HC Deb 11 March 1987 vol 112 cc300-1 3.48 pm
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to change the system of compensation for coal mining subsidence.

Mr. Speaker, Sir—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] I know that I have a loud voice and that it can be heard from the Committee Rooms upstairs. I also know that it can be heard from here in the Tea Room—or so I am told. That does not make any difference with regard to the bogus points of order that were raised not many moments ago.

As a lad, in 1944, I started work at the pit. At that time, the workings of the pit were very old fashioned and there was not much mechanisation then. Advances were made in the removal of coal from the coalface. However, the old-fashioned system was good in respect of mining subsidence. Former colliers who serve in the House understand—[Interruption.] I wish that you would close the mouths of those public schoolboys over there, Mr. Speaker. The only noise that I can hear is coming from across there.

At that time, there was a certain amount of packing underground behind where the coal had been taken out, and it supported the ground about it. The result was that the ground did not fall in too much. Then we had high mechanisation for increasing productivity. Indeed I was one of those who enjoyed larger wage packets, because it all went together. The trade union and the National Coal Board used to work together in the interests of safety, production and earnings, but that got worse as time went on. Following the mechanisation of the pits, there was no packing behind after the coal had been shifted, so we had total caving in when everything fell. It was even felt on the surface. We were told at the time that it would all fall together, but it did not. It fell unevenly, and many properties in the mining communities were seriously damaged.

There is a serious problem of mine subsidence in Ashfield. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State is here to listen to what I have to say about this serious problem, because the Government encourage people to buy their homes. If mine subsidence affects a local authority property, the tenant will have no financial problems because the local authority will carry out the repairs after negotiations with British Coal. But the home owner must take the initiative if he wants to carry out repairs and obtain compensation.

I remember the Widdicombe report, which dealt with people in that category, suggesting that there should be much more fairness in the system. What is happening is that British Coal, and the National Coal Board before it., has for some time been telling claimants that they are out of time and that they will obtain nothing. It is shameful. After all, the industry caused the problem and I, my constituents and other hon. Members' constituents believe that it is the board's responsibility to put it right. I understand that the Government will introduce a White Paper on the matter. I should have thought that they would have done so before I introduced this Bill, but they have decided not to release it until after the Bill has gone through, as I hope it will, this afternoon.

I know of umpteen cases of people who have been refused compensation to repair their homes because the board says that they are out of time. In the Nottinghamshire area, people were allowed to claim within 12 years following the ceasing of coal mining under their properties. Not long ago, the board shortened the period to six years. That reduction left people outside the limit, and now the board is telling people that they will obtain nothing. The Government should have made some representations to British Coal about the problem, bearing in mind the number of cases of which I, never mind other right hon. and hon. Members, have heard.

I have a whole file of cases which the Coal Board has refused. I can give two classic examples. There is a road in my constituency with about 100 properties on it. Claims on every one of those properties have been settled, except two, which have been refused. They were damaged at exactly the same time, but their owners are being told that they are out of time. That is one example of unfairness about claims. The other is an 82-year-old lady who, 10 years ago, made a claim to the board. The board said that it was no good settling because it was coming back. The result was that it did small repairs and, in the meantime, a new face was opened. The lady got in touch with me nine years and nine months after the board, after visiting her again, had told her that it would settle up. She got in touch with me because the board told her she was out of time. That is ridiculous. The board has already accepted liability.

All those claims should be settled in a proper manner. The board should accept its responsibilities and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy, on behalf of the Government, should be telling British Coal in no uncertain terms to get off its backside at Hobart house and get stuck in to sorting out the problems. I do not want to be running around my constituency doing the work of the Under-Secretary of State and British Coal. They are well paid. I hope that, following the Minister having listened to what I am trying to introduce today, the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957 will be amended so that the problems can be sorted out and we will have a much fairer deal for the people that many mining Members of Parliament represent.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Haynes, Mr. Ray Powell, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Martin Redmond, Mr. Michael Welsh, Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Terry Patchett.