HC Deb 31 January 1957 vol 563 cc1297-313

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the execution of remedial works and the making of payments in respect of damage caused by subsidence resulting from the working and getting of coal, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of the remuneration of any assessor summoned, and the expense of any remit made, by a court in proceedings under the said Act.—[Mr. Renton.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I have had a fair experience of debates on Money Resolutions and have done a little studying of these Resolutions. In my experience, this is the most peculiar Money Resolution that has ever been presented to the Committee. I understand that the expenditure of public money should be considered with all the freedom that our Committee procedure provides and which the House of Commons, after long experience, has determined as a result of a Select Committee Report which is now reflected in Standing Order No. 84. The procedure provides an opportunity for hon. Members to indulge in more probing of the Government's proposals than we are able to do prior to the House resolving itself into Committee.

I should like to suggest a few points for the consideration of the Chair where, I submit, the proposals in the Bill conflict with the principal Act. In my view, the Money Resolution should be withdrawn to enable the Chair to have further time to reflect upon it, and to give the Government an opportunity to consider the further points that may be made in debate after consideration of the Resolution.

My first point to the Chair is that the principal Act lays down the liabilities and the financial provisions which are the basis for the administration of the nationalised coal mining industry. The Act calls for precedence to be given to safety-first precautions, health and welfare, and compensation for old miners. The Bill which the House has just considered superimposes increased cost on the administration of the Coal Board which, in my view, the principal Act does not allow. The Chair or the Government—for there is a question of dual responsibility here—may say in reply that the new Bill will supersede the principal Act. If that is said, I will reply that already the Coal Board is severely criticised in the country for its costs, and that we ought not to agree to one more penny being put upon the Board's charges, since the first objective should be the health, safety and welfare of the men who win the coal in our mines.

In addition, the Paymaster-General said today that the Bill will mean an additional cost of approximately £5 million. I claim that, on a reasoned view, that figure can be increased by at least £2 million. These costs which are constantly superimposed on the industry—I suspect because it is a nationalised industry—will not have a good effect in the country. Therefore, I think that the Government ought to introduce some proposals to include in the Bill further responsibilities to be placed upon the Coal Board.

Apart from narrow points dealing with legal procedure, there is no mention of the principal Act in the present Bill. It ought to contain several references to that Act.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

On a point of order. So far as I can understand it, Sir Charles, this Motion relates to certain specific items and not to the general expenditure to be made by the National Coal Board under the Act. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) is discussing the matter on the basis of what is not in the Motion. Could we have your Ruling, Sir Charles, as to how far it is in order on Motions of this kind to discuss what is not in them?

The Chairman

Yes. This Money Resolution refers to any Act in the present Session and does not go back to the previous Act.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Thank you very much, Sir Charles. That strengthens my position. If you will be good enough to look at the Standing Order you will see it states that any references to public money in the Bill must be in italics. The only reference in italics in this Bill is to the very narrow point put by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). Therefore, that means that in Committee we shall be able to move any Amendments which we desire.

The Chairman


Mr. Ellis Smith

Thank you very much Sir Charles. That is what I wanted.

The Chairman

If the hon. Member will wait a moment—provided it does not increase the charges on the Exchequer.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I expected that, but this is not a normal Bill; it is an abnormal Bill, and the Government are putting the whole charge upon the National Coal Board. Therefore, it is not directly increasing the charge on the Exchequer. It is not public money in the normal way. It is National Coal Board money.

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is quite right, so long as we do not increase the money provided by Parliament. We can increase the money which the National Coal Board spends, so far as the Minister accepts it.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Thank you for that, Sir Charles.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

As one who has seen a good many Money Resolutions pass through this House, may I put the point that it is surely in order, subject to anything you may say, Sir Charles, for hon. Members to argue that the Money Resolution has been too tightly drawn? It is surely within the compass of hon. Members, when debating a Money Resolution, to suggest to the Government that they should take it back and even increase the charge on the Exchequer.

The Chairman

That may be. I do not, of course, draft the Money Resolution; I only try to carry out the orders of the House to the best of my ability. So far as this Bill is concerned, any increase in charge on the Coal Board does not fall on money provided by Parliament. So long as the matters are within the Money Resolution, I cannot see why they should not be in order. They could not possibly be in order if they increased the money provided by Parliament.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

As I understood it, Sir Charles, that was not the point put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall). As I understood his point, it was whether we are entitled to criticise the drafting of this Money Resolution and to suggest to the Government that a different Money Resolution should be produced in order to bring certain Amendments within order.

The Chairman

That is certainly so, but, of course, we cannot amend this Money Resolution. Another Money Resolution would have to be drawn and receive the Queen's Recommendation.

Mr. Ellis Smith

My hon. Friend was only anticipating one of the twenty points that have still to be made with regard to this matter. We have now established the position, Sir Charles, that the proposed expenditure for mining subsidence which the Government in this Bill are proposing to place upon the National Coal Board is not public money and that in the Committee stage we shall be able to move Amendments to bring about the best possible results for the people in the mining areas. We must emphasise all the time that it is not our desire to put the burden on the Coal Board. It is the Government's decision, but we shall try to bring about the best results in mining areas by moving suitable Amendments in Committee. Is that correct?

The Chairman

I cannot commit the Chairman of the Committee. As I said before, Amendments which increase the charge on the Coal Board may perhaps be in order, but Amendments which increase the charge beyond the Money Resolution would certainly be out of order.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Thank you for your very cautious language, Sir Charles. We know that you will not be in the Chair, but you have a great deal of experience in the Chair which will influence those who take the Chair. Thank you for your Ruling. We cannot ask for more than that.

Am I correct in saying that if a Bill authorises expenditure, a recommendation from the Crown is required at some stage?

The Chairman

Yes. A recommendation of the Crown for a Money Resolution is needed.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Thank you very much. So further expenditure by the Coal Board does not come within that and will not require a recommendation from the Crown, which strengthens our position about making Amendments in Committee.

If the Money Resolution is accepted, Clause 1 (1) of the Bill will apply. It states: This Act shall apply in relation to any subsidence damage occurring after the commencement of this Act … In Committee, therefore, we shall be able to move Amendments with the object of bringing about retrospective payment. I hope that the Government will consider this point, because many local authorities think that that is right. Thousands of pounds worth of municipal property is damaged in Stoke-on-Trent by mining subsidence, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and others of my hon. Friends can give similar examples. Almost everyone who knows anything about this subject says that there should be compensation in such cases, and we are delighted to be informed that in Committee we shall have the right to move Amendments dealing with these problems.

I have never known a Bill in which there was so much uncertainty. The uncertainty runs right through it. Nobody can be definite about the cost, and there will be legal quibbling and bullying when the Bill comes to be administered. Let me emphasise that there will be no virement for the Coal Board, which will not be able to dabble in millions and juggle with millions as others can do. The Coal Board's accounts have to be audited and produced in an annual report. That emphasises our line on this issue.

I ask the Government to withdraw the Money Resolution. Do they not agree that this raises financial issues which have never been raised before, and that the Money Resolution and the introduction of the Bill in this way place a new financial responsibility on a nationalised industry?

10.15 p.m.

Seeing that the Bill provides for a new charge upon the Coal Board, what control will Parliament have in the matter? We are not allowed to ask Questions about it. I admit that some of my right hon. Friends share the responsibility for that fact. That means that if the Bill goes through in this way we shall not be allowed to ask a Question in spite of the fact that thousands of people may be smarting under the administration of the Bill when it becomes an Act.

I can understand you looking at me like that, Sir Charles, at this late hour.

The Chairman

I was only looking at the hon. Member because I was very interested in what he was saying.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Thank you very much, Sir Charles. Perhaps I should not have said that. When a Member is on his feet and speaking, being looked at in that way is disturbing. I am at fault for misunderstanding you.

The Bill raises new financial problems. It has already been said in the debate that this provision would not have been made under ordinary circumstances. We can depend upon it that the Marquess of Titchfield and all the others would have watched it if they had been in the House. We are only doing what they did. I remember them during the days when the coal owners were well represented in this House. They used to look after their interests, and now it is our duty to look after the interests of nationalised industries.

If the Bill goes through in this way and we part with the Money Resolution, what control will Parliament have in future over its administration and over the financial expenditure? One of the principles of our Constitution is that grievances should be remedied before we vote Supply. It is true that it is being done in a new form, in this modern twentieth century setting, but here we have an example of the Government taking our rights from under our feet. Because a nationalised industry is concerned we shall not be allowed to ask any Questions or indulge in any criticism. As a result we shall be left high and dry, and people in various localities will be left smarting. We are raising the matter for the first time tonight. I can assure the Minister that this action will be followed up unless the Government are prepared to withdraw the Money Resolution and give more attention to the problem.

Seeing that this is no ordinary Bill, and that it repeals several Acts of Parliament, will the Chair be prepared to consider the points which have been raised? Will the Government representatives be prepared also to consider the points in order that the municipalities meeting in the morning can consider and prepare their Amendments for our consideration? Will the Government have regard to the great contribution which the nationalised mining industry is making to our economy and withdraw the Money Resolution so that further consideration can be given to the problems?

Mr. Swingler

I am sorry to delay the Committee, but to many of us this is a vitally important point. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) in raising this protest against the Money Resolution. I am no expert in such matters, but it seems to me entirely wrong that a Money Resolution should be produced which is designed to stifle discussion upon one of the most crucial and controversial principles involved in the Bill. I should have thought that that was wrong Parliamentarily, and that it gave us a basic right to demand the withdrawal of the Money Resolution.

This is not a trivial point. When they produced the Bill the Government knew that the most controversial aspect of it would be the financial source of compensation. The Ministers involved also knew that the idea of a comprehensive scheme of compensation for mining subsidence would be generally agreed, and, indeed, had been agreed for years, because we have been waiting for this Bill for years. The Government also knew—or did they not know—that one of the things which would divide the House and the Committee, and has divided people in the controversy on this matter which has been going on for years, was the question of who should bear the responsibility for payment, the Coal Board or the Government; should it be the consumers or the taxpayers?

The Government knew the recomendation made by the Turner Committee. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) were members of that Committee which sat for two years. The Committee examined this problem and came to a conclusion which has been discussed this afternoon. As stated in paragraph 84 of the Report: One line of argument strongly pressed before us is that the cost of repairing subsidence damage is but a part of the 'natural' cost of getting coal and should therefore be placed in its entirety upon the National Coal Board, leaving coal to find its 'economic' price. Against this it is urged that the financial arrangements on nationalisation were based upon the existing law and that it would be unjust to add a substantial burden to the already known liabilities of the Board upon which its finances were based. Most commonly it was urged that as the community inflicts the damage by reason of its paramount interest in the getting of coal, the community at large, through the Treasury, should provide the whole compensation. That was what, in the words of the Report, was "most commonly urged" upon the Committee, that the Treasury should be the source of compensation. The Committee came to the conclusion that the Treasury should bear the major part.

Then in 1950 the Labour Government did it a different way. They decided to divide the cost between the Coal Board and the Exchequer on a 50–50 basis. But at any rate, they put the major responsibility on the taxpayers as the source of compensation. Now this Government, in direct contradiction to the Turner Committee recommendation, and different from the 1950 Labour Government, puts the whole cost upon the Coal Board, on the coal consumers. So lightly does the Parliamentary Secretary regard the question of the increase in the price of coal. To him it is nothing to increase the price—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can answer this question. If it was right in principle for the Socialist Government in 1950 to make the Coal Board pay at least half the cost then, why is it now wrong in principle for us to ask the Coal Board to pay the whole of the cost?

Mr. Swingler

I should have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary had read the Turner Report. I do not want to have to read out the whole thing. After all, we set up a committee in 1947 to examine the problem and some hon. Members of this House were members of it. The Committee sat for two years and went exhaustively into the subject. It examined this financial aspect. It said at that time that the Coal Board, on nationalisation, had a liability. It said that the Coal Board would continue to have a liability, but in the words I have just read out: … it would be unjust to add a substantial burden to the already known liabilities of the Board upon which its finances were based. That is why the Committee came to the conclusion that the Exchequer should bear any additional liabilities from legislation passed in the future. I should have thought that argument was much stronger today—eight years after the Turner Committee reported—than it was then. If in 1949 it was true that we should not thrust an additional financial liability on the National Coal Board—such was the pressure of the price of coal and the importance of it in the economy of the country—I should have thought, to any reasonable person, that went double today.

I should think it much more important today not to put an additional liability on the National Coal Board or to increase the price of coal. I am flabbergasted at the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary, who regards it as a mere nothing to impose a cost of perhaps £5 million or £8 million on the National Coal Board, which may mean an increase of 6d. or 1s. on a ton of coal. I wonder what industries and other coal consumers, like the old-age pensioners, will say about that attitude? "What is another 6d. on the ton of coal?"; I never heard such an irresponsible attitude by a Minister who was previously responsible for Fuel and Power and is now responsible for Power.

We do not know what the liability is. It has not been fully calculated, but I should have thought there were overwhelming arguments for not adding to the liabilities of the National Coal Board, quite apart from other arguments.

This is not a part of the cost of coal to the same extent as are the wages of the men who get the coal, the cost of the machinery required in the pits, or of the shafts and other things of that kind. Anybody with experience of subsidence in mining areas knows quite well the arbitrary and capricious nature of these occurrences and nobody regards them as part of the cost of getting coal in the same way as any of the operative costs of the National Coal Board. It goes far beyond that, because there are moral and psychological consequences of subsidence damage. It should be made a national responsibility, and the Exchequer should be the source of compensation.

I shall not go on to argue this point now, but I am demanding the right of the Committee to argue it, and of the House to argue it on Report. If we now pass the Money Resolution we shall have no right to argue it later. By the narrow drafting of the Money Resolution, the Government hoped to stifle discussion on the controversial elements in the Bill. By passing the Financial Resolution we pass the buck to the National Coal Board, and shall be unable in Committee to do anything about it.

I want in the Committee to argue the question of consequential expenditure on indirect damage, and the responsibility for removal expenses, loss of furniture and other damage, apart from the damage to the property. Why should we not relieve people from the burden of paying double rents and mortgages? If the Committee decides that consequential damages should be relieved we shall put a few more millions on the Coal Board.

Those who represent mining areas in this Committee wish to see the victim of mining subsidence relieved of his burdens, but we may find ourselves compelled by the passage of this Financial Resolution to put the cost on the consumers, which includes the old-age pensioners, will increase the spiral of rising prices, and will be a contribution to a higher cost of living. That was part of the Parliamentary Secretary's answer: "It does not matter," he said. On the other hand we believe that it is an important and serious question and that the Government have no business to produce a Money Resolution which means that we shall not be able to have any further discussion on this crucial principle. It compels those of us who wish to improve the Bill to thrust upon a nationalised industry which is already overloaded with liabilities further financial burdens. It is a disgrace.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

It is now getting late and I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few moments. I think that my hon. Friends have made a substantial case for the Government to have another look at this matter, if for no other purpose than to give some sort of decency to the discussions which will take place in Committee on the Bill.

As the Parliamentary Secretary very pertinently said, when opening his speech winding up the debate on Second Reading, there are only two points in this Measure about which Members on the two sides of the Chamber are divided. The first is the question, as to who should bear the cost, and the second is whether retrospection should be written into the Bill. It is obvious from your Ruling, Sir Charles, that retrospection can be argued in Committee, and provided for in the Bill, if necessary, because the cost of it, as the Money Resolution now stands, will not fall on the Exchequer. The other matter cannot be argued if we accept this Money Resolution tonight. and yet it is one outstanding matter which has been exercising the minds of hon. Members, certainly on this side of the Committee. The Committee should in common fairness ask the Government to have another look at the matter.

This Money Resolution is scarcely worth debating as it stands. I wonder whether we could be told before we part with it what the cost to the Exchequer under it will be? Will it be £1,000? Or not so much? Perhaps only £750? It certainly will not be very much more. It seems farcical.

The Parliamentary Secretary made great play—I do not object to that—with the fact that in 1950 we on this side of the Committee laid it down that the Treasury should bear half the cost. If the hon. and learned Gentleman thought that what we did then a good thing, as I gather he did, would not the Government accept the same proposition now from us? The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the fact with. I thought, approbation. If it was good then, would not the Government accept it now?

The curious thing is that, according to the hon. and learned Gentleman, we on this party were then willing to allow the taxpayers to pay only half the cost, and he twitted us for now wanting the taxpayers to pay the whole. I remember that at that time, when the party opposite was on this side of the Chamber, the then Opposition Members pressed us hard to allow the taxpayers to pay the whole cost. We may have gone half circle, but hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have gone full circle in this matter and in the wrong direction. I hope that the Government will see reason tonight, meet us anyway half way and let the taxpayers pay half the cost, as we were willing they should do in 1950.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall). I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South staggered the Committee by his argument that we should be taking away the rôle of Parliament if we were to pass this Money Resolution. Some of us are concerned already because one of the defects of nationalisation is that it takes matters away from Parliament and renders the rôle of Parliament less. Not only does the rôle of Parliament become less, but the part which the consumers can play becomes less, and by nationalisation what is nationalised seems to become further removed from the consumers' influence. Those of us who value democracy should look again very carefully at the point which my hon. Friend made in that respect.

Another question is how far we shall have any right in Committee to discuss the money implications, having once passed this Resolution. If the burden is put on the Coal Board we not only put it on the consumer who has to burn coal but we also burden the local authorities which are already suffering. Those authorities in the mining areas have to find more money for schools and houses because they have to construct ramps beneath buildings. My hon. Friend has referred to the playing field where children will be denied facilities unless a large sum of money is spent to make it fit for use. These problems arise in the densely populated areas where people have to pay a heavier sum because of the rafting which has to be constructed under buildings. In many cases they can burn only coal because there is no other means of heating their houses.

There is also the question of going beyond the date at which the Act will become operative. If the Bill were to become an Act tomorrow local authorities in mining areas would have to find large sums to put right subsidence which has taken place in the past. From the point of view of the Exchequer and of local authorities consideration should be given to retrospection. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. In these days when local authorities are called on to bear the heavy burden of increased interest rates surely the Government want to keep some good will on the part of the local authorities. This is not the way to do it.

Another 6d. a ton will be a serious burden for the old-age pensioner, or the woman with a large family who is having to pay more for food and other necessities than in the past. I recently had to write to the Chairman of the National Coal Board about a case in which a house was dangerous and the tenant had to pay removal expenses. There was an argument about whether certain repairs would be done, and he decided to return to the house, even though it might come under a slum clearance scheme. Repairs were done and he paid removal expenses again. That was an unjust burden to put on anyone. Probably he will have to move again in a couple of years when the house will be demolished under a slum clearance scheme.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look again at this problem and to see whether the matter cannot be taken back for further consideration. He would then have the satisfaction of knowing he had been just, and local authorities could have the satisfaction of knowing that at least the Government were prepared to consider their point of view and the point of view of consumers.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)

I think it would be fair to say that in the four speeches we have had on the Money Resolution three main points have been made. I hope that I shall be in order in answering them: I shall certainly do my best.

The first point is that the Money Resolution should be enlarged so as to include provision for the making to the Coal Board of a Treasury grant in order to reimburse it wholly or in part for the cost to be incurred under the Bill. The second is that the Money Resolution should be altered in some way or another in order to give greater freedom for putting down Amendments in Committee; and the third point is that we should say something about the cost of the Money Resolution.

Perhaps I may be allowed to deal with each of those points, and deal with the last one first, because that is the shortest and simplest. The Money Resolution, as drawn, deals only with the payment of those assessors who are called in to help the county court judge or sheriff when deciding disputes. The amounts which are likely to be paid cannot be precisely estimated, but will be very small indeed.

I turn to the first point: should the Money Resolution be enlarged to include provision for a Treasury grant?

Mr. Ellis Smith

How does the hon. and learned Gentleman have the confidence that he seems to have to say that it will be only a small charge? I can visualise a large amount of legal quibbling taking place, and one knows what happens when the legal people get to work.

Mr. Renton

I think that it is pretty obvious that it is not likely to be an enormous charge. I have not handy the scales of fees paid to assessors in the county courts but, like other fees in the county courts, they are pretty modest. One would hope that a very large number of cases arising from this Bill would be settled amicably out of court, just as so many cases arising from the 1950 Act have been settled out of court, so there will not be vast numbers of cases in which assessors are called in, the sums will not be great, and I suggest that the total will be modest.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The 1950 Act covered houses of a rateable value of approximately £34, and that figure was later increased to £50. Therefore, one can depend on it that the average person in such a house cannot afford to go to law, in which case there will be no charge. When some of us were at home, before being elected to this House, we could not have gone to law if we had not been members of a trade union. We remember that only too well from experience in the days of workmen's compensation. But now big industry will be involved, and so will municipalities. They will not pay out the charges, so there will be a large number of legal differences.

Mr. Renton

With respect, I think that the hon. Member missed the point, that it is only the smaller cases that will go to the county court—cases concerning property of an annual value of £100 or less. The larger and more important disputes will, in England, go to the Lands Tribunal, and, in Scotland, all cases will go to the sheriff court—and we hope that the Scots will not be highly contentious over this. That, I hope, deals satisfactorily with the third point.

To revert to the first point, the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) and South (Mr. Ellis Smith), and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), suggested, as did nearly all speakers on the other side of the House during the Second Reading debate, that the Treasury should bear—they never made it clear whether it was to be the whole or part, and, if part, what part of the cost—

Mr. B. Taylor

The Turner Report.

Mr. Renton

Two-thirds? Well, that is a slight advance on 1950, when the suggestion was that it should be 50–50. I am glad we have drawn a decision from hon. Members opposite, even at this late hour.

My right hon. Friend, in opening the Second Reading debate, dealt very fully with this point and gave the reasons for the decision of the Government. I took the liberty of amplifying what he had said, and I concluded my remarks by saying that the Government stand by their decision, and I am afraid that I have not anything to add to that.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Swingler

I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary must agree that that is not fair. That is a really fantastic statement of the position. The House of Commons sets up a Committee, which reports in a certain sense, and one Government acts in a slightly different sense. Then another Government comes along, and Ministers carry out certain consultations amongst themselves, coming to a certain conclusion which is exactly contradictory to that of the Committee and quite different from the course taken by the previous Government.

Can it possibly be right for the Parliamentary Secretary to assert that what one Minister says is final and the House of Commons Committee is not even to be allowed to consider it, because his Money Resolution prevents the Committee from even taking up and considering this point? Is it his argument—if it is, it will set a most important precedent—that it is quite final for one Minister to have considered the matter in secret and come to a different conclusion from that of a Committee set up some years previously? Can it be satisfactory to produce then a Money Resolution which excludes all discussion of this business from the Committee?

Mr. Renton

I do not know where the idea of secrecy arises. The decision was announced by my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Supply as long ago as last April, I think as soon as the Government's decision had been made. That decision has been known ever since and acted upon by all parties who have been negotiating with regard to this matter.

There is certainly no question of the Government at this stage altering that decision. It is only right that I should make it plain in order that hon. Gentlemen should know it. We have listened very carefully to everything which has been said, not only on this Money Resolution and in the debate today, but before this debate by the various people, including the National Coal Board, who made representations about it. I wish to emphasise that that is the Government's decision, at the highest level, and we stand by it.

Perhaps I may now come to the second point. I can here give some reassurance to hon. Members. The point was first made, I think, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South.

Mr. Ellis Smith

This is a very important matter which we cannot allow to pass. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember, and you, Sir Charles, will remember, that I brought out the point that if public money was involved then it had to be shown in italics in the Bill. No public money is shown in italics in the Bill except in page 14, dealing with the previous point which the Parliamentary Secretary has finished speaking about.

You, Sir Charles, were good enough to give the very cautious advice that in your opinion it would be for the Chair to rule, but that you agreed with my interpretation that this was not public money in the usual Parliamentary sense and therefore it would be reasonable to suggest to the Chair in Committee that we should have the right to move any Amendment that we wished.

Mr. Renton

Yes; I think that the hon. Gentleman has almost taken the words from my mouth. I should not have expressed it quite as he has done, but I should have put it in this way. When the Money Resolution was put forward under the 1950 Act, in a sense it had to be much more closely drawn than this because on that occasion public moneys were being advanced by the Treasury out of the Exchequer; therefore, any Amend-mats put down in Committee had to be limited to the terms of the Money Resolution.

Here, on the other hand, it is not public money which will be committed by the various Clauses of the Bill and the Amendments which may be put down. It will be the money of the Coal Board which, for this technical purpose, is not public money. Therefore, there will in fact be greater freedom allowed in putting down Amendments on this occasion than there was on the occasion of the 1950 Act.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the execution of remedial works and the making of payments in respect of damage caused by subsidence resulting from the working and getting of coal, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of the remuneration of any assessor summoned, and the expense of any remit made, by a court in proceedings under the said Act.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.

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