b), although it does not occur in paragraph (a). Although it is not a matter of very great importance, it is a matter of some considerable importance and something should now be said about it.
There is another similar matter. I will not stop to persuade the House that it is important. It occurs in paragraph (c), the use of the word "adapted". I do not know whether the word has been judicially defined, but the effect seems to be that unless someone has done something to adapt the matter in question to the purpose for which its usefulness has been diminished by the subsidence, unless there has been some previous action to make it suitable, then the question of compensation does not arise. I am sure that that ought not to be the effect. I do not think that it is intended to be the effect and a very simple Amendment could put that right.
There is another point on Clause 1 to which reference has been made. Subsection (4) refers to the "depreciation in the value of the property." What does value mean there? The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who was probably right on this matter—it is the sort of thing I believe he understands—mentioned this. Does it mean the market value? There is no specific interpretation in the Bill.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Is it in the Schedule? I did not get through it all; one of my 1255 troubles was a long wad of it which I found unconstruable. If it is purely market value, I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether it would be too much an invasion of the principle that indirection cannot be compensated for to suggest that where a house is a home the use of "value" in the sense of subsection (4) is defeating one of the major purposes of the Bill and certainly the intention of the Turner Committee.
A person who has been living in a house for a long time or for only a short time, but hoping to go on living in it for a long time, has a value for that house —I need not elaborate this—which is not represented by depreciation taken on the mere basis of market valuings. Somebody residing in a house who has resided in it for a long time ought to be compensated, and I hope that that can be done without infringing too much on the principle that there ought not to be compensation for indirect losses.
I want to come to Clause 2 and, especially, to subsection (1), to the rule about notice being given and the question how long the notice may be and what the words "as may be prescribed" may mean. Perhaps I am being too allusive, but I hope that most of those who have listened to today's debate will see what I mean. All this is left at large to the regulations to be issued under Clause 11. What I am asking my right hon. Friend is whether we ought not to consider that some of these things, notice, for instance, and how long the notice ought to be, should not be left purely as the Minister may prescribe but should be written into the Bill.
I quite see that this more than most sorts of technical legislation is the sort of legislation where regulation is necessary and where we cannot expect to get the whole thing written into the Bill, even if it contains an illiterate and un-interpretable Schedule. Nevertheless, where something comprehensible can be put into the Bill rather than left to regulation, it should be put in and Clause 2 (1) may indicate one of those things.
I have one other thing to say on this matter of indirect legislation. I hope that somebody else and not me—because I have done it so often—will force the House to discuss whether there should be 1256 the negative or positive procedure upon the issue and authorisation of these regulations. I do not think that the House should ever allow Ministers, even Ministers whom we may support, to get away from that duty of maximum Parliamentary control unless the contrary be proved necessary, and I therefore hope that Clause 11 will be very carefully considered.
That covers more or less the main things I wanted quickly to put into people's minds. Lastly, if I may just return to the general question, I hope that hon. Members opposite will not take this too much as a football match, something where one side wants the money to come from source X and the other side the money to come from source Y and everything else is forgotten. I think that almost everything else that is in the Bill, or which it could reasonably be argued ought to be in the Bill, if we are not agreed about all those other things, at least we are agreed that they are matters which should be discussed and which we can discuss without exacerbating each other's feelings in any way. I hope that we shall do our best to improve the Bill in every other respect, even if we cannot wholly agree where the money should come from.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I do not want to make any Committee points. I hope that there will be ample time for that in Committee. I shall try to be brief, because there are many of my hon. Friends from mining and other areas who want to speak. I was privileged to serve on the Turner Committee. I regret that that great colleague of ours who was then the hon. Member for Abertillery, Mr. George Daggar, has now passed away. While I personally welcome the Bill—one can say, with qualifications, that it marks a social advance—I must clearly say, as a Member of the Turner Committee, that it is not meeting the spirit of that Committee's objectives.
The Bill contains no provision for compensation for indirect damage. Speaking as one who has travelled all through the mining areas of Britain, and also in Europe, America and the Soviet Union, I can say that the results of indirect damage can be as tragic as those of direct damage—and it is difficult to say where 1257 the line between the two should be drawn. If a river or stream is diverted it may flood a house. The house is damaged indirectly; a piano and other furniture may be destroyed and the whole house has to be repainted. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and I were discussing this matter only this afternoon. In the city of Stoke-on-Trent and on the fringes of the Leek constituency thousands of pounds of indirect damage have been caused.
Members of the Turner Committee took the trouble to travel through the coalfields and visit these areas and, after consulting everybody in Britain—mining engineers, agriculturists and others—we tried to draw up a report which would be generally acceptable and would have a proper balance. We did not even ask for a share of the cost of this damage to be borne by the Coal Board. One of my hon. Friends has quoted from paragraph 86 of the Report, in which the Committee estimated the cost at £3 million. We had no mathematical formula. There is no logical formula by means of which one can estimate the damage caused by mining subsidence.
For anyone in this House to say that because mining subsidence costs a penny a ton in town X, 3d. a ton in town Y and 4d. a ton in town Z there are better mining engineers in town X is absolute poppycock. It may be that all that the mining subsidence in town X amounts to is damage to a public house and a dog kennel. These things depend upon the geological structure of the area; the output of the mine and the type of mining being carried on; the age of the strata, and all kinds of other factors. A mining engineer knows that it is really beneath him to argue in that way in the House. Such an argument could not possibly be defended either upon grounds of logic or mathematics. I hope that nobody will take much notice of that argument.
How did this situation arise? It is interesting to find hon. Members opposite saying that the mining industry must bear the cost of this when the Turner Committee pointed out that the whole nation needs the coal and that we ought, therefore, to find a way of distributing the burden generally throughout the nation, as is done in the case of coast erosion. Nobody argues that the cost of coast erosion, which is a matter of concern to 1258 the entire nation, should be borne by Blackpool.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. and learned Gentleman says that we do not sell the coast. Blackpool is selling the coast, summer, autumn and winter, for millions of pounds, and the people who pay for it come, in the main, from the mining areas.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. and learned Gentleman should not have interrupted me. I am picking up his argument, and he does not like it. He said that we do not sell the coast, but that is exactly what seaside resorts do. I am sorry about that interruption.
There is one other point which I do not want to labour, because it is almost a Committee point. If we are to place lots of burdens upon the Coal Board, there should also be some obligation for an exchange of plans and information on both sides, as is pointed out in the Turner Report, on page 30. Some statutory provision should be made for that exchange; it should not depend upon the manager of the local pit or the local town clerk to make it clear whether houses are going to be built at point X, or whether coal mining is going to take place under point Y.
We had a tragic example of this in North Staffordshire. A playing field was built and the ground suddenly opened up there. It was lucky that 50 children did not lose their lives. There is a great yawning gap in the playing field now. There should be an arrangement by means of which it is absolutely necessary, by law, for the Coal Board to produce maps and charts to the local authority, showing the development, present and future and, on the other hand, for the local authority to show where it is going to build.
If we are going to ask the Coal Board to pay compensation for houses damaged we should make it an obligation upon private builders and local authorities to see that the type of buildings in those areas will stand up to mining subsidence 1259 before they start building; otherwise we shall have false claims from jerrybuilders, which will put an extra burden upon the coal industry.
§ Mr. H. Boardman (Leigh)
It is only fair to say that the plans of the Coal Board are available to the engineers of various organisations, such as river boards and local authorities. What has happened in practice, however, is that the Coal Board representatives have shown these engineers the plans and have said, "There are the plans; you make your own assessment of what kind of subsidence will take place," thereby throwing the onus completely upon the engineers of those other organisations.
§ Mr. Davies
I thank my hon. Friend. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. T. Brown
Yes, on the question of the exchange of plans. It was one of the recommendations in the summary of the Turner Committee Report that there should be an exchange of plans between the National Coal Board and the local authority.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, it says so in paragraph 98 of the Report. I remember that as a member of the Committee. But, if I can get on now without any further interruptions, either from my hon. Friend or from hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, I hope to conclude and to sit down in about three minutes.
It is no use now talking about the logic of the mining industry or the logic of the ownership of land. The past is the past and the Government deserve some praise for having the courage to make a start. Somebody had to start somewhere, and I am grateful to the Minister and all concerned for the effort which is now being made. But one thing should be made clear to the little people throughout Britain. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been worried by these people about compensation, and it should be made clear that there is no retrospective compensation.
This Bill becomes law on "X" day and compensation starts on that day for local authorities and others. Unless it is possible to make any change in the provisions of this Bill during the Committee stage discussion, we must make it clear that there is nothing retrospective 1260 about it. I raised this question as a member of the Turner Committee. From the hundreds of millions compensation which was given to the former mine owners, I thought that we should have taken out some part to be used to help provide retrospective compensation to those who have suffered as a result of mining subsidence.
The Minister referred only last year to that historical whimsicality that we are still getting a big percentage of Britain's coal from pits which were opened around the middle of the seventeenth century. That is certainly an historical whimsicality, that we are still yanking out coal from holes made in the ground in 1650 and we dare not shut them down. The Turner Committee referred in paragraph 86 of its Report to a compensation figure of £3 million. That was a huge piece of guesswork and, if it was guesswork nine years ago, how much more must it be guesswork today? This figure of 6d. represents half of the surplus made last year by the Coal Board.
It is worth remembering that in 1975 Great Britain will have nuclear energy equivalent to that provided by millions of tons of coal. But it is no use hon. Members making pontifical speeches about nuclear energy. We do not know how to get rid of the waste which results from the provision of nuclear energy, and the more energy we use the more difficult will be the problem created by radio active waste. So, even with all the nuclear energy we get by 1975, we shall still need millions of tons of coal to be taken out of the earth.
Shall we continue with this burden for mining subsidence? If during the Committee stage discussions on this Measure we fail to change the present form of the Bill, I hope that when a Labour Government comes to power at the next General Election they will give a pledge to the nation to find another formula which will result in the fair spreading of the burden of mining compensation throughout the country; and that they will be prepared to make compensation retrospective with regard to local authority property and private dwelling houses.
Having suffered so many interruptions, I have spoken longer than I intended, and I apologise for having taken up the time of the House.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. D. M. Keegan (Nottingham, South)
I am pleased to be able to say a few words about this Bill. I have felt for a long time that people who have not lived in areas where coal is mined have no conception of this problem. I had not until I went to live in the East Midlands, and I have been surprised at what I have seen there in the way of coal mining subsidence. I feel certain that those who do not live in such areas do not know to what extent this problem affects the lives of large numbers of people.
In 1950, the first measure of relief was brought in, and the owners of a number of houses received compensation for the first time. That was a good thing, but I think it must be remembered that there was an opportunity in 1950, just as there is now, to do more. I do not think that any of us should be anxious to accuse the other of not having done anything. Both parties have failed in certain respects, because this Bill is not perfect and neither is the 1950 Act.
I wish particularly to deal with the question of retrospection. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) said he did not think that hon. Members opposite should say anything about retrospection because they had an opportunity in 1950 to make the discussion of that question unnecessary today, if, in 1950, they had not made a limit in rateable value. Today there is another opportunity to deal with this vexed question. Those people who are now, and have been, outside the scope of any compensation, although there may not be many such cases, have suffered a great deal. I wish to quote from the Turner Committee Report words which will be remembered by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and which struck me forcibly. In paragraphs 94 and 95 the Committee stated:With the single exception of dwelling-houses we do not propose that our recommendations should operate from any date preceding the legislation necessary to give effect to them. We have had innumerable representations made to us both by letter and orally during our visits to mining areas which show clearly that the hopes of owners and occupiers of dwelling-houses have been raised by the appointment of this Committee. We cannot doubt that a deep disappointment and sense of injustice would be felt if those who have suffered uncompensated damage during recent years and particularly since our appointment, 1262 were to be excluded from the benefit of our recommendations.We entertain no illusions as to the difficulties inherent in retrospective measures in a matter of this kind. Nevertheless we have been so impressed by the intensity of feeling on the subject that we have come to the conclusion that special treatment should be provided for this class of property.I have a sorry tale to tell about a house in my constituency. I take this particular house as representative of a number of houses. The number in my constituency is not large. There are no more than a handful of houses seriously affected which are outside the scope of this Bill, but I am sure that in the constituency of every hon. Member who represents a mining area there will be other houses which will literally be left out in the cold.
The house to which I refer was worth, on a conservative estimate—I hope that any estimate I give will be a conservative one—between £4,000 and £5,000. It was lived in by a man and his wife and children. The rateable value was above the limit set by the 1950 Act. It began to subside about five years ago, and the subsidence grew worse as the years went on. Eventually one room became uninhabitable. The owner thought that the only thing he could do was to shut up this room altogether, because his young children might sustain injury if they played in it. So he shut that door. Then it became necessary to shut another, until now he has moved out of his house altogether.
There it stands a completely and wholly distorted wreck, looking as though it had survived some devastating earthquake. Every time I pass that house I wonder how it still stands. One day it will fall down, and then, I imagine, the local authority will tell the owner that he must pay the cost of clearing up the rubbish.
That is a desperately sorry story. This man worked and saved his money and bought a house for his family to live in. He has lost something like £4,000 to £5,000 because of this calamitous disaster. That is the worst, but there are others.
It may be said, as it always has been said when the question of retrospection is raised in connection with an Act of Parliament, that it is difficult to look into past cases. The Bill is designed to do justice, but I do not think we shall do 1263 full justice if we do not take the initiative now. We have accepted the principle that coal mining damage should be compensated for upon a universal basis for all houses, but if we leave out of account the people I have mentioned there will be a very bitter feeling among them that will remain a memorial to the thoughtlessness of this House.
I can hardly tell hon. Members what bitterness I have had to put up with from people in my constituency who are affected by subsidence, but I know that many hon. Members can imagine it. I ask the Minister to think very seriously whether he cannot do a bit better justice than is being attempted at the moment. I do not know what it would cost; I cannot give any estimate of the cost over the whole country of compensating for this class of dwelling. I do not mind so much about local-authority property, because the burden of damage is spread over the ratepayers. That is bad enough, because it keeps rates high, but at any rate the load of injustice has been spread. In the other cases, the onus rests entirely on one family. That is the real tragedy of this situation.
I have put the matter in strong language, and I hope what I have said will cause the Minister to look at these matters again. I shall be happy to give my right hon. Friend further particulars of the cases in my constituency, but goodness knows I have pestered both him and the Parliamentary Secretary a good deal about them in the past.
I turn to another question which has already been dealt wish to a certain extent in the debate. It arises under Clause 1 (4) which sets out the procedure for making a depreciation payment, as the payment has come to be referred to during the debate. The Clause seems to furnish a loophole for the National Coal Board if it should want to get away by paying extremely little compensation in almost every case, because it contains the wordsin the opinion of the Board".I do not say that the National Coal Board will be minded to act capriciously in this matter, but if it is making an estimate of how much the remedial works will cost and notes that the depreciation figure is less than the cost of the works it might get away by paying a very small compensation.
1264 There will be absolutely no redress if it does so. I do not say that it will do so, but it is definitely wrong for us to let a Bill go through which is so easy to get round. Before we complete all the stages of the Bill, we should do something about those words, "in the opinion of the Board".
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) asked how frequent these depreciation payments would be. I do not think that the National Coal Board should pay money instead of putting people's homes back into the shape they had before the subsidence damage occurred. The purpose of the Bill ought to be to benefit the property. It would be a great tragedy if a lot of the money to be spent by the National Coal Board under the Bill went in cash payments into people's pockets and was not used for putting their houses back into proper shape. The recipients of the money may not make any of those repairs. They will be disheartened, the money will be spent and the property will remain in the same state of disrepair. That is wrong. We should insist that the money is spent on improving the property. It should be the main object of the Bill to restore people's homes.
Clause 1 (1) lays down the types of damage and defines subsidence damage. It refers, in paragraph (b), toworks of the following descriptions situated outside the curtilage of any building or structure, that is to say, sewers, drains, and any pipes or wires for the supply of any such services as aforesaid or other comparable services.This matter will be of considerable importance. A lot of expense is caused to local authorities by mining subsidence without there being damage either to sewers or to drains. Subsidence affects the gradients, and that causes a lot of trouble.
I have gone to some pains to find out what this damage costs the local authority with which I am best acquainted. I am told that in the last four years the city of Nottingham spent about £200,000 improving the drains and sewers in one area of the city. That is a very considerable amount. There has often not been a fracture of the sewer or drain, but the gradient has been affected by gradual subsidence until it has become unable to do the job for which it was 1265 designed. Is that type of damage covered by the definition Clause?
I am sure it is the intention of the Government that the Bill shall give compensation to local authorities for the type of damage I have described, so we must see to it that this damage is included in Clause 1. Otherwise we shall defeat one of the purposes of the Bill. The Bill recognises two types of damage for which compensation will not be paid. They are contained in provisos on page 2, from line 12 onwards.
I want the Minister to look at the West Bridgford Urban District Council Act, 1953, because he will there see that the council has taken steps to deal with mining subsidence. This point may have to be raised again in Committee. I am told by the West Bridgford Urban District Council that it would be proper for a further proviso to be inserted in the Clause, because of the provisions of the West Bridgford Act. I will raise this matter at a later date.
I welcome the Bill. It is a great step forward, but before we take that step we should not hesitate to recognise that there are many people who have been very seriously affected but have yet received no compensation. We must not go forward until we do something about it.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Keegan) has made out a reasoned case. He spoke in persuasive and sympathetic manner, and to that extent we welcome his contribution.
If I understood him correctly, he said that he had one house in his division seriously affected by subsidence, but my Member of Parliament has hundreds of houses in his constituency seriously affected. We, who live in the division, used to be high above the canal, but the way things are going on we shall soon be level with the canal. That is typical of what is taking place.
The whole of my city is affected by subsidence, every building; hospitals, town hall, child and maternity centres, railways, sewers and other services, and thousands of houses. Therefore, hon. Members will understand why Stoke-on-Trent has an interest in this debate.
1266 I had the privilege of being present last night with some of the best informed trade union officials that lead the Mineworkers' Federation. They said, without any difference among them, that the Bill will be a lawyers' paradise. After listening to the speeches today I realise how correct those men were. I remember our experience during the days of workmen's compensation, and I hope that in Committee we shall co-operate to eliminate to a maximum extent what may make the lawyers' paradise of which my friends talked last night.
In the morning, at eleven o'clock, 15 county councils, 22 county borough councils, 17 boroughs, 110 urban district councils and, 39 rural district councils will be represented at a meeting that will consider the Bill and suggest Amendments and other improvements for the consideration of the Minister and the Committee. That meeting will take place in the Stoke Town Hall. The secretary to the committee has already prepared very fine memoranda, and I am hoping that the Ministry and those who have the privilege of serving on the Committee will give the greatest possible attention to the proposals which will be made.
Our city welcomes this Bill wholeheartedly. All the municipalities to be represented at that meeting tomorrow morning, I venture to prophesy, will do the same, but this proviso needs making. During the whole of their conferences and committee proceedings they have laid down in all their publications that the charge for mining subsidence damage should be placed squarely, 100 per cent., on the national Exchequer. Therefore, whilst I join in welcoming the Bill, I have reservations, particularly because of my background in industry.
I believe that the more we increase the cost of production the more that affects those who take off their coats to do the work. The same will apply in the mining industry. It will be the miners indirectly who, to a great extent, will pay for the imposition placed on coal by this proposal. While it is my duty on behalf of those I represent to speak in welcome of the Bill, as an individual I have deep cause to remember how, between the wars, the cost of production was such that it affected our ability to hold our own against foreign competition. It was 1267 always the men working at the coalface, in the engineering shops and in the mills, who had to bear the burden.
It is about twenty years since I was associated with a number of hon. Members in this matter. I am sorry to say that they are no longer with us. They have parted from us, but they live in the minds of many of us who were privileged to be associated with them. I refer to George Tomlinson, Josiah Wedgwood, Joe Batey, John Leslie and Torn Smith. They pioneered a Private Member's Bill on a Friday and, in our innocence, we cheered because we had got that Bill through. Little did we realise the amount of opposition with which we would have to contend later in this House, and in another place in particular. Those who have had that experience and know the industrialists of this country are determined not to forget the responsibility which rests on the shoulders of many in another place.
I said earlier that Stoke-on-Trent will welcome the Bill. At the same time, it should be remembered that we suffer from subsidence more than any other city in the country. It is true that urban districts, rural areas and agricultural areas suffer, but no city suffers from mining subsidence to the same extent as Stoke-on-Trent. It has been a great mining area of the past, but it also has a great future as a mining area. That is why our city took the initiative in calling the national conferences which have been held. As a result, the Mining Subsidence National Committee, representing local authorities affected by this problem, was set up. We have benefited from the advice of several town clerks—some of the best informed in the country, like Richard Clegg of Chesterfield, who served on the Turner Committee, the town clerk of the Rhondda, whose area suffers very badly, and Mr. Alec Taylor, town clerk of Stoke-on-Trent.
I also pay tribute—it would be wrong if I did not—to that real gentleman, the former Prime Minister. He is suffering as a result of the undermining of his health, and—this is my personal point of view—because of a broken heart. He lived in mining areas in the North-East and he listened to us time after time when we put our case. When I was asked on behalf of the National Committee to get 1268 his sympathy, it was put on record in several letters—which I treasure—that he gave instructions to the present Minister of Supply and several other Ministers who used their influence behind the scenes to bring in this Bill.
In addition, I want to pay tribute to Mr. George Daggar. From a working-class point of view, George Daggar was a great man. There was no getting on his hands and knees and scrambling for crumbs and bits of jobs about him. We could rely on George Daggar from the working-class point of view to take a stand for what was right, no matter where he was. George Daggar and my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) had the courage to put Amendments to the 1946 Bill, following which they and the miners' group in this house were able to use their influence, with the result that the Turner Committee was set up. That is the history which ought to be told on an evening such as this.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) said that he hoped the Labour movement would do this, that and the other. It is now the policy of the whole Labour movement—the Trades Union Congress, the Labour Party, the Co-operative movement—to implement in full the Turner Committee's Report whenever we are returned to power. Therefore, while welcoming this Bill, we are placing on record that if it does not do justice to the extent desired by my hon. Friends and if as a result of our experience when administered the costs go up as sonic of us think they will, it will be the duty of the first Labour Government elected after this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament to bring in an amending Act to do justice to the mining areas.
This situation is becoming more serious than most hon. Members who have spoken so far seem to realise. We have to remember that this country is in a serious economic position. We have only three real assets worth talking about. The first is our skill inherited from our forefathers, the second our, relatively speaking, well-educated people, and the third the great asset of coal in the bowels of the earth. As a result of our great economic difficulties, the drive for increased output of coal is increasing year by year. As a result of this, mining subsidence increases to the same extent. This is therefore the logical approach 1269 which I take to the problem: the nation requires coal; this country could not exist without coal; and the damage caused by mining it should be a national responsibility and not a local or an industrial responsibility.
Even before the nationalisation of the mines, we in North Staffordshire had fourteen underground mechanisation schemes being operated. Since then the number has increased. In Fenton, Long-ton and Trentham great mining development is being carried out. In Trentham a new shaft is being sunk, one of the most modern in the country. At Florence and a number of other places, the pits are being modernised, and within a relatively short time the increase in output will be tremendous. All this is increasing and accelerating the output. We are all pleased to make our contribution to the economy, but at the same time it is the mining areas which have suffered up to now as a result of this great drive.
Here are a few facts which apply to the city which we represent. It is a major coalfield. The additional costs annually to maintain the sewers alone are £20,000; £414.550 has recently been spent on the erection of new schools to replace two schools damaged beyond repair; a third school is vacant and will be demolished, involving a replacement expenditure of at least £60,000. The record of damage, disruption and consequent expenditure cannot he measured.
The provision of reinforced concrete shafts under approximately 3,000 post-war council houses has been a very serious matter. Newly-constructed houses built only a few years ago, especially some built in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent. North (Mrs. Slater), are having to be propped up, shored up, and some demolished and rebuilt in other places. Public baths are closed. Police stations have been damaged. There are widespread cracks at welfare centres. A sum of £101,000 has been spent as an increased cost in the preparation of six new schools.
In some parts the sewage works have completely collapsed. The sewers have collapsed, and the local authorities are dreading the possibility of serious diseases as a result of what is taking place. A complete new sewerage system will be required within a few years. At Fenton, in my area, during the past 20 years there 1270 has been subsidence by 20 feet and during the next 20 years, as a result of intensified mining, it will sink another 20 feet. The average sewer maintenance rate-levy for the 83 county boroughs in this country for 1952–53 was ls. 3d. For the city of Stoke-on-Trent it was 3s. 3d.
I know of nothing more serious than the report which I have before me. In my hon. Friend's division, because of the support which we received from one or two hon. Members opposite, at last we were able to lay out playing fields for our schools and our children; but much to our surprise, despite the expert mining knowledge and advice which we were able to call upon, four large holes have appeared in them. We all know what would have happened had children been playing on the field at the time. That is typical of what is likely to happen in two or three parts of the city. Such a serious view do the education authorities take of this that they are having a complete review made throughout the whole of the city. The town clerk of the city, who is secretary of the Local Authorities Mining Subsidence Committee, and who will be at the meeting in the morning, has prepared an excellent memorandum. I hope that in Committee all hon. Members will consider the proposals which we make.
I have now one or two points which I hope the Chair will consider between now and 10 o'clock. The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, nationalised the mining industry of this country. Its financial proposals can be found on page 114, from paragraph 26 onwards. Can we be told where the authority is derived to put this charge on the National Coal Board? The original Acts forms the basis of this Bill. Can you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, show me one passage in the Bill which supersedes the 1946 Act? Can you point out to me one passage, apart from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on page 2, which deals with a very limited proposal? Can we be told how the Bill links up with the 1946 Act? In my view it conflicts with the 1946 Act, and if anybody doubts that—
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but the questions which he asks are not for the Chair.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but, with respect, I 1271 hope you will listen to a little reasoning on this. I am raising a constitutional point and it therefore becomes a point for the House and not even for the Government. If you think there is no validity in the point, that is the end to it, but I should have thought that it was for the Chair to rule whether this Bill conflicts with the original Act in the point which I am making. If, on consideration, you feel that it does not, we shall have to accept your Ruling, but we should like a Ruling on the point before ten o'clock, because on it will depend our attitude to the Money Resolution and also our attitude in the Committee stage of the Bill.
In addition, we see that on pages 79 and 80 the functions of the National Coal Board are laid out. I cannot see from this how the Government can obtain the authority for superimposing at least another £5 million on the liabilities of the miners. The miners are already having to subsidise the old mine owners by compensation payment. Now, by this Bill, further impositions are being introduced.
Which is to come first—safety, health, welfare and earnings, or payment of mining subsidence damage that should be borne by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Many of us believe that this £5 million will be increased. I have had too much experience to prophesy any definite amount, but as a result of our previous experience I am deeply suspicious that when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament there will be added to this £5 million several other millions of pounds.
Coal is one of our greatest national assets. Its mining is a national responsibility, and so should be the damage caused by it. During the Committee stage I hope that that approach to this problem will be uppermost in our minds, so that we can put the responsibility for the financing of subsidence damage just where it should be—on the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)
I cannot deal with this Bill from the legal point of view, because I have not a legal mind. Nor do I wish to attempt to deal with it from the apportionment-of-cost angle. I want to approach this very serious subject from the human side, because it is a human problem.
1272 I welcome the Bill. It is a Bill to provide a general remedy for damage caused by coal mining subsidence. It does two things. It establishes the principle of wider compensation for this sort of damage, and includes, for example, damage to water mains and sewers. In that sense it goes a long way towards meeting the demands of those areas and local authorities which for a long time have been complaining about the cost of that damage.
This Measure also provides for preventive work. Clause 4 contains a very important principle. Here I will plunge in quite recklessly, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not sink me altogether. So far as I understand it, there is a serious omission from this Bill. It does not include new buildings. Could its financial implications be stretched to include, say, the cost of a reinforced raft for a new house built in such an area as we have in mind? I think that that is very important.
I represent Burton, but I live in a mining area in south Derbyshire. Yesterday I had a word with the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I said that I hoped to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and hoped also that if I mentioned the right hon. Gentleman's division he would not think that I was encroaching on his preserves. With great generosity he gave me carte blanche in that respect, for which I am grateful.
In south Derbyshire, as in Stoke-on-Trent, we have an area with great future potentialities, and where there are great progressive plans for the sinking of at least one new pit in the next few years. In my lifetime I have seen, when I lived in another area, the sinking of two new pits. It means literally the creation of new townships and the consequent building of houses. Are we to be silly enough to put up new houses without reinforced rafts as a result of which they may suffer what the older houses are now suffering? I would ask my hon. and learned Friend to look at that point.
As has been said in this interesting debate, only those who have experienced the effects of mining subsidence or who lived in such an affected area fully appreciate the human problems involved. Coal mining takes a terrific toll underground—the blood, sweat, tears, death and injury with which we who live in 1273 mining areas are fully familiar—but in non-mining areas it is not altogether recognised that coal mining exacts payment on the surface as well.
In addition to large and public undertakings, this Bill takes care of the small man, and by the "small man" I mean the owner, the owner-occupier, and particularly the tenant of a house. The way was paved for this by the 1950 Act, and now we are including all dwelling-houses.
From the human point of view, the chief sufferer in this problem is the housewife. Those people who have been on the receiving end of subsidence know that the householder, and particularly the housewife, has a very unhappy time—discomfort. disorganisation of home life, discouragement, and finally, in many cases, utter despair. Only those who have observed at close quarters, as I have done, the idiosyncrasies of living in such a house can appreciate the good which this Bill, imperfect in some ways though it is, can do.
A crack appears in a wall, and a thin pencil line on the wallpaper. In a few weeks, that crack is wide enough for one to push one's fingers through, and the housewife looks at the paper which she put on that wall only a few weeks previously, and is reduced to complete despair. In some cases, I have seen houses in south Derbyshire in which one could see daylight between the bricks down the side of the window, yet one could go back a fortnight later to find that the cracks had closed through movement, and no daylight could be seen. The draughts inside such a house are just unmentionable.
Doors sometimes open and sometimes they stick. One finds a door closed and cannot open it, and another one open which one cannot close. Apart from war damage in war-time, has anyone ever experienced the agony of having ceilings down? Here is the ultimate anxiety of a housewife—when dust is all over the place, and, if it is cleaned up, a day or two days later more dust comes down again and settles over every part of the house. No matter what precautions are taken, the whole place is impregnated with dust. So one could go on. Decorations are ruined by water coming in from holes and cracks because of movement 1274 in the roof. Therefore, I say that the housewife is the worst sufferer.
Let us consider an area like Swadlincote, which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) mentioned. For a long time now, one could see, wherever one went in that area, houses that were literally in splints. One could travel from my village of Overseal to Burton and see houses in bad condition, and one could go back another day and see the end of one house completely down.
Another great hardship in this human problem is caused by the evacuation of a family and their furniture, and on this point I cannot say from memory whether it is the case that these expenses are met or not, but I do commend to my hon. Friend the suggestion that where the movement of furniture, through either temporary or permanent evacuation of a house, is rendered necessary, the people concerned should be compensated for it.
I have seen the 1950 Act in full operation in my own area, and I want to pay a very sincere tribute to the National Coal Board officials who operate the provisions of that Act with regard to dwelling-houses. When a complaint is made to them, they are very quickly on the job, and if they think it necessary that first-aid repairs should be done, they send down a band of men very quickly to carry them out. I pay a very sincere tribute to N.C.B. officials and workpeople.
I have dealt with the human point of view concerning the householder and housewife, but there is another point that I want to make—the effect of subsidence on the life of a community, which I think is very important. This point was mentioned in the Turner Committee's Report in page 15, paragraph 56, which states,…a community in one of our coalfields can suffer not only physical but serious moral and psychological effects from subsidence. It can and sometimes does happen that a centre of community life such as a vital municipal building or a church is damaged seriously, or possibly even irretrievably, by subsidence. In such a case it is easy to imagine, but difficult to measure in terms of financial compensation, the effect upon community life; that that effect may have more importance for the nation than the getting of many tons of coal.The effect on the life of the community is exactly as it is described there.
Churches and chapels have been mentioned today. I have in mind one church in my village where some months ago a wedding was in progress on a 1275 Saturday afternoon. After the wedding had finished and the choristers had gone into the vestry, one middle-aged man, who was anxious to leave in order to watch television, came out first. As he came out, a part of the parapet of that church crashed through the roof and killed him. The church was afterwards declared unsafe, and the school, which was used for parish purposes, was declared unsafe also. Thus, that village lost its central religious focal point, so far as Anglicans were concerned, and they had to worship in a nearby village for many months.
Let me now consider the problem as it affects schools, with which I am very familiar. I have seen a school in Swadlincote—and there are many more like it—where the children had to sit in classrooms with pillars shoring up the ceilings. The position was so bad that the headmaster had to give instructions to his staff not to have any rhythmic jumping, folk dancing and that sort of thing. There had to be no rhythmic marching—if one could get it from children in these days—in case the rhythm aggravated the dangerous condition of the fabric.
The same applies to village halls and institutes. The communal life of our towns and villages, as a result of this grave human problem of damage by subsidence, is threatened. There is the classic case of the Swadlincote library which achieved national fame because of the tilt of its floor. It sounds like the title of a thriller novel—"The Library with the Tilting Floor". The position might have been novel, but there was certainly nothing thrilling about it. A book trolley had to be chocked if there were no one to hold it, and as soon as it was let go it would roll along the floor.
In that area, the problem is very serious. I shall not detain the House for much longer; I know that there are others who wish to speak.
§ Mr. Jennings
Furthermore, no one from the south Derbyshire coal fields has spoken in this debate until I did.
1276 The problem as it affects roads, main drainage and water mains has been one of extreme difficulty for the local authorities. What is more, within the last month the clerk to the Repton Rural District Council has had to issue a warning to would-be builders of houses in the village not to build. In an area where there is a concentration of population, where there is projected development of coal fields and where people want to live near their work, where houses are difficult to get and where the only thing to do, if they have the deposit to put down, is to build their own homes, what are they to do?
This is one of the great social problems arising from damage by subsidence. It is because of its alleviation of some of these problems that I welcome the Bill without the qualifications which many hon. Members opposite have expressed.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I hope the House will pardon me when I say that, having lived amongst mining subsidence for seventy years, I can therefore claim to speak with some experience. For forty years, I have been advocating and agitating that something should be done to remedy the evils from which our people suffer. I am glad to have this opportunity of following the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), because he struck a note which touched me deeply when he said that he was approaching the question from a human point of view. We on this side of the House can re-echo what the hon. Member said. We, too, approach it from a human point of view.
When the Paymaster-General was introducing the Bill I interjected when he referred to the cost of compulsory stowing underground. He said that it would cost 20s. per ton. I do not lightly intervene when Ministers are speaking, but I felt that a statement like that should be challenged, and I challenged it. My authority for doing so was paragraph 42 of the Turner Report, in which the Turner Committee said:With regard to the cost of solid stowing, the evidence of the National Coal Board estimated that in the case of an existing pit the cost would be 4s. to 5s. per ton; and that in the case of a new pit planned for solid stowing the cost would not be very much less. It was 1277 similarly estimated that the cost would be further increased by from Is. 6d. to 2s. per ton where it was necessary to quarry the material required for stowing.It was upon that passage in the Turner Report that I endeavoured—I hope successfully—to challenge the Paymaster-General's estimate for compulsory stowing.
We have long been advocating compulsory stowing in the pits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) and every miners' leader throughout the country, right from the year 1911, have been ardent advocates. They have often been misunderstood, but they have maintained their advocacy for compulsory stowing, not altogether to minimise mining subsidence, but to improve the ventilation and the atmosphere in which our men work.
§ Mr. Brown
We should then go a long way in the right direction.
The hon. Member for Burton said that the Bill would improve the moral and social conditions of the mining communities. On that point, I am in full agreement. He also referred to the disturbed conditions which mining subsidence causes in the homes in the villages and the mining towns. Not only does it disturb the living inhabitants. I recall an incident not far from where I live where, in addition to disturbing the people who were living, it disturbed the dead—and that was a serious thing. Sixty graves in a cemetery not very far from where I was went underground, and the bodies with them.
An hon. Member opposite said with truth that little did he realise the serious effect of mining subsidence upon the people in the villages and the mining 1278 towns until he went to see it for himself. If I may give a piece of homely, fatherly advice to the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General, I hope that between now and the Committee stage he will make it his duty to visit some of the mining areas. If he goes to the mining areas he will find the information that he gets there most helpful. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has already been to some of those areas, and I am grateful to him for it; but we want to get the Paymaster-General to go. He will have to answer some of the Amendments which we shall be putting down, and if he gets first-hand information by a visit to some of the mining areas he, will have great difficulty in resisting some hard Amendments making the concessions we shall be demanding when the Bill reaches the Committee stage.
I have often said. and I repeat it again today with greater emphasis, that if the City of London or any of the principal cities of this country away from the coalfields had suffered one-twentieth part of the damage that many of the mining towns and villages have suffered and are still suffering from damage caused by mining subsidence, the whole heavens would have been brought down upon this House. I do not say that from any class bitterness. If some of the people in London and in our coast towns saw some of the evidence and experienced some of the discomfort and inconveniences that are experienced by our people in the mining areas, they would have a much wider, broader and deeper sympathy with the people living in the areas affected by mining subsidence.
The hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) knows something of what has just happened in Little Hulton, and he knows and has seen something of what has happened in New Brook Road. He will know something about the things which have suddenly happened in that little part of his constituency. The people there never anticipated it, they never expected it, but when it knocked at their door, as it did knock very severely, they were up in arms, and rightly so, to try to bring about some alleviation of the discomfort and suffering. I say that if that had happened in London the whole heavens would Rave come down on this House and nothing would have stood in the way. Suffering 1279 has been endured by the people for years in the mining areas. Municipal authorities, urban, rural and a few cities have undergone indescribable suffering, inconvenience and the colossal expenditure which has been enumerated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith).
We have agitated for something to be done for a number of years. As a member of a local authority, with 25½ years' experience, I started my agitation in 1919, almost forty years ago. I shall be happy to see the day when some relief will be brought to those stricken areas. Now at long last there is this Bill in addition to the 1950 Act which brought some alleviation—and we welcomed it—to small property owners. Many hon. Members said at the time that the 1950 Act would only touch the fringe of the subject. What we said in 1950 has proved to be correct. It touched only the fringe, and this Bill. although it is a remarkable step forward, will also touch only the fringe of the problem. The amount to be spent falls very far short of the amount required, and I want to re-emphasise what has been already said by many of my hon. Friends, that the money to be expended on damage caused by mining subsidence is to come from the wrong source.
I want to approach this question fairly. I believe that the cost of the damage should be borne by the national Exchequer. I know that there are differences of opinion on this, but in these days of enlightenment, when we approach questions in a totally different manner from that in which they were approached forty, fifty or one hundred years ago, there should be a means whereby we can reach a fair basis and not have the expenditure placed upon the Coal Board. I have great fears that if the burden is placed upon the Board to the extent that will be required there will be grave repercussions upon the mining fraternity. Already the Board is absorbing the cost of imported coal, and now the Bill proposes that it should also take the whole cost of subsidence on its shoulders.
I sometimes wonder whether those who were responsible for the drafting of the' Bill have any idea of the magnitude of the damage caused in mining areas. I am not saying this with any disrespect, 1280 but when I read some of the Clauses I fear that the Parliamentary draftsmen do not understand many of the problems affecting local authorities in mining areas, otherwise they would have framed the Bill in much simpler terms. I know that it has been said that the Bill is a lawyers' paradise. There is certainly a considerable amount of legal jargon in it which ought not to be used.
I speak as one who has lived in a mining area for seventy years. We in our district have been giving deep-mined coal to the nation since 1546, when the first piece of coal in the district saw daylight. One can visualise what that means. The whole area is now a veritable honeycomb of roadways. In the village of Abram, which has a population of 6,286, the ground slipped away in Crankwood Road, off Plank Lane in the second week of December last year. It did not slip away quietly either. Sometimes the action is slow, but it is always terrifyingly real. Part of the roadway slipped away before the very eyes of the people living in houses at the side of the roadway.
Not very far from a row of miners' cottages there is a huge gap, and there is another great gap in a farmer's field. They are death traps to any child who might wander there. The degree of danger can be judged from the fact that the larger of the two gaps is 60 ft. across. This subsidence occurred on 2nd December last year. It is said by those who have made an examination of the gaps that they are bottomless. Into the smaller one wagon loads of waste material have been poured, but, despite that, it is still so deep that it is too dangerous to look down.
That is mining subsidence on a grand scale. It is no exaggeration to say that even if the nearby row of houses was engulfed by the gap it would not fill it. In December last the smaller of the great gaps that I have mentioned filled with water. When the water drained away and measurements were taken they revealed a yawning hole over 100 ft. deep. The same subsidence has created a fantastic scene. The dilapidated buildings bid fair to outbid the leaning tower of Pisa, which has already been mentioned, in their craziness.
We have three rows of houses which are known locally as the "rock 'n roll houses." They are all higgledy-piggledy, 1281 The people living in them cannot shut their doors or windows at night, let alone lock them. They cannot walk upstairs to bed in the proper manner, but have to go up sideways. I know it sounds funny, but it is as true as I am in this Chamber that the people living in the houses cannot close their doors and windows and have to get into their bedrooms by going up sideways. That is the magnitude of the situation.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) referred to the loss of life caused by mining subsidence. When he did so, I noticed that an expression of surprise came over the faces of hon. Members opposite. It may be, of course, that a similar expression of surprise came over the faces of hon. Members on this side. Not very long ago a complete house in my constituency subsided taking with it the family living in it, the furniture and the whole bag of tricks. The bodies of those people have never been recovered. They were all swallowed up in the middle of the night. The ground had to he consecrated in order to give them a decent funeral.
On another occasion, a few miles away—this happened in broad daylight—the earth opened and swallowed up a locomotive, thirteen railway wagons and the engine driver. They have never been recovered. That ground also had to be consecrated to give the poor engine driver, Ludovic Berry, a decent funeral. One could go on quoting case after case of the tragedy of and the damage done by subsidence.
Mention has been made of the amount of money which will have to be spent and which has been spent on repairing the damage. In my division the first sewage disposal works was constructed in 1844–86 at a cost of £8,400. It was submerged and a new works was constructed in 1921–24 at a cost of £35,412. As a result of further subsidence, with consequent flooding, reconstruction is again necessary and the cost will be £150,000. All that expenditure has to be borne by the local authority and sewerage from one end of the town to the other has to be reconstructed. That shows the magnitude of the problem. I can continue to quote levels, datum lines and so on showing the effect of mining subsidence. But I have to conclude.
1282 The Bill does not go far enough. It does go some way, but we shall be faced with the problem again in a few years' time. The cost covered by the Financial Resolution will be borne by the wrong source. We have witnessed today—and I say this with all respect to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—a changed attitude from the Government. I recall what was said by the right hon. Member who led for the then Opposition on the 1950 Measure. Lord Bracken twitted us about not going far enough and asked us why we did not implement the Turner Report in its entirety. Today there is a changed attitude and a human approach which will benefit the people living in the mining areas.
We therefore welcome the Bill as far as it goes and hope that the Paymaster-General will consider the Amendments which we shall put forward. He should prepare himself for an Amendment permitting compensation to dependants of people who lose their lives in subsidence accidents. That is perhaps more important than the loss of property. We welcome the Bill and we shall give it all the support we can and wish the Minister every success in getting it on the Statute Book and paying compensation to people and local authorites who have suffered tremendously for a very long time.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
I am sure that there will be complete unanimity in the House that today's debate, in spite of the difference on one very important aspect of the Bill, has been most interesting and informative. Hon. Members have spoken with passion and sincerity, many of them with a lifelong experience of what has happened with mining subsidence in areas where coal mining takes place. The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) and the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) gave very graphic descriptions of the incidence of subsidence, but those descriptions were as true as they were graphic.
I think that we have all benefited from the speeches to which we have listened today. I am quite hopeful that the Paymaster-General and the Parliamentary Secretary will take due note of the constructive criticisms and suggestions which have ben made, in the hope that we may make the Bill a better one when it reaches its final stages.
1283 The Paymaster-General, in his usual concise, clear and affable way, described what the Bill was about. I want to make one or two comments arising out of some of the things he said. He referred to the Turner Committee's proposal in regard to the law of supports, and said that the Government had rejected that part of its Report, as the present scheme, under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, was working very well. That may be so, but I am of the opinion that the Government have been unwise in that respect not to pay greater attention to that recommendation of the Committee.
With the present arrangements it is possible that large areas of coal which we need so much will be sterilised. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider that possibility before the Bill reaches the Committee stage. Subsidence has inflicted great hardship upon communities in the mining areas and I entirely agree with the Minister, who said that the present law in respect of compensation for damage for subsidence was like a patchwork quilt. In fact, it is worse than that; it is all higgledy-piggledy, and in a most chaotic state. I believe that the comprehensive proposal for compensation for all kinds of property will remedy that position.
I was also delighted to hear the Minister say that the Government still had an open mind in connection with the very important proposal respecting land drainage. The hon. Member for Norfolk. South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) made an interesting speech upon that point, and I express the hope that, in Committee, the Government will be impressed by the arguments put forward by authorities who are well versed and expert in that matter, because the present proposal in the Bill is not so good as the Doncaster drainage scheme. I was glad to know that the Minister had an open mind upon that point.
I now come to a part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech about which I shall be more critical. He dealt with the question of the Exchequer being liable for compensation for subsidence damage, and gave reasons why it should not be so liable. His first reason was that, as from the operation of the Bill, all the effects of subsidence will be new damage. That is really ridiculous. He reminded us that 1284 the National Coal Board has been in charge of the industry for ten years, and the statement that in the short space of ten years the present subsidence has become new damage will not bear looking at. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should think about that point again.
He also anticipated that what was going to be suggested by hon. Members on this side of the House was that one way of meeting the compensation for damage was to reduce the very liberal and generous amount given to the old coal owners by way of compensation when the industry was taken over. I wish to ask him a question and also to supply the answer. The question is, why is it not practicable? The answer is, because the Government feel that it is not desirable.
As has been pointed out during the debate, the question is not only one of the direct damage but is also one of the indirect damage which is caused by sub sidence. People have to leave their homes. Some people lose their lives, and others their belongings. I urge right hon. Gentlemen opposite, between now and the Committee stage of the Bill, to think in terms of indirect damage as well as direct damage.
The new Minister of Power is not a Member of this House. Practically the whole economy of the country will be controlled by the Minister of Power and his Department. It is a tragedy that the responsible Minister sits in another place, and in saying that I mean no disrespect to the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for answering Questions in this House directed to that Ministry.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) made a plea which I wish to support. The hon. Member served on the Turner Committee, and we are grateful to him. He said he hoped that the Government would think again about placing the whole of the liability for compensation on the National Coal Board. We recall the happy associations we had with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) during the Committee stage of the Mines and Quarries Act. I hope that notice will be taken of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said today. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George) is not in the Chamber.
1285 Apart from his enthusiasm to put the burden of compensation on the Coal Board so that it would act as a spur and the reference to showing the donkey the carrot, I think that the hon. Gentleman made a useful and interesting speech.
He referred to the qualifications of Scottish mining engineers and English mining engineers, and said that subsidence cost was much less in Scotland than in England. The hon. Gentleman made a comparison between the whole of the Scottish coal field and the East Midlands coal field in England, from which I come. I think that the total output has a bearing on his argument. In the calendar year 1955 the output was 21,600,000 tons in Scotland but in the East Midlands the figure was 45,700,000 tons, and that makes a considerable difference.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Keegan) made a very interesting speech. He represents part of a city in the most important county in Britain. It was a very good speech in which he graphically described one of the properties in his constituency, which is, I know, considerably affected by the mining operations at Clifton Colliery.
All the speeches—I will not single out any more of them—have been very good indeed. They emphasised that subsidence and the damage which it occasions have been and still are a problem of very great magnitude. For reasons into which I do not propose to go, the incidence of subsidence is very much greater in some areas than in others, but the cardinal fact is that no area where coal mining operations take place escapes some degree of subsidence.
That is only a part of the price that is paid to supply the fuel and power needs of this country, to keep the wheels of industry turning, and to give heat and light to the community. Were it not for coal the whole of our economy would completely collapse like a house of cards. Coal has been the main artery of our economy in the past and will remain so substantially for many years. Nature has some protest to make when she gives up this hidden treasure. The protest has a twofold effect in exacting a toll and a price. The first effect takes place during the process of extraction when life and limb are jeopardised. After extraction, there is physical damage to properties on the surface.
1286 The question as to who should bear the cost reminds me of the question about jeopardy to life and limb during the process of extracting coal. Prior to 1948, the whole burden of compensation rested on the industry. The burden was colossal. It varied from 6d. to 2s. 6d. per ton. In 1948 that was reversed. The charge is now shared by the general body of people in employment, plus one-fifth by the national Exchequer of the total contributions that are made by the employees and employers. The right hon. Gentleman might look at that fact before finally making up his mind to place the whole liability upon the National Coal Board.
Physical damage to all forms of property from mining subsidence has to he seen to be believed. People who live remote from mining areas think, unintentionally and with all good will, that those who live in those areas and who see that physical damage exaggerate the problem. That is not the case. Nothing escapes, neither hospitals, schools, reservoirs, underground communications, nor even highways. It is a common thing in the area from which I come, when travelling in a car, to see notices saying, "Slow. Beware. Road affected by mining subsidence." All that has put a very heavy burden on local authorities.
Fifty years ago, in my constituency a pit was sunk in the forest. Reference was made last week in the local paper to what has been taking place there. I do not propose to read the whole of the article, but to make two references to what appeared in the Press. There is a little mining community in the forest where fifty years ago there was only a farm and a public house. The local Press says that the residents in that community in the forest are now watching their homes with anxiety. What is chronicled in that newspaper is the story of a village, which came into existence because of a pit only fifty years ago, which is now falling to pieces apt the hand of its parent industry. There is a church which is shored up and strutted up in splints like a man with a broken arm. The caretaker of the only school in the village says he can put his fingers in the cracks which have been caused in the building. All that is confirmation of many things which have been said in the debate today.
1287 The physical damage is not the worst part of this problem. I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, South that it is the disappointment and frustration, particularly of the housewife and the owner-occupier paying a mortgage on the value of a pre-damaged house. A lot of thought has been given to the question of subsidence—too much thought and too little action—over the last thirty years. That is one of the tragedies.
A Commission was appointed in 1923 and reported at the end of four years. In 1929 the then Government appointed an inter-departmental Committee which, in its Report, merely criticised what the Royal Commission had said. As a consequence, nothing was done. In 1939, there was the Private Member's Bill introduced by the late George Tomlinson. Then the war came and everything was shelved. Nothing more was done until the Turner Committee was appointed in 1947, and we had the consequent legislation in 1950.
That legislation was a help but by no means a solution of the problem. We on this side of the House would not for a moment suggest that it was. It dealt only with part of the problem, but certainly an important part—dwellinghouses of up to a rateable value of £32. The tragedy was—this Bill remedies the matter and we welcome it for that reason —that local authorities and public undertakings were left to grapple with the problem as best they could, being dependent either on the title deeds or the good will of the old coal owners, or the National Coal Board since 1947. The result has been that individuals and local authorities have been very hard hit by the unsatisfactory legal position. For a long time, it has been a bone of contention.
These people have waited and hoped, and hoped and waited. Because this Bill does something to remedy the situation to a certain extent, because it is comprehensive in the compensation for damage, I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) in welcoming it today. The proposal at long last to compensate local authorities for damage will, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said, be received by them with a sigh of welcome relief.
1288 In the few moments which are left to me I want to deal with two points which I think are germane to the Bill. The first concerns retrospection. The Turner Committee was very forthright about retrospection. Why was it so forthright? Because, the members tell us, they had visited a number of areas where subsidence had taken place and was still taking place and—this is the operative part of the paragraph—because they were so impressed not only with what they saw but with what they heard. Arising out of that experience the Committee recommended that compensation in respect of all dwelling-houses should be paid from 1st January, 1947.
§ Mr. Taylor
If the hon. Member has an interjection to make, I do not mind giving way to him.
In fact, retrospection was made in the 1950 Act to 1st January, 1947, for houses up to a rateable value of £32. The Turner Committee went further than that about retrospection and said it should go back further still for those dwelling-houses which had been damaged, which were still unrepaired and which were capable of repair.
The 1950 Act made provision for retrospection, but in this Bill—and I regret it deeply—there is no retrospection at all and, as a consequence, there will be individuals, to whom the hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred, who will be very hard hit indeed.
The Report also said that by the appointment of the Committee the hopes of many had been raised and that it would be a disappointment, and a sense of injustice would be created, if those who had suffered were excluded from the benefits. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take a note of that. With that plea—fully justified—for retrospection, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the matter and to say, "I will not be a party to the perpetration of an injustice of this kind when those concerned have borne this burden for too long."
May I come to the main point of cleavage between the two sides of the House, and that is the question of who 1289 shall pay. The Bill says that the whole cost shall be borne by the Board. On 16th April last, in answer to a Question put by two of my hon. Friends, the then Minister of Fuel and Power announced, and it pained and shocked me, that it was the conclusion of the Government that the whole of this liability should pass to the National Coal Board. At the time of the Turner Committee's proposals the cost was put at £3 million. On 16th April last, on the evidence of the then Minister of Fuel and Power, it was put at £5 million. I believe it to be an unknown figure and that nobody can say what it really will be.
My complaint is that, against the Turner Committee's recommendations, the whole cost is to be placed on the shoulders of the Coal Board, and we are very disappointed by, and strongly critical of, this decision of the Government. On 25th April, 1950, the then Mr. Brendan Bracken, now Lord Bracken, waxed very hot in the debate that then took place. This is what he said about the Government and their Bill:…the Government have 'triped' the Turner Report…we want a new and adequate Bill introduced with the least possible delay.Six years later this Bill has been produced which, in respect of the very important question of who shall pay, has "triped" the Turner Report. The National Coal Board is carrying very heavy burdens—compensation, loss on imported coal, reorganisation of the industry, and now this. It is sometimes the last straw that breaks the camel's back.
During that debate of April, 1950, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) said:…we should all join in pressure on His Majesty's Government, and if necessary on the National Coal Board…in order that a much more comprehensive Measure in accordance"—and these are the operative words—with the Turner Report shall be introduced…quickly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April. 1950; Vol. 504, c. 808 and 891.]What a pity it is that this Bill rejects that recommendation of the Turner Report. I believe that it will have a bad psychological effect upon men, managers and technicians alike who are connected with the industry 1290 In conclusion, although there are many other things with which I should like to deal, I wish very seriously to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will undertake, as he has done with the land drainage authorities in regard to that particular proposal, to seek the good offices of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—who perhaps wants to do something sparkling—and to reconsider this part of the Bill; to tell us that there has been some fresh thinking, that this unsatisfactory proposal to saddle the Coal Board with the cost of subsidence compensation has been abandoned, and that the recommendations of the Turner Committee on this matter will be put into operation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do that, and that we shall hear something on those lines when we discuss the Bill in Committee.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)
I think this debate can be summed up by saying that hon. Members on both sides have welcomed this Bill, but that the Opposition consider the taxpayers and not the coal consumers should pay the cost, and that to some extent it should relate to the past instead of only to the future. I think that is a fair, very broad summary. Also emerging from the debate have been a vast number of detailed questions about the machinery and application of the Bill which deserve an answer either now or at the Committee stage, although I must confess that most of them will have to wait until the Committee stage.
Perhaps I should go straight to the most controversial point, that of who should pay. Let us get that, so to speak, off our chests, because the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor), at the end of his interesting speech, quite fairly asked if it will be reconsidered. All I can say now is that it has already received a very great deal of consideration by all concerned.
Let us just consider the position. The Turner Committee recommended that the National Coal Board should continue to pay its then existing liabilities in 1949, and to help it to meet the additional burden which the Turner proposals would involve the Treasury could make an annual grant of £2 million. The Socialist Government in 1950 implemented part of 1291 the Turner proposals only; that is to say, that part relating to small dwelling-houses, and they did not say that the Treasury should pay two-thirds or that the Treasury should pay most of the obligation. They said that the Treasury should pay only half. Therefore, they did concede that the National Coal Board should pay to a greater extent, at any rate, than hon. Gentlemen opposite have suggested today.
What I find so difficult to understand is this. If hon. Gentlemen opposite maintain today that the Coal Board should pay none of the cost, because I took that to be their argument—if it is not their argument, then let us have it clear—if they say that the Coal Board today should bear none of the cost, why did they in 1950 say that the Treasury should pay at least half of it?
It has been said that the National Union of Mineworkers has considered all along that the Treasury should pay the whole of the cost. That is understandable. They considered that for this particular matter in the cost of production of coal there should be a complete Treasury subsidy. I suggest that our point of view from this side of the House, which I shall elaborate, is also understandable—the view that there should be no Treasury subsidy. What I cannot understand is the official Labour Party attitude when in power in 1950 that there should be a sort of 50–50 compromise based on expediency, a sort of sop to the N.U.M., and a complete disregard of principle either way.
The Government have decided that the Coal Board should bear the whole of the cost, subject to the limited rights of repayment contained in Clause 7, and the Government decision is based on the fact, as my right hon. Friend said so clearly in opening the debate and introducing the Bill, that the damage caused by mining subsidence is a natural, obvious and frequently unavoidable part of the cost of winning coal, and that therefore it is right and fair that it should be borne by the Coal Board, and through it by the consumers.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) interrupted my right hon. Friend and asked us whether we would have made the private colliery owners bear a similar obligation, and I think it is implied in his question whether we 1292 would make any private owners bear a similar obligation. He asked us if we had ever done so. The answer is not only that we would do so, but that we have done so. It was done to some extent in the Coal Act, 1938, and it was done completely in the Brine Pumping (Subsidence) Act, 1952, which affects only private industry. Similar obligations to those which are being imposed upon the Coal Board by the Bill were imposed upon those companies engaged on brine pumping, which also, as hon. Members may recollect, may cause some subsidence of the land.
As my right hon. Friend said, when a new social obligation is imposed on those carrying out certain important activities, it is quite usual to ask the people carrying out those activities to bear the cost on behalf of the nation of the obligation, if it is a direct, natural and obvious cost of carrying out the activity. The alkali works legislation, which we reconsidered in connection with the Clean Air Act, is an ancient and well established example of a principle, and it is an obviously sound principle.
Let me give hon. Members some reassurance. It will not place a great burden on consumers. We still have the cheapest coal in Europe, and this proposal would add about 6d. per ton to it. If the Treasury were to pay, as is argued by the Opposition, it would clearly be a subsidy. We do not believe in subsidies. We have been steadily getting rid of them and, with respect, we do not intend to create a new subsidy to meet this particular point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Mr. George), in a very good speech, made one specially strong point. He said the fact that the Coal Board will have to bear the cost of what is provided for in the Bill will be a strong incentive to the Board to minimise or prevent subsidence damage in order to cut its own costs.
The decision that the Coal Board should bear the cost is fundamental to the Bill and to other points which have had to be decided and will have to be decided in relation to it. We stand by that decision.
My right hon. Friend has mentioned already the criticism that the compensation paid to former coal owners could 1293 or should be reduced as the result of the Bill. He has pointed out that that would be an extremely difficult thing to do at this moment, indeed, quite impracticable, and that in any event very little useful purpose will be served by it. The only thing I should like to add on the subject of the cost of the Measure is this. In the Manchester Guardian, a newspaper which can generally be relied upon to criticise the Government when necessary, it was said on 23rd January:The Turner Committee proposed that the Treasury should pay two-thirds. Some mining M.P.s would like to go further and make the whole a charge on the Exchequer. But the Government's decision is sound in principle. Subsidence is part of the price of getting coal. The consumer must pay what it costs to put the damage right.There is some weighty authority in favour of the proposition we make.
If I may say so with the greatest humility, most hon. Members who spoke in the debate—and we have had some most interesting speeches covering most parts of the country, although most extraordinarily, the voice of Wales has been silent—
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)rose—
§ Mr. Probert
If I may say so, Mr. Speaker, I did attempt to get called, as you are aware, but I was unable to get in.
§ Mr. Renton
I was uttering a lament rather than a criticism, because I always like to hear the voice of Wales.
§ Mr. Renton
Yes, but a Welshman representing an English constituency does not count.
Most hon. Gentlemen resisted the temptation to present the claim for the inclusion of any kind of indirect or consequential loss. The hon. Member for Mansfield threw that in at the end of the debate, and I feel that I should say just this about it. Surely it is significant that not even in the legislation which was intended especially to cover personal hardship—that is, the 1950 Act, which his 1294 Government introduced—was there any reference at all to consequential loss, not even damage to furniture in humble homes. If we were to include consequential loss in a Bill of this much wider scope, it would place an incalculable burden upon the Coal Board besides being extremely difficult of definition.
§ Mr. R. Williams
The Parliamentary Secretary puts me in a great difficulty. As I said in my speech, I was greatly heartened by the observations of his right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General who, in introducing the Bill, distinctly said that there was great sympathy on the part of the Government for this class of case and that if it was possible to do anything in Committee it certainly would be done. Is the Parliamentary Secretary departing from that very clear and encouraging statement of his right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Renton
No. The hon. Member in his enthusiasm has, I am afraid, misunderstood me. All that I said was that hon. Members had resisted the temptation to press this very difficult matter, and I was emphasising once more the difficulties. I was certainly not, metaphorically speaking, closing the Government's mind in the matter when my right hon. Friend had opened the question in his opening speech. As the matter had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Mansfield, however, I felt it courteous at least to let him know once more what our views are. I stand, naturally and very willingly, by what my right hon. Friend said about our approach to the matter. I am grateful for this opportunity to clarify the point.
I should like to deal with one or two of the detailed points which have been raised, and especially to mention a point which came from Scotland. My hon. Friends the Members for Pollok and North Angus (Captain Duncan) referred to the fact that Clause 5 as it stands would not deal with Scotland. We are in some difficulty about this, a difficulty which the Turner Committee recognised. With regard to the land drainage proposals, which we are implementing, the Turner Committee said:We recommend that similar measures be applied to Scotland as soon as the necessary machinery for giving effect to them can be provided.The difficulty about Scotland is that it does not have the same administration 1295 for land drainage as England, and until there is that administrative system it would be idle to pretend that the provisions of the Doncaster Area Drainage Act or any similar provisions could be applied to Scotland. The needs of Scotland are, however, well borne in mind by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and as soon as an opportunity arises he will make provisions which will be applicable to Scotland; but those provisions must await the setting up in due course, and after legislation in some future Session, of appropriate administration.
The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger), in an interruption during my right hon. Friend's speech, cast doubts upon the working of the Doncaster Drainage Area, but I wish to assure him that our information is that it is perfectly all right. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) both, in most interesting speeches, made with great depth of learning on the law of the subject, put various abstruse legal points which, in the four minutes remaining, I will not attempt to answer; but I am grateful to them for having made those points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) expressed doubt about the persons to whom compensation would be paid, and I think that the answer to his point will be found if he will look at the Interpretation Clause—Clause 12—where he will find the word "owner" is very broadly defined. I should like to tell him that we will consider the possibility in Clause 1 (4) of invoking a system which will give a better safeguard to farmers and owners of farm property.
If I may say a general word about this Bill, I would say this. For the first time in the history of this country this Bill provides a universal remedy for damage caused by mining subsidence. It therefore resolves a complex problem of very 1296 long-standing which has defied solution. It takes no rights away from anybody—let us be clear about that. Anyone who has rights now, rights of support, rights of compensation—those rights prevail; but it gives a right of repair or of compensation to everyone whose land, buildings or structures are in future damaged by mining subsidence, even if they had no such rights before nationalisation. In that way, we suggest that the Bill goes far to remove the sense of grievance and, indeed, the real hardships of which we have heard so much today caused by the chaotic state of the law in the past.
The Bill aims primarily—let this be clearly understood, from among the rather complicated provisions that have been drafted—at prevention of damage and at repair and thereby would reduce the need for compensation. For the first time and in a general and comprehensive way, the Bill provides for the helping of local authorities and public utility undertakings, and in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok, I assure him that reservoirs will be covered by the Bill.
The point which seems to have been overlooked by those representatives of mining areas who have criticised the proposal to make the Coal Board pay is that by helping local authorities and public utility undertakings in the way I have described, we shall be helping the ratepayers in mining communities in a way in which they have never been helped before. We are helping the ratepayers by spreading the burden among the consumers of coal generally. The Bill treats the difficult problem of land drainage by following a precedent which has already been found satisfactory, and for these several reasons and because I believe that it is a very great step I am glad to have the privilege, with my right hon. Friend, of presenting the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).