HC Deb 04 July 1957 vol 572 cc1420-2
Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 8, line 27, to leave out "economically justified" and to insert: not unjustifiable on economic grounds". Those hon. Members who were members of the Committee will remember the great discussions we had on the question and the test of economic justification in relation to the repair of a drainage system owned by a drainage authority. While not departing from what we consider to be the vital principle that there should be a due regard to economic considerations before plunging into what may be very heavy expenditure by the National Coal Board in repairing a drainage system, we nevertheless feel that it would be right slightly to alter the phrasing which we used first.

We suggest that we should depart from the words "economically justified" and insert these other words. We should thereby very slightly ease the burden of proof on drainage authorities. They will find themselves proving a negative instead of having to prove the matter from a positive point of view. I should make it clear that the burden of proof will not be shifted. The burden of proof in this issue of drainage systems remains on drainage authorities, and it will be for them to prove that the works which they consider ought to be done to restore their drainage systems will not be "unjustifiable on economic grounds".

Hon. Members who showed great interest in this matter in Committee will realise that we feel that this is a great concession to the objections which were raised to the criterion of economic justification. It is as far as we can go without giving up the principle that the National Coal Board shall not be required to undertake works which are uneconomic. The principle is fundamental to the Bill, and although we have been unable to abandon it, we hope that it will be felt that this is a reasonable relaxation of its application.

Mr. Robens

This is another indication of the way in which the Paymaster-General and the Parliamentary Secretary have leaned over backwards to meet requests that came from the Committee to consider these matters and produce Amendments at this stage. I still do not see the difference between "economically justified" and not unjustifiable on economic grounds but the Parliamentary Secretary, who is a learned gentleman, evidently does, and I hope that everybody else feels that way. I hope that they will all be content with the Amendment.

Mr. Ellis Smith

We spent a long time on this matter in Committee, and the time has been well justified, as can be seen if any one checks the proceedings in Committee which were concerned with the Amendment. We were reinforced in our views on this point by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), and a very well-informed mining engineer, my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts). We were given an assurance by the Minister that he would consider the matter. I am very pleased that he has done so. It appears that he has accepted wholeheartedly the reasonable nature of the fears expressed by hon. Members in Committee.

Amendment agreed to.