HC Deb 22 January 1958 vol 580 cc1056-175

Order for Second Reading read

3.40 p.m.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

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

This is a complicated Bill containing a fairly wide range of legal provisions and it clearly will need considerable study in the course of the Committee stage. I do not believe it to be a controversial Bill, but it is just the sort of Bill that will benefit particularly by scrutiny in Committee from hon. Members, on both sides. The Government will certainly preserve an open mind and welcome advice and suggestions on this matter from all quarters.

In moving the Second Reading, I do not think I should enter into any great detail but should rather confine myself to the broad principles. No doubt, in the course of the debate, hon. Members on both sides will raise a number of points. My hon. Friend the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power, who has already applied his acute mind to this complicated problem, will be glad to answer points that are raised. I conceive it my duty to put forward the main reasons for this act of legislation, the purpose of which, broadly speaking, is to substitute statutory provisions for the emergency regulations under which opencast coal mining is now carried out.

I want to try to show why, in the opinion of the Government, the existing powers are unsatisfactory; why, having got rid of the existing powers, we still need opencast coal and, therefore, must have other and statutory powers; and finally, that the powers which we propose in the Bill are, broadly speaking, adequate for their purpose but not excessive. That is really the purpose of a Second Reading speech in these circumstances.

Let us take the first point—why we consider that the existing system is not satisfactory. At the moment opencast coal mining is carried on under Defence Regulations, that is, under emergency powers. There are three reasons why we do not regard that as satisfactory. First, the present system does not work perfectly. There are, in detail at least, disadvantages and anomalies in the existing system. Secondly, the regulations themselves contain very wide and drastic powers, which are not, in fact, used widely or drastically but which are capable of being so used. We think that they should be removed.

Finally, we feel that more than twelve years after the end of the war, it is time to do away with emergency legislation and to place the powers that are needed in these matters upon a proper statutory basis, properly approved by this House through the normal processes of legislation. I hope that the House in general will accept that those are adequate reasons, as I believe they are, for doing away with the present systems of Defence Regulations.

My next duty is to show that there will be a continuing need for opencast coal for a considerable period. I think we all recognise, once again, that the process of opencast coal mining is very distasteful in many ways and does great damage to the amenities of the countryside and inflicts considerable hardship on many of our citizens. Therefore, one should prove the continuing need for opencast coal.

Altogether, since opencast mining started, about 160 million tons of coal have been produced by this method. That is a very large amount indeed. The amount of ground taken up for this purpose is 109,000 acres, or just about one-quarter of 1 per cent. of all the agricultural land in the country. It is, therefore, fair to say that the very great value of the coal which has been extracted can be contrasted with the relatively small proportion of agricultural land taken up for these purposes.

Last year we got 13½ million tons of opencast coal, which to import would cost us about £100 million, most of which would have to be paid in dollars. The Government consider that coal must be a plus and not a minus in the balance of payments. In fact, substantial progress has been made in that direction. Last year, the net effect of coal was to earn more by our exports than it cost us to import coal. That is a process which, we consider, must certainly continue. We must aim not only to meet our inland requirements, but also to expand our exports.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

Is the right hon. Gentleman referring to large or small coal?

Mr. Maudling

I was coming to that point, which, I agree, is important.

It may be argued at the moment, first, that existing coal stocks are very large and, therefore, there is less need for opencast coal, and, secondly, that if we could obtain more coal from the deep mines we would not need opencast coal. It is certainly true that the more deep-mined coal we can obtain, the less to some extent is the need for opencast; but it would, I suggest, be wrong today to embark upon a lengthy discussion about the situation in the coal mining industry as a whole, interesting as that would be.

The fact is that present stocks are at record levels, but we should be careful of making too many assumptions on that basis. It would not take more than a few weeks of cold weather or a rapid expansion of industrial output to see those stocks disappearing altogether. We must not forget that.

The present level of our stocks—this was the point, I think, that the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) had in mind—arises partly because of the falling production of large coal in the total "make" of coal. It is to some extent because of the disproportion between the two that we are getting these stocks of small coal on our hands. As the hon. Member will be aware, the National Coal Board is now starting an energetic campaign, first, to stop the fall in the proportion and, later, to increase the proportion of large coal in the total "make". That will help to ease the position concerning any existing surplus stocks.

By and large, however, when looking at, say, the next ten years, it seems quite clear on any reasonable assumption about industrial activity that the rising demand for energy must outstrip even the most optimistic estimates of the production of coal from the deep mines. Within the ten-year period, we expect, as the House knows, that nuclear power will make a growing contribution to this problem, but it will be only a small contribution relative to the gap between demand and supply. Certainly, the demand for oil and the import of oil will increase over the next ten years, all of which is a burden on our balance of payments.

Therefore, both from the point of view of the growing need for importing energy and from the point of view of the need for expanding our exports of coal, it seems to me that on balance of payments grounds the case for continuing opencast mining for some years is quite undeniable. I do not say that it will be necessary to continue at the present level for the next ten years—I hope not, by any means—but certainly, for five years or so, I should have thought that the present level of output would be essential. Then, we can look at the situation again. For the period contemplated in the Bill, however, some level of opencast mining seems quite essential for balance of payments reasons.

That certainly does not justify the mining of coal at any cost. In our consideration of the coal industry, we must consider more and more the cost factor, which, I know, the Coal Board is doing. Until recently, it has been true to say that any coal produced in this country, however expensive to produce, was still cheaper than imported energy, but, with the fall in freight rates, and so on, the position is showing quite a change. We must study carefully the true economics of coal production, particularly in the areas and pits where the costs of production are highest.

So far as opencast is concerned, however, production costs are relatively low and the profit that the Coal Board makes on opencast coal is relatively high. The House as a whole would, I think, agree that we should help the Coal Board to develop, so far as it can, the most efficient and profitable sources of coal production.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

In considering this interesting question of the economic cost of coal, would the Paymaster-General ask the Coal Board to look at the cost incurred by subsidence, to see whether the advantages of getting coal in certain areas where subsidence is prevalent are worth the damage which the Board's operations cause to houses?

Mr. Maudling

I know that the Coal Board is considering carefully its costs of production at present, and I am fairly certain that it has that factor in mind, but I will make a note of it and make sure it has, because it is a very important matter.

I hope that the House will consider that adequate justification of the need for continuing opencast coal mining. It rests entirely upon balance of payments requirements. Considering the state of the reserves and the fact that the opencast coal we got last year would have cost £100 million to import, I think that the continuing need for opencast mining at some level is undeniable.

My next argument must be this: that it is necessary to have some legislation to continue opencast mining because it may well be asked, why cannot we abolish the emergency regulations and leave opencast mining to be controlled by the existing law? I think the reasons why special legislation is necessary fall under three heads. First, the planning problem; secondly, the acquisition of rights to use the land; and, thirdly, compensation so owners and occupiers.

As for the planning procedure, we feel that the machinery of the Town and Country Planning Acts and the local planning authorities is not really adequate for this situation. That is for two reasons. First, because the need for opencast coal is a national and not a local need and, therefore, needs planning on a national scale. Secondly, because one of the important things in the planning procedure in these matters is to impose, when consent is given, proper technical conditions for minimising the damage and for the proper restoration of the land. We believe that the adequate technical knowledge concerning the imposition of these conditions resides in the Ministry of Power. For both those reasons we believe that it is right for my noble friend the Minister of Power in these circumstances, in consultation, of course, with his colleagues, to have the function of giving what is called deemed planning permission.

When we come to the acquisition of land it is the intention of the Coal Board to obtain rights to work opencast coal by agreement wherever possible, but there may be circumstances in which it may have to use compulsory powers. I think it has been accepted since 1923 when the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act was passed that some reserve compulsory powers are needed to ensure the exploitation of the coal resources of the country. I think that has been an agreed principle since 1923, but we feel that the procedures of High Court action, and so on, provided for in the 1923 Act, are really too cumbersome and too slow-operating to meet the situation and, that, therefore, something special in the nature of this 13ill is required.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that a compulsory purchase order ought to be the last resort, in view of the bitterness which has been engendered by the working of opencast coal in many agricultural areas?

Mr. Maudling

I entirely agree. I was giving what I intended to be an assurance from the Coal Board that it would in every case proceed by agreement in the first instance, but I think it will be common ground in the House, in the light of thirty-five years' policy in these matters, that some reserve powers must exist. These compulsory powers are not as extensive as compulsory purchase powers: they amount to powers for compulsory use not compulsory purchase.

The final reason why legislation is necessary is because of compensation. There are two reasons why the general law of compensation is not adequate. First, because it would in practice, I understand, give levels of compensation lower than those in practice at present imposed under the Defence Regulations, and those themselves, I think, are very hard in many cases; and, secondly, because, under the special compulsory rights we are proposing, the system of allowing the Coal Board to use the land, and not to go in for powers of compulsory purchase, introduces into our law a new principle which involves the introduction of new rights of compensation.

For all those reasons I would argue that, having got rid of the emergency powers, and recognising the continuing need for opencast, we must put on the Statute Book some specific provisions agreed by this House to cover planning control and the acquisition of land and the compensation of those affected. I will briefly explain how the provisions of the Bill meet these various requirements.

First, planning control. It is provided that no opencast operations can take place without the permission of the Minister. This extends to prospecting as well. In the electricity industry, a matter which we discussed recently in this House, a board has power, with certain notice, to enter on people's land for the purpose of surveying. Surveying for opencast mining is a much more laborious and a much bigger business very often than is surveying for electricity purposes, and so it is provided in this Bill that the Minister must give his permission for any prospecting operations.

In the actual conduct of opencast operations planning permission or deemed planning permission will be given, as I said earlier, by the Minister in consultation with his colleagues after following the detailed procedure set out in the First Schedule to the Bill, which follows very closely the existing procedures under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act. Consents which are issued by the Minister will contain all the normal planning conditions, and, in particular, the Minister will insert conditions ensuring that damage is reduced to the minimum. It is provided in the Bill that when agricultural land is affected the condition must be inserted that the land be restored to a reasonably fit state for agricultural use.

I think it is true to say—obviously I do not want to make a party point of this; it would not be really relevant—that in the early stages of opencast operations and for some time a lot of the restoration was not very good. The subsoil and the topsoil were mixed up, and so on. I think that recently there has been a very great improvement, and my belief is that by and large most people affected would say that the standards of restoration in this country are good. We intend to follow the general standards of the 1951 code in restoration, which we are considering with the agricultural organisations. They have made some suggestions to us for improving that code, and we are to discuss these with them. Needless to say we welcome any suggestions by hon. Members as to improvements which they think could in practice be made in this code. Perhaps that is a matter which we shall be discussing in Committee.

A relevant question which may arise in the minds of some hon. Members is how all this relates to the Franks Committee's Report. The drafting of the Bill had to continue and be finalised before we could make up our minds, as a Government, on the detailed application of the Franks Committee's Report. The House is aware from the recent debate of our general attitude to this. What will happen is that when we introduce the Measures which flow from the Report they will be applied to opencast coal mining so far as possible by administrative methods, which are quicker, but where legislation is necessary any legislation on the Franks Committee's Report will include any necessary amendments of this Measure to bring it into line with the Report.

We thought it better not to delay this Bill, because of the Parliamentary programme, by awaiting the full legislation on the Franks Committee's Report. In the meantime, we have introduced into the Bill certain of the main points made in the Report of that Committee. For example, the Coal Board will have to make a full statement of its case to people who object to what it wants to do, and the Minister will have to give reasons for his decisions in all opencast cases. That, I think, should indicate to the House that we are in this legislation following very much the spirit of the Franks Committee's recommendations in these matters, and I hope that that will commend itself to hon. Members.

I turn next to the question of acquiring the land or acquiring the rights in the land. It is the intention of the Government and of the Coal Board to proceed in every case where possible by agreement, but we provide in the Bill for what is known as a "compulsory rights order," which may be necessary if it is not possible to reach a reasonable agreement. The compulsory rights order is something quite new. It does not amount to acquiring the land. It amounts to giving the Coal Board the right for ten years to use the land for purposes of opencast mining. The ten years are a maximum period and the order cannot operate for more than ten years.

I want to make it clear on behalf of the Coal Board that it will be prepared to buy the land at a proper commercial free-market price, in any case where the owner wants to sell the land and says, "I cannot take it back. It is no good to me."

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

If that be the case, surely, over a period of years—and we must envisage the Bill stretching forward twenty years—the Coal Board would become one of the largest farmers in the country. That is surely contrary to good Conservative policy.

Mr. Maudling

My hon. Friend, as sometimes happens, is a little too quick off the mark. If he had not interrupted me I was about to say that having acquired the land when people wanted to sell it, the Coal Board, after the opencast operations had been completed, would dispose of it.

Mr. Nabarro

Is there any requirement in the Bill that the Coal Board should dispose of land, or is that mere speculation?

Mr. Maudling

There is no requirement in the Bill that the Coal Board should dispose of it or buy it, but it is a matter on which the Coal Board has declared its intentions, and it has authorised me to inform the House of what it intends to do.

It is, in a way, the novelty of these powers under the compulsory rights order for a ten years' user, rather than complete acquisition, that leads to many of the complexities of the Bill which we shall have to consider in Committee. Broadly speaking, the procedure envisaged follows the compulsory orders procedure in the Acquisition of Land Act with all the safeguards provided there individually adjusted as necessary to user rather than owner. In addition, there are further safeguards in that, first, powers would be limited to use for ten years. No dwelling-house can be taken over or any building if it is not going to be restored, and no land if it is comprised in a previous order.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

There is a very small point, but an important one to country lovers. I can envisage something happening which has actually happened in my constituency. A cornfield through which there was a public right of way was taken over for opencast mining. When the opencast mining is completed, is there any guarantee that the right of way for the public will be restored after the land has been restored?

Mr. Maudling

I am glad that the hon. Member has raised that point. In Clause 13 there is power to stop up footpaths, but the Minister is required to restore the right of way when the mining operations have been carried out and when he is satisfied that it is no longer necessary that the right of way should be suspended. He is also required to see that alternative ways are provided.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

I would not have interrupted the right hon. Gentleman had it not been for the announcement he has just made, which is quite new, that the Coal Board has authorised him to say that it proposes to purchase land where it can and dispose of it after the coal mining operations have been completed and the land has been restored. Now the right hon. Gentleman goes back to the Bill and says that under it a house must not be pulled down unless it is to be restored. How does that tie up with what he said about the purchase of land?

When the Coal Board becomes the owner of a piece of land on which there are houses and buildings it can, presumably, tear down those houses and buildings to get at the opencast coal and, since the Board is then the owner of the land, if it wishes to sell it afterwards it need not necessarily re-erect the houses and buildings.

The right hon. Gentleman left consideration of the Bill to tell us what the Coal Board wants to do. But when the Board becomes the owner of land is it a free owner, and entitled to do with the land what a private owner would be entitled to do with it, or does it have to deal with the question of restoration of houses and buildings?

Mr. Maudling

The powers under the Bill are solely powers to the Coal Board, to have the use of the land for ten years, after which it must return it to the owner. It cannot use compulsory powers to take over a dwelling-house, and if it uses any compulsory powers which affect a building, it must restore the building. But, quite apart from the Bill and the compulsory powers, I repeat that the Coal Board has said that if any owner says, "It is no good taking my land for ten years and then giving it me back. I want to go somewhere else," and he volunteers to sell the land, it can be purchased. As a matter of policy and not of law, the Board will buy the land at a fair market price. After the opencast mining has been completed, the Board will dispose of the land. It does not want to become involved in the large-scale operation of farmland in addition to its own activities.

Mr. Nabarro

If it is the Government's intention to prevent the Coal Board becoming large-scale farmers, why not put that in the Bill?

Mr. Maudling

The Coal Board does not need statutory powers to buy the property. Therefore, I do not see why we should deal with that point at all. There is hardly need to provide in the Bill statutory powers for the Board to dispose of something which it does not need statutory powers to buy.

The final point of difference in procedure is on the question of compensation. The provisions of the Bill are in themselves novel because they are based on a new form of compulsory right, but I think that they will be found to be more satisfactory and more generous to the people affected by the operations of opencast coalmining. We must always bear in mind that when we come to compensate people in these circumstances it is extremely difficult to go the whole way. We can be quite clear that when someone's land is ruined over the years it can be restored, but what happens to his life and his livelihood and to the people next door who, perhaps, do not like the sight of opencast mining?

We cannot, however, go beyond the principles of planning legislation and the normal laws of nuisance. It would he fair to state that the Coal Board, like any other industrial enterprise in the country, should be and is subject to the normal laws of nuisance and the normal planning procedures which are the methods accepted by the House as being, the proper ways of protecting individuals against disturbance of the enjoyment of their own property.

On the question of compensation to the occupier of land taken over, the first item will be the annual rent of the holding as a whole, less the part which he retains. I find this a rather complicated point. At the moment, if a man has a holding and we take half away, we say that we will pay him half the rent of the entire holding, but the half with which he is left is worth less than half of the original holding. That will be taken into account. Compensation will be the rent of the entire holding less the true value of what is left. I think that that is fair and an improvement.

The question arises of loss of profit. At present, provision is made under various regulations passed in recent years to cover this point by a rather arbitrary extra payment, relating his rent to what is assumed his profit would be by a mathematical formula. We think that this is a little too arbitrary in its operation and we intend to substitute for that formula one which will give the dispossessed holder compensation based on the profit he would have obtained from his holding less the amount of profit he could reasonably have expected to make on what he has left. In other words, if he loses the entire holding lie gets what would have been a reasonable profit on the lot. If he loses half, he gets what he would have made on the lot less what he would have expected to get on the remaining land.

There is also a provision in the Fifth Schedule for something about which a number of my hon. Friends are concerned, namely, mitigation of damage. The Schedule says that taking into account the amount of compensation to be paid regard must be paid to what the man could have done himself to mitigate the loss. Here, a difficult problem arises. I do not think that one can say that if we take away a man's holding we will pay him all the profit he would have obtained in working that holding, and that he can sit back and draw all that profit for ten years and do nothing. I do not believe that that is a proposition which this House would support.

On the other hand, we cannot expect a man who has lived his life as a farmer immediately to dash away and do something entirely different, and say that if he does not do so he cannot be paid the full compensation. In the course of the Committee stage, therefore, we shall have to look closely into this point to try to reconcile the definite and conflicting interests of the consumer of coal and of the individual concerned.

Mr. T. Brown

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because the question of compensation is vital to farmers. What would be the position under the Schedule where visitation of the Coal Board, with its opencast mining and working, happens four times? Will four lots of compensation be paid to the person concerned, or will he have to be satisfied with the first compensation payment?

Mr. Maudling

I am not sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman's point. If the Coal Board takes over the whole of a man's holding, or perhaps part for a term of years—and ten years will be the maximum—during that period he will not be able to operate it. Therefore, he will be compensated both in respect of his land and loss of profit. Also, he will be given the expenses of vacating that part of his holding, moving his livestock, and so on.

Mr. Brown

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman understood me correctly. I was referring to the position where opencast mining operations are performed in the first place, say, in 1944. Then, in pit terms, there is the back fill. Then the Board restores the land. Then it comes along in 1948 and takes for opencast mining the same piece of land which it has worked already, but this time takes a deeper measure. In that case will the owner get compensation for the first lot of damage, for the second, for the third, and for the fourth?

Mr. Maudling

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if there are four lots of damage the man will get four lots of compensation. This point is covered by what I was saying earlier about the limitation of the powers of compulsory acquisition which exclude dwelling houses and other buildings, and also land comprised in a previous order. This is in Clause 6 (3): No compulsory rights order shall be made so as to comprise any land which is or has been comprised in a previous compulsory rights order, other than a previous order made in accordance with the last preceding section. I think that he is covered, and in so far as he is damaged more than once, he will certainly be compensated more than once. That is the principle in the Bill.

Mr. Brown

I hope so. So far, it has not been so.

Mr. Maudling

If the hon. Gentleman feels that is not fully covered, no doubt during the Committee stage, he or some of his hon. Friends, will raise the point. That is our intention. Our intentions are always honourable and open in these matters.

Those are the main points that affect the compensation of occupiers. I come next to the compensation of owners. This will be based, first, on the continued use of the land. Secondly, they will be entitled to the restoration of their property. In the case of agricultural land, as I have said, orders made under the Bill impose a condition that agricultural land is restored to a condition of reasonable fitness for agricultural use.

In addition, the owner will get the difference in value of his land before and after the operation of the compulsory rights order. In other words, if the land is worth £10,000 when the Coal Board starts to operate and £8,000 when the land is restored, he will get the difference between the two. Here, I should mention an important point, namely that the valuation of the land at the beginning of this period will be based on its open market value and not on its value on the basis of compulsory purchase.

As the House is aware, in the case of compulsory purchase by many public authorities the value taken is not the market value but the value which would have been given if compulsory purchase had been exercised. We are now providing that the difference shall be the difference between the open market value of the land before and after use by the Coal Board, which seems to us to be the only fair basis on which to operate.

As an alternative, in the case of agricultural land the owner will be entitled to require the Coal Board to restore the land not merely to a state of reasonable fitness, but to its full original state for agricultural purposes, if that can be done at a reasonable cost. I am sorry to use the word "reasonable" so often in these circumstances, but the House will be aware that it is impossible to lay down precise definitions in all these matters.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydfil)

Would it not take several seasons before one would know whether the land had recovered its original fertility? It will not take place at once, but will probably take two, three, or four years.

Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)

Before the right hon. Gentleman replies to that question, may I ask who is to judge whether on not the land is properly restored?

Mr. Maudling

In reply to the first question, it is true that these things often take time, but that is not a question of the principle but of how to establish the evidence to ensure that the principle is carried out.

In reply to the second question, the hon. Gentleman will find that in all these matters provision is made for appeal to the Lands Tribunal in the case of dispute. The Lands Tribunal works effectively in these matters. However, if anyone feels that the provision for disputes in these matters is not adequate, we can consider that at a later stage.

Those are the main provisions on compensation, which I believe are both more generous and more just than those which exist at present. They will entail certain consequential adjustments as between landlord and tenant, and are broadly intended to ensure that in the case where a compulsory rights order is imposed the relation between landlord and tenant in respect of short term use is the same as when the tenant vacates his holding voluntarily. In other words, to ensure that the proper legal rights of both landlord and tenant are not upset to the detriment of either, this new procedure on compulsory rights orders is introduced.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill. There are a lot of special provisions in later Clauses. For instance, there is the stopping up of footpaths, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) referred. There is the question of special land, that is, land in the possession of religious bodies.

Mr. Harold Davies

The British Waterworks Association too?

Mr. Maudling

Yes. I have seen that document myself. There is the licensing of small opencast operators to bring them into line with the small deep mine operators under the Act. There are also some complicated transitional provisions. By and large, however, the main provisions of the Bill are those which I have been trying to outline.

To sum up, briefly, my argument for the Second Reading of the Bill is as follows. It is high time to do away with the emergency law on this matter and to put it on a permanent basis. We must continue to have some level of opencast mining for some time. We all agree that the less damage that can be done to the countryside by it the better, and, therefore, the whole process must be under close planning control.

The existing law in the absence of emergency legislation is not adequate by itself to deal with the problem. Therefore, we propose this Statute, which will put the planning procedure on a definite and directly controlled basis, giving full opportunities for protests, public inquiry, and so on. We are placing the compulsory powers on a much more limited basis than the compulsory acquisition of land which appears in previous legislation. Finally, we are making provision for compensation which, as I said earlier, is both more generous and more just than the existing system.

I said in opening my speech that this is a Bill of such complexity and detail that much useful work can be done in Committee on particular details, and the Government will be grateful for advice and help in shaping its final form. In the meantime, I would express the hope that the House will give a unanimous Second Reading to the Bill.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance—he has referred to the fact that the Bill is very complicated—that there will be a Scottish Law Officer on the Government Front Bench during the Committee stage? There is added to every Clause a subsection concerned with special references, deletions, and so on, which make it almost impossible for anyone readily to understand what will happen in Scotland.

Mr. Maudling

I am not sure that that lies in my hands, but I will take note of the fact that a number of Scottish legal points are involved, to which I am sure I shall not know the answer.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

The Paymaster-General, with his usual facility for explaining complicated and detailed Measures, has obliged us all by the very clear way in which he has described the Bill. It is a complicated Bill with its 47 Clauses and eight Schedules and its numerous references to 15 other Acts. I anticipate that in Committee there will be a very long, detailed and serious examination of many matters which hon. Members on all sides will want to raise.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's plea for a unanimous Second Reading, I would say right away that my hon. Friends and I feel that the case is well made out and that the time has come when, in continuing opencast coal mining operations, we should cease to operate under the Defence Regulations and should operate under a Bill such as this approved by Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman can be sure that the Opposition will not oppose the Bill in principle. I would add the warning that in Committee the Bill will have to be given very detailed consideration. As we do not oppose the Bill in principle, I hope that in Committee both sides will apply themselves not on party lines but on lines which will be for the benefit of the country.

I had the task for four years—I was about to say "the unfortunate task", but it was one which I enjoyed very much indeed—of looking after the opencast coal mining programme when the Labour Party was in office and I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the then Ministry of Fuel and Power. I should like to extend a welcome to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin), the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power. He takes over a very important position in his Government. I hope that he will have a very happy and successful time, though I hope that he will not want me to go on to say that I trust that he will be a long time in that post with his Government. However, our good wishes are with him. I am sure he will find that those of us who deal with the fuel and power industries on this side of the House will always be ready to listen to good arguments and to make our contributions in a constructive manner.

The Minister has also made out the case for the continuation of opencast coal mining. I would not go so far as to say that all opencast coal mining is a bad thing. I suppose I have visited as many opencast coal mining sites in the United Kingdom as anyone in the House. I have visited sites which have grieved me considerably. I think of the opencast coal mining that we did at the historic mansion, Wentworth Woodhouse, and in many areas in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), rural areas and copses which it seemed a great shame to tear and root up.

Equally, I have seen areas where, in the end, opencast coal mining operations have been very beneficial to the countryside. I remember that in South Wales the top of a mountain was sliced off, the anthracite was taken out and the top was put back, in a rather better condition than it was originally. It was a considerable improvement to the area. It would be wrong to say that all opencast mining is bad.

Britain needs the coal and must have it. However, when we get the coal, let us do it with justice to the people who live on the sites and in the area around. Let us be fair to them. Let us remember that we, in our day and generation, are only the trustees of the land upon which we live, that we have had it handed on to us and that it is our duty to ensure that it is handed on to our successors in a better condition and not a worse one than when we inherited it. We have no right to talk in terms even of the market value of the land when it is restored. No one can give the value of an acre of good agriculture land to this country in the years that lie ahead. What we must do is restore the land to the best possible condition. We must give justice to the people who are disturbed, and must make the nuisance arising from opencast coal mining as little as we possibly can.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

May I ask my right hon. Friend, in the context of responsibility for our heritage in the land, to make some comment upon the unsightly "cemeteries" which have been left by deep-mined coal operations, the derelict villages and the slag heaps throughout the country?

Mr. Robens

I have no doubt that when we are considering other Measures which sometimes come before us we can have a good discussion about the way the land of the country has been desecrated during the years with gravel pits, and so on. It is not our purpose to go into that in great detail now. We are concerned at the moment to deal specifically with opencast coal mining.

I wonder whether the country realises what serious damage has been done to our export trade in coal because over the the last few years we have been unable to guarantee supplies for long enough to satisfy people on the Continent who wanted to import British coal, and that today American coal is firmly entrenched in the European market. Because shipping freights have fallen from their peak of 150s. per ton to 25s. per ton today, American coal can now go into the European markets at 10s. per ton less than the price at which we can supply it.

This is an important aspect of our economy. The Minister was right to stress the fact that we should push up our exports to the utmost, but we shall never be able to have large exports unless we can guarantee the importers that they will continuously get the coal that they want. It is no use saying to the importers in the middle of a season, "We are sorry but we have to deliver short, and we cannot deliver anything at all for next year." That is not the way in which to maintain our markets.

The coal which we have obtained from opencast operations has, overall, balanced the export position. I should like the Government to make a decision about coal exports and fix a figure, which I should hope would be a high one, certainly more than 10 million tons a year, and declare that we will export that amount, determined faithfully to keep to our bargain, and at the same time take steps within the country to ensure that we manage with what is left either by increasing production or by some of the other methods which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

I take the opportunity to utter this warning. We shall not get our export trade hack unless we make a real attempt now and unless we can guarantee to importers of large quantities—power stations on the Continent and so on—continuity of the supply of the coal that they want at a suitable price resulting from our successful mining operations.

I also envisage that opencast mining might even become a regular part of our ordinary mining operations. I see no reason why it should not. That would not mean that we should have opencast coal mining on the enormous scale that we have it today. I see an hon. Member opposite shaking his head. I would remind him of the terrible disaster which took place in Scotland a few years ago. Men were working from below; they got too near the surface and the slimy, oozy bed of a swamp came through and killed many of them. They were working too close to the surface.

In my view, we cannot leave such marginal coal, because it is too valuable. With big diggers one can get down to about 250 ft. without benching—in the case of a new contract in Scotland it is possible to get down to about 600 ft.—and so there is no reason now why miners' lives should be risked in obtaining coal which lies too near the surface. There is no reason why the country should lose valuable seams of coal—coking coal in Durham and places like that, for instance—when, by opencast mining, we can get this marginal coal at no extra cost, but with a saving of lives of men in the pits. This would not be on an extensive scale, but if I were responsible for future mining policy, I should certainly give consideration to using opencast mining as part of the ordinary mining operations for this marginal coal as a contribution to safety in the mines.

The Bill will be important, and I do not believe that opencast coal mining will finish at the end of ten years. The Bill says that opencast operations will finish at the end of ten years and that we shall cease to bother about opencast coal on any large scale because after that time, apart from the conclusion of contracts begun in the tenth year which might continue to the twentieth year—as was indicated by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—the Coal Board will be able to conclude contracts for opencast operations only on the basis of a willing buyer and a willing seller.

I do not know what magic there is in ten years. In the seventh year, contractors having to pay probably £350,000 or even £500,000 for the big diggers will not want to put that amount of money into buying machinery for opencast operations without some guarantee of continuity of working, unless they can see some use for the machinery afterwards. I am not sure that it is a good thing to tie ourselves to ten years.

Let us bring opencast coal mining to a stop where it is injurious to the nation and where its advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages in disturbing the farming community. Let us bring it to a stop when it is sensible to bring it to a stop and not after a magic period of ten years. I have seen programmes for opencast coal working changed so frequently that I have no faith in those people who tell me that a programme will be completed in ten years. In all the years since 1945 I have not seen an opencast coal programme which has not caused trouble to the people doing the job, especially those building the machines.

It is not a question of going to the site, surveying the coal and saying, "There is the coal which we can get" There must be a sensible approach to this matter, and I cannot believe that after this magic ten years the opencast coal programme must virtually come to an end. We should reconsider that proposal and apply our minds to devising a formula whereby opencast coal operations will naturally tail off to marginally small quantities—two, three or even five million tons a year—at a time when it is in the nation's interests so to do. We should not put ourselves into the situation of deciding today that in ten years we will not need this coal.

The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to take us through the way in which planning control and tenancy rights will be obtained for the National Coal Board. We can go into this in great detail in Committee, but, as I understand it, the Bill authorises the use of land for opencast coal where actual working is to take place. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give some attention to these important points.

An opencast coal site cannot be operated without two other things. One is a disposal point and the other is a stocking ground.

Mr. Nabarro

And a washery.

Mr. Robens

It is not necessary to have a washery in connection with these opencast coal sites. The washeries of neighbouring collieries can be used, and it is not always necessary to have a washery to deal with the opencast coal.

Mr. Nabarro

I would not say that it is always necessary. The right hon. Gentleman will remember his former boss's quarrels with me in 1950 and 1951 about opencast coal going to the domestic consumer. In many instances the sources of opencast coal are not near to a washery and it is not practicable to wash the opencast coal. It is that which has caused so much dissatisfaction among domestic consumers.

Mr. Robens

That may be, but it is not vitally necessary to have a washery with every opencast coal site, whereas an opencast coal site cannot be operated unless there is a disposal site and a stocking ground. That is the only difference between us. What I have indicated is essential for the operation, and a washery may or may not be needed according to the circumstances. There is no question about the necessity for a disposal point and a stocking ground.

Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)

Would the right hon. Gentleman also include in his necessities an efficient carrying system between the disposal point and the stocking ground? Is he aware that in many parts of the country the carrying of coal produces one of the greatest menaces to pedestrians and motorists?

Mr. Robens

If I can go on for a little while without interruption, I am sure that I will cover all of these points, because I am well aware of them. It is true that One must take coal to the disposal point or stocking ground. It is true that a tremendous nuisance for local authorities can be caused by spillage on the roadways and by other things.

I do not want to include a whole list of things which are necessary for an opencast coal site, but I do want to draw attention to the fact that there is no provision in the Bill for acquiring land which is not to be actually worked for opencast coal but is to be used for a stocking ground or a disposal point. There is not always a disposal point for each opencast site. There may be one disposal point for two or three or even more sites. However, without a disposal point one cannot operate.

If the Bill does not include provision for the compulsory acquisition of a disposal point, the Coal Board could be in the situation of having gone through all the elaborate procedure for getting the sites and for arranging contracts and then needing a few acres of land for a disposal site, the landowner being in the wonderful position of being able to get virtually what he likes for that land.

That is an impossible situation. What is even worse is the fact that the landowner could say that he would not sell the land to the Coal Board at any price. The House is agreed that opencast operations are necessary, and has provided a Bill for them. We cannot possibly have a Bill of this kind without at the same time providing that the Coal Board shall be able to gets its disposal points and stocking grounds. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that some consideration has been given to these matters and even that the Bill deals with them. If they are not covered by the Bill, I hope that he will say that the Government are prepared to consider this matter and to deal with it in Committee.

I have a tremendous amount of sympathy with those people whom I believe to have been under-compensated. I do not say that the Coal Board has robbed them or treated them unfairly, but in many cases there has been under-compensation. I have been to farmhouses where the opencast site has been dug almost up to the walls of the house, where women could not possibly keep a house clean, where a house has been dusted thoroughly and three hours later has been just as dusty as before, where women with two or three children have been living under such conditions for three or four years and where the farmhouse has been on a small piece of land, almost like an oasis in the middle of this enormous uprooting of land.

No compensation is paid for that; and while money will not prevent the dusty house, will not prevent the twenty-four hours' noise and racket, will not prevent all the inconvenience and, very often, the heartbreaks, the provision of some financial easement does improve matters. People who have been put into this position cannot look at it objectively as we can and talk in terms of the balance of trade and the contribution made to it. All they know is that their lovely little home has been ruined, that nobody seems to care, and officials say, "I am sorry, but there is nothing we can do because nothing is provided."

If we are to be just, we must look very closely at compensation and make sure that the Board is not required to pay more than it ought to pay; but if we are to err, let us err on the side of generosity to those who are being upset by reason of opencast coal operations. No one could say that we could not afford a few thousand pounds in that direction after profits have been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) asked the Paymaster-General about four times compensation. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman understood the point clearly, but the truth is that my hon. Friend happens to be in a constituency where opencast coal mining started early.

Mr. T. Brown

One of the first.

Mr. Robens

Therefore, the machinery then available was not of the character which was available ten years later. It was only possible to take out coal which was a very short distance from the surface. When bigger machines came along they went back to the original site, because it was known that there were more coal seams below, so they turned the land up once again. It may not have been turned up four times, but it has been done twice. The point that my hon. Friend was making was, what is the compensation position if that should happen again? The answer is that now, with the big machines, it is hardly likely that the Coal Board will open a site and a few years later go back with a bigger machine to take out a lower seam. That is a serious point upon which the Minister might like to comment.

Mr. Maudling

I did find it difficult to follow the point. However, it is covered by Clause 6 (3), which says that a compulsory rights order cannot be made in those circumstances. When use of land has been made in the past, the power to make a compulsory rights order is excluded, and the question of compensation cannot arise because the damage cannot arise.

Mr. T. Brown

The right hon. Gentleman has still not understood the point. The point—which has been emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens)—is, what will be the position of these farmers when they are visited three or four times? There is one farmer in my constituency on whose land there is an opencast coal site, and the Coal Board is now on its fourth visitation. One of the things that trouble me is the colossal amount of money spent in excavating and so on. After refilling and restoration there is a colossal waste of money in going to that site to obtain another coal measure from it.

Mr. Maudling

If the farmer's land has been dug up for coal mining purposes under the Defence Regulations and the Coal Board says that it wants to do it again, the farmer can tell the Board to go away because it has no power to do so.

Mr. Robens

There are two further points of importance, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reply to them. All other matters which we could discuss a great deal today will probably be dealt with by hon. Members in Committee. I am concerned with the transfer of arrangements for opencast coal from the Defence Regulations to the new arrangements under this Bill. I am concerned with what happens to the land which will not be covered by the Bill—that is, the disposal points, stocking grounds, marshalling yards, and so on. When the Bill becomes law the land which is requisitioned for purposes other than the authorised use will not be covered. The present disposal sites will not be available to the National Coal Board except with the good will of the people who own the sites.

The second point is that the procedure under the Bill will take much longer than the Defence Regulation procedure. I do not complain about that because it is the method by which we now propose to deal with it. My impression is that in the change-over there is likely to be a loss of 2 million tons of opencast coal, which I do not think we could afford to lose. I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man to devise ways and means by which we can make this transfer from the Defence Regulations to the Bill so that we do not lose this coal. Two million tons of coal is a large amount, and it would be worth while to spend time in devising a method of making the transference dovetail in such a way that we do not lose the amount of coal that I have indicated is likely to be lost. Other hon. Members may have a more accurate figure, but I believe that it is about 2 million tons.

The last point I want to make relates to restoration. It is a small point, but I think that it is important. There is more argument about restoration than perhaps anything else in connection with a site. The code of 1951 emerged very patently out of a lot of experience and excellent work done by the farming community, the Ministry of Agriculture and those interested in making as sure as they possibly could that the land was restored to give the very best possible value. Within this Bill it is proposed to continue to restore under the code. Discussions are now taking place with the farming and agricultural interests, and presumably with the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Coal Board, to improve upon that code.

I have no doubt that with the application of the technical advances in agriculture—new methods of fertilising, and so on—each year will bring an additional improvement in restoration. That is to be welcomed. This is the one point which causes a good deal of contention. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he ought under this Bill to make provision so that the code, when agreed, can be laid in this House as a regulation and discussed.

As I was saying earlier, the preservation of the land is not for us alone. I do not think that we as Parliamentarians ought to leave it entirely to those interested for the time being. It is our job to look after the future. I ask the Paymaster-General and the Parliamentary Secretary whether they could consider this question and decide that the code shall be a regulation that could be laid before the House and debated. That would mean that as changes took place there would be the opportunity for debate on the regulations as to the efficiency of the code, to enable hon. Members to draw attention to deficiencies in the coal in their constituencies. This would not be ill-founded criticism of anybody, but a genuine desire by Parliament to perform one of its functions, namely, to preserve the land of Britain for future generations.

I have pleasure in saying on behalf of this side of the House that we accept the principle of the Bill and will give it a Second Reading without opposition.

4.49 p.m.

Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)

Before making a few observations upon the Bill I want to follow the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) on becoming Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish him well in his appointment—in particular, those on this side who are interested in power problems, because they will welcome his original and vigorous mind on the Front Bench in dealing with such matters.

This is a non-controversial Bill. I find myself almost wholly in agreement with what the right hon. Member for Blyth has been saying about it. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General gave us, as usual, a very lucid explanation of the Bill, and he made out a case for continuing opencast coal mining. I think that he satisfied the House that in the light of our balance of payments problem, and of the need for maintaining a reasonable level of exports, we must continue, at any rate for the time being, a degree of opencast coal mining somewhat on the level visualised, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Blyth.

Having said that, however, I feel that we are entitled to say that we are disappointed that we should now be in a position where such a Measure is necessary. The right hon. Member for Blyth may remember that in the course of the four years which he devoted to this problem he said—I believe that it was in July, 1950—that he visualised opencast mining tailing off by about 1953. No one can criticise him for having made that assumption at that time, but it is a melancholy fact that it proved to be ill-founded. We shall be hearing a good deal about 1 per cent. in tomorrow's economic debate. In this context, I would point out that if, from 1951 onwards, we had produced precisely the figure of 1 per cent. per annum more of deep-mined coal, this Measure would not be necessary today.

I mention 1951 in particular because that was the watershed in the fortune of the coal mining industry when, to some of us, it became apparent that unless there were drastic alterations both in the organisation and management of this industry there would be no increase in production and, indeed, we should probably see what has, in fact, occurred. That is all that I want to say upon the purely coal mining aspect of the matter.

The question of compensation is not one merely of giving money to a man who, for the time being, is dispossessed of his land. We have not only affected his way of life; we have disorganised his life, it may be for many years. It is no good saying that he can go off and do something else. More often than not he is a farmer born and bred, with all his feelings, experience, and knowledge acquired over many years, and he is neither desirous nor specially fitted to take another occupation. He is certainly not a man who wants to sit back for years merely receiving an income for which he is not working. We have affected that man disproportionately, whatever compensation we may pay him, and we must always bear that point in mind.

As to restoration, some hon. Members on both sides of the House were engaged some years ago with a not dissimilar problem, namely, the restoration of ground which had been worked for iron ore. Certainly, at that time we became very well aware that this was a most complicated matter. It concerned not only drainage and water measures but also the restoration of the fertility of the land. The whole matter was excessively complicated.

I join in the plea made by the right hon. Member for Blyth that the code which has been in operation since 1951, to deal with restoration, should now become of a statutory nature so that we can debate it in the House and gain the benefit of all the work which was done in connection with the restoration of land worked for iron ore and all the experience of opencast coal mining gained since 1951.

There is one matter which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned with which I am not altogether in sympathy. He said that very large sums of money needed to be expended upon steam shovels, excavators and the like which were required for this type of opencast work, and that unless we continued this working for a considerable number of years much of the large amount of money invested would be lost. I assume that the great majority of these machines would be applicable to iron ore working which, as we now know, is descending to depths similar to that to which opencast mining has gone. It is not unusual now to have iron ore working up to 180 feet or even 250 feet, and I assume that many of the opencast machines could be transferred to that type of work without any considerable loss of capital invested in those machines.

Those are the very brief observations that I wanted to make. My right hon. Friend has made out a sound case for the Bill. The compensation Clauses are capable of improvement in Committee, as we consider the matter in greater detail, but, subject to that, I welcome the Bill and wish it well.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)

I hope the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) will forgive me if I do not follow him, particularly since I find myself in agreement with so much of what he has said. It would alter the whole tone of our discussions if I joined issue with him upon the points about which I disagree with him, and it can be better done in Committee. I hope, therefore, that he will not regard it as a discourtesy if I address myself to other points and, in particular, to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. In doing so, incidentally, I shall be replying to certain points raised by the hon. and gallant Member.

If we are going to make progress with this very complicated Bill, it is very important to be quite clear in our minds as to what is the Government's policy. That should be made absolutely clear, and it will certainly affect the Amendments which we shall be bringing forward in Committee. It seemed to me that the Minister did made out a case for the continuation of opencast mining. We must remember that hon. Members on this side of the House feel as strongly as any Members opposite about the interference with amenities, the disturbance, loss and inconvenience caused by this method of mining. On the other hand, we are as a nation under some economic necessities, and we cannot ignore the fact that at the moment we are obtaining 13½ million tons of coal from this source, in a single year.

That being so, we must ask ourselves if we should seek to obtain easy responses and hand-clappings by simply attacking opencast mining. None of us is in a position to make such an attack. We are all in it up to our necks, because for seventeen years we have gone forward with this work and have achieved, on the administrative side, a high standard of discussion and a smoothness of negotiation, in spite of the drastic powers contained in Defence Regulations 51 and 51A.

I think it right that we should compliment the National Coal Board on the lessons it has learned. It is certainly not the case today that people are dealing with these matters in the rough way they did in the early years. They have now learned how to get together properly. So much so is this the case that I have received representations from persons not connected with the production side of mining but with the amenity side, representatives of local authorities and people in that position, asking that there should be preliminary consultations before the powers provided in this Bill are put into effect. A request for such consultation would be nonsensical if it were not really the present background and true position that such consultations have been found to be very agreeable and have reached a level where all parties are very happy about the way things are going on.

At the same time, however happily they are going on the administrative side, we all agree emphatically that the time must come when we must move from the Defence Regulations, leave Regulations 51 and 51A behind, and go on to a statutory code. Here a crucial point is the attitude of the Government in relation to opencast mining. I will read from paragraph 44 of the last Annual Report issued by the National Coal Board, in which it says: As to the future, the Board will need every ton of opencast coal that can be produced to assist in reducing the gap between deep-mined production and the country's ever-increasing demands for fuel. This view was confirmed by the announcement in Parliament by the Minister of Fuel and Power on 1st November, 1956, that as far as could be foreseen it would be necessary to maintain opencast production at a high level for at least ten years if national requirements of coal were to be met. Moreover, costs of opencast production have been relatively stable, and lower than those incurred in the production of deep-mined coal. In an earlier paragraph, reference is made to the fact that in the year under review there was a profit in this part of the industry of £8.64 millions, and since 1952, the date from which the National Coal Board took over, 54 million tons of coal have been obtained by this method.

Are the Government of the same mind today? If they are, and if they want this 13½million tons, which could be increased under present methods certainly to 15 million tons—I do not think there can be any question of disagreement about that estimate—there would have to be a tapering-off from the present position to the position sought to be created in this Bill, and it would have to be done very gently and over a number of years. If we jump from the present situation under the Defence Regulations to that proposed by this Bill, I put it to the Minister that that really means that the Government are budgeting for a lower production of coal in this field. They cannot bring in this Bill in its present form without reducing the production of opencast coal, and I will give reasons in a moment.

It seems to me, and I want to be as non-controversial as I can, that either the National Coal Board has gone back on that pronouncement in accepting the provisions of this Bill, or, on the contrary, the Coal Board has not altered its position but the Government have overridden the Board. I think it is in the public interest that we should know exactly where we stand. If the Government want opencast mining to fail, but fail gradually, I could quite understand from that point of view their saying, "We will make it up in other ways in the economy," but they cannot at one and the same time say that they want increased production and bring in a Bill which will reduce it.

How is the Bill going to reduce it? We on this side of the House agree that we must move away from the Defence Regulations position, but I am sure that the Minister is aware that practically two-thirds of the disposal points in this country are being occupied by the National Coal Board simply because of the exercise of its powers under these Defence Regulations. The Board has taken them under these powers, and does not possess them as a result of having purchased them. It is true that the Board itself owns some disposal points, and some it may have purchased, but certainly two-thirds of the disposal points have been acquired under these Regulations, which will come to an end in their effect by 1960.

What is the position there? Taking the country as a whole, we will find that the National Coal Board, before the end of 1960, which is a little less than two years away, will have to dismantle its screening plants and vacate its disposal sites, unless it is prepared to pay the prices which the individual owners will demand. What individual owner in his senses is going to demand a commercial price in that position? Is he not going to demand a ransom price, and who can blame him for doing it? It is not just a question of having his land back after it has been cleared. He will have the knowledge that the Coal Board, unless it pays his price, will have to dismantle all this machinery, and what will be the consequence of that? The consequence will be that this coal will have to be lorried to other disposal points in the possession of the Coal Board, which in many cases will be disposal points which ought not to be disposal points at all, namely, the screening plants at the collieries themselves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will give details of this position, which I have found very close to my own constituency, where the coal which has been obtained by opencast methods has been taken to a colliery to be screened. There are special practical reasons why this coal should be screened by screens specially constructed and prepared to do that job, and it is very important that an assurance should be given, if necessary by means of an amendment of this Bill, that these disposal points which are now vested in the Coal Board should continue to be so vested, because the disposal point is really the keystone of this structure. We cannot have an opencast industry without having disposal points, and, as the Minister knows, one disposal point serves many production points.

Here, there is going to be a loss. There will be a serious effect upon production and a reduction of production by reason of the difficulty in obtaining new sites, because here the position is absolutely clear. I beg the Minister, if necessary, to take the advice of the Law Officers on this point, which is not a Committee point. If he looks at Clause 1 (5) of the Bill, he will find that it provides: (5) In this Act "the authorised purposes", in relation to an authorisation under this section, means either or both of the following, that is to say, the purposes—

  1. (a) of working coal by opencast operations in pursuance of the authorisation, and
  2. 1088
  3. (b) of restoring land affected by the working of coal in pursuance of the authorisation or by operations connected therewith,
and "authorised operations", in relation to such an authorisation, means operations carried out for, or incidental to, the fulfilment of the authorised purposes. Actually, disposing of coal at central disposal points is not within the terms of that subsection, and, therefore, of course, the National Coal Board is left in the position that it may have to vacate two-thirds of the sites already occupied, dismantle all the plant which has been put up at such expense, suffer a loss in production which will flow from it, and also the increased costs which will also flow, all without giving any benefit to anybody. If by this happening any farmer would benefit or any person who otherwise would be injured would benefit, of course, our attitude on this side of the House would be qualified by that fact, but this is not going to benefit them, and it is clearly at variance with the policy as put forward by the Government if they really want to encourage the production of coal.

On this side of the House, we would certainly be greatly influenced by a declaration on the part of the Government that they wanted disposal sites to remain and that the National Coal Board would be able to obtain disposal sites in the future. I do not suggest that the Board should do it capriciously and arbitrarily, but with all the necessary safeguards affecting other people's interests, such as compensation provisions and other devices for fair play. We have suffered too much in the past from injuries which were not compensated for in various fields for us to have any lack of sympathy with other people who suffer injury, whether it is injury to the person or to his property when something is done for the reasons set out in the Bill.

We are completely in favour of the idea of compensation, and support the Government in that idea. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said in his interjection, that we are legislating now for twenty years ahead. Let us make up our minds that that being so we must have an efficient opencast industry or we must kill it. We cannot have it both ways. Nothing but misery and economic difficulty will be caused if we try to keep on an opencast industry and, at the same time, damn it with faint praise and discourage people from investing in it and increasing its production.

It is all very well to say that machines can be used in other places. If a private contractor is to sink half a million pounds in modern machinery for the purpose of providing coal for this country and is doing that to increase production and employs a number of workers, we should not say in this House, "If we do it this way you can find another use for that machine and other employment for those workers." We must say to the private contractor, "This is for the good of the economy and you are to be encouraged to do it." We must say to the National Coal Board, "You are to be encouraged to help in every possible way and not to be hamstrung by the provisions of the Bill."

Things could go badly wrong under the Bill; that is to say, there could be lots of individual owners who exercised their full rights at the point where, under Clause 1, authorisation has to be given by the Minister and objection can be made by any person with an interest in the property. An objector does not have to give any reason. He can object quite capriciously. The local authorities in the area may be completely in favour of the authorisation, but one person can stand out, without giving any reason at all, and a local inquiry can be forced. The Minister is not obliged to insist upon that local inquiry running concurrently with a compulsory rights order. It is possible for a local inquiry under the authorisation procedure and one under a compulsory rights order to run consecutively. There is consequently bound to be a great increase in the time from the date when the coal has been discovered to the time when it is being worked.

I have done my best by inquiry to find out how long it takes under the present procedure. I find the answer to be about four or five months. I put it to the Minister that it might easily, under the Bill, take another twelve months to get to the point of production. That is all very well, if the Government do not want opencast coal or want a rundown in the opencast coal programme. If they want increased production of coal and they approve of this method of getting it, they must streamline the Bill to facilitate progress in these fields. They must make it easy for the parties to come to agreement. The parties should be encouraged to come to agreement so that the Bill will run as a sort of background to friendly negotiation between interested parties. That is the object that we have in mind and will have in mind in Committee. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal particularly with the very difficult question of disposal points.

Mr. Nabarro

Until the advent of the Bill, the work of opencast mining was under Defence Regulations and the owner or occupier of a property that was to be worked for opencast mining had no right of objection at all. Requisition of the, land was purely arbitrary under the: Defence Regulations. Under the Bill, the owner or occupier has a right of objection. Surely that restoration of the freedom and liberty of the subject is worth a few months' delay?

Mr. Williams

There is no need for there to be any issue between the hon. Member for Kidderminster and myself on this matter. I am talking about something which is rather different from the point that the hon. Gentleman has referred to. Since there is an economic necessity, as put before us by Her Majesty's Government, for the production of coal by these methods, there is a case for saying that a way should not be thrown open for capricious objection which will cause endless delay without any foundation of objection at all. This matter cannot affect the liberty of the subject. In a case where all the parties were agreed, somebody who had some limited right over the property could have it looked at by the Minister so that, in an appropriate case, the Minister could decide whether or not there was a prima facie case. If there was, the Minister could let the objection go forward, with the full rights of objection.

Let not the Minister be put in a position in which the whole matter can be delayed merely by a bloody-minded crank who is not concerned with the rights of the case at all. Let the hon. Member for Kidderminster bear in mind that the production figures have been achieved by discussion and reasonable behaviour on, the part of people who have had at their-backs the sort of power which could have enabled them to behave in a beastly way if they had wanted to; but they did not. They have done it in a decent way and in relation to compensation, as in other fields.

I hope that we shall not get into the position of arguing about issues when we are not at issue at all. I would remind the hon. Member for Kidderminster that the Minister and I have been engaged in this sort of legislation for a considerable time. We have spent many months on it, and have done it, I am glad to say, on the most friendly and co-operative basis. There is no reason why we should not do so at the present time. I will not be put in the position, by any diarrhœa of words on the part of the hon. Member for Kidderminster, of appearing to be less concerned with the liberty of the subject than he is.

Mr. Nabarro

But the hon. Member is.

Mr. Williams

I simply ask that this matter be dealt with in a responsible way and not influenced by the rather foolish interruptions that the hon. Member for Kidderminster has made.

Mr. Maudling

I appreciate the point of view of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) when he talks about cranks, but it is rather difficult to decide in an Act of Parliament whether some objectors are cranks and others are responsible people. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point of view that the principle is very big and important.

Mr. Williams

All I am asking the Minister to do is to be consistent and to do in regard to authorisation orders what he does under compulsory rights orders. He has the right to do it under the compulsory rights order procedure. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Kidderminster would say that that is an intrusion on the liberty of the subject. It would be a perfectly reasonable administrative arrangement under the same Bill. It is simply a question of saying that the principle which the right hon. Gentleman accepts in relation to compulsory rights orders should be accepted in relation to the authorisation order. The point is no bigger than that.

Let me extend to the Minister my sympathy—I am not being cynical when I say this—at his having to come to the House with such an extremely complicated Measure.

The Bill is rather more complicated and certainly more lengthy than the Electricity Bill and the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Bill put together. Therefore, it seems that a very heavy task lies ahead in Committee where the attitude of hon. Members on this side of the House will be to try by all the constructive means at our disposal to make it a better Bill. The Minister will find that there will be no lack of co-operation. The hon. Member for Kidderminster, who is so ready with his interruptions, will, I hope, be on that Committee to give us the benefit of his vast experience and help us to come to conclusions on these complicated subjects.

The Minister is in a difficulty with regard to compensation for loss of profits. In relation to such compensation, the right hon. Gentleman knows the view of hon. Members on this side of the House because we have put it forward on previous occasions. This is a question of consequential loss of profits following upon opencast mining operations. All the arguments which can be used to justify this principle in this Bill were used from this side of the House on the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Bill and were rejected by the Minister in the most cogent, powerful, far-reaching refutations of our submissions which I have ever heard.

It follows, therefore, that at a certain stage in Committee when we come to deal with this principle the Minister will have to ask us to accept our own arguments used on that other Bill, since this is an identical principle. With all my heart I say that we support the idea that there should be compensation for loss of profits. It is a last-minute repentance on the part of the Minister, perhaps due to the political climate, because, much as we like him as a person, we all realise that he will not be in his present position very much longer.

I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that, as far as the compensation principle is concerned, I should have thought that the right way to approach that matter would be to concentrate on speed and simplicity whilst providing justice at the same time. A speedier method than that proposed in the Bill is applied now. The complaint is not about the method applied at present, but about the amounts paid. It is much better to deal with the matter in that way than in the way provided in the Bill.

Mr. Maudling

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I must take him up on the point about our earlier discussion. I would not dissent from his assessment of the value of the argument put forward on behalf of the Government, but there is a great difference under this Bill. When we are saying what the National Coal Board must pay by way of compensation when taking over land for opencast mining we are not imposing upon the Board, as was done under the earlier Bill, the obligation to pay for a second time compensation which in many cases it had already paid under the then existing circumstances.

Mr. Williams

We shall be left with the anomaly that in one and the same village there will be a person who has suffered loss of profit as a result of mining subsidence who will get nothing whatever in respect of this loss and, side by side with him, a person who has suffered loss of profits because of opencast mining who will be provided for. That is an anomaly created by the Government. In Committee, the Minister will have the painful embarrassment of being obliged to put forward our arguments and asking us to accept them. However, that is a difficulty into which he will have been placed by the Government.

Let us concentrate upon the idea of providing the compensation quickly and well because under the complex provisions suggested in the Bill what we are really giving to the injured person is the right to demand a scrutiny of books of account with long drawn-out investigations and disputes. Although I defer to the Lands Tribunal in agricultural matters, in which it can do a splendid Jon, I have still to be convinced that the Tribunal can deal with a financial dispute. Farmers are not financiers or accountants and will be at a disadvantage in dealing with the matter. Therefore, we must make the assessment of compensation simpler and turn it into real compensation without any disputation and reference to books of accounts.

To summarise what I have said so far, I think that, firstly, the Bill as at present drafted will most emphatically result in a loss of coal production, that it may even result in a substantial loss of production, particularly if my point about disposal points is not fully covered by the Government; secondly, that it will certainly lead to great doubt on the part of those who are investing large sums of money in the provision of up-to-date machinery for opencast mining; thirdly, that although we can say with the hon. Member for Kidderminster that we are legislating for twenty years ahead, that, of course, is on the assumption that the day this Measure comes to an end nearly ten years hence a compulsory rights order will then be drawn ten years further ahead. That can happen, and the hon. Member for Kidderminster has his debating point. But we know, in fact, that it will not happen like that at all. What will happen is that when the Act has been in operation for four or five years there will he a run-down in opencast production followed by a substantial run-down because nobody will then be interesed in financing developments even though they have earlier had the benefit of opencast coal.

I ask the Minister to take another look at the principles and to make the Bill a gentler Measure more in line with National Coal Board policy. I say to the Minister, "Do not override the Board as you have apparently done here. Do not give divided counsel and create confusion of thought asking at the one time for increased production and at the same time bringing in a Measure which is going to result in reduced production."

Despite the fact that I have had to speak at length and forcefully on certain points, I assure the Minister that I will give the fullest support I can in the masses of Amendments which lie ahead in Committee. All I would say is that from my previous experience I anticipate that, however many Amendments I put on the Order Paper, the right hon. Gentleman will probably match them in number if not in substance.

5.27 p.m.

Sir Albert Braithwaite (Harrow, West)

It seems a very long time ago since the right hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) started opencast mining in this country. It was due to his consideration and foresight that we were able in a national emergency in war-time to get moving in the matter, and a lot of things have happened since then.

I must declare my interest in the matter because I have operated in this direction ever since those earlier Measures were introduced. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has many times invalidated our friendship on the basis of opencast coal mining. In everything that I have tried to do in the matter I have been actuated only by the national interest and the real desire of the nation to produce more fuel for its needs.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General for bringing in the Bill because, for the first time, it puts the industry on a more or less statutory basis. Up to now we have operated under the Defence Regulations, and I must say that it has been very difficult for those in charge in the National Coal Board and those on the National Opencast Executive to carry on their work under the arrangements which they had to make. They have now an amount of coal proved of over 70 million tons which is available to the nation. But of this amount of coal very little is available because of the long procedure in getting possession of the land and starting work on it.

I ask the Government quite frankly what are their real intentions about opencast coal mining. The National Coal Board says that we should get the maximum production possible. Are the Government prepared to go out for maximum production? I believe, in view of our national financial obligations and our present parlous position in foreign exchanges, that it is vital for us to get every ounce of coal we can. Atomic energy may be in the offing, but it is not here yet. Our balance of payments in Europe was always maintained on the export of coal. We have a lot of people in the mines who are coming along very nicely and who are going to create possibilities for the production of coal.

I am not going to deny the work done by the miners, but this is something which helps them. In 1956, while the National Coal Board lost £8 million producing 200 million tons of coal, the opencast division of the Coal Board made £8 million for the nation on the production of 13 million tons of coal. Those figures must show everyone in this House the vital necessity of going on with the programme on a substantial basis.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

What does my hon. Friend mean by "a substantial basis"? Is he suggesting that amenity interests and agricultural interests should be disregarded?

Sir A. Braithwaite

Certainly not. I am as much interested in the amenities of the countryside as anyone in this House. In fact, I farm many thousands of acres myself and have a large amount of land. Therefore, I can appreciate the views of people concerned, but, after all, the guts of this country are in the coal industry. If we want industrial prosperity we cannot neglect these indigenous resources. The fact that we are spending vast sums of money in buying American coal is disgraceful and does not allow any of us to be complacent.

I think it vital to recite some of the things which have happened. Since the inauguration of this scheme we have taken up 100,000 acres out of 48 million acres of agricultural land, and 60,000 acres are now held by the National Coal Board for opencast operations. Of that land, 28,000 acres are being rehabilitated for farming and 32,000 acres are being actively operated. That does not seem to be a substantial amount to cause all the disturbance there has been about this operation for so many years, but it means a great deal, not only to the coal mining industry, but to the whole future of this island.

This industry has saved the country £100 million a year ever since the war. We have been told about all kinds of difficulties in financial operations, but can we afford to ignore sums of that magnitude? I am told that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned over £50 million. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who told you that?"] This sum is £100 million per annum, not for one year, but for seventeen years. If there had been no opencast mining we should have had no export of coal from this country since the war. It is obvious that this is something we have to do. No one likes to see the great holes which are made in the ground, but they do not do so much damage as do many gravel pits and pit heaps, which take up, not the same area, but ten times the area used for these opencast operations.

In addition, 34 million tons of this coal has been large lump coal, of which we are very short and which cannot be obtained under modern deep mining methods. That is why we have to buy coal, in order to supply the lump coal required by the domestic market. I suggest that these considerations are well worth the study of every one of us.

Mr. Albert Roberts

At the same time, 10 million tons of small coal was produced which cannot be sold.

Sir A. Braithwaite

I have not heard of very much small coal which cannot be sold. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There are plenty of outlets for that. When we compare the large lump coal which comes from these operations with that obtained by ordinary mining, the percentage looks silly.

I pay tribute to those who have been operating this system. The technique has greatly improved. The restoration is very much better than it has ever been before, and I am informed by the heads of the agricultural industry that the yield from this land is quite good in some areas. I am sure that the technique now employed is really satisfactory and something of which we can be proud. When we see the operations which are going on in America and compare them with what is being done in this country we can be very gratified. The technique employed, and the fact that we now go to greater depths, reflects the greatest possible credit on those responsible. Mr. Casey and Mr. Baker, who have operated this scheme for the last seven or eight years, have done a service to the country which all should appreciate. The whole set-up of the opencast mining operations of the National Coal Board reflects credit on a State undertaking of this kind.

I am pleased that the provisions for compensation, for the first time, have been put on a statutory basis. Prolonged arguments will now disappear, but I have some fear that this Bill may retard and restrict production this year because we cannot change from one system to another without some delay. I do not think the nation can afford to brook delay in this connection at present. I hope that any methods which we can suggest in Committee to speed up the change-over will be considered by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nabarro

My hon. Friend has proclaimed to the House that he is a large-scale farmer and landowner. Supposing the National Coal Board wanted to requisition part of his land and he objected strongly, would he not favour a system of public inquiry? If there were a public inquiry, would that not lead to the delay to which he referred? Is not that delay legitimate in such circumstances?

Sir A. Braithwaite

If the Coal Board operated on my land I should expect a fair price, but I certainly would not stand against the national interest in a matter of this kind.

Mr. Nabarro

That is not the question. Does my hon. Friend favour the democratic process of a public inquiry by which an objector may state his case? If he does, he would have to put up with the delay.

Sir A. Braithwaite

Let us see if we can speed up the public inquiry if that is the case. Let us get these public inquiries operating more quickly, as frequent delays dishearten people.

The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) spoke about the period of transition. I am in agreement with him. I do not think we should set a definite statutory period. If the scheme needs to be closed earlier and sufficient coal is coming from deep mining, that would alter the situation, but we cannot foresee that happening for a very long time. I do not think a statutory period should be set. If we go to the seventh year, from where are we to get the people who have sufficient confidence to put up the vast capital sums necessary for this operation?

This is a mechanical operation. Every man engaged in this industry—and it is an industry now—produces 1,200 tons of coal a year compared with 300 tons produced by each miner in deep-mined production. It is quite substantial, but the bulk of the work is done with heavy machinery. If there were no limitation on the time for this operation, these machines would be built in England, but at the moment we have to pay large sums of money in dollars to import them from America. I believe that if some security were given under this Measure, the big machines would be built in this country by the machine makers and we should not have to import them. It is essential to go in for the largest machines we can get to make this operation economic.

I want to thank my right hon. Friend for introducing the Bill and for putting the industry on a statutory basis for the first time. May I also welcome the new Parliamentary Secretary to his post; his financial acumen in this connection will be very valuable to the coal mining industry. We appreciate the logic of his arguments and the sound commonsense which he will bring to this great industry. It is an industry which needs all the help and all the brains we can possibly put into it, because with the success of this industry we shall get out of our difficulties. We could easily export £100 million of coal to Europe today if we could produce it, and that would make all the difference to our balance of payments. It can be done if we apply our minds to introducing that urgency which is so vital.

I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and that opencast coal mining will make a substantially increased contribution to the country and will make its effect felt throughout our economy.

5.43 p.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

While I do not agree with one or two of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite), I welcome his reference to the deep-mined coal industry. It refreshed me considerably when I heard him say that this industry was coming along very nicely. We had never heard that before from hon. Members opposite, either in the House or in their public speeches. I do not want to create a controversial atmosphere, but I must say that that reference was very refreshing. May I congratulate the hon. Member on his honesty in stating that the deep-mined coal industry is coming along very nicely? We agree about that.

The hon. Member has recently returned from America. I have had some experience in my constituency of opencast mining and the damage and the ravages which result from it. When I met the hon. Member walking along the corridors in the House I used to say, "Here comes the man who has given me more headaches and heartaches than any other hon. Member." I put the responsibility on him.

It is extremely difficult to disagree with the Paymaster-General, who introduced the Bill. His pleasantry is very charming. I said to myself, "By the way in which he delivers his speeches from the Box he could almost charm ducks off a pond." Nevertheless, I must make some reserva- tions, because although I agree with the manner in which he introduced the Bill, I must make some comments in the short time at my disposal, not altogether about what the Bill omits, but about what the Bill contains.

While I have been sitting here I have been thinking of the debate we had on 19th July, 1950, when a few hours of a Supply Day were allocated to the discussion of opencast mining. I well remember how we were chided by an hon. Member of the party opposite who is now in another place. He said that opencast mining ought to be brought to an end. He said that we had had it long enough, it had despoiled our countryside, people had suffered and it was about time that the Government of the day—we were then the Government of the day—brought it to an end. The same party, now in office, say, "We will promote a Measure to lengthen the working of opencast mining by ten years."

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Possibly twenty years.

Mr. Brown

Under the Defence Regulations it was six years. The Bill carries on the period for ten years, and it has been hinted that it may be even longer.

I have been reading the Report of the debate which we held in 1950. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will forgive me if I say that he tried to get out of the difficulty by giving an assurance that opencast mining would taper off and would have disappeared altogether by the end of 1953. At least the sensible hon. Members among us know why that statement was made. It was made because of certain circumstances which we were anticipating. We expected that there would be a considerable and rapid improvement in the output of deep-mined coal. This is what my right hon. Friend said: What the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee really wanted to know was what was the opencast programme. That was a specific and definite question which arose from many speeches made by hon. Members opposite. My right hon. Friend continued: In January of this year we announced that we wanted 45 million tons by 1953. The output we are planning is as follows: 1950, 13 million tons; 1951, 12 million tons; 1952, 11 million tons: 1953, 8 to 9 million tons, and then the contracts will tail off as this particular programme finishes. He was then questioned by the right hon. Gentleman leading the Opposition at that time, who asked: And then will it all end? My right hon. Friend replied: It will tail off after 1953. It is not proposed to go on with any extension after that time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2332–2333.] I am not complaining about that statement made by my right hon. Friend. What I am complaining about is that the Government in 1950–51 were trying to deal with this situation and were meeting with vigorous opposition from right hon. and hon. Members opposite. The situation now is completely the reverse. They are introducing a Bill to extend opencast coal mining operations for ten years.

Three main reasons were given for the continuation of opencast mining. It was said to be necessary, first, for the maintenance of our coal supplies, so essential to our national economy; secondly, in order to do away with the need to import coal from abroad, and to save dollars—a very desirable thing; third, to build up our stocks to meet any emergency that might arise. Those were the three main reasons given—I shall not mention the others.

The position today is that our stocks of coal have considerably increased. Our output in deep-mined coal for the year ending 28th December, 1957, reached the magnificent total of 210,054,700 tons—a considerable increase in the output of that type of coal since opencast mining began in 1942. Then we have the stocks of coal that are now on hand to meet any national emergency.

Our stock in hand in 1941 was 22,095,000 tons. Today, the figure is considerably higher. I therefore do not see that the strength of the reasons given in 1950 applies today. We have increased our output of deep-mined coal from 203 million in 1942 to the present figure of 210 million, while our stocks, and our output of opencast coal, have also been increasing. We are in a much better position today than we were in 1950.

I agree that there has been—and I hope that it will continue for a few years yet—a great deal of capital invested in the deep-mined coal industry, which has been starved for so many years. In five, six, seven, eight, or even ten years' time we should be getting some good returns for the capital invested in the deep-mined coal industry, and I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary—whom I congratulate upon his appointment—the following question.

If, in the next few years we have a surplus of deep-mined coal, will opencast coal production continue, or will it come to a full stop? I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, West that it would be unwise to venture too far in capital investment in opencast coal production unless we are assured that the large quantities of machinery in which we invest will be used and will not lie idle.

There is a feeling, although I should not like to think that it was put forward seriously, that this Bill has been brought forward simply to provide for the continuance of work for three of the large contractors. I hope that that idea will not go forward, but that is the feeling, born from rumours that have been spread about. I do not attach very much importance to rumours, but there is that feelings.

Here, I must mention names. It is said that this Bill has been drafted in order to give work to McAlpine's, to Sir Lindsay Parkinson's and to Wimpey's. When statements like that are made, the people making them should sustain them—

Mr. Nabarro

Who made them?

Mr. Brown

We hear them in the mining districts.

Mr. Nabarro

Who made them?

Mr. Brown

We hear them in the mining districts, but I wish to give way to the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir).

Mr. Speir

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Ince for giving way. I entirely agree with what he is saying. These rumours are circulating in the mining districts. I have heard them myself. But would he not agree—I am sure that he would—that it would be far better if these large machine's were used for building the country's very-much-needed trunk roads?

Mr. Nabarro

Before he replies, perhaps the hon. Member for Ince will allow me to say that the House of Commons is not very interested in rumours. The hon. Gentleman is saying that statements are being made to the effect that three large-scale civil engineering contractors are being kept in work deliberately by these opencast contracts. Will he not substantiate those statements and say where they came from?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member for Hexham has just said that he has heard the same thing. It is extremely difficult to find out where rumours begin, but I am told—and I have to listen—that it is for that reason that this Bill has been brought forward—

Sir A. Braithwaite

Perhaps I may say that I know each of the companies mentioned by the hon. Member for Ince—I am a director of one of them—and there is no foundation of any kind to the rumour he has mentioned.

Mr. Brown

I am very glad to hear it denied by a gentleman of authority. I do not like to have to listen to such rumours as that. It is said that if a rumour is repeated often enough it becomes the truth, but that is not the case here, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity to give a straight denial to these rumours.

I want now to deal with the Bill as it affects my constituency. After all, to a very large degree I am here to voice the views of the people in the division of Ince, where I have lived since I was born, and which I have had the honour to represent for fifteen years. That part of the country was one of the first to be invaded by the opencast people, and we still have the opencast workings. It is true that we have had very many promises given to us that it is to come to an end—"Be patient, be patriotic, be tolerant, and in a few months' or a few years' time all this will have come to an end." That is what we have been told, but what do I find?

I regret to find that this Bill seeks to give powers to the N.C.B. to go on and on. I am beginning to believe that, like Tennyson's brook, it will go on for ever, although I hope that it will not. In the mining areas in my division the words of the poet have lost their meaning. We have none of "…England's green and pleasant Land" in my constituency. The opencast workings have seen to that, and, before that, the deep-mine coal owners of the past put pit heaps on it and caused subsidences which have rendered that land derelict and devastated. So we have very few of those pasture lands, or green and pleasant lands, to which we are as much entitled as are other parts of the country.

Recently, there was a very important meeting of the Lancashire branch of the National Farmers' Union held in Preston, which was attended by many small farmers. Amongst the many questions they discussed was the continuation of opencast mining and its effect upon their farms. Eventually, all that could be said to meet the complaints of delegates attending that meeting, was, "We can do very little as a Farmers' Union. The only thing you can do is to write to your M.P. about it." That is the obvious way out when people are in a difficulty and—my word!—they have written to their M.P. about it, and sent deputations to me, too.

The Bill seeks to increase the permitted period under the Defence Regulations, about which we have already heard, from six years to ten. This, in itself, is very disturbing, especially in its effect upon low-acreage farms, of which there are many in the north-west industrial area. The hon. Member for Harrow, West has spoken of what is done in the vast spaces of America and Canada, where farms of 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 acres are to be found. For the small farmer, farming 100 or 114 or 200 acres, the taking of 80, 90 or 100 acres makes a very serious inroad into his livelihood. There is, therefore, no comparison between the farms of America and the small farms of this country.

I described the Bill as a new compulsory rights order. That is what it comes to. It gives power to the National Coal Board to operate opencast mining, without any peace-time precedent. I have searched the records of legislation in the House and I have failed to find anything like it. There is nothing in the legislative enactments of this country which bears any relation at all to the Measure now under discussion. This is very disturbing, to say the least.

In the light of the experience gained in my constituency during the last fourteen years, I take very strong objection to many Clauses in the Bill, and I hope that the Minister responsible for it will manifest the same reasonable attitude towards this side of the House as he manifested when we were discussing the Mining Subsidence Bill. On that occasion, he was very tolerant and accommodating. As a result of his tolerance and accommodation, we were able to present to the House on Third Reading a much better Bill on mining subsidence than would have been the case without our help.

I therefore plead with the Minister not to adopt a stupid attitude, as some Ministers do when discussing Bills. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. It is no good beating about the bush. Some Ministers adopt a stupid attitude, while others are tolerant and accommodating. The tolerant and accommodating Minister always gets the best results, and the stupid man does not get anywhere at all. I am a Lancastrian, and I speak straight from the shoulder. We have a saying in Lancashire, Speak your mind, yet be kind; Give good advice, yet be nice. We shall be very nice to the Minister if he gives us all our own way, within reason.

The Ministry has inserted what are called safeguards. I welcome those safeguards, but what disturbs me is this. Who are the people to apply these safeguards? Are they to be representatives of the Coal Board, of the Minister, of the Mineworkers' Union? Somebody must apply them, and they will have to be applied in a reasonable and tolerant manner. We have had considerable experience in meeting officers of the Board and we have found that, in any question of the application of safeguards, their only concern is the production of opencast coal. It is a very serious thing when an officer of the Coal Board, an officer of the Ministry, or the Minister himself, has before his mind, transcending all the arguments advanced by the people affected, the production of coal. He must do something else. He must take into consideration the effect of coal workings and remember why the safeguards were inserted in the Bill. I hope that we shall, during the Committee stage, have some information from the Minister on the point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth mentioned the human problem. There is nothing in the Bill about that. There is, of course, a compensation Clause, but there is nothing in the Bill which refers to the damage done to a farmer's homestead, to the inconvenience the farmer's wife and family go through. As a matter of fact, on one farm in my constituency the workings came right to the doorstep. My right hon. Friend mentioned that case.

The result was that the house had to be pulled down and they built another farther afield in the country. That sort of thing ought not to take place. A bit of common sense should have been applied. Consideration ought to be given to a farmer's family living where their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them have lived. Yet opencast mining operations are allowed to make such inroads upon a farmer's land that his house has to be pulled down.

Farmers in my division have had to sell their stock. There is no reference to compensation for that. When a man sells his stock it is almost like selling his lifeblood. The hon. Member for Harrow, West, has some very valuable cows on his farm. He cannot have opencast working there because there are no coal measures in that district, but he has a very valuable heard of cattle. He would not like to part with them, except when they are ready for killing. They become part of the family, and there is a sentimental value about them. I know that we cannot approach these things purely on grounds of sentiment, but there is that very deep feeling whatever we say. When land is taken for opencast purposes, and a farmer has to dispose of his stock, it is a heartbreaking experience for him and his family. Yet many of them have had to do it.

When the land is restored and the process of restocking is embarked upon, officers of the Coal Board—I say it with all respect to them—seem possessed of the idea that a stock of cattle can be rebuilt by return of post. It cannot be done like that. These things require years of hard work, expenditure, and experience; they require all the knowledge and skill of the farmer and his herdsmen. Once a farmer's stock is disposed of for the sake of opencast mining, it takes a number of years to rebuild it. Again, I make the plea that there should be a different approach to the payment of compensation for loss of stock.

There are in my constituency, in one town—Ashton-in-Makerfield—29 farms. Every one of them, without exception, has been subjected to opencast mining. On the 7th of this month, I had a letter which informed me that the Opencast Branch of the Coal Board is coming on to the Smithy Wood site, on which there are five farms. Three of them have been visited two, three or four times. That is my reason for putting to the Minister the point about compensation for the continual visitations of the Opencast Branch.

I make this plea to the Parliamentary Secretary and I hope that it will be conveyed to the right quarters. Does he not think that these people have had enough? Does he not think that when five small farms have had these constant and continuous visitations of opencast mining since 1944, an armistice ought to be declared? Surely, after all these years of coming and taking the coal and upsetting everything, it is time to call a halt on the Smith Wood site. That is my plea on their behalf.

I have said a lot in this House about restoration and I shall continue to say it. I am the first to admit that since we raised the question, many years ago, there has been a considerable improvement. A different technique is adopted, different things have been done and suggestions have been considered. Way back in 1944 or 1946 suggestions would not have been accepted. Ours was to do and die and not to ask the reasons why, and no notice was taken. Now, such is the force of circumstances that notice must be taken of the ordinary man and the ordinary farmer. Considerations and suggestions have now been applied and the restoration of land is much better than it was, say, ten years ago.

I welcome that, because the restoration of agricultural land, particularly in the mining areas, is very welcome. It is desirable that it should be done quickly, effectively and properly so that the farmer may continue along his journey as one who is responsible for the production of food for the nation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) referred to disposal points. There is nothing in the Bill about disposal points on opencast sites. Such sites are very desirable, and I shall explain why. At present, coal which is produced on an opencast site is generally conveyed to the nearest colliery, where it is screened. That ought not to be. The Coal Board should not mix the opencast coal with the deep-mined coals, because there is such a vast difference between the two in cleanliness and in calorific value. When the two are mixed, the opencast coal spoils the deep-mined coal. It is essential, therefore, that those responsible for opencast mining should ensure that there are disposal points where opencast coal is produced and that it should not be mixed with the deep-mined coals.

That is what is causing the complaints. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), and rightly so, has frequently had something to say about the excessive amount of foreign substances, stone and slate, which are found in coal. That is one of the reasons for it. Therefore, we shall have to consider the installation of disposal points and the erection of screening plants. We shall have to consider something approaching what is done for deep-mined coal if we are to get any satisfaction from opencast mining.

There is in the country, and particularly in the coalfields, a large acreage of under-productive land, due not altogether to opencast mining, but also to deep mining. The deep mining of coal has left dereliction and devastation in its trail. Pit heaps, marshes, water and flashes of water are all part of our inheritance from deep mining in the past.

I suggest that without a disproportionate expenditure of money, steps should now be taken to restore infertile land to fertility. If that is done, it will be a national gain. The Coal Board, in its opencast operations, should see that a fund is created for the specific purpose of supervising and helping the restoration of this derelict land, of which we have several thousands of acres, to useful production. If that was done, it would be a paying proposition. It would get results and, what is more important, it would give a great deal of contentment to the people who have long lived in these areas.

I have often asked why we should have so much sorrow and pain around us. Why should our people live in these conditions when there should be praise and victory? That praise and victory can be brought about only if the Government, the Coal Board and all concerned set their minds to do that which is right for the people who have done so much for the nation in the production of coal.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)

I follow the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), in the gloomy view which he took about the continuation of opencast mining, because in north-east Lancashire, as in south-west Lancashire, we have small farms which have undoubtedly suffered a great deal more from opencast mining than the areas where the farms are larger.

I do not share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) and of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) for the continuation of opencast mining and I am bound to say that it was only the powerful arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, in introducing the Bill which give me any feeling, and that only with a sigh, that I suppose we must support this wretched operation for a good many more years.

However, there are provisions in the Bill which are welcome, particularly the provision to end the war-time regulations under which the opencast operation is carried on at present, and those which I think most hon. Members of this House feel express the modern attitude towards compulsory acquisition, especially having better rights of appeal, and so on, which were discussed in the Franks Report originally and then in this House. I turn to one or two matters on which I am critical of the Bill as drafted. Some of them are of sufficient breadth to be brought up now on Second Reading, although there are others, and these, too, will have to be developed in detail in Committee.

I am sorry to see from Clause 2 that the Minister of Power has the sole responsibility for initiating opencast mining operations—the sole constitutional responsibility. My right hon. Friend gave what I must call the conventional arguments for this provision when he said that it is not the constitutional practice for Acts of Parliament to lay down that one Minister should consult another. He added, in a general sort of way—and I think that these were his exact words—that "There will be consultations, of course, with my colleagues."

A general undertaking like that is not a satisfactory substitute for an undertaking put into an Act, and I fail to see why there is not expressed in the Bill an obligation on the Minister at least to consult the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who has the responsibility for the implementation of the Town and Country Planning Acts, and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who obviously is deeply concerned. I should ideally prefer the appeal procedure to be operated by the Minister of Housing and Local Government as an impartial outsider, as it were, in what may be difficult cases, if they are appealed but at least we should have written down an obligation for consultation.

The next and equally important matter about which I feel critical of the Bill is one raised by the hon. Member for Wigan, and I had a good deal of sympathy with him when he asked that the compensation proposals should be simplified. The present compensation procedure is, in brief, that there is a rental compensation upon requisition of the site. It is one which favours the small farm whose rental value is under £100 a year, or whose size is less than 50 acres. I shall not now go into the full details, because they can be discussed in Committee, but there is compensation based on a diminution in the capital value as a terminal compensation upon derequisition. Finally, there is a rehabilitation grant three-fifths of which goes to the owner and two-fifths to the tenant.

Certainly, in the area round Burnley, which I know well, and where we have so much opencast milling, the three-years' rental to the landowner is in the overwhelming number of cases—I have heard of no exception to this—being spent on rehabilitating the farm, improving the water supply, putting in additional drainage so that the farm can have as good drainage as possible instead of the minimum required on rehabilitation, and on rebuilding walls, and so on, as well as upon any contingencies that arise.

It is a system which has worked for twenty years, though, as the hon. Member for Wigan said, the rates have been improved in the last six months. It seems to me fair to both landowners and tenants; the land agents and others who advise them fully understand its workings, and so do the farmers. I cannot think what the reason can be for such a wide departure from it as is proposed in the Bill, unless it be an excess of logic on the part of the legal and financial sections of the Ministry of Power, who feel that basing it on the loss of profit in some way or other is more logical than basing it on a rental value.

Yet in the proposals in Clauses 15, 16, 17 and 19 there are two striking points. The first is that there are as many assumptions made in trying to base compensation on profits as in basing compensation on rental value. The second is that in practical administration the proposal to compensate on the basis of loss of profits raises very practical difficulties which I am most afraid will bear unfairly, certainly upon the small farmers whom I know so well.

For example, if some fields are taken from a farm, how will it be possible, except on a very arbitrary basis, to allocate to those fields the loss of profit as a proportion of the loss of profit on the farm as a whole. It is often difficult to work out accurate figures for these small farms to satisfy the Inland Revenue—figures for a farm as a whole. To try to do it for perhaps five acres out of 40, or for seven and a half acres, will certainly introduce an element of arbitrariness just as marked as it is in the present procedure.

The matter is complicated, too, by the fact that in paragraph 7 of the Fifth Schedule there is a proposal to offset against the loss of profit the money which could be earned in alternative ways. What we are very much afraid of in our area, where the farms are all around industrial towns, is that those who are responsible for administering the Measure, if it passes in its present form, will say to a farmer. "You can go to work in a factory or a mill and make much more money than you can as a farmer."

I thought that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) put the powerful argument against that, that those farmers who are having their farms or parts of them taken away from them for opencast working wish to continue as farmers and do not want to work in factories. The proposal in the form in which it is in paragraph 7 of the Fifth Schedule certainly looks to them and to me as though there is an effort to induce them to go away from their farms and to take work in factories.

Another matter worth mentioning now on Second Reading is that under the present arrangements the rehabilitation compensation is paid when a place is derequisitioned. There is no mention of that rehabilitation rate, and yet it has been valuable in the past. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies to the debate, will tell us that in Committee he will look sympathetically at proposals which we are prepared to put forward to make the rehabilitation arrangements much more favourable than they are in the Bill as it is. I should also like to make somewhat the same point about proposals for compensation for timber felled. At present, compensation is paid when the timber is felled and it is welcome money at a time of great disturbance on a farm, but under the Bill compensation will have to wait for ten years.

I hope that, having indicated my acceptance of the Bill on Second Reading, I shall be shown in the winding-up speech that Ministers have not closed their minds to drastic amendment in Committee of the compensation Clauses as drafted. They are very far from being satisfactory, certainly for small farmers in difficult farming areas.

6.31 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

It will have been noticed that it has been quite customary in the debate for hon. Members to rise and say that in great measure they have agreed with what had been said by an hon. Member opposite who had just sat down. I feel that I am no exception to the rule, particularly with reference to the first part of the speech of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort), when he spoke about Clause 2. He was right to suggest that we have no evidence so far in the history of the Ministry of Power that that Ministry is skilled and adept in matters of amenity.

The hon. Member rightly suggested that questions of amenity belong to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. They are within the purview of that Ministry. It is accustomed to it and should be consulted. I agree entirely with the hon. Member that a promise of consultation with colleagues is not enough, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us a promise, if possible now, that provision for consultation will be written into Clause 2.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that there are precedents for this type of consultation and joint discussion with Ministers on planning matters. There is a precedent in Section 35 and the Fifth Schedule of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, in connection with the granting of planning permission for the use of the operational land of statutory undertakings. If we have a precedent of that kind there is no reason why it should not be written into Clause 2 of the Bill. It would please the House and it would give some real guarantee that less damage would be done to amenities than might otherwise be done. I believe that such a step would find support from all parts of the House.

We absolutely accept without complaint that the main purpose of the Bill is correct and that we require a statutory basis for opencast coal production rather than the Defence Regulation under which the operations have been carried out up to now. I note, however, that some local authorities, and the Association of Municipal Corporations, are nervous about some of the implications of the Bill. They certainly wonder, as so many of us wonder, whether a period of ten years is needed.

This period, of course, is not merely one of ten years. The reference to ten years in Clause 3 (1) is to the time-limit within which the Coal Board can make application. After the application is made, the power to work the land is for a farther ten years. Therefore, in the ninth year any order given by the Minister will have a further ten years to run. That makes the period nineteen years as from today; and if application were made on the last day of the tenth year we know that a little over twenty years from now opencast coal mining would be still possible.

I wonder how much of our power will be derived from coal in those days and how much from other sources, including the new ones to which we look forward with such expectation and hope. I wonder whether we should pin ourselves down in legislation to powers of this kind and whether we should not assume that it is a matter of great urgency to rid ourselves altogether from an operation which is ugly and which none of us likes, although, like other hon. Members, I absolutely accept that if we are satisfied that the operation is essential in the country's interests we must continue with it.

In putting this point I am not speaking only for myself. I am sure that it is a point which has been put in consultation by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary has heard it more than once, in particular from that body. We should be greatly obliged if the hon. Gentleman would give us his views on whether our stocks are not rather large now, whether we are finding difficulty in stockpiling and whether distribution is not presenting some difficulties. We should be relieved if we heard from him that there are no such difficulties. Perhaps he will tell us the exact position.

The town clerk of Stoke-on-Trent, in which my constituency lies, has raised with me this important point of consultation. The Parliamentary Secretary will have noted that the procedure under Clause I and the First Schedule is quite formal. It is quite good as far as it goes. I am sure that no one can complain of it. Twenty-eight days' notice must be given. Local authorities, and owners and occupiers, are all to be notified if they are interested parties, and there will also be Press advertisements. That is fine, but that is a formal piece of machinery.

Local authorities have found when dealing with Government Departments that informal consultation is often most useful. It is quicker and pleasanter. There is no formal cross-examination and calling of witnesses, and the procedure is very much less expensive. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to note the point, and, if possible, give us some assurance that that procedure will be available. Such an assurance would please all local authorities, including those of Stoke-on-Trent. Wigan and Kidderminster. We should like to have the opportunity to consult in these matters as informally as possible and as early as possible so as to avoid a formal consultation and the expense which that involves. I have nothing to add on Clause 2 except that I feel that the hon. Member for Clitheroe was on a very strong point indeed, and that we want written into the Bill the provision for consultation for which he asked.

Again, with reference to restoration in subsection (2) of Clause 2, I note that the word "land" is used in one paragraph, whereas in the next there is a special reference to "agricultural land" We are wondering about other forms of land on which work takes place and which are damaged, for example, allotments. Has this point been put to the Parliamentary Secretary? If allotment holders are dispossessed they will certainly lose their crops and they may find that all the work they have put in for some years is of no avail and must be started again if some time later they get their allotments back. Have they no right to compensation? I would have thought that, practically and morally, they had as much right as the farmer. If hon. Members agree with me, I hope that someone will take up this point during the Committee stage, on which I would like to have served, but on which Committee I cannot serve because I am enjoying myself on the Slaughterhouses Bill on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Another point with reference to subsection (2) about damage is that done to highways. Local authorities declare that contractors employed by the Coal Board sometimes use highways very roughly indeed near the seat of operation, and leave them badly damaged. If that is true, as I am sure it is, should not the local authorities have the right to claim that the damage be made good?

We speak with some feeling upon these matters when we come from areas which are undermined, and when our roads tend to sustain damage so easily in any event because coal is taken from under our feet. If opencast coal mining operations are added to that, and if double damage is thus sustained by portions of our highways, we have a right to say that this is a legitimate grievance and that we ought to have compensation, or at least a restoration of our highways so that they are properly usable again.

Now I come to another point, if the Parliamentary Secretary will be patient with me and the House will excuse me for raising so many points at this stage. Clause 35 refers to prospecting operations by the Coal Board, and these are to be carried out without any prior notice to anyone, as I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree. At present, local authorities receive information, so do owners and occupiers, of the Board's intentions before the Board is authorised to carry our prospecting arrangements. The Association of Municipal Corporations asks that this useful type of procedure should be continued, notwithstanding the formal procedure which is introduced in this Clause.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Sir Ian Horobin)

Many of these points can be dealt with later, but the hon. Gentleman is not quite right. If he will look at subsection (5) of Clause 35 he will see that with one very small exception, which is not material, notice has to be given.

Dr. Stross

I am glad to have that assurance and I accept the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary has spent much more time on this Bill than I could have done. We have all received notices from the water undertakers about their fears if working takes place on their gathering grounds. It is not only that they ask for compensation, they ask that there should not be opencast operations, for they do not want any pollution of water supplies. Nor do they wish to risk any damage to structures. They say that compensation is not what they are interested in. They want to be left alone, because these are vital matters. If they must be touched, they should be the last rather than the first. If there are to be priorities, careful consideration should be given to their point of view,

Lastly, I want the Parliamentary Secretary to think of the situation of a city such as the one I represent, where the only opencast work will have to be on land on the eastern side of the City of Stoke-on-Trent where we know coal outcrops. It is bad land. It has surplus coal, but it happens to be virtually the only piece of land on which we can rehouse our people. If this land is denied us it will mean that within the boundaries of our city there will be hardly any land left for this purpose. We are in the midst of an extensive programme of slum clearance and the majority of houses are being built in this area. It would be a great blow to us to lose this land on the eastern side of the city. I do not know what we should do in that event.

I know that the Bill will not give any powers without scrutiny, without care, without the possibility of reference. I have mentioned this difficulty because we have had to suffer in Stoke-on-Trent, as have the constituents of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) for the fact that coal lies under our feet and also on the surface. When, in addition, the situation is such that the only piece of land left for rehousing within the city boundaries contains coal near the surface, and we may lose that land, we begin to wonder whether it would not be better to desert the city and build a now one. Of course, if we approach the Government for the necessary finance, we shall be told that there is no money available. Therefore, we feel that we have every right to say, as do the water undertakers, please leave us until the end or leave us alone.

In a special case of the type I have described, I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will always remain our good friends, if they are in office, and will help us by ensuring that the little land we have left for rehousing remains within our possession.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Opencast coal mining is a universally unpopular operation. Farmers dislike it, landowners dislike it, local residents—where opencast mining operations are being carried out—dislike it. The National Union of Mineworkers dislikes it. Most Members of Parliament are keenly aware of the feelings of their constituents in the matter, and most Members of Parliament dislike it themselves.

It has been forced upon this nation as an economic necessity and I think that many speakers in this debate have fallen a little short of the truth in failing to face that simple fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) was possibly the originator in the United Kingdom of the civil engineering operations which have led to the large-scale opencast coal mining industry of today. But that was in the stress, and under the duress, of war. It was, to put the matter in its correct historical perspective, immediately following the important decision taken by the then Minister of Labour and National Service, the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, to call up coal-face workers. They had been called to the Colours from 1940 onwards.

There was a steep decline in the number of men available in the pits. Coal production—there were no exports of coal in those days—had fallen a good deal lower than the aggregation of demand for industrial, domestic and transport purposes, and the scrapings of coal from seams close to the surface were, therefore, brought in solely, as far as we could see at the time, as a wartime measure. It was continued after the war by the Socialist Government because they could not get enough coal from the pits.

In 1947, after the great freeze-up and the shut-down of our factories when the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was Minister of Fuel and Power, it became necessary to plan for at least a further five years of opencast coal production, which was said at the time to be for the purpose of making good marginal deficiencies. The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), during his tenure of office as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, gave, on 19th July, 1950, what is now regarded as an historic pronouncement nearly as inaccurate as all his other prophecies in similar fields, that opencast coal mining would be brought to an end in 1953. That was received with acclamation by both sides of the House of Commons.

The right hon. Gentleman looked just three years ahead. He was basing his prophecy upon the presumption promulgated by the National Coal Board in its highly inaccurate "Plan for Coal", published in 1950, that deep-mined coal output, as a result of nationalisation and new investment, would steeply rise and render opencast coal mining unnecessary.

Year by year, the failure of the pits under the present arrangements to produce enough coal for our needs has rendered it necessary to continue opencast coal mining. As late as 1956, the then Minister of Fuel and Power, the present Minister of Supply, was forced to the conclusion that opencast mining would have to continue for at least another ten years.

I state as my first point—I do not think that it has been emphasised sufficiently clearly so far in the debate—that the presence of the Bill before the House for Second Reading today is a measure of the failure of State ownership and operation of the pits, and that that ought to be recognised by every hon. Member.

Mr. T. Brown

Not a bit.

Mr. Nabarro

If the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who occupied the attention of the House for a long while, really believes what he has just interjected, will he explain why his right hon. Friend proclaimed, in 1950, the ending of opencast coal mining by 1953, thus promising to end it within three years? Yet, seven years later, we are still dependent for marginal supplies upon these miserable scrapings of coal with all the dislocation, loss and misery that the system causes in areas of rich fertility and good farmland.

Mr. Brown

I will certainly reply to what the hon. Gentleman says. We did not realise our anticipations in 1953, and we have not realised them yet. However, as has been said by the hon. Member for Harrow, West, we are well on the way. One does not sink a shaft in twelve months; it probably takes five years. The development plan which was started in 1947 has still not yet been completed, but we shall realise what we set out to do when we nationalised the coal mines.

Mr. Nabarro

I invite the hon. Member to re-read the "Plan for Coal", and to compare the position today, eight years later, with the promises made by the Board in 1950. There he will find a genuine measure of the deficiencies of coal output from the pits.

I do not want to attempt to turn the debate into one upon deep-mined coal matters which would be more appropriate to a nationalisation day, but in this context I am not alone in my opinions. They have been widely expressed and canvassed in the national Press. An admirable view was published in the Daily Express on 2nd January, just three weeks ago. I quote from its Opinion column: Despite modern machinery and new methods, mined coal output in 1957 was almost static. On the surface there was a better story. Opencast sites produced a record 13,581,800 tons. Until the mines raise their output, Britain cannot do without opencast coal. But the price is high. To the bill for ripping the coal from good farming land, add the cost of replacing the torn-out topsoil. Add, too, the value of the crops never sown or harvested. Opencast has existed since 1941. It is time Britain, whose technical ingenuity has solved so many other problems, learned to do without this crude and wasteful system. The Daily Express is right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West—he declared his interest late in his speech—is a director of a civil engineering firm which operates opencast coal mining sites, and, of course, he supports these methods. I am much more concerned, in the national interest, as to where the genuine balance of economic advantage lies in a matter of this kind. I believe, as the right hon. Member for Blyth believed until he left office, that the sooner we do away with opencast coal mining the better it will be for the community as a whole and for our national economy.

Insufficient attention has been paid during the debate to the source of machinery employed by the civil engineering contractors. Many hon. Members will remember a series of Parliamentary Questions which I put to the President of the Board of Trade last year about the very large expenditure in United States dollars authorised by the Government for bringing to this country two very large dragline excavators for installation on the North-East Coast. One of the excavators promptly broke down and was out of action for several months.

It appears—I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm or deny this—that the capital equipment for opencast coal mining today comes almost entirely from American sources and is being paid for in dollars. The late Mr. Richard Stokes, who was the managing director of a famous engineering firm responsible for the production of equipment of this kind, joined me at that time in condemning the purchase of the American capital equipment. He said, to very great effect on many occasions in this House, that the whole of the equipment could be manufactured in this country.

I would ask my hon. Friend to deal with this point when he replies to the debate. The Bill asks for powers in effect for a twenty-year span for continuing opencast coal mining operations. Are the Government proposing to rely on American machinery for the next twenty years to carry out these operations, or, as a matter of broad economic and financial policy, as the sums of money involved are considerable, are the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Supply taking proper steps to build up in this country sources of supply for opencast coal mining machinery, thereby rendering it unnecessary for us to continue to spend large sums in dollars to import machinery?

I must also deal with the reply which I received from the Paymaster-General—I am very pleased to see him here during one of my speeches—to an intervention concerning the acquisition of land by the Board in connection with opencast mining operations. I received a very unsatisfactory answer. It is true that there is nothing in the Bill to empower the Board, if it so desires, to acquire land by purchase from a private owner, but my right hon. Friend will readily concede that such a need might occur. The implication of his reply was that the Government would not regard it as inimical to their policy in this context if the Board so purchased land and retained it permanently.

Mr. Maudling

Would my hon. Friend prefer that we should give a direction to the Board not to purchase land even if the owner wanted to sell it?

Mr. Nabarro

No, Sir. What I would prefer my right hon. Friend to do is to be quite explicit today and to say that in Committee he will consider the addition of a Clause stating that the Coal Board may purchase land if it so desires—purchase as compared with a compulsory rights order for a span of years—work the coal, but then be obliged, following restoration of the land, to resell it either at market value or at the highest price it can obtain for it. That would be reasonable. My right hon. Friend has said that the Coal Board might wish to acquire land, but he did not give the counterpart and say that the Board should later get rid of the land—or does he believe that it is desirable that the Coal Board should set itself up as a major farming enterprise, for if it continues to acquire land plot by plot that is what will happen?

Mr. Maudling

As well as interrupting me, my hon. Friend might also listen to me. I dealt with that point specifically. I made it clear that if an owner wants to sell his land, the Coal Board will buy it, but I also made it clear that the Board said that when it had finished opencast operations it would dispose of the land and did not intend to hold it for farming purposes.

Mr. Nabarro

My right hon. Friend did not say that in response to my intervention, but I may have missed it in his speech. I will study HANSARD tomorrow. I am anxious that this point should be thoroughly ventilated, because there have been many complaints from this side of the House about the multifarious activities of the Board which are not directly associated with its fundamental purpose of winning coal.

I am prepared to give what support I can to the Bill in broad principle. I do not like opencast coal mining any more than the majority of hon. Members do.

Mr. T. Brown

We do not like opencast coal mining.

Mr. Nabarro

I gathered that from the forty-five minute speech which the hon. Member made. The fact is that, for all the reasons which I have explained, we have to put up with it for a few years longer. There will be hosts of Amendments in Committee to satisfy many of the Committee points, many of them controversial, made in the debate today.

However, there are four reasons which the majority of us should accept on Second Reading of this Bill. The first is that we are all satisfied that it is desirable to have fairly long-term statutory powers instead of Defence Regulations, but I hope that we accept that there will be delays, greater than at present, in winning the coal as a result of the interpolation of public inquiries to hear objectors.

I tried to make that point in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who proclaimed that he was no less a supporter of the freedom and liberty of the individual who was having his property compulsorily acquired than I, but he did rather less than justice to the argument in failing to recognise that at present there is no means by which an aggrieved person can protest other than by the somewhat futile one of writing to his Member of Parliament.

Mr. Maudling

It depends on the Member of Parliament.

Mr. Nabarro

My right hon. Friend is on very dangerous ground. He sits for a delightful residential constituency called Barnet, on the outskirts of London, far removed from the coal fields. I was threatened in my constituency, in an area of especial scenic beauty, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I laboured under a disadvantage, which was that my only way of trying to stop the Ministry of Fuel and Power from carrying on opencast mining operations was to raise the greatest possible agitation, to get petitions signed and to make public speeches, in other words, to kick up one devil of a row publicly and to ask innumerable Parliamentary Questions.

There was no statutory process by which the objectors, that is my constituents resident in this area of especial scenic beauty, could have their objections publicly heard and later adjudicated upon by a Minister of the Crown. I compliment my right hon. Friend on the proposal to change that position, a proposal which is common justice and highly desirable. I shall speak in greater detail, if privileged to be a member of the Standing Committee, on the provisions concerning the rights of appeal for objectors in an effort to satisfy myself that they are adequate to the needs.

Secondly, I welcome the Ministerial adjudication contained in Clause 1. The Coal Board already has far too many arbitrary powers in the autonomy it enjoys for mining coal on a near monopoly basis and the fact that a Minister of the Crown is to be the final adjudicator on whether opencast mining will be carried out, and to what extent, will give private Members of Parliament an opportunity by Parliamentary Questions and in other ways—and I am sure that the Table will be generous in this matter—to put many Questions to the Minister on this very important aspect of affairs.

I welcome the provisions for preservation of timber and, provided that there is generous and wide interpretation of the compensation proposals, I think that we should not experience any undue difficulty or trouble upon that account.

Subject to all those qualifications and my general condemnation of opencast mining, I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.

7.7 p.m.

Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)

It is not my intention to keep the House long, but I have one or two comments to make because, as the Bill is to go to Standing Committee, I may not have an opportunity to make these points in Committee.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) took an unfair advantage of the House in his opening remarks by condemning nationalisation as a principle. He would have been better to have left that for another occasion, when he could have been attacked from this side of the House and it could have been proved beyond all doubt that nationalisation as a principle has been very successful since 1947.

Mr. Nabarro

I am sorry that the hon. Member should think that I was being unfair. I have not failed to speak in nationalisation debates in the last eight years. What have he and his hon. Friends been doing to allow me to get away with those opinions? I unfailingly express them.

Mr. Grey

We are dealing with a Bill about opencast mining and not with the principle of the nationalisation of the mines. I still believe that the hon. Member took an unfair advantage of the House in saying what he did.

It is true that none of us likes opencast mining, and many people in the country dislike it, too, but we must accept it as a necessity. But since the operations began the country has benefited to the extent of the coal produced which has helped to supplement deep-mined coal. Having said that, I believe that the Bill is necessary for safeguarding the people concerned.

There are two points I want to mention, to one of which I referred when the Paymaster-General was speaking. That was on who is to adjudicate when the land—I am referring to agricultural land—is restored to reasonable fitness. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was not quite sure of himself when he suggested that the Lands Tribunal would decide. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm or deny whether that is so.

I believe that when negotiations for acquiring land are in process, and also in the matter of its restoration, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be consulted. It may not be feasible to put such a provision into the Bill, but we should have an assurance that that Ministry will be consulted.

I do not propose to enter into the ramifications of compensation, but to say a word about the terminal compensation problem. It is a fact and quite true that, regarding much of the land that has been excavated and then restored, compensation has been paid to the owners. But the land itself has still not reached its former standard because there has not been sufficient done to it. This is my personal opinion. I feel that when compensation is paid to owners of land there should be an obligation upon them so that part of that compensation is used to restore the land to its normal standard.

I do not know whether that is a feasible thing, but perhaps in Committee, when hon. Members consider these points, it will be possible, by means of an Amendment, to make it an obligation on the compensation receiver to plough back part of it into the land.

Those are the only two points that I wish to make. They are Committee points, but I am sure that they are important principle points. I recall what my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) said about safeguards. I hope that when these new opencast operations are commenced care will be taken to ensure that they do not go too near to farmhouse buildings. A farmer who lives near my constituency told me yesterday that the jibbing is taking place within 40 yards of his building. That is too near, and I feel there should be safeguards so that operations of this kind are far removed from buildings. As the House will be aware, if these operations—cutting, shot firing, and so on—are near to houses the danger to the houses and the occupants is enormous.

I hope the Minister will consider these points to see what can be done to have this danger removed.

7.14 p.m.

Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

I intervene in the debate to make only one or two points. I agree with a great deal of what has been said, and therefore I shall not delay the House longer than is necessary.

Generally speaking, the Bill has been well received on both sides of the House. It has been called, quite rightly, a complicated Measure. I believe that it will be welcomed, amongst other things, as a long-delayed recognition of the right of the occupier, whose land and livelihood have been removed, to compensation for loss of income. We have been reminded that opencast coal has saved the country about £100 million annually for the past 17 years. I agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that opencast coal mining is disliked and generally deplored. That applies to both town and country. Quite a number of urban areas are threatened in that adjacent open green spaces may possibly be torn up. That is the case in my own constituency, where opencast coal mining has come close to the town and may come again.

Although opencast coal mining is generally loathed, it has to be accepted. Those people who have disliked seeing green and pleasant land torn up have at least seen it torn up in the national interest. It has been the hope of so many that this method of mining would come to an end. The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) suggested that opencast coal mining may become a permanent method of production. He also suggested that we cannot estimate beyond ten years. I suggest that so long as it is in the national interest it must continue, and in consequence this Bill quite reasonably makes certain solid provisions.

It is always to be hoped that when land is required for this purpose it can be acquired with full agreement on all sides. The Bill quite rightly includes a provision regarding compulsory rights orders. I express the hope that a compulsory rights order will be the last resort in every case, and that every effort shall be made before a compulsory rights order is made.

I further suggest that the general atmosphere of co-operation can be further improved by a stricter control on restoration conditions. We have heard a great deal about this problem this afternoon. Certain early sites were very badly restored. The code of restoration in existence is non-statutory. I am quite sure that the force of law in this direction will be more than welcome. I agree with the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey), who suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture might be consulted at certain stages. Surely the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Agriculture might very well work together regarding restoration.

I should like to emphasise also the possible danger to land of terminal compensation. This type of compensation surely should be paid on the condition that it is spent on the affected land. I realise that complete restoration to a former state is sometimes quite impossible. Timber and identical buildings obviously cannot be replaced. However, I contend that the principle of compensation paid being ploughed back should be accepted. The provisions in the Bill regarding compensation are generally reasonable. It is inevitable that the calculation of lost incomes, based, as they must be, on a notional rent and on a notional productivity, must be hypothetical.

I contend that the problem of compensation should be considered against the background of the average farmer's very natural resentment at this interruption in what is, after all, his chosen way of life. Loss of profits is far from all that the average farmer who has known this interruption to his life is interested in. The Bill will not compensate him for the loss of the pleasure of the pursuit of his everyday work or for the enjoyment of the peace of his home.

Much has been said today about opencast coal methods, but I believe that a tribute should be paid to those people who have suffered during the past seventeen years. They have not complained a great deal, despite the fact that in many cases, as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has stated, the opencast workings came close to their homes. There are many cases of homes being demolished. It does sometimes seem quite unnecessary to remove a house and farm buildings for the sake of the coal underneath.

I conclude by paying my tribute to those people who have put up with a great deal, and are in the national interest prepared to put up with a great deal more in order that opencast coal mining can continue.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

Like other speakers, I deplore the necessity for the continuance of opencast coal mining, but, like them also, I welcome the Bill, which is to replace the Defence Regulations under which vie have been working. I am glad to see that we shall now give some permanence to this legislation, even though it is to be hoped that this form of mining will not be perpetuated beyond the period of absolute necessity.

I strongly agree with those who have welcomed the compensation provisions. It so happened that in the Session 1948–49 I chaired a sub-committee of the Estimates Committee which looked into the question of opencast coal mining. At that time we found that the occupier was not compensated for the loss of his livelihood during the period when his land had been taken over. We made some recommendations about that and other matters, and I am glad that much of the harshness which was then part of this job of opencast coal mining has been removed.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

The process was started at a time of crisis.

Mr. Champion

As my right hon. Friend says, it was started in a crisis, and it continued in a time of fuel crisis. When one passes out of a crisis, however, it is right to try to relieve those who suffer from the misfortune of having their land taken from them.

It is to be hoped that the Minister and the Committee which will consider the Bill will remember some of the points which have been so well put in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) have called attention to some of the anomalies and difficulties that will remain even under the Bill as at present drafted. I hope that in Committee these points will be very carefully considered and amendments introduced where necessary. The livelihood of the farmer is being taken from him. His future is at stake and he stands to lose much which has taken him years to build up. He cannot, for example, easily replace a herd which has been built up over the years merely by going into the market and buying cows which happen to come on to the market on that day, or subsequently.

Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can state whether research is still going on into the subject of the fertility of the topsoil which is scraped off initially, put on one side in a great heap, and eventually put back on top. The Estimates sub-committee was given to understand that as a result of this operation some of the beneficial bacteria were destroyed. I should like to know whether research is still going on into this matter, and into the question of the restoration of these bacteria, or the implementation of some other method of dealing with the topsoil which will ensure that these bacteria are not destroyed.

It seems to me that the Minister is undoubtedly trying to make adequate provision for the restoration of agricultural land, as far as possible. I am glad that that is being done, because it is vital to our countryside, but as I travel through my constituency I can tell exactly where restoration has been carried out after opencast working, by the concrete posts and wire fencing which mark the boundaries of the fields. It does not seem at all like the English countryside; it looks like a little bit of the Middle West. I hate the sight of these posts and fences. They are anathemas to me, and I should like to think that between these temporary boundaries, we can ensure that good haw, thorn or other hedges will be planted.

We all recognise that the beauty of the English countryside springs very largely from its hedgerows. If one goes abroad one sees the difference straight away, and coming back to this country one thanks those who went before us for dividing up our country and planting hedgerows. We should not permanently destroy this beauty by making concrete posts and wire the permanent boundary fences. We should ensure the planting of decent hedgerows in their place. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) mentioned the importation of huge dragline machines. In 1949, when I was on the Select Committee on Estimates, we were given to understand that we were coming to the end of that importation and were reaching a position where, in the future, capital expenditure upon that sort of thing would be made with firms in this country, and when we could not only produce them here but would be in a position to export them to Australia and other countries which use them to a considerable degree.

I was disappointed to hear from the hon. Member for Kidderminster that we still have to incur large amounts of capital expenditure in dollar form abroad on this equipment. I hope that some consideration will be given to this question and that we can give further stimulation to our great manufacturers of these devices. Despite the fact that we should like to see the end of opencast coal mining, we must realise that it will not cease for some time and that the use of these machines will certainly continue in the Dominions and the rest of the Commonwealth. If we can do anything in this regard, surely we should be trying to do it. Although I hate having to do so, I support the hon. Member for Kidderminster in this matter.

Nearly a quarter of the total amount of coal produced by opencast methods is produced in the county part of which I have the honour to represent. Of the coalfield area of Derbyshire, which is a very great one, about one-eighth has so far been cleared for opencast working. The same thing is happening there as in other parts of the country where this work is going on. There is the hideousness, the blasting, the dust, the noise, and the heavy traffic to and from the site which damages the roads, as we have been reminded. All this has to be borne by the very people whose lives are spent in this sort of atmosphere. They work underground in the dust and noise and everything which coal mining brings, and they come back up from the pit and experience precisely the same sort of conditions on top.

I quite understand why Derbyshire County Council and other local authorities in this area are being urged—and why they, in turn, are urging us—to do something about this. It so happens that because these seams are very near the surface in Derbyshire that county seems to be bearing an undue proportion of the evils which opencast coal mining brings. There have been complaints about the fact that at the time that all this is going on the county council is being urged to find sites for stocking coal because it is not immediately saleable. In addition to the inconvenience caused by these huge opencast mining sites, which make a hideous mess of the countryside, a further large area of the county is being used for stocking the coal after it has been won.

I understood the Minister to say that this was inevitable because we have had some mild winters, and that these stocks might be dispersed in a very short time if we should run into a very cold period. Inevitably and understandably the people of Derbyshire feel that they have had more than their whack in this matter of opencast mining and the stocking of coal on the surface. They suggest that perhaps the time has come when the operation could be suspended in a county which has had so much of it and the coal regarded as being stored in situ, prospected to find the proximity to the surface, and so on, but left there until a national emergency, or a fuel emergency, actually demands the mining of that coal.

It is for the Minister to consider whether that is a possibility. They suggested it, and I support it for obvious reasons. I hope the Minister will consider this and that some of the other points I have made will be considered now and during the Committee stage.

7.31 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) reproaching those who, when restoring land after opencast mining operations, erect concrete posts and wire round fields, so leaving much disfigurement of the countryside. I hope he will agree that if it is not possible to plant a quickthorn hedge at least posts and rails cut from home-grown timber, and impregnated with creosote, which is a by-product of British coal, makes a better fence than cement posts, which crack in frosty weather.

The few things I wish to say concern woodlands and particularly their amenity value in coal mining areas, and I think that that follows logically on what the hon. Member has been saying. In our mining areas today, the acreage of woodland is very small. It would make a great deal of difference to amenity if the woodland acreage were much larger. Therefore, I hope it is not the policy of the Minister that the remaining woodlands in mining areas should be massacred too hastily, as happened all too often in the years immediately following the war, when there were one or two very bad cases.

The loss of good agricultural land is always deplored because of its waste, but the loss of a half-grown woodland is infinitely worse, because it takes so much longer to put it back. Therefore, when it may be thought necessary to mine coal under existing woodland, I hope it will be the policy of the National Coal Board to consider the timing of such fellings. A delay of ten years might allow such timber to have a value for mining, instead of being cut and used only for firewood.

If the loss of woodland involves compensation, I hope that the Clause dealing with that question will be interpreted as generously as possible for agriculture. I do not want to enter into what might be called Committee points, and, in any case, Clause 26 is extremely difficult to understand because it is almost entirely calculation by reference. I hope the principles are correct, but I suspect that they may not be. For instance, the loss of annual profit on a young wood will always be hard to prove. An oak wood of ten or fifteen years may be costing something every year. It may still be at a stage when there is no annual profit, but a small annual cost, yet, quite apart from general amenity loss, the loss of that young plantation is a definite loss to the owner.

What happens if part of a woodland is taken and the wind blows down the remainder, as often happens, when protection is removed? Terminal compensation may often be difficult to decide. An oak wood may be fifty years old when the land is taken for opencast mining and would have been sixty years old when the operation finished, yet at neither age would the timber be of great value in the market, although the loss might well amount to quite a substantial sum.

I make my final plea in connection with restoration. Some land is much more costly to restore for agricultural use than others. Whatever some people may say, I believe that some land will never again be as good for farming as it was before opencast mining took place on it. I have heard that in some cases the land has actually been improved, but there are certainly other cases in which the reverse has happened. Is it wise to spend a great deal of money on the restoration of such land, which could become very good woodland for the expenditure of a smaller amount? If we increased the area of woodland in our mining areas we would make a very substantial addition to the amenities of those areas.

I am not suggesting that my right hon. Friend ought to encourage a policy of wholesale acquisition in cases where previous owners and occupiers want their land back for farming, but occasions may arise when it is possible, after opencast mining has been completed, to add to the woodland acreage and, in so doing, to add very materially to the amenities of a district which today is windswept and bare, and not very attractive to live in.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

The reason I ask for the indulgence of the House while I intervene for a few minutes is that I hope I may be able to throw a little light on a matter raised by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in connection with American machinery used in opencast coal mining.

It happens that during the war I was a member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and a subcommittee on which I sat was asked to inquire into the reason why the cost of production of opencast coal was above the revenue obtained at the time for that coal. In other words, the Ministry was facing a considerable loss every year and yet it was so important to get the coal that it had to be obtained at all costs. During our inquiries, we found that one of the reasons for the high cost of production was that we were using very inefficient excavating machinery produced in this country. It was the introduction of American machinery, some of which we saw in action, that caused a considerable drop in cost and more economic production of opencast coal as a consequence.

I do not know what the position is now. I did not know that this matter was to be raised, or I should have tried to look into it before this debate. At the time, it was very important to use this machinery because it enabled coal to be produced by opencast methods at a reasonable cost. The Americans had had very considerable experience of this kind of opencast mining. In the Pennsylvania coalfield where this method is used, there are very thick seams just under the surface and they had specialised in this form of winning coal, whereas at that time we had not. I hope that when he replies, the Paymaster-General will tell us something about this matter. Possibly that American machinery could be replaced by machinery produced in this country, and in that case the hon. Member for Kidderminster made a very good point. If that is not so and if the Americans are still the best producers of this kind of machinery, then the hon. Member's case falls completely to the ground.

I should like to support the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) about preserving the amenities and the agricultural and silvicultural values of our English countryside, which will be seriously damaged by the extension of opencast mining. When I was going round the country with this sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure we visited the Wentworth area of Yorkshire and South Wales and saw the devastation caused by these operations. On the other hand, I well recall seeing that in most cases the top soil was being carefully preserved and put back. After the top soil had been put back I saw crops growing on it and they seemed to be as good as those on ordinary ground.

It may well be that conditions vary very much. We all know that bacterial action is a very important matter in the growing of crops. It is a question not only of the chemical composition of the soil but also of its bacterial content. That ought to be considered and steps ought to be taken to recondition the soil in such a way that it produces crops again.

It is also true that timber has to be cut away as a result of these activities, and I think there is a case either for making the National Coal Board responsible for replanting or for handing the ground over to the Forestry Commission for replanting. Quite apart from woodland timber, hedgerow timber is a very important aspect of our English countryside, and that hedgerow timber completely disappears in an area where opencast mining is taking place.

I do not altogether agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland, who said that woodland planting is sufficient. I should like to see steps taken to restore the hedgerow timber, too. I should not like to say how that can be done, but I am sure that the Forestry Commission would be able to do it. Whether the Commission would welcome the job, in view of all the other work it has on hand, is another matter.

Mr. Vane

Is not the difficulty about putting back hedgerow timber the fact that it is extremely unpopular with agricultural interests? We ought to get the small woodlands and spinneys planted first.

Mr. Price

I agree that it is unpopular, but I am not prepared to give way on the matter to the prejudice of the farmers, although I am a farmer myself. Farmers are not the only people who dislike trees. If one cut down every tree which one was asked to cut down, there would be hardly any trees in the countryside. We all know the prejudice which exists against trees anywhere near a house and even against trees some distance away from a house. In my opinion, we must take into consideration the restoration of hedgerow timber, too. I should not like to go into the question of how that could be done, but I should like to support hon. Members on both sides of the House who have raised this matter.

I am sorry that it is necessary to consider the continuation of opencast mining for many years and I wonder what the present position is. I understand that the levels of consumption and production of coal are moving nearer to each other. There is, however, the problem of exports. Does the Paymaster-General consider that opencast coal will be used mainly for exports or will it be used for home consumption? As it is of a somewhat dusty nature and is small coal, I assume that the demand for it will partly come from the Electricity Authority, but I should like to know what the position is. In view of the fact that the level of production is nearer to the level of consumption than it has been for a long time, why is it necessary to consider continuing opencast mining for so many years?

7.46 p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

I think that the time has come to say quite frankly that the attitude of the Conservative Party to opencast mining has been neither consistent nor very honourable. When we were in opposition we bitterly opposed opencast mining and now we are governing the country we are bringing forward proposals for continuing opencast mining for many years to come. It should also be said that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) is by no means the only person who has been compelled to eat his words in this respect.

There can be only one justification for this somersault and it is that the Government can show that there is an overwhelming need in the national interest for the continuation of opencast mining. Certainly, the victims of opencast mining and those who are threatened with it in the future—and there are many of them in Northumberland—will take a lot of convincing that opencast mining is essential for national economic survival.

As has been pointed out in the House today, the National Coal Board is almost embarrassed by the quantity of its stocks of small coal. The Paymaster-General, in his opening remarks, said that the Board was to indulge in an advertising campaign to get rid of the 20 million tons of small coal. Much of the coal which will be produced by opencast mining, if not the majority of it, will be small coal of poor quality.

Mr. Maudling

The proportion of large coal in opencast mining is slightly higher than in deep mining.

Mr. Speir

That may be so, but the fact remains—and I hope my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—that the majority of the coal produced by opencast mining will be small and of poor quality. It is not surprising that in those circumstances the victims of opencast mining are suspicious about the necessity for continuing it for another ten or twenty years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) has pointed out that opencast mining is a very profitable proposition. The opencast executive of the Coal Board was, in fact, the only section of the Board to make a profit last year, and the civil engineering firms, as my hon. Friend was honest enough to admit, are making very good money cut of these contracts for opencast mining operations.

I want to join with other hon. Members from both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West {Mr. Philips Price), in asking for an assurance that we shall not buy any more opencast machinery from America, which costs us dollars. Surely that cannot be in the national interest.

If opencast mining must continue, in the national interest, for the next few years there are certain safeguards which I think should be laid down by the Government and which should be strictly adhered to. First, I do not think that the amenity aspect of this problem has had sufficient attention either from the Government in recent years or today in this debate. I know that the Government's view is that the amenity aspect will be taken care of by the necessity to get planning permission, with all the rigmarole of a public inquiry, but I should like an assurance from the Minister that the views of local authorities will not be lightly overridden, and that they will be allowed to make their views quite clear on the scenic aspect of these operations.

Personally, I should like to see inserted into this Measure a definite provision putting the Minister under a statutory obligation, when considering the desirability of a site being opened up, to give weight and thought not only to the agricultural side, but to the amenity side, particularly if the local authority has opposed the site in question.

I should like also to urge that not only should the actual operations on the site be very carefully considered, and the views of the local authorities listened to, but that consideration should he given to the opinions of county councils and other local authorities as to whether even prospecting and boring should take place. Fairly reasonable terms are provided in the Bill for compensating both owners and occupiers of land that is to be opencasted, but no provision whatsoever is made for those who are living in the immediate vicinity of a site and who may suffer very real hardship and financial loss. I think that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has had examples of that in his own constituency—

Mr. T. Brown

A number.

Mr. Speir

As soon as the Coal Board goes into a locality and starts boring merely to see whether or not the coal is there in sufficient quantities, the word goes round that opencast operations are to take place and the value of the property in the area tumbles overnight. Yet those people get no compensation whatsoever under this Bill. Therefore, I think it essential that there should be careful safeguards to see that even prospecting and boring is not started without the views of local authorities being carefully considered.

As opencast mining is a financial proposition—and a paying one—the Government are surely under a duty to see that the terms of compensation are generous to all who suffer injury thereby. I do not think that it is too much to ask the Government to provide that when anybody can clearly show that, as an individual householder, he has suffered financial loss as a result either of opencast mining, or even as the result of boring, that loss should be made good by the Coal Board.

I hope that when the Minister replies he may be able to give us some assurance on that score. I hope, too, that the code for the restoration of agricultural land will be still further improved. It has been improved in the last few years, but from the information that I have received it is quite clear that it could be improved still further, particularly as regards drainage. At present, the drains are too far apart.

This is a highly technical Bill, and I am quite sure that it will require very careful consideration in Committee. After all that has been said today about the horrible nature of opencast operations, I hope that the Government will be prepared to respond in a generous and a humane manner to any proposals that are put forward during the Committee stage with a view to lessening the loss and the injury which victims of opencast mining are inevitably bound to suffer.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Although I agree with the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) about the necessity for safeguarding those whose interests may be affected, to a greater or a less extent, by the operation of opencast mining, that is not what I wish to speak about.

This is a United Kingdom Bill, and applies to Scotland. I do not know why there is not a Scottish Minister on the Front Bench watching the progress of the Bill, particularly when we see the manner in which Scotland is treated by it. With some experience of the House, and of examining Bills affecting Scotland, I must say that I have never yet seen a Bill in which Scotland has been treated in such a fashion. At the end of almost every Clause there is a subsection making it applicable to Scotland. In Clause 2 there is a long and involved subsection (7) telling us how the Clause applies to Scotland, and, indeed, right through the Bill there are these references to the application to Scotland.

In the first place, this makes the work of anybody dealing with this problem in Scotland exceedingly difficult. Any legal firm, any county council or other local authority, or an individual, or an agent acting for an individual who has to interpret the Bill is placed at an immense disadvantage, and there is waste of time and money. To me, the whole thing seems to be rather absurd.

There is another side to the manner in which Scotland is dealt. This Measure deals with a number of matters about which Scotland has its own laws. There would not be the necessity for this vast number of references to Scotland and to interpretation were that not so, and if it is true that the Bill deals with matters about which Scotland has its own separate law surely we should have had a separate Scottish Bill. If this is to make sense in Scotland, or if we are to act in the tradition common to Scotland, legal matters affecting Scotland should be covered by a separate Bill. That seems to me to be the natural and right thing to do.

I can only think that the Government, anxious to save time, and aware of the fact that if this Bill had gone to the Scottish Grand Committee it would have been vastly improved—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]. Certainly. It is the experience of this House that the Scottish Grand Committee improves Bills to a much greater extent than does any other Standing Committee in the House. Anyone with knowledge of the House knows that to be true.

I can only think that the Government, anxious to avoid this business of improving the Bill, and to avoid the careful scrutiny it would have received had it gone to the Scottish Grand Committee, have sought to dodge that by the most ridiculous process laid down in the Bill where, at the end of every Clause, there is needed an interpretation subsection. That cannot be right. This Bill cannot be the right method of dealing with Scottish legislation, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary—whom I wish to congratulate on his first appearance on the Front Bench—what consultations were held with the Scottish Departments in relation to this Measure?

Did the Scottish Law Officers accept this? We have a right to know. We ought to have had a Scottish Law Officer on the Front Bench. Where are the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General?

Mr. Ross

Away studying the Bill.

Mr. Willis

They will need to study it if they are to understand it. What consultations have taken place with the Scottish officers, particularly the Scottish Law Officers, about the Bill? Was it accepted by them in its present form? It seems to me that, to maintain and continue our own separate legal traditions in Scotland, we ought to have had a separate Bill for Scotland.

Although I realise that it may well not be possible, it would certainly be helpful if, when the Bill is published in its final form and ultimately achieves the status of an Act of Parliament, the various interpretations could be made clearer than they are at present to those who will have to deal with the Bill in Scotland. I doubt whether that will be possible, but I feel that an effort should definitely be made to do something about it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, when he looks at the Bill again, will himself agree that it is exceedingly difficult and wasteful of time to deal with these matters in Scotland on the basis of the method at present proposed.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)

I must confess to feeling a certain difficulty in following the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), who has raised questions as to whether or not the Scottish Law Officers have been consulted upon the Bill. The Bill, it is true, is made to apply to Scotland. My difficulty, representing a Northern Ireland constituency, is that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, and, even if it did, we most unfortunately have neither coal nor Law Officers, or officers of any kind, here from Northern Ireland. I have, however, beer surprised today that there have not been more hon. Gentlemen opposite from the mining valleys of Wales. I did at one time have the pleasure of contesting a Welsh constituency, and it would perhaps be permissible, in the circumstances, if I were to mention a problem which has come to me from Wales. I am glad to say that, although I now sit for a Northern Ireland constituency, I still have a great interest in Welsh affairs.

The problem concerns compensation for that type of exploratory work which has to take place before it is decided whether to work opencast coal in the way we see it done. The case I have in mind, which well illustrates the point, is one which comes from Caergwrle, near Wrexham in Flintshire. It is a rural area. Very little has been said today about disturbance in largely built-up rural areas. Although many words have been said about disturbance to farms, little has been said about disturbance to the individual who is living in a more urban community, whose outlook and the enjoyment of whose property may be disturbed or damaged by an opencast site being started almost next door. This type of person usually lives on a property which does not extend beyond half an acre, and half an acre is the area adopted in the Bill in dealing with matters of compensation. Such an individual can face very real hardship.

I welcome Clause 46 of the Bill, which deals with disturbance during the time of exploratory work when the authority is deciding whether or not it is worth proceeding with opencast operations.

Mr. Willis

Not Clause 46.

Mr. Currie

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ross

That is a special Scottish Clause.

Mr. Currie

It is Clause 35. I had my finger marking Clause 46 because that was the general application Clause to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East referred in his speech.

All hon. Gentlemen will, I think, welcome Clause 35. It gives some right to compensation, but I should like to know whether that right to compensation will be given to people who are at the present time suffering this disturbance. In other words, will it be made retrospective? The case to which I referred has been going on for two years; drilling has been taking place in the land during the past twenty-four months, and the disturbance has been continuous during the whole of that time. Will these provisions for compensation be made retrospective so that that disturbance can be compensated in the way envisaged in Clause 35? Alternatively, are opencast exploratory operations and the opencast workings themselves to be suspended from now until the time when the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament? I hope that my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate will consider those alternative questions.

It is a very curious commentary on our skill in getting coal out of the earth that in this island, which is probably the tract of land richest in coal under the surface to be found anywhere in Europe, that we have to resort to this method of coal getting. Vast sums of money have been expended in the modernisation of our coal mines, as we all know. To come back to one concrete example which contrasts clearly the winning of coal from a mine with the winning of coal from opencast workings, it is estimated that from this site in Caergwrle 100,000 tons of coal may be won from the proposed opencast site whereas, on the other hand, 100,000 tons of coal could be obtained from the Llay Main colliery, which is only two miles away, within six weeks. The estimated yield from the opencast workings represent no more than six weeks' output from the Llay Main Colliery.

Is it really worth while to cause all this disturbance, to incur the great expenditure required and lose the agricultural land taken from farming not only for the duration of the operations but for the time necessary for reinstatement, to say nothing of the expenditure of dollars for the purchase of the machinery we have heard about? Having regard to all that has been said, it hardly seems worthwhile, when one compares the output from opencast workings with six weeks' output from an orthodox coal mine.

I shall be greatly obliged if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will look into the question of the proposed site at Caergwrle and consider whether, in Clause 35 or some other appropriate part of the Bill, the Government can see their way to incorporating some limitation of the time during which exploratory borings are to be carried out on land in private ownership. Two years is a most unreasonable length of time for a disturbance of that nature to continue. Surely, work of that kind could be completed in, at most, six months. In that way, the disturbance to the individual would be minimised as far as possible.

I should like to say a general word on the principle of compensation, because it has been raised during the debate. The compensation to which I refer is for the loss of occupation, which applies mainly to the farming community. It is, and always has been, a fundamental principle of English law that a person who suffers an injury as the result of a wrong or an action of a third party shall do his utmost to minimise his loss flowing from that injury. In other words, if he is deprived of his occupation, he must do his best to mitigate the damage by accepting some alternative form of employment. That principle, which is fundamental to our English common law, should have application to the matter we are considering this afternoon.

The compensation provisions in the Bill are very necessary and I do not for one moment suggest that any of them should be taken away, but I hope that in the application of those principles in the Bill when it has become an Act, the Minister will have regard to that legal principle and will not wantonly part with money to a greater extent than is utterly necessary. That may in some way sound inconsistent, but what I am trying to say is that the effect on our economy of all these additional and unnecessary expenditures of money must be to aggravate the inflation from which we have been suffering for so many years. They all add up and it is essential that we should keep a tight rein on the expenditure of public funds.

8.13 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I welcome the quiet nature of the debate, but cannot help but be reminded of the mood of the House when we were discussing exactly the same thing ten years ago. Hon. Members opposite, who were then in opposition, were clamouring for the Labour Government to bring an end as quickly as possible to opencast coal mining operations. I remember it well, because, in company with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), I was a member of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Estimates that went into the whole question of opencast mining.

I remember very well the kind of debates we had and the feeling of Conservative Members in the House at that time. The question of the national interest was then very much of secondary importance to constituency interests in relation to the disturbance caused to the lives and property of their constituents in agricultural areas because of the need for opencast coal mining.

It is a very marked change today that in 1958 we should have a Conservative Minister who not only tells us of the need for opencast mining, but who is prepared to bring in permanent legislation regularising the procedures for commencing these operations and saying that they are required to be done for ten years. Indeed, the Minister was brought to book by some of his hon. Friends, who said that ten years was probably not nearly long enough and that it was foolish to stipulate such a figure.

I make that point because the party opposite has often been caught up by its own slogans and by the points its members make for political purposes against this side of the House purely to achieve local support in their areas and forgetful of the true national interest.

It was unwise for the Minister today to give the appearance that these operations would last for only ten years. It was quite unnecessary for him to say that, because there is no such limit within the Bill. From the aspect of the procedure of obtaining the coal, the expensive equipment which is used is a factor in cost which is dependent upon the length of time over which operations are conducted. This point was made to us by the contractors in our inquiries some years ago. At that time, the operations were conducted not by the National Coal Board, but by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, as it then was.

It is interesting to notice that there have been fewer complaints since this matter has been dealt with by the Coal Board in relation both to actual operations and to the problems of restoration and reinstatement of the ground. Both in the earlier days, when the Minister of Fuel a id Power was responsible, and now, when it is the responsibility of the Coal Board, we have considerable ground for pride in that we have been able to do this job so well that there has been so little complaint in the long run.

I remember, for example, that when the Estimates Committee examined the question and tried to obtain information, we called in Stewarts and Lloyds to find out what they did in the case of restoration in relation to iron ore workings.

Mr. Willis

They did nothing.

Mr. Ross

We found that they did nothing at all. In other words, once again, an entirely different set of values was placed upon the work carried out by a nationalised industry or by a Department of Government than upon the operations of private enterprise. Indeed, if things are improved in relation to that industry, it is thanks to the work that was done so well and the standards set by my right hon. Friends on this side of the House when they had control from 1945 to 1950.

I believe that it was as the outcome of the work of the Estimates Committee in those days that the code concerning reinstatement was instituted and regularised. I emphasise the point made today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) that it would be as well if the House could look at the code and discuss it when it is being brought up to date by means of an order.

That brings me to yet another aspect concerning the silence of hon. Members opposite. We used to hear a great deal about delegated legislation and the powers that were given to Ministers, but today there has not been a single whisper about the powers to be given to Ministers. Today, a Conservative Minister is gaily taking over powers of direction, the bringing of orders and delegated legislation throughout the Bill which will have considerable effects throughout the countryside. This is one more example of how the party opposite behaves by sloganised politics and then comes up against the practical realities of government.

I hope that now we are attaining a more objective frame of mind in considering the nation's need for coal it will be appreciated that the 131 million tons—I think it was of—opencast coal mined last year, the 160 million tons since opencast operations began in about 1942, have been absolutely vital in the economic battles of this country. Even if tomorrow or next year we were very considerably to increase the output of deep-mined coal we should still need this additional coal being got by opencast working.

There is no doubt, however, that it creates rather serious problems, more particularly in some areas, not only for owners of land and especially owners of agricultural land and farmers, but also for those who have a care for the scenic beauties of the country. Nevertheless, we have now worked out an administrative formula whereby objections are properly met and a balance of justice properly struck between the needs of the nation for agricultural production and coal production. It is not always that the Minister will give the right to the Coal Board to continue its operations without properly balancing the needs of the nation in those respects.

I come now to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams). It was important, and I was surprised that the Paymaster-General did not rise to answer it. My hon. Friend asked whether or not this legislative change being made will curb the activities of the Coal Board in the opencast mines. I am referring to the rights the Board presently holds to stock coal and dispose of it. My hon. Friend has legal experience, and I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would tell us whether the words "authorised operations" in Clause 1 (5) cover those things about which my hon. Friend was speaking. Indeed, I was sorry that that Ministerial silence was continued during the whole of my hon. Friend's speech. There is no doubt that because of the Bill the number of areas in which the Board can operate in future will be cut down, if it is not to have made available spaces in which to handle the coal and store it prior to its disposal.

Apart from that, the Bill may increase the cost of operations because of what may be demanded of the Board in return for continued use of land. This is one of the most serious defects of the Bill. I presume it is a defect since the Paymaster-General took no pains at all to answer my hon. Friend at the time. It is one that we must seek in Committee properly to amend.

When the Paymaster-General finished speaking I got up and asked him—I do not know what impression I made upon my hon. Friends—if he would ensure that in the Committee on the Bill there would be a Law Officer from Scotland to help us. He replied that he could not promise since that was a matter which was not within his province. I appreciate that, but I think he has a certain amount of influence, and I would advise him for his own safety to have a Scottish Law Officer there, because from the Scottish legislative point of view, or from that of anyone trying to understand the law, this is the most ridiculous hotchpotch jigsaw Measure I have ever come across. I think I am understating the case. The new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, whom we wish well, and from whom we hope for many things, will not be able to rise to all the Scottish legal implications. We do not expect him to, and I am sure he agrees with me.

We read through Clause 1 and through Clause 2, and then, towards the end of Clause 2, in subsection (7), we suddenly come to our senses by reading: for references to the Act of 1447, to Part ill of that Act, and to sections fifteen and twenty-eight of that Act, there shall be substituted respectively "— this that and the next thing, and so on, for at least half a page.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Quite normal.

Mr. Ross

Yes, but we get language like that again in Clause 2 and again in—

Mr. Willis

Almost every Clause.

Mr. Ross

Yes. I have them all marked. We have it in Clause 8 and Clause 9 and again in Clause 11. Is this normal?

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

The hon. Member should read the Labour Party's nationalisation Acts.

Mr. Ross

I am asking whether this is normal, and an hon. and learned Member opposite has already said it is. He is only quoting the Paymaster-General, because the right hon. Gentleman said that we were returning here to the normal process of legislation. I would correct him by saying this is the process of Tory legislation. This is the sort of thing we have in Scotland had to stand from our legislative masters for far too long.

I had reached only Clause 11. The same sort of language occurs again in Clause 12, and Clause 15 is the same. In every one of these Clauses there is a special application to Scotland. We have a right to ask the Government whether they will produce a Bill for Scotland with all these references properly set out so that we shall not have to trudge through this complexity of English legislation and make the consequential changes afterwards.

Mr. Willis

My hon. Friend is not forgetting, is he, that after all the subsections making these applications to Scotland we have a Clause of about four pages in length relating to Scotland?

Mr. Ross

Yes, Clause 46, a very important Clause indeed, so important that one hon. Gentleman opposite mixed it up with something else; a shocking thing to do.

How nonsensical all this is. We keep reading of the Scottish Act of 1947. I am the first to admit that there were one or two Scottish Acts in 1947, but we have to travel a long way back to find out that the Scottish Act of 1947 is the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947. Then we have mention of the Scottish Act of 1949, and we eventually discover it is the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1949. We have to be very careful about that, very careful indeed, because of Clause 22. I would draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to this, for this is the kind of thing about which we have to be worried, we exploited Members of Parliament for Scotland.

Clause 22 (4) says: In the application of this section to Scotland, for references to the Act of 1948 and to sections forty-three, fifty-seven and fifty-eight of that Act there shall he substituted respectively references to the Scottish Act of 1949 and to sections forty-four, fifty-seven and fifty-eight of that Act. That is perfectly clear, until we get to Clause 46. This is not a Committee point. I could deal only with each Clause as it came in Committee.

Clause 46, which itself consists of about four pages of application to Scotland, says in subsection (4, a): …for references to section fifty-seven of the Scottish Act of 1949 "— That is the bit that I have just read in Clause 22— there shall be substituted references to section ten of the Crofters Holding (Scotland) Act, 1886—or "— We have our choice— section fourteen of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, as the case may require… Was there ever such a tangle?

If it ended with the Clauses it would not be so bad, but we get the same thing all through the Schedules. Clause 38 is a very popular Clause relating to Scotland. I can imagine Scottish lawyers sitting down and poring over that Clause and regarding it as important because it deals with provisions as to settled land, mortgaged land, and other special cases. But subsection (6) of that Clause says: This section shall not apply to Scotland. They, therefore, immediately ask themselves, "Where are the special cases in respect of Scotland dealt with in the Bill?" And they look and look and find no answer. It will be up to us as Scottish legislators to find out where they should be inserted or whether they should be inserted at all.

It is most unfair that I should be addressing these remarks to an hon. Gentleman who has absolutely no responsibility for this part of the Bill at all. Some of my hon. Friends have felt that I have been a little carping in my criticism when, at times when major Measures which bore the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland have been before the House I have insisted that there should be a representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench opposite.

The second name on this Bill is that of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He is its chief supporter, but during the whole proceedings, certainly when I have been here—and I went out only for a meal—there has not been a representative of the Scottish Office present. Yet we have not only a Secretary of State but three Joint Under-Secretaries. We have also a Minister of State. He is in another place and, therefore, we do not expect to see him here, but we also have two Law Officers for Scotland.

Not one of these Ministers has graced the Front Bench opposite for any length of time, if at all. It is most unfortunate that when we are faced with such a tangle, which cannot possibly be made to make sense in Committee, we should not have some explanation as to why this way was taken in relation to Scottish legislation. This tangle has arisen for the simple reason that Scotland has its own legislation in relation to town and country planning to which these aspects of planning permission, entry and compensation are related. Special legislation relating to agriculture Acts is another important consideration in the actual starting or possibility of starting on opencast sites.

Once we start to interfere with these things by means of some other new piece of legislation, the only real lucid way of tackling the matter is to have a purely Scottish Bill. This Measure is a very poor second on which no Government should embark. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage I shall not be a member of the Committee, because I shall be blamed for keeping the Committee at it.

Sir I. Horobin

It is not as bad as that.

Mr. Ross

I might lengthen the proceedings by raising these points and asking for explanations, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not be able to give me. It is not too late even now to hope that someone will run out for the Secretary of State for Scotland and that the right hon. Gentleman will come here with the news that the Government propose to withdraw these Scottish applications from the Bill and put them in a special Scottish Bill to deal with opencast mining in Scotland.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the realms of Scottish law. I will only say to him that the United Kingdom Bill, with the references over to the Scottish Act, should present no difficulty to anybody. Indeed, such pleasant expressions in Clause 46 as 'easement' means servitude;" and— 'freehold interest' means the interest of the owner of the dominium utile; remind me of the days when I read Roman law, from which I do not doubt much of the Scottish law is derived. There should be no difficulty for any draftsman in transferring the relevant Clauses of this Bill to the expressions in Acts which a Scottish lawyer could easily follow.

I do not recommend the detailed application of this Bill to anybody in England and Scotland for light reading, because it is complicated in its wording when we get to the compensation Clauses. However, anybody who reads it with an English or Scottish lawyer should have no difficulty in following it, provided he takes enough trouble. So to bring in two separate Bills would be unnecessary in the circumstances.

Mr. Ross

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that it was unnecessary to have an agricultural Act for Scotland? Is he saying that it was unnecessary to have a Scottish National Health Service Act? All those things arose from the body of Scottish law, and yet a departure is made in this instance. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Gentleman as a lawyer in England to say that the Bill is all right, but the fact is that it just does not make sense.

Mr. Doughty

Upon that I join issue with the hon. Gentleman. The Bill makes sense, particularly to a Scottish lawyer. I should have to look up the Scottish Acts if I wanted to follow it.

Mr. Willis

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way? The point we are making is that the Bill adds to the difficulties of people in Scotland in trying to understand this legislation. First, they have to read the whole Bill, and then they have to read something else to modify that which they have been reading. This is a waste of time, money and labour.

Mr. Doughty

I am sorry to deprive the hon. Gentleman of a Scottish grievance, but English lawyers have to do the same with English Statutes. Some people do not like legislation by reference, but we have to do it just the same. I am sure that the Scots, who are a hardworking race, will not object to a little paper work with a book or two to follow what this Bill means.

Mr. Willis

It is all very well for a lawyer, but what about the client who has to pay for his help?

Mr. Doughty

He should be very pleased, because he will find that lawyers are very good value for his money. I have the greatest admiration for the Scots, but I will leave this point and go back to the point on which I rose to address the House.

Every hon. Member who has referred to the Bill and to opencast mining has said the same thing in different ways, namely, "I do not propose to object to this Bill, but I do not like opencast mining." If we do not like it, how much less will it be liked by the person who is directly affected by it? How much more strongly will he object to it in his own case when his land, which he is working in whatever form, is suddenly affected by one of these peremptory orders?

I wonder whether the House realises the sweeping powers it is giving the Minister in Clauses 1 and 3 by a simple order of one Minister? Please do not think I am criticising the present Minister or any other, but the general public will not understand why the Minister of Fuel and Power does not have what we would call in this House an interest in the making of these orders.

Under Clause 1, all that he has to do is to give an authorisation, and under Clause 3 he gives a compulsory rights order, and there is an end of the matter. One's farming comes to an end or one's property is taken from one for very many years and, however it is restored, despite the best efforts, it can never be the same thing. Yet these powers are given to one particular Minister.

Has the House already forgotten the Report of the Franks Committee, which stressed that openness, fairness, and impartiality ought to be the characteristics of the tribunals and inquiry procedures? Yet we have in this Bill exactly the procedure which has been so criticised in other Bills in the past and was criticised by the Franks Committee.

The public inquiry and the report to the Minister of Power will not satisfy the members of the public who are affected. Even if it is the best order that can be made in the circumstances and everything is as fair as can be, it will not satisfy them. Probably it will not satisfy other Ministers. The Minister of Agriculture will be vitally interested in the matter. When farming land is taken, representations will undoubtedly be made to him. Where does it say in the Bill that he has any interest in the matter?

If we take away farming, there are all the other mineral interests if we include soils as minerals. If operations on a site are for the purpose of obtaining coal, the Minister of Power is concerned. If the soil is clay, the Minister of Supply may be concerned in the operations, if it is limestone it will be the Minister of Works, and there are various other types of clays which are important to industry and in their case it will be the Board of Trade which will be concerned.

In the light of these conflicting interests, why should we give one particular Minister the sole power of deciding the question? There must be a conflict of interests, and we must take great care not only that we get the right decision as between the conflicting interests, but that the results give the utmost satisfaction to the public and that the public are not left with the thought, which may be entirely wrong, that the Minister concerned with the production of coal, the Minister of Power, is the one who has decided the question. If I were a farmer making a complaint, I should not like to think that the question had been decided only by the Minister of Power, a Minister not concerned with farming.

Having made my criticism, I do not wish the House to think that I have come here to criticise without making suggestions which I hope will be helpful. If we cannot have an outside tribunal to decide these questions in public, and give a public decision, which is the only real way by which the interests can be satisfied, then at least a Minister who has no sectional interest in the matter should be appointed in place of the Minister of Power. I suggest that the correct Minister would be the Minister of Housing and Local Government, for he is concerned with the use of the land of the country, wherever it may be. He could properly weigh up all the conflicting interests and competing claims for the use of a piece of land. The Minister of Power could make representations to him in the proper way, in public.

I submit that the Bill would be a better one if these very wide and very sweeping powers were vested not in the Minister of Power but in the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)

I rise to introduce what is a local point on this issue, and I am very glad of the opportunity of doing so. The council of Chorley was informed in August of last year that it was proposed to prospect about 150 acres of land owned by the council and already partially developed for housing. The council was asked for its views, which it expressed very forcibly, against the land being used for opencast mining. The council had plans drawn up to cover the land with houses, and part of it was to be used as a site for a secondary school.

There was another difficulty which I raised with the Ministry of Supply. Almost adjoining this area is a large Royal Ordnance factory whose work is of such a nature that dust must be excluded from the buildings. I pointed out to the Ministry of Supply at that time that if the area were used for opencast working—I have some knowledge of the way in which opencast mining is done in Lancashire—when the wind was blowing in the direction of the Royal Ordnance factory, it would certainly carry dust into some of the buildings. Workers in those buildings have to wear special clothing and rubber boots before being allowed in the buildings, which will show how serious is the danger of dust in the buildings.

The Ministry of Supply took up that point but so far has not decided whether it should object to the opencast mining. However, the matter has been in the hands of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government since that date and the Ministry has now given permission to the Ministry of Power to prospect by boring holes in the land to find what coal there is.

Chorley Council is very much concerned about the fact that all its plans are in abeyance, it cannot build houses and the Church of England education authority cannot continue with its plans for the school. Everything is held up. In the agreement which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has made with the Ministry of Power for the prospecting of this site for coal, the Ministry of Power has been given permission to continue until July next year, so that it has a hold over the land even if it does not begin to develop it this year. Even if it is found that there is not sufficient coal to make development worth while, the Ministry of Power will still have control of the land until July next year.

I think that is altogether against the best interests of everyone concerned. The council is in great need of houses. It wants to develop this land for houses. Its plans were drawn up years before. This land was purchased before the war, when some of the houses were built. It wants to continue with that development, but in the centre of the town there are almost 150 acres of land which is sterilised because of the delaying action of the authority. I urge the Minister to look into this matter to see if a decision can be reached with the greatest speed. The first necessity is the school. The authorities wish to proceed with the plans for the erection of this school. We all know that it takes some time to build a school, and the children in Chorley are at the moment in great difficulties regarding secondary school education.

Many things can be improved in the actual working of opencast mining. The contractors do their work, I suppose, as well as they can under difficult circumstances, but the top soil ought to be kept far more separate than it is at the moment. There is far too much mixing of the top soil with the subsoil. We all know that if subsoil is mixed with the top layer when the land is restored we will not get crops from that land for some time. Therefore, greater care should be taken with the separation of the top soil from the subsoil.

The second great difficulty is drainage. When this land is restored it must be drained, and all the drains and the subsoil have been broken up. When the coal is taken out there is always subsidence. For up to ten years that land is gradually sinking. I have seen drains broken within 12 months of being laid. The result is that over all these areas there are drains which are high and low, broken and disjointed. It seems to me that there should be a method of consolidating the subsoil before the top soil is put on. I think that with the machines in existence, such as heavy rollers, the subsoil could be consolidated when it is put back, to such an extent that it would shorten the time during which subsidence would break the drains. If greater care were taken in that respect, the results would be far better. In restoring the top soil it is inevitable that the soil will get mixed, but it need not get mixed as much as it does.

Another point is that when the top soil is put on, it should not be run over with heavy machinery to the extent that it is. By all means let the subsoil be consolidated, but the top soil should not be crushed and rolled to the extent that occurs. It should be allowed to sink more naturally, and the drainage should be carried out after the whole of the soil has been consolidated. If that is done, there is no reason why the land should not be brought into good productivity again. It cannot be brought back into full productivity for many years—that is an impossibility—but it can be brought into a good state of partial restoration which will enable the farmer to carry on his work and gradually to restore the land to a measure of full fertility.

I hope that these matters will be kept in mind when the new set-up provided for by the Bill is brought into effect, and that the Minister will look into the question of the long delay which I have brought to his notice. There is no need for it. I hope, too, that the opposition of the council and the Church of England school education authority will be fully and fairly considered. There are very few sites upon which these schools can be conveniently placed in industrial areas. If the Minister will consider this case sympathetically, I feel that the council will be able to proceed with its housing development, the school authority will be able to proceed with its school, and the centre of Chorley will not be broken up and disfigured, as it certainly will be if the present scheme is allowed to proceed.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)

Almost every speaker has confirmed the need to regularise the production of opencast coal; indeed, from what we have heard during the debate it would seem that both sides of the House must accept responsibility for not having introduced legislation along these lines years ago.

The Paymaster-General commended the Bill to the House in another of his excellent speeches. I never cease to envy the ease of his delivery and the capable manner in which he presents the salient facts of his case. It is pleasing to know that he can avert his eyes from the glitter of the European Common Market to consider the mundane affairs of the British coal industry. We were glad to hear him say that he will be pleased to receive, and will welcome, advice from both sides of the House in connection with the Bill.

With some of his conclusions, however, we find ourselves in fundamental disagreement. We shall make our objections known at a later stage in greater detail; meanwhile, I want to take up some of the points which have been raised. It may be that in doing so I shall speak somewhat disjointedly. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) began opencast mining as a wartime measure, when he was Secretary for Mines, not even the most responsible people in the coal industry calculated that it would have been continued to the present time. I do not know of anyone connected with the industry who predicted that we should be getting outcrop coal twenty-six years after this process had begun, but that is the period that the Bill foreshadows.

One notable feature about the debate has been the silence of those hon. Members opposite who, at a time between 1945 and 1951 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and myself were attempting to defend the continuance of opencast mining, were pleading for its complete cessation. I wonder what they are thinking now that their Minister has introduced a Bill extending it for ten years.

It seems both surprising and neglectful on the part of various Governments that opencast coal mining has been carried on for fifteen years under Defence Regulations. Nobody would deny that serious anomalies have persisted throughout that period, or that there has been considerable dissatisfaction and social convulsion in the areas affected by these operations.

This is a good Bill, a Bill of good intentions, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) rightly said, it is enshrouded in so much mysterious nomenclature of the law that it is difficult for us to appreciate the goodness in it. But I believe this about the Bill: there is a clear intention to establish responsibility at every phase of the operation.

Originally, the Ministry of Works was responsible, as agents to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, for the service of notices under the Defence Regulations for prospecting and requisitioning land and minerals, The Ministry of Works was also responsible originally for settling the terms of compensation. Later, those duties were absorbed by the Ministry of Fuel and Power and, subsequently, by the National Coal Board. The outstanding advantage of this Bill is that there's responsibility placed on the Ministry of Power and it is self-evident almost from the beginning to the end of the operations.

Under Part I of the Bill, the Coal Board is forbidden to work opencast coal except under an authorisation of the Ministry of Power. Before the authorisation is finally confirmed all parties concerned, tenants, owners and local authorities, have all to be notified of the intention to work coal and, if they make objection, a public inquiry can be held locally. I am sure that everyone welcomes the fairness of that provision.

In the past, notices have been served to requisition land and only in rare cases has the intention to excavate not been fulfilled. Requisition of the land—perhaps sequestration would be a better word—has meant that civil engineering companies have conducted opencast mining operations and have not only requisitioned the land but have accepted almost a carte blanche requisition of the entire village in which the land is situated and all the roads leading to it.

One of those companies in the East Midlands Division rejoices in the name of "Earth Removals Limited". It is a title sadly in accord with what residents think about the huge operations for getting surface coal in the area. Little opportunity has been provided in the past for aggrieved parties to raise objection and there has been even less opportunity for their objections to be sustained.

We on this side of the House compliment the Paymaster-General upon the proper recognition of local authorities in the provision for public inquiries. Only those who reside in areas where opencast operations take place really understand the enormity of the inconvenience that is suffered by residents in the area. Not only is there loss and inconvenience to the tenant and the owner of the land concerned, but in the summer there are clouds of dust floating towards residential areas, clay and soil are deposited on the roadways in winter, there is noise of high-powered machines working day and night, there is the detonation of explosives and, as the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) said this afternoon, there is the awkward problem of coal being strewed on the road because vehicles carry heavier loads than they are designed to bear.

If one is a motorist in an opencast mining area one is often behind a huge excavator which is being towed from one side of the area to another under police surveillance. I can assure the House that such a vehicle is more difficult to overtake than was a wartime Army convoy. These and other grievances not affecting the contracting parties can now be the subject of consideration' by a public inquiry. The local authority, until now the ugly sister in these matters, will have an opportunity of complaining and presenting its case if it believes that its area will be despoiled.

I know only too well from personal experience that opencast mining has few friends. The miners in my constituency call them sunshine pits, because coal can be obtained in the sunshine. Whenever a site is chosen the agricultural experts say, "This is the most productive piece of land in the area". The amenity lovers say, "This is an ideal beauty spot, the best in the country". The Minister finds himself between the devil and the deep sea when he has to make a decision.

I fully appreciate that if all objections were listened to there would be no opencast operations, but the public inquiry will be of assistance in guiding the Minister when he is deciding on priorities. I hope that all objecting parties will be made to feel satisfied of adequate opportunity to present their case. Landowners, tenants and local authorities will, I am sure, welcome this provision and gladly avail themselves of it.

In this connection, there is a strange omission from the Bill. After the compulsory rights order provided for in Clause 3 has been finally confirmed by the Minister, operations begin, and from that point there is no provision for any aggrieved party to raise any objection. Not all opencast sites are in remote rural areas. Some towns of 25,000 population and more have them close to their housing estates. Sometimes there are dust problems to contend with—dust emissions which are difficult to control.

Another thing which causes a great deal of trouble is the fact that no statutory duty is placed upon the contractors to work during daylight hours. Imagine what it means to nearby householders when the grinding roar of high-powered excavators continues all night long. Much of the heaviest movement of overburden takes place by floodlight. People asleep in bed are awakened by the noise of these machines. Where is there any provision in the Bill for any protest to be considered after operations have begun? There is none at all. Often in opencast mining the lowest strata of the overburden are unexpectedly strong and blasting operations have to take place. The detonations of these explosives damage roofs and windows of houses in the area.

I once had the privilege, if it were a privilege, of going up a church tower and watching instruments record the vibration of explosions on an opencast site. There was no redress to be obtained by the church authorities for any possible danger or damage to the church tower as a consequence of the vibrations from the blasting. The public at large are at the mercy of the contractors and I believe that some means must be provided of allowing objectors to make their objections after the public inquiry has been held.

I have one further query about public inquiries. Clause 45 (5) says: Any reference in this Act to the working of coal or other minerals on any land, or to the carrying out of any other operations on any land, shall be construed as including a reference to the working of the coal or other minerals… Apparently this is a reference to stocking sites, because one cannot get opencast coal without having stocking sites and disposal places. Are these to be the subject of compulsory rights orders, or will they be referred to public inquiry in the same way as working sites?

This is often a matter of as much serious concern to the landowner and to the tenant as is the acquisition of the land for the working of the coal. In the East Midlands coalfield we have some peculiar stocking sites. For instance, coal is being taken 30 miles by road and clumped into a disused stone quarry in the Peak, in Derbyshire. It costs about 10s. a ton to put it down and it will cost a lot more to take it up again.

Are sites of this kind to be the subject of compulsory rights orders? I do not know what the Minister will have to say about this peculiar stocking site in the East Midlands, but I suggest to the Government that they should bear in mind that, in a time of recession this filling of holes and emptying them again might help to solve the unemployment problem. That should not be lost sight of.

One further thing I would urge on the Minister. I hope that where a farmer has suffered the inconvenience of opencast operations on his land, he will be spared the incongruity of a second dose, in the form of having his land confiscated for stocking sites or even having a second seam taken out after his land has been restored. It would also be appreciated by myself, and by my colleagues I am sure, if, in his reply, the Parliamentary Secretary would clarify Clause 5, which deals with limited compulsory rights orders.

Here, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) will permit me to join with those who have today congratulated him on his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary. It is good to know that his rebellion against his senior colleagues during the recent crisis has not precluded him from joining the Front Bench. There must be something in the old saying that old poachers make good gamekeepers.

As I say, we would be glad if the hon. Gentleman would clarify Clause 5. Where there is a seam of coal on only part of a farm, the amount to be requisitioned ought to be the subject of very careful inquiry. When only half of a farm bears coal, the other half should not be used for carrying the overburden. I know of a case in my own constituency. A seam of coal 4 ft. thick outcropped vertically on a farm, and a "dish" 120 yds. wide was made to get that thin seam of coal. It was only a 30-acre farm, and although the coal was deposited on only 10 acres of that farm another 18 acres were requisitioned for stowing the overburden.

The incongruous part of it was that nearby there was another farm 400 acres in extent, quite untouched, that could easily have taken that overburden and so have saved the little man from going out of business. Matters of that sort should be very carefully looked into so that every point of food production can be kept open, and the farms sustained.

I now turn to the Bill's provisions for compensation. When the necessary modifications are made, it will be possible to decide which claimant is entitled to compensation at any particular point for any loss or inconvenience. That is not very clear in the present Defence Regulations, and it will be a blessing to those affected to know to just what compensation they are entitled. Farmers are mostly affected by this provision.

Here I would interpolate a word of appreciation. Farmers are sensitive men, very sensitive about their rights and privileges and very vehement in their criticism when those rights and privileges are assailed. Yet, with all the great traditions and ideals embodied in the farming community, never have farmers shown such tolerance and public spirit as they have shown during the period when they have been afflicted with opencast mining operations. Scores of millions of tons have been got from under, our farm lands. The House and the country owes a debt of gratitude to the farmers for their co-operation in this matter.

I recall that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth and I were responsible for promoting opencast working, we often found ourselves in friendly conflict with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), then the Minister of Agriculture and a doughty champion of the farmer. I hope that there is still conflict between those responsible today, for it is only by conflict and argument between the respective Ministers that we can get the best for the country out of these proposals and out of opencast mining.

Inevitably, there has been some contention, but I have never known a case of dissatisfaction with the annual rent. Most disputes arise over the compulsory sale of cattle, the removal of chattels, the payment for grazing, the diversion of watercourses or the amount of terminal compensation. Much work has fallen to the Coal Board in dealing with claims, and I am sure that officials of the Board in the department affected must be looking forward with pleasure to the time when these items are provided for in the Bill.

So far, I have mentioned only tenants and owners entitled to compensation. What of the adjoining occupiers? There are cases where the adjoining occupiers have had temporarily to leave their houses because they could not bear the strain of the noise and the dust. Some provision ought to be made in the Bill to fit those cases, and they ought not to be left to the generosity of the Coal Board.

On behalf of the Opposition, I repeat that we accord the Bill general approval. We shall examine it very closely during the Committee stage. We hope to clear up some of the anomalies and make it a better Bill. This is the first, and possibly the last, piece of legislation on these lines. For that reason, when it finally leaves this House it ought to leave it with the unanimous approval of both sides.

One final word of advice to the Minister. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite), when referring this afternoon to the stocks of coal in the country, said that there were plenty of outlets for the stocks of opencast coal. If the hon. Gentleman is persona grata with the Paymaster-General and his senior Minister, he had better tell them where it can be sold. I and some of my colleagues believe that the present enormous stocks of coal, particularly of small coal, increase the unpopularity of opencast working; they create an undoubted impression that the demand for coal has lessened and there is no need to continue with these troublesome operations.

The Paymaster-General, in reply to recent Questions, and in the opening of his speech today, appeared not to be perturbed by the enormous stocks of coal in the country. Anybody who is not perturbed is out of touch with informed opinion in the coal industry. We on this side advise him to reduce his stocks of coal, particularly small coal. If he cannot sell them, though he may convince this House he will have difficulty in convincing the country of the economic necessity to continue opencast coal mining for another ten years.

9.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Sir Ian Horobin)

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have made kindly reference to myself on my new office, and I certainly need their good wishes in inheriting a Bill of this complexity. I do not know whether it was an accident, but when I went to take possession of my room downstairs I found that some humorist had placed me with a room marked "Parliamentary Labour Party" on the one side and "Mr. Speaker's Chaplain" on the other side.

I have been closely concerned over the last twenty-five years or so with almost every Town and Country Planning Bill. This Opencast Coal Bill confirms me in my long-formed opinion that whenever dealing with land it takes six pages of small print to do what one wants to do and then the courts say that one has not done it. I can only hope, therefore, that as this Bill goes through Committee we shall, as my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General said, have the constructive assistance of both sides of the Committee to improve it and that perhaps even occasionally ordinary Members may be able to combine against the lawyers, who are, of course, the common enemy of mankind.

I think I can best assist the House, first, by traversing very briefly certain points which arise on the Bill and then dealing as far as I can with some, but of course, not all, of the points that have been put to me, and then I should like to say some words generally on one aspect of the Bill—a problem which has been referred to several times by many speakers on both sides which is deserving of a little special consideration, namely, the question of amenities as affected by these operations.

It is necessary, first, to be quite clear what this Bill is. One or two contributions from both sides seemed not altogether to have borne in mind that this is a powers Bill. It does not directly affect, one way or the other, the amount of opencast working. Its primary object and its justification is to improve and bring up to date the methods by which we operate.

On this side of the House, and, indeed, in the speech to which we have just listened by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal), it has been made clear that the general feeling is that it is quite intolerable to continue any longer working under Defence Regulations. We need not argue this in detail. I put only the one point that under Defence Regulations nobody, whether an individual, a local authority or anybody else, has a legal right to be heard by anybody. At this time of day, that is an intolerable situation which must be brought to an end.

What, however, would be the position if we did nothing else than bring the Defence Regulations to an end? There are two points to be borne in mind. There is no question that if we did nothing but bring the Defence Regulations to an end, there would be a substantial fall in the production by opencast working. This is not the occasion, nor would it be possible, to go very far in answering some suggestions which have been made in quite opposite senses from different parts of the House and to attempt to lay down a general principle on what we expect, in the future, the output from opencast workings to be. We on this side of the House are very sceptical anyway of these long forecasts and crystal gazing about what will be the situation in five years or ten years, but I do not think anybody can really seriously contend that there is no real prospect in the immediate future of some opencast coal being needed. The foreign exchange consideration seems to be conclusive in itself.

It is not realistic—I am not going into any argument at this stage as to why or whose blame it is, if it is anybody's blame—to suppose any longer that there is going to be any immediate or drastic increase in the output of deep-mined coal which would make it completely unnecessary in the immediate future to do without opencast work. Therefore, I do not think we need complicate our discussion by going further than saying that we cannot afford to do nothing if we get rid of the Defence Regulations because we cannot afford to do without, at any rate in the near future, some substantial contribution from opencast working.

The second point which I think must be stressed is that it is in any case wrong. in our view at any rate, to give powers to operate by a process which involves buying land on a large scale when all we really want is to use it for a comparatively short time, and that is, of course, why we have introduced this novel process of compulsory rights orders, compulsory rights orders as we shall call them, corresponding to the compulsory purchase orders of which we have had only too much experience in our daily life.

I think the three main points we want to consider, if that be the background of our problem are: Is sufficient consideration being given in the new legislation to what is being done? Are the proposals for restoration being made reasonable? And are the compensation provisions fair?

As to sufficient consideration, it is sufficient for me at this late stage simply to remind the House that both prospecting and working require authorisation by the Minister, and at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way a public inquiry will be held, which gives everybody directly concerned—owners, occupiers, planning authorities—the right to be heard, which, of course, is an enormous advance on the present situation.

As for restoration, the code, to which much reference has been made, will, broadly speaking, be included in the authorisation. The deemed planning consent will contain the necessary provisions of the code. That code is by no means final. It is now the subject of discussions with interested parties. Some suggestions have been made that it should be included in regulations. This would not be the moment for any final decision to be taken on that. There are, I understand, very considerable technical difficulties, but it is a matter to which we must direct our attention in Committee.

As to compensation, this will no longer be arbitrary. It may be perfectly true that in many cases the present quite arbitrary system is working not too badly, but it has no rhyme or reason, and has been altered because we feel that we ought to try to find some rational basis upon which to pay compensation. I am not at this stage going into the various Sections under which that compensation can be paid, because we shall, of course, have to go into that in great detail at a later stage. But the general principle is important, and it is reasonably clear.

As far as possible, we are trying to put back everyone concerned to where he would have been if none of the operations had taken place. That, of course, is far from being the principle under compulsory purchase procedure. In the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, this is a much juster situation and a long-called for improvement. I am sure that it will commend itself to all on this side of the House, and I am pleased to see that it appeals to so many hon. Members opposite.

At least one hon. Member made the extremely valid point about the importance of speed in settling these matters. I would refer to the provisions in the Bill as it stands. We shall have to consider whether they can be improved. Firstly, the Order, without which prospecting cannot take place, must contain a time limit. There is no time limit actually stated in the Bill, but the Order must contain one, and that will make it impossible to have a right to go prospecting indefinitely, which if not exercised would seriously depreciate the value of the land. If nothing is done for six months, the compulsory rights order itself becomes null and void. Therefore, a serious effort is being made to prevent damage being done to land by things being initiated which are not followed up within a reasonable period.

As to occupiers, and I speak mainly of farmers, because I am advised that about 90 per cent. of the land concerned is agricultural land, the principle is that the occupier should be paid a rental compensation, because he still owes a rent to his landlord, and a calculated mitigated profit. There has been some discussion as to whether that mitigation is fair. One of my hon. Friends strongly stressed that it was, but some other hon. Members felt that it might be awkward to administer. I can quite see that it may be, and it is certainly a matter which we must consider. But the broad general principle when we are dealing with public money must be accepted by all of us—that it is not reasonable to pay somebody all the profits that he would have earned and leave him in a position where he either need to do no work at all or, if he does, he has all the advantage of it. Undoubtedly there may be complications in administration, but it is a matter which we can well consider at a later stage in the progress of the Bill.

The owner of agricultural land has a choice. If he chooses a cash payment, which will be the difference between the value of the land as it is returned to him and what it would have been if no operations had taken place, that is the end of it. But he can, and probably in many cases will, choose a cost-of-works payment where agricultural land is concerned. This brings me to a point which was made by at least one hon. Member opposite. As it was pointed out, many of the things which are necessary to be done if the land is to be put back to its full bearing condition do not make themselves evident for a long time afterwards.

The question of drainage was referred to. In many cases it would clearly be a waste of money to start such work and then have to do it over again twelve months afterwards. Therefore, in many cases it will be to the advantage of everybody concerned to choose not a cash payment but a cost-of-works payment, which will be made when it is reasonable to do the work.

So much for the very rough survey of the general situation. Now I will answer briefly some specific points which have been put in the debate. The first I choose is an interjection made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), which was a kind of hors d'oeuvre before the main speech. My hon. Friend raised the point that the National Coal Board might become a large-scale farmer. The fair answer to that is two-fold. First, we have had a definite assurance from the Board that it intends, if it buys land which people offer—it cannot buy land otherwise under this Bill—to sell it when the work is finished.

Secondly, what would be the alternative? If it acts under the existing law, which is slow and awkward, the Board has to buy everything. Today it cannot get any land for work of this kind without becoming the owner. We are providing a way in which the amount of land which the Board will own when it has finished with it will be less, to the extent that it has acted under compulsory rights order procedure, and, when the work is finished, the land will return to its original owner.

There was a certain amount of discussion on the question of small coal in the speeches of several hon. Members, which, unless I have misunderstood it, seemed to me to be slightly misconceived. I am advised that the proportion of large coal from opencast mining is, if anything, slightly larger than from deep-mined coal. Of course, one cannot get the one without the other, so that it seems to me that the question of whether we have too much small coal in stock or too little is irrelevant to our discussion. In other words, if we get the same total quantity of coal, and it is all deep-mined, there will be more and not less small coal.

Mr. A. Roberts

According to figures of opencast mining last year, we produced about 3 million tons of large coal. Consequently, I suppose we saved a certain amount of dollars by not importing American coal. Yet it has been said here this afternoon that we import American machinery to work on the outcrop sites, so one thing balances the other.

Sir I. Horobin

I am coming to that point, so perhaps it would be more convenient if I were to follow the sequence of the debate. There were also a number of extremely important points raised by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams). As far as I can, I will treat them together. As I understood the right hon. and hon. Members, they were rather against the period of ten years going into the Bill. They felt that for various reasons it was undesirable to limit the permanent legislation on this subject. To a certain extent they were answered by some other hon. Members on the same side of the House, of whom the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) was one. He stressed with great vigour and emotion the deplorable consequences which inevitably followed from a permanent continuation of opencast mining.

On this matter one has to try to strike a balance. If we have too short a period, all the arguments about the difficulties of contractors and so on become overwhelming. On the other hand, it is very difficult to see very far ahead. In about ten years' time the whole nuclear situation, for instance, will be very different from what it is now. Progress is so rapid that it may be completely transformed. Therefore, I think the balance of argument is in favour of saying, "We must have some opencast mining for a reasonable period, but, in view of all the objections and difficulties which have been argued so forcibly in the debate, we can always have another look at the matter and it will be a simple procedure in ten years' time to alter our plans if we so decide."

This would perhaps be a convenient moment to take up the point about the dollar content as an argument against having any opencast coal. I think there is a certain amount of misunderstanding here. While there is a great deal of dollar machinery, it is by no means true that all or even a large proportion of the machinery is bought with dollars. Another point which seems to me to be even more conclusive is that if, as has been argued very strongly on both sides of the House, the alternative to not having opencast coal is the importation of coal, that costs dollars too. Consequently, I do not think there is very much in the argument. It seems to me better to give ourselves a reasonable period and see how things work, and it will not be difficult in ten years' time, if we so decide, to alter our plans.

The question of disposal points and stocking grounds was argued at considerable length and was made a major point. First of all, it would be unwise and unfair to exaggerate the matter. I understand that a substantial number of these grounds are commercially held now and are not at risk. I understand that friendly negotiations are proceeding which are likely to lead to mutually satisfactory results, as the previous ones have done. Consequently, do not let us run away with the idea that all the operations of the National Coal Board are completely at risk.

The second point that we should bear in mind is that in any new undertaking, if the ancillary undertakings are part of the process of getting coal, the compulsory rights order procedure could apply. It is true that it would not apply where the disposal point and stocking ground is separate from the process of digging the coal.

The third point is that hon. Members on this side of the House at any rate feel that we want to limit compulsory powers as much as possible. We do not like to add to the number of people who can run about taking property from people who do not want to part with it. We desire not to do it if we have not got to do it. There is a big difference from taking the land where the coal is, because one must have that land. If there is no coal there, it is no good taking it. However, the Board is not in the same position with regard to stocking points. If it cannot get one, it can probably get another. Therefore, the Board can go about the matter in the ordinary commercial way and enter into negotiations. The pressure on it to have compulsory powers is at least very much less cogent—I put it no stronger than that—than it is when it has to have the land where the coal is and cannot do with any other land.

Mr. Robens

About two-thirds of the present disposal sites are held under requisition and not by commercial agreements. Do I understand that after the passing of the Bill the Board will have to complete ordinary commercial negotiations on sites already working? If so, does that not mean that the Board can be held to ransom for the acquisition of disposal sites which it has already obtained under Defence Regulations and which are essential for the operation of opencast sites now being worked under Defence Regulations?

Sir I. Horobin

It is true that the Board must negotiate—about those sites which are not held commercially. I am saying that the Board is negotiating—already successfully in many cases—and my information is that in the majority of those sites which are still at risk negotiations with a reasonable prospect of a satisfactory termination are being conducted.

Mr. Robens

This matter is very important. This enables those who own the sites upon which the disposal units are situated to have an unequal bargaining power, inasmuch as they are in a very strong position to bargain with the Coal Board because they can stop output from more than one site to which the Board is committed. If the Coal Board is unable to negotiate on reasonably commercial terms as between a willing buyer and a willing seller for the continued use of the disposal points which the Board now has and which serve opencast sites which the Board now operates under Defence Regulations, will the Government provide the necessary compulsory purchasing order or requisitioning order so that those disposal sites shall remain available for the completion of opencast operations on the sites obtained under the Defence Regulations?

Sir I. Horobin

No, I do not think that we could possibly be expected to do that. As I have a number of other matters with which to deal, I must leave it at that. I am advised that there is a reasonable prospect of fair negotiations in the bulk of the outstanding cases. We are not in favour of giving compulsory powers for the Board to have a specific site it is not geologically necessary as it is in the case of the coal itself.

I want to deal with a similar matter raised by an hon. Member opposite. He suggested that everything could be held up because any crank could put in an objection and force a local inquiry. Nobody disputes that there will be some initial loss of coal because of the provisions of the Bill. One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. We are giving more protection to everybody and, although it will not be a continuing loss, in the initial stages there will be some loss.

However, again we must not exaggerate, and the hon. Member who made that point was under a misapprehension because only those persons directly concerned, either owner-occupiers or local authorities, have a right to object and force a local inquiry. It is true that if there is an inquiry, outside persons, such as those bodies dealing with amenities, are, in practice, always heard—and a very good thing, too. But if all the local authorities, owners and occupiers have come to an agreement and there are no objections, then nobody else can force an inquiry. They can simply communicate with the Minister or act through their M.P., and so on. I think it is a misconception to think that any crank who has any case at all can force into operation this rather cumbersome machinery of local inquiry.

The next point raised by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) and other hon. Members was that on the whole there was a preference for the code to be put into regulations. This is a matter which, I think, requires careful consideration. I ought to warn the House that I am advised that there are very serious technical difficulties. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a great difference between what can be put down when it is an informal document and what can be put down when the legal gentry are concerned and the rules of the House apply. It is not a matter upon which our minds are closed. It is conceivable—I put it no higher than that—that it may be possible to meet it in some way.

This question has been answered before, but I would like to answer it quite definitely again. It is this fear that in future—I know it has happened in the past—under these provisions people can be disturbed twice. It is categorically laid down in the Bill that once a C.R.O. has been applied to land another C.R.O. cannot be applied to it. I do not think we could have gone further. Under the new régime once is quite enough.

Then a point was made about allotments. At this stage I would only say that this is a matter upon which the Government may be tabling Amendments of its own, but in any case the very complicated legal situation is being sympathetically considered.

I have tried to answer a few of the main points, but I will take the last five minutes to say a few words on a matter upon which I hope many hon. Members share my own great interest and anxiety, namely, amenities. We shall have to give a great deal of careful attention to this aspect when the Bill is upstairs.

Let me go very briefly through the process. First there comes the prospecting, then the authorisation, and then the C.R.O. Prospecting is a much more serious business than in the case of electricity. With electricity one makes a survey and then goes away. With opencast coal mining, holes, trenches and so on are dug. I do not think we ought to allow ourselves to be too much bound by the precedents in the Electricity Acts. First, permission must be obtained from the Minister before prospecting can be carried out.

But the more important point, once the Defence Regulations are out of the way, is this: prospecting is a development which comes under the Town and Country Planning Acts and, therefore, it would be necessary to obtain planning permission. It is right that I should tell the House that for reasons of speeding up—there is always a balance in these matters—it may well be that by the time the Defence Regulations come to an end there will be an amendment to the general development order which would not make it necessary to obtain individual planning permission.

Even if that does happen, that does not take away the power of the local planning authority to intervene, because under the existing law—I shall not go into the exact references—where anything in the general development order does not require specific planning permission, the relevant planning authority can make what is called an Article IV direction, which stops everything for the moment. The matter then has to go to the Minister. If he confirms it, that takes the operation out of the general development order and ordinary planning permission must be obtained. If, on the other hand, the Minister refuses it, at least the planning authority has had every opportunity of ensuring that its views are known.

In addition, twenty-eight days' notice has to be given, in which time it is possible to alert those concerned. The figure of twenty-eight days is one of the matters that might well be considered in Committee from the point of view of its being a sufficient length of time.

I have time to deal only briefly with the questions of authorisation and compulsory rights orders. It is the intention that they should go together. This will save time and expense. I also want to make it absolutely clear that while there is apparently some constitutional objection to providing, in a Statute, that one Minister shall consult another—there are a few precedents for it but they are considered to be bad ones—I can give an absolute assurance that, in all these matters, at the planning stage the very closest consultation will in practice take place between the Ministry of Housing, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Power.

Mr. Ross

And the Scottish Office.

Sir I. Horobin

I cannot undertake to say that it will be carried out in Gaelic, but we shall do our best.

Mr. Ross

The language in the Bill is bad enough.

Sir I. Horobin

I have done my best to show that the broad structure of the Bill is not only a very great improvement upon what we have now but the only possible alternative, if we are to bring the Defence Regulations to an end. I hope that I have at least given interim replies to the main points which have been made—although I know that I have not carried conviction in regard to one. At any rate, I have done my best for the moment.

I hope I have shown that while these provisions can by no means be held to be perfect they are probably the best that we can make. At any rate, the vital question of amenities has not been overlooked. It is very much in the minds of those who have drafted and introduced the Bill, and it will be permanently in the minds of the Ministers who have to administer it. With those words I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Ross

Is the hon. Gentleman going to make no reference to the speeches which have been made complaining about the implications for Scotland?

Sir I. Horobin

That can much better be done when we have the advantage or the disadvantage of the presence of Scottish legal representation.

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).