HC Deb 04 July 1957 vol 572 cc1430-50

1. Where a dwelling-house is affected by subsidence damage occurring after the passing of this Act, the provisions of this Schedule shall have effect as respects any period (in this Schedule referred to as "the period of dispossession") during which both the following conditions are satisfied, that is to say—

  1. (a) that by reason of deterioration due to the subsidence damage in the condition of the dwelling-house, and having regard lo the time which will be required to remedy that deterioration, the dwelling-house is not in a reasonably fit state for it to be used as such; and
  2. (b) that the dwelling-house is not used as such by or with the authority of the person who immediately before the occurrence of the subsidence damage was entitled to possession thereof (hereinafter in this Schedule referred to as "the occupier").

2.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Schedule, in the case of any person ordinarily resident in the dwelling-house during the period immediately preceding the occurrence of the subsidence damage (hereinafter in this Schedule referred to as a "resident") the Board shall so long as the period of dispossession lasts be under an obligation at all times, as they may elect, either—

  1. (a) to make available alternative living accommodation which—
    1. (i) is of a standard comparable to the general standard of the housing accommodation under the management of the local authority for the purposes of Part V of the Housing Act, 1936, or, as the case may be, for the purposes of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, for the area in which the dwelling-house is situated; and
    2. (ii) is otherwise reasonable having regard to all the circumstances, including the probable duration of the period of dispossession; or
  2. (b) as respects any of the first thirty days of the period of dispossession, to pay to the resident in question the amount, if any, by which the aggregate expenditure reasonably incurred by him by way of rent, rates, food, living accommodation, heating, light and other household expenses exceeds what it would have been if the subsidence damage had not occurred and he had continued to reside in the dwelling-house; or
  3. (c) as respects any other part of the period of dispossession, to pay to the resident in question the amount aforesaid or the amount which would be payable by way of rent for accommodation equivalent to such alternative living accommodation as is mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subparagraph, whichever amount is the less:

Provided that the Board shall not be under any obligation under this sub-paragraph in respect of any part of the period of dispossession during which, irrespective of the subsidence damage, the resident in question would not have been residing at the dwelling-house.

(2) Where the Board are under an obligation towards a resident by virtue of the foregoing sub-paragraph, the Board shall also be under an obligation with respect to the contents of the dwelling-house to provide, or to pay to that resident any expenditure reasonably incurred by him in providing, for any removal or storage thereof reasonably required during the period of dispossession as a result of the subsidence damage and any removal thereof reasonably required as a result of the termination of the Board's obligations towards that resident under the foregoing sub-paragraph:

Provided that the Board shall not be under any obligation under this sub-paragraph in respect of the contents of any part of the dwelling-house which, immediately before the occurrence of the subsidence damage, was not used for the purposes of a private dwelling and the said obligations shall not extend to storage in or removal to any place outside Great Britain.

3.—(1) Subject to the two following subparagraphs, the obligations of the Board towards any resident under sub-paragraph (1) of the last foregoing paragraph shall cease, notwithstanding that the period of dispossession has not expired—

  1. (a) if the occupier has ceased (otherwise than by reason of his death) to be entitled to possession of, or, as the case may be, of the site of, the dwelling-house; or
  2. (b) on the expiration of a period of six months from the service by the Board on the resident in question of notice in writing of the opinion of the Board that the period of dispossession will continue indefinitely or that the said period will be unreasonably long or that the resident in question will not resume residence at or on the site of the dwelling-house at the expiration of that period.

(2) Where a damage notice has been served in respect of the dwelling-house, the Board shall not be entitled to serve a notice under sub-paragraph (b) of the foregoing sub-paragraph on the grounds that the period of dispossession will continue indefinitely or will be unreasonably long—

  1. (a) unless the Board have elected to make a payment in respect of the dwelling-house under subsection (3) or subsection (4) of section one of this Act; or
  2. (b) while a notice under subsection (2) of section three of this Act is in force with respect to the dwelling-house

(3) Any person upon who a notice under the said paragraph (b) is served may apply to the county court or, where the dwelling-house is situated in Scotland, to the sheriff, and the court or sheriff, if satisfied that there are not reasonable grounds for the opinion of the Board, may declare the notice to be of no effect.

4.—(1) The Board shall not be under any obligation by virtue of paragraph 2 of this Schedule unless either the owner or the occupier of the dwelling-house is a resident and has given to the Board notice ill writing, in such a manner, within such time and containing such particulars as may be prescribed, that in his opinion the condition specified in sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph 1 of this Schedule is satisfied, and has afforded the Board reasonable facilities to inspect the dwelling-house so far as he was in a position to afford such facilities.

(2) As soon as reasonably practicable after receiving from any person a notice under the foregoing sub-paragraph, the Board shall give to that person notice in writing as to whether or not they agree with that person's opinion and, if they so agree, as to the manner in which they propose to discharge their obligations under paragraph 2 of this Schedule, and where in the circumstances of any particular case it appears to the Board appropriate so to do they may serve a separate notice such as aforesaid on any other resident; and where they have so given notice to any resident of an intention to adopt in his case the alternative set out in paragraph (a) or paragraph (c) of sub-paragraph (1) of the said paragraph 2, they shall not adopt in his case the other of those alternatives without his consent, which shall not be unreasonably withheld

5.—(1) Where, in pursuance of paragraph (a) of sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 2 of this Schedule, the Board have made alternative living accommodation available to a resident, the following provisions of this paragraph shall apply.

(2) The Board shall be entitled to possession of the accommodation so made available—

  1. (a) in a case falling within paragraph (b) of sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 3 of this Schedule, at the expiration of the period of six months mentioned in the said paragraph (b);
  2. (b) without prejudice to any obligations of the Board under the said paragraph 2 or to the provisions of sub-paragraph (2) of the last foregoing paragraph, at any time not less than one week after the Board have served notice in writing on the resident in question of their intention to take possession;
and where notice is given under paragraph (b) of this sub-paragraph, the said obligations shall continue until the expiration of the said week or such longer period as may be specified in the notice notwithstanding that the period of dispossession may have expired.

(3) The Board shall be entitled to recover as a civil debt from the resident in question any amount by which the aggregate expenditure reasonably incurred by him by way of rent, rates, food, living accommodation, heating, light and other household expenses is less than it would have been if the subsidence damage had not occurred and he had continued to reside in the dwelling-house:

Provided that the Board shall not be entitled to recover any amount under this subparagraph in excess of the amount which would have been payable by way of rent for the alternative living accommodation if it had been provided by the local authority for the purposes of Part V of the Housing Act, 1936, or for the purposes of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, for the area in which the dwelling-house is situated.

6. Where no damage notice has been served in respect of the dwelling-house or where the Board have elected to make a payment under subsection (3) or subsection (4) of section one of this Act then, during any period while the Board are under an obligation by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 2 of this Schedule, they may exercise in the name of the occupier any right with respect to the repair of the dwelling-house by the occupier exercisable against any person other than the Board.

7. Where the Board have elected to make a payment in respect of the dwelling-house under paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of section one of this Act, the Board shall be entitled to recover as a civil debt from the owner of the dwelling-house any amount by which the expenditure of the Board under this Schedule in connection with the dwelling-house exceeds what it would have been if only remedial works had been executed.

8. Where a person entitled to serve a notice under paragraph 4 of this Schedule also has a right apart from this Act to claim from the Board or any other person compensation or damage in respect of any of the matters dealt with by this Schedule, he shall not be entitled to relief in respect of the same matters both under this Schedule and under that other right. —[Mr. Maudling.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Maudling

I beg to move, That the Schedule be read a Second time.

This Schedule deals with an important point which was much discussed in Committee. I see that there are some Amendments on the Order Paper on particular points, but I feel confident that the bulk of the Schedule will commend itself to the House without difficulty.

It has always been difficult, in dealing with mining subsidence, to go beyond direct damage to building structures. Once we go beyond that, it is difficult to know where we shall stop. We have done so in the case of personal injury and death, and now we are to go beyond direct damage to a limited but important extent in providing people with alternative accommodation and paying for removals and storage.

The broad effect of the Schedule is that where a dwelling-house is not in a reasonably fit state for use as a result of mining subsidence the Board will either make alternative accommodation available, as defined in subsection 2 (1, a, i), or make a payment instead of providing the accommodation. The payment in respect of the first thirty days of dispossession will be the amount of the additional cost incurred by the individual and in respect of any other part of the period of dispossession will be either that amount or the amount that would be paid for the sort of accommodation defined in the previous paragraph, whichever is the less.

I should make it clear at this stage that the words in line 35, the amount which would be payable by way of rent for accommodation equivalent to such alternative living accommodation as is mentioned in paragraph (a) means the economic unsubsidised rent and not the subsidised rent at which local authority accommodation will be available. That is an important point.

The second main effect is in subsection 2, where the Board is put under an obligation to provide storage accommodation for furniture. In subection 3 we deal with the duration of the obligation. Once the person concerned has ceased to be entitled to live in the house because his lease has lapsed, clearly the obligation of the Coal Board ought similarly to lapse. Otherwise we have decided in this subsection to say that the Board can give six months' notice when it comes to the conclusion that dispossession will continue indefinitely or for an intolerably long period because the amount of damage is so great as not to be reasonably repairable in any reasonable length of time.

In other words, as I think was recognised in our earlier discussions, while the Coal Board will and should provide alternative accommodation, it cannot continue to do so for ever; and we think that six months is a fairly reasonable time. It is the same period of time as was given in the case of people made homeless by the East Coast flooding some time ago and, on the whole, it is longer than the obligation normally accepted by county councils, which, I believe, is three months. I hope the House feels that in this case six months is a generous provision.

It will be observed that this six months' period applies when the Board is paying for the work to be done on the house and not when the Board is doing the work itself. Obviously the Board should not be under any incentive to let it go on longer than absolutely necessary.

There are other provisions about notice to be given by the Board and the proceedings to be gone through in order to determine between the Board and the individual that this Schedule should apply because the house has become unfit for habitation.

In subsection 5 provision is made as to how the Board shall be entitled to get the house back. In particular, as I said, the Board will be able to get it back on six months' notice. There is a rather peculiar provision, paragraph (b), in line 100, in which it says that the Board shall be able to give not less than one week's notice. The purpose is to prevent the Rent Act from operating, and the words are without prejudice to any obligations of the Board under the said paragraph 2"; but despite the provision of one week's notice in the paragraph, in fact the Board will have to give six months' notice. It is a tortuous provision, but that is the effect which it will have in practice.

The next point which is important and which I gather exercises the minds of hon. Members opposite is the question of what are known as home savings. In other words, where the person concerned saves rent or rates as a result of living elsewhere, it seems reasonable that the Board should be entitled to recoup from the individual. The idea behind it is that the Board has not been negligent in any way and in the process of causing the subsidence damage it has been acting as it is legally entitled to act. Indeed, in many cases it is acting in accordance with undertakings which its predecessors in title had obtained for a given consideration.

Despite the fact that there is no negligence and that the Board is acting quite legally, it is by this Schedule obliged to re-house free of cost people whose houses are made uninhabitable. It therefore seems reasonable that if, as a result of re-housing and being moved into Coal Board accommodation, these people are saved rent on their old accommodation, the Coal Board should be entitled to the benefit of that. It is unreasonable that the people should get both the accommodation and the benefit of not paying rent or rates on the old accommodation. That is the idea.

I think I have outlined the main purpose of this new Schedule. It is, I regret to say, very long and detailed, but I do not think the House will grudge that, because it covers some important new points. It was necessary to set them out with some exactness, because it will be of importance to people whose houses are made uninhabitable by mining subsidence.

Mr. Ellis Smith

It appears to me that this Schedule, which contains such a large amount of phraseology, has allayed the uneasiness which was expressed during the Committee stage. But does it cover the following case? I know of some people who owned their own house, and who had a fairly large family. They looked with pride on their house, and their children were always well dressed and clean. They were moved from the house while the National Coal Board was dealing with damage to it. A number of the children could not live in the same house as their parents, who, as a result, had to pay extra for those children living elsewhere. Do the provisions of this new Schedule cover such a case?

Mr. Maudling

That is an interesting point. The National Coal Board would have to make available alternative living accommodation which, I should have thought, would mean living accommodation for the family as a unit. I would not like to say so with absolute certainty, but I should have thought so. Failing that, if the Board cannot do that—and my impresssion is that it will not be able to do that, because it will not want to embark on a rehousing programme, which is a matter for the local authority —it will, for the first thirty days, have to pay the total cost of moving, and of finding alternative accommodation, including the cost of housing split households.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Is it not the local authority that is responsible for providing the housing? The Coal Board consults the local authority, which provides the alternative accommodation. Where the council houses are not big enough, as in this case, to house the whole family —this family had its own house, with extra accommodation—I think that it is reasonable to suggest that the Board should also bear the cost of housing those children elsewhere.

Mr. Maudling

I will check that, but I should have thought that the phrase "alternative living accommodation" must, in the case of the family, be alternative living accommodation all over the place. However, I will look into that.

I hope that I have said enough to make clear the purpose of the Schedule, and that the House will approve of it as carrying out the obligations which we undertook.

Mr. Mason

How will the Board tackle the problem of finding the alternative accommodation? Mining villages are suffering a lot in this respect. Because of the Government's policy of slashing housing subsidies and pressing for slum clearance, there are no houses for general need. In the mining areas, where no Coal Board houses are being built, the Board cannot find alternative accommodation for some time to come.

There seem to be three alternative courses open. The Board must either build houses, or it must buy old property and convert it into flats, or it must make a working arrangement with the local authority to subsidise that local authority if it will build the houses. Can the Paymaster-General say how the Board will tackle this problem?

Mr. Maudling

No, I think that it is too early to say how it will tackle the problem.

Mr. William Stones (Consett)

Paragraph 2 of the new Schedule refers to those resident in the dwelling-houses. In the County of Durham there are many hundreds of miners who, by virtue of their job, occupy houses owned by the Coal Board. They pay no rent. Will they be regarded as residents, and so be entitled to the protection afforded by the Schedule?

9.45 p.m.

Mr. T. Brown

I am somewhat disturbed that the right hon. Gentleman, in giving his explanation of the new Schedule now under discussion, failed to give a satisfactory answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). After all, this problem of alternative accommodation, particularly in mining areas, is, as I said before, not only a headache but a heart-ache. We have reached the stage in some mining areas where a family has sometimes to be accommodated in several houses. In my constituency, there are two cases where the wife and husband of a family live in one place, the daughter of the family lives in another, and the son lives in another. There is a problem of providing three sets of alternative accommodation, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with that sort of point.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has, to a very large extent, endeavoured to meet the arguments we expressed in Committee. He has in the Schedule provided that the Coal Board will be prepared to pay for alternative accommodation for six months, and that is going a lot further than is done in connection with the operations of county councils and local authorities. But he should, I think, give some consideration to the other increased costs which have to be borne by those who have to move to other accommodation.

In Committee, I quoted the case of an old-age pensioner, a widow, who had to leave her home whilst repairs were being carried out. Those repairs took sixteen weeks. During this time, she had to pay an additional rent for the alternative accommodation of 28s. 6d. a week, as well as keeping on the rent of her original house of 8s. 3½d. a week, a total of 36s. 9½d. a week. Then she had to pay a further sum of 15s. per quarter—this is another important point in the provision of alternative accommodation—for the hire of a gas cooker whilst in her temporary home. She had to pay removal expenses to and from her original home, and they cost her £8 10s. There is no reference in the Schedule to that.

All this difficulty, inconvenience and extra expense are incurred by householders who have to transfer from their homes which are damaged by mining subsidence so that repairs may be done, and then they have to come back again. This old lady had on her return a further expense—this again is an important addition—for the redecoration of her home and for providing new floor coverings. All these things she had to pay as the price for the mining of coal.

These points of view were stressed very strongly in Committee, and I and my hon. Friends were hoping, indeed, expecting, that having regard to what we had said, based not upon hypothetical cases but upon cases we knew from our own practical experience, the Government would have gone farther than they have. We hoped, and we were justified in hoping, that the Minister would have covered these very important points. I am not complaining about the six months. I think that he has gone a long way in that direction, but he has not fully covered what we anticipated on the question of alternative accommodation.

Let us for a moment visualise what is happening in the mining areas. I will not go into all the factors, but we know very well that in many of the mining areas houses are being demolished because of the conditions due to mining subsidence. The people who live in those houses cannot get alternative accommodation. The local authority cannot provide houses for them and, therefore these unfortunate people have their whole social and spiritual life disturbed.

I do not want to go quoting case after case, but I think that the Minister should have gone a little bit further in meeting the people who have to go into alternative accommodation because of the damage by mining subsidence to the houses in which they live.

Mr. Proctor

This Schedule goes much further and improves the position very considerably, but it nevertheless leaves those in the mining areas in a disastrous position. It is only in cases in which the Coal Board elects to make a money payment rather than restore a home that these benefits arise. Take the position of a person who owns a small house, worth, perhaps, a few hundred pounds. If the Board elects to make a money payment, it is a complete disaster for him to be left with only a few hundred pounds and have to provide himself with a new home. The obligation on the nation should be to provide another home for him.

I regard the six months as being wholly insufficient. We have had some experience of families trying to find new homes, and it is almost impossible for a wife with two or three children, to find alternative accommodation. Even the owner of a small house is in a disastrous position. The tenant of a small house is in an equally disastrous position. Six months is nothing like sufficient as an obligation on the nation which has destroyed a home to provide another one.

The individual is left to his own resources in this case. There is no obligation on the local authority to asist him in any way unless it cares to do so voluntarily. Suppose that a local authority comes to the rescue. It may cost £2,000 to provide the alternative accommodation and as the law stands the national subsidy for general housing needs is entirely denied to that local authority. The period of six months is wholly inadequate, and I hope that the Government will have another look at this matter.

I do not know how this is to be administered, because the Coal Board has to find the alternative accommodation; but it is only obliged to find it for six months, and I envisage that it will take out eviction orders. If peope are evicted from accommodation which is provided only for six months, we shall have a disastrous position arising. I hope that before long we shall reach the stage of saying that if the nation, in its search for coal, destroys a home, the nation should provide another one in its place.

Mr. Probert

I think we all agree that this is a most complex Schedule. There was one point which, to my rather confused mind, made confusion worse confounded. That was with regard to what the Minister said concerning one week's notice. He said that it was to bring the Schedule in accordance with the Rent Act. I understand that the Rent Act now states that there must be four weeks' notice.

Mr. Maudling

A number of points of detail have been raised to which I will try to reply as best I can. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Stones) raised a point about miners living in National Coal Board houses in Durham. I should have thought without any doubt that they would be residents ordinarily resident in the dwellinghouse—in other words, in the terms of the Schedule, they are living there. Therefore, there is no doubt that they are covered.

The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) raised a point, which had been raised previously by his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), about families being split up. Perhaps I can call their attention to the words in paragraph 3 (1) of the Schedule, which say that the alternative accommodation should be otherwise reasonable having regard to all the circumstances, including the probable duration of the period of dispossession. It would be unreasonable to split up a family for a long time, and it would he equally unreasonable to separate a mother from her small children, but it is not unreasonable to ask grown-up members of a family to live apart temporarily. That is the effect of the Schedule. It does not mean that there should not be some splitting up of adults in certain circumstances.

Mr. T. Brown

The right hon. Gentleman has expressed the sentiments of every one of us in saying that it is not fair to split up a family. What I am concerned about is whether the expenses incurred by the family in being split up will be paid by the National Coal Board.

Mr. Maudling

That was covered by the point I was making, that if the family was split up for a long period it would not be reasonable accommodation within the meaning of the Schedule. The National Coal Board would have to find accommodation which did not involve the splitting up or find alternative accommodation which did not involve splitting up over a long period.

The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) asked about my reference to the Rent Act. The point I was trying to make was that this provision is designed to exempt the properties from the operation of the Rent Act and not to bring them within it.

The main point made by hon. Members opposite is that we have not gone far enough in this matter. Naturally, we expect them to make that kind of point. It is right that they should do so on behalf of their constituents. Throughout the passage of the Bill, they have urged us all the time to go further. If we have disappointed them, I am sorry, but I think we have gone a long way. We have all agreed that the line must be drawn somewhere. I hope that in the circumstances the House will accept the Schedule.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule read a Second time.

Mr. Robens

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Schedule, in paragraph 5, to leave out sub-paragraph (3).

Mr. Speaker

I think that it would be convenient for the House also to discuss the following Amendment, to leave out paragraph 7, though I am perfectly willing to put two separate Questions if that is desired.

Mr. Robens

I think, Mr. Speaker, that it would be best to discuss these two Amendments together. We did not intervene from the Front Bench on the Schedule as a whole because my hon. Friends on the back benches had valid constituency points which dealt largely with the Schedule and their objections to it. We did, however, think that the Schedule was rather weak and a little niggardly in containing sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 5 and paragraph 7.

Paragraph 5 (3) states that the Board shall be able to sue and to recover as a civil debt any odd amount by which someone is benefited financially, because for a period of six months he is living in the accommodation provided by the National Coal Board because the house in which he had been living was made uninhabitable by reason of the operations of the Coal Board. We regard this as rather mean, because nobody from this side, or, indeed, from any part of the House, has asked that there should be any compensation for disturbance.

10.0 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has given one or two very graphic descriptions of what disturbance means to families in mining areas where subsidence occurs. An argument could have been put forward that some compensation for disturbance should be paid by the National Coal Board. That has not been done because obviously one must be fair on all sides about this.

It may well be that the alternative accommodation to which the individual has to go is much further away from his place of work, and also farther away from the places of work of the members of his family who are working. It may well be, therefore, that they are put to considerably increased travelling expenses as a result of the disturbance. There is nothing in the Bill to say that the Coal Board shall pay the extra travelling expenses incurred, nor have we demanded that this shall be done, because reasonableness should at all times be exercised in these matters.

It seems to us, therefore, that it is unreasonable that if, by a strange coincidence of the alternative accommodation provided by the Board, there should be a few shillings saved by the tenant, the Board should then have the power to sue for this as a civil debt. As the Board is providing the alternative accommodation, it knows precisely the kind of accommodation from which the individual has come. As a matter of fact the Schedule indicates that it shall provide something similar.

As many other considerations are not taker, into account because of the disturbance to the family, it seems to us unreasonable and niggardly that the Board should have the power to regard any small amount that there might be in favour of the individual because he is living away by reason of disturbance, which has not taken into account extra travelling expenses and a host of other things, as a civil debt and be able to sue in the courts for it. That would destroy the spirit of the Bill, which has been one of sweet reasonableness.

If we turn to paragraph 7 there is the same kind of objection and perhaps this one is even greater than the objection which we have just indicated towards sub-paragraph (3). In the copy of the Bill it is clear that the Board, under Clause 1 (3) itself elects to make a payment. Having elected to make a payment, it makes the payment …equal to any sums from time to time shown to have been expended by any other person in executing the merged works or, as the case may be, the redevelopment works up to an aggregate amount equal to the expenditure which it is estimated would have been incurred by the Board or by any other person, whichever estimate is the less, in executing remedial works in connection with the damaged property… In other words, the Board elects to make this payment, and there are laid down the methods by which it arrives at the amount it pays. Then, in the Schedule, having safeguarded the Board in the Bill itself in Clause 1 (3), if the Board has made a mistake and paid too much, again it is to be entitled to recover as a civil debt from the owner of the dwelling-house any amount by which the expenditure of the Board exceeds what it would have been if only remedial works had been executed.

Mr. Maudling

indicated dissent.

Mr. Robens

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. It is perfectly clear that paragraph 7 relates to the option in Clause 1 (3, b). In other words, it is the National Coal Board which elects to make this sort of payment, subject to all the provisions which I have enumerated.

Having elected to do this, having itself decided the amounts it will pay, it is now suggested that the Board should be able to recover as a civil debt some error which it has made in its own calculations. That is niggardly and not in keeping with the spirit of the Bill as it has passed through its various stages. The deletion of subsection (3, b) would not hurt the Board. It would be in keeping with the spirit of the Bill and to leave it in would be parsimonious, niggardly and a little hard. It would weigh against those who have been sinned against—because it is their homes which have been demolished —rather than the Board which has so much power over payments.

Mr. Maudling

I will deal with the right hon. Gentleman's points in reverse order, because on the second one I hope to show that he was under some misapprehension about the purpose of the subsection. Clause 1 (3) deals with making value payments instead of executing remedial works. It is perfectly true that it gives the Board the right to decide whether to do the work or to make the payment, but in paragraph (b) it deals with the case where it is proposed to merge the execution of other works with the remedial works.

In that case the election is made not by the Board but by the owner of the property, and the purpose of paragraph (b) is to permit the National Coal Board to have the work done by a contractor instead of doing it itself, where the owner says that he does not want it done immediately but wants further development undertaken. Where the owner has further development carried out, the Board is liable only for the amount it would have had to pay if only the repairs had been done.

Where the house is damaged, in addition to the cost of repairs the Board also has to pay for the re-housing of the people living there. If the Board tells the owner of the house that it is prepared to pay the cost of repairing the house and for the people to be accommodated elsewhere while the house is being repaired, and if the house owner wants other repairs merged with that work, which means that the occupiers of the house stay in that free accommodation longer than they would otherwise have done, the extra cost should fall on the owner and not on the Coal Board.

That is a reasonable purpose and carries out exactly the same provision of subsection (3), which makes sure that where property owners want to carry out development while the repairs are done the Board will pay only for the cost of the damage and, similarly, the Board will pay only for housing people as long as they need re-housing while the repair work is being undertaken. If the owner wishes to redevelop and the occupiers have to be re-housed for longer as a result, the owner ought to pay the cost of that longer period which arises from his own choice. That is certainly the purpose of the subsection and on the whole it is fair.

The other point is very difficult to answer, and the right hon. Gentleman made a good case when he pointed out that disturbance was involved and that many other unpleasant things arose when people had to move out of their houses as a result of mining subsidence. After thinking about this a good deal and taking that into account, I still think we are right to leave this provision as it stands. I repeat that the purpose is to give people compensation in circumstances where no negligence arises and where in many cases the Board, either itself or through its predecessor in title, has already paid to compensate people in advance for the damage done. So we are to some extent imposing a burden a second time over on the consumer of coal. While it is right to compensate people when the house for which they are paying rent is no longer usable by giving them alternative accommodation, I am not sure that the Board should also pay them when they are no longer obliged to pay rent, or are exempted from paying rates.

It is the purpose of the provision to see that they get alternative accommodation, but if they are provided with it free the National Coal Board should be entitled to the benefit of the saving of rates which accrues. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that this is niggardly. Perhaps it is from one point of view, but I urge from another point of view that we are doing the reasonable thing in saying that although people should be provided with free accommodation, if some people get a benefit by a reduction of their rent or a remission of their rent or rates—and some will and others will not—the benefit should go to the Board which is paying for the accommodation and not to the people themselves, who are no longer paying for the accommodation because they are getting it free from the Board.

Mr. Robens

Do I understand that the Paymaster-General is now saying that when alternative accommodation is provided by the Coal Board the people going into it will not be paying any rent at all?

Mr. Maudling

The people are provided with accommodation—or, if they cannot be so accommodated, they are provided with the value of that accommodation, free. They either get the house provided or the rent, but in that case, as they are getting a house rent-free, or the rent of the house free, and are exempted from paying rent for another house, the Board should have the benefit of that exemption.

We could always make a case for being more generous and more forthcoming in these matters, but I think that we have made the right balance between generosity to the injured party and a proper safeguard in respect of the burden that we are placing upon the consumers of coal. Therefore, with great regret, I must say that I cannot accept the Amendment.

Mr. Robens

I intervened upon the rent-free point only because it will not be in every case that the dispossessed person will go into a National Coal Board house. He may have to go into some other house, and he will have to pay the rent physically, which presumably will be repaid by the Board. He will not always be housed in a house owned by the Board, which in normal circumstances would be rent-free.

Mr. Maudling

The first alternative is for the Board to make accommodation available to people. If it is Board accommodation it would be rent-free, but in most cases I agree that it probably will not be. The alternative is for the Board, for the first thirty days, to pay the whole of the additional expenses, and after that either the whole of the additional expenses or a rent, on an economic unsubsidised basis, equivalent to what would be paid for housing equivalent to local authority standards. In other words, these people are provided with housing equivalent to local authority housing, or with the unsubsidised rent currently obtainable for a house of that character.

Mr. Oliver

I agree with the explanation given by the Paymaster-General in respect of paragraph 7. I think there is a great deal of force in his contention that if a landlord wishes to carry out an extensive scheme and thereby causes the disturbed tenant to remain in the other premises it is only right that the owner of the property should meet the additional expenses.

I cannot, however, understand the objection of the Paymaster-General to sub-paragraph 3. I cannot see why this financial standard should be imported at all. We are not dealing with Arundel Castle when we talk of alternative accommodation; it will be ordinary working-class accommodation.

Mr. Maudling

I understood that all houses were included.

Mr. Oliver

I appreciate that, but it is highly improbable that anyone will go to Arundel Castle. Therefore, the margin of difference will be so insignificant that it is unworthy of the Paymaster-General to put forward this plea. It is not merely a question of rent; it concerns rent, rates, food, living accommodation, heating, lighting and other household expenses. All those are factors which I should not have thought anyone would have put forward when saying, "If the cost of those factors is in excess of what the person expended before he was compelled to move he must make a refund to the Board."

This is the last Amendment to the Schedule and, therefore, it is the last we shall discuss tonight. I beg the Minister to withdraw these involved provisions and allow us to finish on an amicable note.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. R. Williams

I am astonished by the reaction of the Minister. I beg him to look at sub-paragraph 3 and to apply these questions to the situation which will obtain where a man and his wife and family have been obliged to leave their home because it has become uninhabitable. In such a case how is one to determine whether the amount spent on food is more or less than was the case when they occupied the House which has become uninhabitable?

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate how absurd the provisions will appear. It is possible for Coal Board officials to say to the man, "You were in a house where you paid 20s. a week in rent and you have now gone into a house where the rent is 15s. a week. Therefore, you owe us 5s. a week." But how is the expenditure on food to be determined? What sort of inquiry is to be made?

What tribunal will determine whether the amount is more than it was, or less, or equal? Should the Coal Board be put in the position that as an authority responsible for public funds it is obliged to make such inquiries? Surely it is wrong for us to impose such an obligation to "snoop" upon a nationalised industry or upon anyone else.

Who will assess the living accommodation? Presumably, if a person who moved into another house and pays less rent, other things being equal the living accommodation will be of a lower standard. Will that be taken into account for the benefit of the person concerned and as a claim to be put against any claim made by the Coal Board? Does it not become stupid when we find that heating, light and other household expenses quite undefined are to be included? I suggest to the Minister that whatever may be the reason which prompted him to support this, in practice it will make the Coal Board look ridiculous if it attempts to carry out its legal obligation, and it will be open to criticism if it does not. We are putting the Coal Board in that position and there is no necessity for it.

The Minister has been very accommodating hitherto and his attitude in relation to this matter is quite out of character. He will be leaving something in the Bill which will make both this House and the Coal Board look ridiculous. I agree that it is possible—I do not think it is something which ought to be done—to make a case in relation to specific things like rent and rates which may be discovered without any "snooping". But to include these other things is absolutely indefensible and I do not apologise to the House for taking up time discussing this matter.

We have done so much in this Bill which is so good. We have turned it into a good Bill between us. It has not been a case in which the Opposition have simply done their job and turned it into a good Bill. It is true that we have played our part, but the Government side have played their part as well. We have had great concessions from the Minister, and it would be a very bad thing indeed if the Report stage were to end in such a way that the Minister, on reflection, would find himself in an indefensible position.

I beg the right hon. Gentleman, at this late hour, to say no more than this: that he will consider the arguments and discuss the question of sub-paragraph 3 with his noble Friend and see whether something can be done when the Bill reaches another place.

Mr. Maudling

I should like to answer one of the points which the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) has made, and to put forward a suggestion. I think he is wrong when he said that if the Coal Board provided accommodation where the rent was 15s. a week as against the former 20s., it could say that the person in question owed the Board 5s. It is not possible, and that position is covered by the proviso in line 112.

Listening to the hon. Gentleman, I could not help being rather influenced by the argument about food, heating and light, which I agree are in a rather different category from rent and rates. I imagine that the idea is that a person may be put into accommodation where these things are provided as part of the normal services.

I really do not think that there is any possibility of us being able to give way on this question of rent and rates, where I think the case is a strong one. On the question of food and other matters, I certainly think that we should look at it again. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might consult with his noble Friends and see what can be done in another place. If we can think of an improvement, we will do it, and perhaps if they can think of one, no doubt they will do it them- selves. I do not see how we can make a concession on rent and rates, though on food I think the point is worth looking at, because it may be that it represents an excessive and unjustifiable caution on the part of the draftsmen. In these circumstances, I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would be prepared not to press the Amendment.

Mr. Robens

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule added to the Bill.