HC Deb 22 April 1991 vol 189 cc861-2

As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed.

Mr. Meale


Mr. Speaker

I remind the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) that this is Report stage, not Committee stage, so he should not make a series of interventions.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I found the brief read by the Minister an unconvincing argument against amendment No. 27. As the Bill stands, a householder would not be able to claim expenses unless he or she were certain that damage to the property would subsequently take place. The only definition of a successful claimant is someone whose property has sustained damage. A long time will pass before anyone will know whether a property has been damaged. In that time, under clause 44 (4), householders will be served with notices about the continuing threat of damage to their property. But it could be two or three years before any damage is seen, and only then can one be a successful claimant. In the meantime it is reasonable for such a householder to seek legal advice or advice from a surveyor. At present, he or she would not know whether those expenses would be reimbursed under the clause.

If a householder is continually served with notices under clause 44 (4) and as a result seeks advice, we suggest that any such reasonable expenses should be covered even if the property proves not to have been damaged. Will the Minister tell us why he considers that unreasonable? Why should a householder being served notices warning that his property may be damaged not be allowed reasonable expenditure for seeking advice even if he is not ultimately a successful claimant?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney knows, and indeed has said, that a successful claimant will be reimbursed reasonable costs such as those incurred in making a pre-survey of the condition of the property. Unsuccessful claimants, however, will not be reimbursed. The hon. Gentleman is asking me automatically to underwrite all such expenditure which may be incurred by anyone served a clause 44 notice.

Mr. Rowlands

No, a clause 44 (4) notice.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The fact that someone may be served a notice is no guarantee that their property will be damaged. Notices can be withdrawn. Mining plans can change. Even if mining goes ahead, only between 30 per cent. and 70 per cent. of properties in the area will finally be damaged. If all such expenditure incurred in advance of damage were automatically to be reimbursed, we should be paying for a great deal of nugatory expenditure.

Mr. Rowlands

We are concerned specifically with subsection (4). A person will be served with a notice after 12 months, followed by a notice 12 months after that, and so on. If notices continue to drop into a householder's home, it is reasonable for him to take advice. If no damage is found to have been sustained, it is reasonable that the householder should be able to claim reasonable expenses.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is talking about repeated clause 44 notices, but my observations still apply. Damage to the property is still only a possibility. I accept that in some areas it will be a probability. There is, however, plenty of scope for the property to be undamaged and for any expenditure undertaken to be nugatory. The arrangements that we have put in place seek to strike a balance between the understandable desire of claimants to take precautions before mining occurs and the need to protect British Coal from unnecessary cost.

I understand that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfyl and Rhymney believes that we have tilted the balance slightly in the wrong direction. There matters were discussed in Committee and I must ask the House today to endorse the judgment that we reached.

Mr. Barron

We may wish to try to obtain satisfaction in another place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 19 in page 28, line 24, leave out 'and (4)' and insert 'to (5)'.

No. 20, in line 39, leave out 'in relation'.

No. 21, in page 28, line 42, leave out subsection (5) and insert— '(5) Subsection (2) above does not apply to any costs or expenses incurred in or in connection with any proceedings before any tribunal, court or other person if an order for their payment has been or could have been made by that tribunal, court or other person.'.—[Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]

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