HL Deb 25 July 1939 vol 114 cc492-513

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, the little Bill to which I have to ask your Lordships to give a second reading seems to be a very small matter in face of the very much larger issues we have had before us since the House assembled, but for all that it is one which has been associated with a good deal of controversy and it may perhaps make the matter clear if, as briefly as I can—and I shall be brief—I explain to your Lordships the history of the Bill as it now is. The Bill was founded upon the Report of a Royal Commission on this subject which presented a unanimous Report in the year 1927, and as the Bill was introduced into the other place it contained provisions relating to subsidence of property belonging to public authorities and going back for a considerable period. When it got into Committee very considerable objection was taken to the form of the Bill as it then stood. As a result of prolonged adjournment and many discussions the Bill was cut down to what I may term a shadow of its former self, and became the little Bill which is now before you. It then passed through the remaining stages in the other place almost without debate.

But it is right to say that in the discussions which took place in Committee—or perhaps outside Committee would be more accurate—in the other place, although there were certain representatives of the Mining Association on the Standing Committee, the Mining Association as such was not, I believe, a party formally to the compromise which the Bill now represents, although there is no reason to suppose, I hope, notwithstanding the Motion on the Paper by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that they will offer any considerable opposition to it. The Bill, as it now is, allows compensation for subsidence in respect of properties where the working has taken place since 1934, and it relates, therefore, to a very limited type of property. All those other properties which were included in the original draft of the Bill have been deleted. It propose; that where the subsidence of these properties has been claimed to have occurred, the owner-occupier may receive compensation in some appropriate form, provided that the conditions set out on page 2 of the Bill are met.

I may remind your Lordships briefly what those conditions are so as to show how very limited the proposal now is. It must be shown that the working of the coal which has been responsible for the alleged subsidence has taken place since December 31, 1934; that the house existed at the passing of this measure or plans were approved for it before February 17, 1939; that the gross annual value of the house does not exceed £40 a year—so that it is confined to small property—that the owner-occupier has given appropriate notice, and so on. It then provides that a claim can be made for compensation against those whose working of the coal has given rise to the subsidence. There is a proposal which is set out in Clause 1 (2) that where the working company has claims against the royalty owner, the liability of the royalty owner should be limited to cases where there exists an express right of indemnity as between the royalty owner and the coal worker. It goes on to provide that none of these claims can be passed on to those who succeed, nor can any claim be retrospective—it must be against persons living at the time. I think therefore it is fair to say that the Bill has been very narrowly limited so far as these claims go.

Then in Clause 6 there is another limiting set of circumstances relating to the new state of affairs arising since December 31, 1938, where the Coal Commission take over certain rights belonging previously to royalty owners. That clause limits the liability to which they may be subjected. What the Bill does in fact, and no more, is to recognise that in the case of new small properties or in cases since 1934 where subsidence occurred due to the working of coal the owner-occupier has a right to claim appropriate compensation for the subsidence which has been caused, with very strict limitation of the character of the claims which may be made on his behalf. I may say that, although the Bill is now in very narrow form, it is based upon much more drastic recommendations of the Royal Commission. I hope that your Lordships will agree that it represents a recognition of the principle, that it applies it very narrowly indeed, and that the Bill should have a Second Reading. I do not propose to detain your Lordships by quoting the recommendations of the Royal Commission which I have here. I will only say that they go very much further than this Bill proposes to go. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Addison.)

5.3 p.m.


had given Notice that, in the event of the Bill being read 2a, he would move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I would like to make it quite clear that I fully appreciate all that was said by my noble friend Lord Addison. I am afraid, however, I cannot entirely agree with his view that this Bill will in any case work. I propose to refer briefly to the history of this matter. Bills of this nature have been introduced in another place in various forms since 1929. The last one before the present Bill sought to provide compensation for local authorities for damage done to their property outside any statutory protection they might have. That Bill made no progress, and I think it is true to say that it was the local authorities in the mining districts who were really behind the present Bill. This Bill has been considerably amended before reaching your Lordships' House, but in its original form it provided, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Addison, that a local authority could recover compensation for subsidence notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any contract, conveyance, lease or any other instrument. This provision was removed from the Bill in Standing Committee in another place, and I think it is true to say that the original promoters of this Bill, now that that provision has been removed from it, are no longer interested in the Bill.

In fact it is an entirely new Bill and it has never really been debated in another place. I suggest that in spite of the Amendments which have been put into it, it is not only unsatisfactory from many points of view, but it is also—and this is most important—unworkable. It has several features which your Lordships may consider are objectionable. One is that it is retrospective, and I suggest that that is contrary to the usual practice of Parliament and may create a very dangerous precedent. The object of the Bill is apparently to create a right to compensation for damage by subsidence where no right exists in favour of the owner-occupier of a house, the annual assessment of which does not exceed £40, against the person who worked the coal and caused the damage. This proposal would make colliery lessees liable to compensation although they might have contracted to be free for a consideration—in other words that they had contracted to be able to let down the surface free of liability. Again, apart from any difficulty there may be in determining which party working the coal caused the damage, it would be almost impossible to say whether the coal was worked before or after the specified date laid down in the Bill in the proviso on page 2.

I should like to draw attention to yet another point. How is it to be determined when the damage first became manifest? Is it to be said that it was when the first crack appeared in the wall of a house that the damage occurred under the word "manifest" in the Bill? Again, how can Clause 3 be met? That clause says that in assessing compensation regard should be had to the lower price the injured party—that is the claimant—paid for his house because it has no right of support. I do not see how that can be decided. I think it is true to say that every mining lessee contracts with his lessor to free himself from any liability for damage that he may cause, and for good consideration, but Clause 1 (2) of the Bill lays down that royalty owners will be called upon to contribute to the payment of compensation only if the lessee has a right of indemnity. This point is very important. It is only if the lessee has a right of indemnity against his lessor. But this indemnity does not exist and therefore no contribution can be levied on the royalty owner, and the clause to my mind becomes abortive.

In order to follow the intention of this clause, suppose we assume a certain lease with an indemnity sufficiently wide to cover any additional liability that may be put on the colliery company by such a Bill as the Bill now before your Lordships' House. Clause 1 (2) restricts the liability of the royalty owners by saying that it should be limited to the amount received in royalties and it goes on to say that a successor in title is relieved of any liability. In other words, the clause restricts the right of the lessee to enforce his indemnity if such an indemnity exists, which I doubt. It goes on to say in subsection (3) of the same clause that nothing in the section shall prejudice the enforcement of any such right. The Bill cannot have it both ways, and I would suggest that that provision is unworkable. Even if this Bill could be made workable I do not think it would be too strong to say that it would become a Lawyers' Compensation Bill. Hundreds of legal difficulties would arise, and more money would go in lawyer's fees than in compensation: all contracts would become void and an entirely new code would be set up. This Bill seeks to make a great alteration to the established law and practice, and for this reason and for other reasons that I have mentioned I hope the House will accept my Motion and allow this Bill to go before a Select Committee.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask your Lordships' indulgence for a moment while I mention that I do not think I can put the noble Lord's Motion until the Motion for the Second Reading has been disposed of. Until the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill has been passed, the noble Lord's Motion cannot properly be put before your Lordships. Accordingly we must continue to discuss the Second Reading of the Bill, and it may be that at a later stage I shall be able to put the noble Lord's Motion.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, into the history of this Bill, but I do want to support his Motion, if that is possible at this stage, that the Bill should go to a Select Committee. I agree with him that Clause 1, with its retrospective application, creates a most unfair and dangerous precedent. As the noble Lord has just told your Lordships, it does seem patently unjust that colliery companies should have this liability imposed upon them of which they could not possibly have been aware for the past four and a half years. As your Lordships know, in many cases and under various leases coal is sold with houses or property with what is in the view of the mineral expert a sufficient pillar of support. The colliery company, however, reserves the right in many cases to work up to the boundary of that pillar of support without any liability for damage whatsoever. The purchasers who acquire such property acquire it with the full knowledge of all those arrangements, and if damage does occur, if in fact the pillar of support does not prove sufficient, they cannot of course under the contract make any claim for compensation.

If this Bill is passed into law that contract is entirely broken, and claims can be put forward by these householders for damage which has been done to their property by colliery companies, in spite of the clear agreement which exists between them and the companies that they have no claim for compensation. In other cases houses and property are sold but mines are reserved by the colliery company: they reserve the right to work the coal under the property without liability, except possibly for a limited amount. The prices obtained for that property are naturally considerably less than full value, because the purchasers buy it knowing that they are liable to more or less considerable damage by the working of the coal. But at any rate the colliery companies know the full extent of their liability, which is limited by contract. It is true that this Bill makes provision for such cases in Clause 3, I think it is, by setting off from the claim the difference between the actual price paid and the full value of the property with full support. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has just pointed out, it is an impossible thing to assess, and I think that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor will tell us, from his great knowledge of the law, that this provision is bound to lead to endless cases in the County Courts.

There is also the difficulty, which will again lead to many such cases, of deciding which particular colliery company has been responsible for the damage. I do however want to emphasize the unfairness of the proposal. If the colliery company had known of this liability which is now being imposed upon it, it could have made provision for it. Its liability is, however, clearly defined in its various leases, and those contracts are going to be upset by this Bill. It seems to me that this will be a most dangerous precedent altogether, in politics, in business and in every other way. I hope that this Motion will at any rate be left to the free vote of your Lordships' House, as it was in another place.

I should like to put another point to the noble Lord who moved this Bill; I have no doubt he is well aware of it. Your Lordships probably know that miners' wages are at present fixed under district arrangements by which the proceeds of the sale of all coal in a district are assessed. From that sum are deducted all working costs, other than wages, and the resultant figure is divided among the owners and employees to the extent of 85 per cent. to the miners, representing wages, and 15 per cent. to the owners, representing profits, with a guaranteed minimum to the miners. The majority of districts, happily, at the present time have reached and exceeded their minimum guarantee, so that these claims for compensation, being as they will be an added cost of production to the colliery company, will in fact be paid for to the extent of 85 per cent. by the miners and only 15 per cent. by the colliery companies. That is an irrefutable argument, and I do not know if the noble Lord is aware of that very serious application from the miners' point of view.

As far as the royalty owners are concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has raised that subject under Clause 6. They are guaranteed certain alleviations, and I believe they are very much better off than they were under the original Bill. But, as I am advised, they are still liable in so far as where a colliery company has under its lease the right to work without paying compensation for damage, it can recover the compensation so paid. This seems, as Lord Teynham has pointed out, a contradiction in terms, for I do not quite see how you can recover compensation where you are not liable to pay compensation. At any rate, if liability falls on colliery companies under this Bill and they are not liable under the original contract for compensation, the amount of compensation so paid can be recovered from the royalty owner up to the total amount of the royalties paid in respect of the coal the working of which has caused the damage. It appears to me, therefore, that they are not at all free from liability under this Bill.

I do not know what the royalty owners propose to do. I understand that they propose to support the Bill because they are frightened that a worse Bill might be presented. Of course, after the outrageous raid perpetrated upon them by the Government last summer, the poor royalty owners appear to have lost all power of resistance, and seem to be at the mercy of the persons who committed this outrage upon them. The sad sight of Lord Hastings sitting in the loneliness of the Cross Benches is an earnest of that dreadful outrage. I do hope that the royalty owners will not think that they are going to escape scot-free from this Bill. I think your Lordships should realise that two wrongs do not make a right, and although the retrospective application of the Bill has been altered by agreement in another place, if it is wrong in principle, as I believe it is, and as Lord Stamp pointed out it was wrong in the case of taxation, then I hope you will see that this Bill is sent to a Select Committee.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, there is no Motion on the Paper for the rejection of this Bill, and therefore it seems necessary to discuss the Motion which Lord Teynham has put before the House—namely, that it is advisable that the Bill should go to a Select Committee. Probably that will be a convenient way of addressing myself to the subject. The royalty owner, for whom I venture to speak for a few moments, has in this Bill, it is true, certain protections. Last year, when the Coal Bill was before Parliament—that Coal Bill of bitter memory, as Lord Dudley has already reminded us—it was implied in the course of the passage of that Bill that there should be no more assaults made upon the royalty owners. That was the end—as indeed it will be. It is with some surprise that I find in this Bill any mention of the royalty owner at all, in face of that particular implication. That that implication is not imagined is to be seen in Clause 6 of the Bill, in which the Coal Commission expressly take over any liability which attaches to the royalty owner as from December, 1938.

Now that is a genuine recognition of the implication that the royalty owner was to be no further assaulted, and in the course of the passage of the Bill through another place, it is also true that the royalty owner's risk under this Bill has been limited to those cases where his colliery tenant is not under obligation to pay compensation for surface damage. The colliery owner's liability is limited to cases in which he has given an indemnity to his colliery company in respect of surface damage. Of course in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the surface owner who has given such an indemnity would be quite certain to sell surface for occupation by building without any right of the purchaser to claim compensation for damage caused by subsidence by a company which had been in turn indemnified by the surface owner.

But as Lord Teynham has pointed out there are certain ambiguities in this Bill, and Lord Dudley emphasized them. He has made it clear to the House that in certain circumstances a royalty owner might become involved in uncertain expenses. The royalty owners feel in the main that this Bill, being redrawn in shape, might very properly be dealt with on the floor of this House, and inasmuch as there is no Motion on the Paper to reject the Bill, it would be the most convenient course to give it a Second Reading, and debate such ambiguities as there may be in it, and such objectionable features as it may contain, upon the floor of the House. It goes without saying that the royalty owners would gladly support any Motion for further consideration of the retrospective clauses. Retrospection in legislation is undesirable, and the noble Lord, Lord Addison, could not tell us that there was any particular virtue in the year 1934. It is merely a throw back for four years. Although the royalty owners rind nothing in the Bill to offend their susceptibilities, save this particular retrospective clause, which is in itself undesirable legislation, they would be, I think, in accord with the proposal which I would prefer—namely, that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, and then that we should debate on the floor of the House Amendments to cut out the retrospective clause. I would close my remarks with an appeal to Lord Addison to accept such an Amendment, and might I say that if he is able to do that I might conclude in the words of Sallust: "Those about to die salute thee." The royalty owners think it is the right course, and I hope it may be adopted.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know what course the introducer of this Bill is going to follow, but I was not at all impressed, apart from the eloquence of his speech, by the manner in which he introduced the Bill, because he did not seem to me to attach very much importance to it. Perhaps in that view he is correct. The noble Lords, Lord Dudley and Lord Teynham, have pointed out the difficulties which will attend the operation of this Bill, if ever it should become law. I understand that we are discussing the Second Reading, and my noble friend, by the rules of the House, is not permitted to move a Motion for its rejection. We fully understand that, but I should be inclined to differ from Lord Hastings, in thinking that this Bill could be far better discussed by a Select Committee than on the floor of this House, because there are matters of a technical nature which I think could be better addressed to a Select Committee, who could deal with this matter. I should have thought that Lord Teynham was prepared, if a Select Committee were not set up, or if we were not convinced by the noble Lord that the Bill could be put on a satisfactory footing if it were not sent to a Select Committee, to vote against the Bill. If he took that course, I should accompany him into the Lobby.

This Bill has passed through a number of vicissitudes in another place, and it comes to us in exactly the form of most modern legislation. This Bill in its present form has actually not been discussed in another place at all, and yet to my great surprise the Government have allowed it to pass without any comment or without any mention as to what their views are upon it. Sir John Simon, as the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, has told us, is initiating a very dangerous form of legislation owing to its retrospective character. That is something to which I hope your Lordships will always take the fullest exception. This Bill also is retrospective legislation, and in view of what we have heard about all the difficulties which are likely to follow we can realise that this Bill will be the subject of litigation for years to come. Our desire in legislating in your Lordships' House is to relieve the Courts as much as we can of those problems and difficulties which faulty legislation invariably presents; but I am sure that if this Bill goes through it will be a lawyers' Bill and will give no satisfaction either to its promoters or to those who will be the victims of its provisions. If the noble Lord asks for a Select Committee and that proposal is not accepted by the promoters, I shall be very happy to follow him into the Lobby for the rejection of the Second Reading of the Bill.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient if I were to state the attitude of the Government to this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Addison, has pointed out, it is founded upon the Report of a Commission presided over by my noble and learned friend Lord Blanesburgh, I am afraid some years ago now, and the main substance of it is the provision of compensation for subsidence to the owner-occupiers of houses of less annual value than £40 per annum. When it first came before another place it was a very different Bill and contained provisions of a totally different character. At that time the Government opposed—or at any rate some members of the Government opposed—the Second Reading. It is a Private Members' Bill of course. In the stage that followed the Second Reading the Bill, as your Lordships have been told, was very greatly amended and in its present form it is the result of an agreement between the royalty owners, the colliery owners and representatives of the workers. Having regard to that fact, the Government look upon the Bill with a benevolent eye and, subject to certain matters I must mention, are not disposed to oppose the Second Reading in this House, although the Government propose to say that it is a matter for a free vote by members of the House who usually support the Government. At the same time we shall not be at all sorry if we find that the Bill receives a Second Reading.

But having said that, I have on behalf of the Government—perhaps I may say particularly having regard to the position which I occupy—to state my firm and clear opinion that the Bill in its present form is quite an improper Bill to reach the Statute Book. It is full of what I cannot help thinking are errors in drafting or in thought, and it really does not now possess the character that any Act of Parliament should possess. Although at the moment I am only speaking on Second Reading, your Lordships would probably wish me to say what I have to say with regard to the form of the Bill so that you may be spared another speech from me on the subject of the real legal meaning of the clauses. Let me just point out some of the things which are to be found in this Bill. The first clause provides that where a house, the gross annual value of which does not exceed £40, suffers damage from subsidence due to the working of coal, the person who is the owner-occupier will be entitled to compensation or to have the subsidence made good free of expense. To be accurate I should say that the first subsection contains the words "notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any contract." But your Lordships will observe that if they had any right of compensation subsection (1) would not apply. Therefore what we are dealing with there is compensation to those owners of small houses, whether owners in fee simple or people with a lease, who suffer damage and who have no remedy at the present time against anybody in respect of that damage.

But now observe the conditions which are to be found in subsection (1) in the brackets (a) to (f) which are all conditions of that compensation being paid. I am not going into all of them, but I think I may properly mention two because really they make the thing almost unworkable. The first one is paragraph (a): the working of such coal" took place subsequently to the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and thirty-four. "The working of such coal" means the working of the coal which did the damage. That is coal which was worked after 1934. What is the position supposing the seams beneath the house have been partly worked before and partly after 1934? How can you expect people with small houses of this kind to get a tribunal, perhaps at enormous cost, to determine, if they can determine it, whether that damage is really due to the working only of seams which had been worked after that date? There is no particular logical reason behind that date.

And you do not stop there. Look at paragraph (d), dealing with the limitation on the right to compensation, which runs: such damage first became manifest after such owner-occupier acquired the fee simple or his leasehold interest, as the case may be, in such house. One of your Lordships has already pointed out the complete vagueness of the phrase "first became manifest." Does the condition apply when you have evidence that some damage was probable from subsidence because a crack had appeared, although a crack is not really serious damage? It is usually after that that there is serious damage. What is the real meaning of this paragraph? What do you mean by the damage first becoming manifest after the claimant acquired an interest? There is a crack before and damage afterwards. What is the position there? That is the great difficulty under Clause 1, subsection (1).

Now look at subsection (2). That relates to the question of a person who has the right of indemnity in respect of sums he has to pay. Observe that subsection (1) applies only when the person required to pay is not himself liable. In how many cases that anybody has ever heard of has a person who is not himself liable to pay damage obtained compensation from somebody in respect of something for which he himself is not liable? It has got really no sense. If a person has got no liability, he does not ask for compensation. If we get over that stile, we then have this trouble that the person who is to be entitled to indemnity by the royalty owner is assumed to have a contract with the royalty owners that they will pay the amount of the compensation. Why should that obligation be affected?

Though I am quite unable to accept the criticisms of the Coal Act, 1938, particularly those of the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, I cannot myself see how any royalty owner who has entered into a clear contract to pay compensation should get under this Bill some relief against his liability. That is not the object of the Bill. Whatever the grievance is which the royalty owners may have suffered from the Bill we passed last year—and I do not admit there are any—at the same time I think even royalty owners will admit that this Bill is not intended to relieve them from any liability they may be under to colliery owners, Yet, that is the effect of this clause. I do not in the least understand why a person who is liable should not be asked to implement his liability, or why a colliery company should not be entitled to enforce its rights against the royalty owner.

Then we come to Clause 3. This has been criticised by two of your Lordships with great force. I, who have spent a life in the law, wish to say that I do not understand how it is possible to work Clause 3. Take a concrete case. A colliery company called A either sells the fee simple or grants a lease of a house to B, being a house which is under £40 a year gross value. Having done that, damage occurs. The assumption is that the house has been sold or leased without any right to indemnity or with a covenant that the grantee or lessee is not going to claim anything in respect of subsidence. Then the Court that is going to assess compensation is going to be asked to ascertain the amount of the reduction in the purchase price or rent as the case may be, due to the fact that there is an absence or an exclusion of his right to support. How on earth is that to be done in practice? The owner of the land to whom the colliery owner has offered the house—we shall say for £200, whatever it may be—and offered it on the footing, as he knows, that he is not going to grant the right of support because he is going to work under it. There may be an actual covenant that the purchaser or lessee is not going to claim. On the other hand the purchaser says: "I did not bother my head about this. I did not come to any agreement as to the sum which would have been paid by me if I had a right of support or the sum which I would have paid having no right of support." On what basis is the Court to ascertain the amount by which the consideration has been reduced having regard to the fact that there was an exclusion of or at any rate no express right to support?

These are only some of the difficulties which are presented by this Bill. As I have said very clearly, I hope, the Government regard the object of the Bill with benevolence. They are not opposed to the general principle of the measure so far as it confers a right on the owners of small houses, but subject to this qualification that the defects inherent in the proposal can be got over in a properly drawn measure. Accordingly the whole matter is left free to be dealt with by the House on Second Reading of which, as I have said, the Government are in favour; but the question will remain how you are going to deal with the very difficult and complex questions which arise in the endeavour to make this Bill a workable measure.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, after the criticism of the noble and learned Lord, it does seem to me very difficult for us on the floor of the House to deal with this Bill as it ought to be dealt with. The Mining Association, to which some reference has been made, do not like this Bill because it is so badly drafted that they do not know how it can be worked. They are prepared to go before a Select Committee and give evidence if such a Select Committee sits to hear evidence. There are many points on which evidence can be given on a Bill which, I may remind your Lordships, has never been considered for one moment in the other place. On the Second Reading there was a discussion in public. The Bill was then sent to a Grand Committee of fifty-six individuals. They wrangled at three sittings offering compromises on one side and criticisms on the other. That Bill was riddled very much in the same way as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has just riddled this Bill.

Eventually after three sittings, twenty-four members of the Grand Committee met together and after an hour and a half, on June 22, dropped nearly all the clauses and put in these clauses, which were readily accepted by the Committee. No Division was taken, no discussion occurred, it was all over in an hour and a half. On a finance day, at five minutes to twelve o'clock at night, when the Orders of the Day were being run through, this Bill was suddenly called as being reported from a Grand Committee. The Report stage and the Third Reading went through without a single word. Not a single word of discussion has taken place in the other House on this particular Bill. To-day, a month later, we are asked by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, to pass it on Second Reading. I am not prepared to oppose the Second Reading, but I do think the Bill requires a good deal of further investigation before it is allowed to pass your Lordships' House.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of this Bill because I have taken some interest in the matter for some years. I do not know why my noble friend Lord Teynham has chosen this method of killing the Bill and has not moved that it be read a second time this day six months. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and another noble Lord criticised the Standing Committee. May I point out that no less a person than the Attorney-General was a member of that Committee and also the Lord Advocate, so I do not see quite how the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack can say it is an improper Bill. With regard to the question of sending it to a Select Committee, what further evidence do the people interested expect to produce before the Select Committee than that which was produced before the Royal Commission? Another point in favour of having a general discussion on the floor of this House instead of sending the Bill to a Select Committee is this: If the Bill is discussed on the floor of this House we shall have the benefit and advantage of the Lord Chancellor's presence which we should not have if the Bill were sent to a Select Committee. I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading and not send it to a Select Committee.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, after the qualified terms in which the Lord Chancellor expressed his enthusiasm for this Bill, I hope Lord Addison will either withdraw the Bill or consent to send it to a Select Committee. It is no good, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, suggested, discussing it on the floor of the House, because we cannot deal with it to-morrow, have the Report stage the day after and the Third Reading as well. That is impossible. It has to go in any case to a Committee, and would it not be better that it should be sent to a Committee which can settle the Bill from beginning to end? It is clear from the narrative given by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, that this Bill has never had adequate consideration and it is a very great hardship that the coal trade should have ill-considered and indeed undigested measures forced upon them.

People engaged in the coal trade already have to devote a really undue proportion of their time to studying and administering new and recent Acts of Parliament which are in themselves very often unworkable. At the present moment, sections of the coal trade are struggling with the Act which was passed last year by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and by my noble friend below me, Lord Munster, the Acting-leader of the House. As a result the whole attention of the management of the coal trade is being given to the study of the Report by my noble friend Lord Rockley. Attention had been given to it for months past and will continue to be given for months to come. A few weeks ago, Sir Ernest Gowers, on behalf of the Coal Commission, issued a letter in which we were told that we are going to be compulsorily amalgamated, unless we amalgamate ourselves without compulsion. We suffer from extemporised Acts of Parliament—and there is no grosser instance than this of extemporisation—and from all kinds of action by Departments such as Sir Ernest Gowers' amalgamation schemes and Acts requiring constant amendment. These matters deflect the colliery manager from his proper duty of winning and disposing of his coal. All these Acts are likely to produce litigation, and now into the bargain we have this retroactive proposal about which the Lord Chancellor was silent.

In these circumstances would not my noble friend opposite consent either to postpone the Bill until the autumn or, still better, agree to submit it to a Select Committee? It is perfectly useless to pretend that between now and the end of the Session any further progress can be made. I hope, therefore, the noble Lord opposite will agree that it should go to a Select Committee and be considered at the early part of the next Autumn Session.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will not refuse to give this Bill a Second Reading to-day. Some very eloquent speakers have spoken on behalf of the coal industry, and we have heard a great deal about that side of the matter; but there is another side. The property owners' organisation with which I am associated has been worrying about this subsidence question for the last twenty years. We have made very strong representations to the Government on many occasions and have sent deputations. We have also tried to introduce Bills, but they have been unlucky, and we have been very worried indeed about the whole question. It has been suggested that this matter has not been sufficiently carefully considered. I would like to say that it took four years before the Commission, on whose Report this Bill is based, were able to report. I do not suppose they were working every day for four years, but it took them four years. This Bill was introduced into another place in a very much more favourable form to us as property owners than the Bill now before your Lordships. In Committee, which lasted, not as the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, said, an hour and a half, but no less than four days—


If I might interrupt the noble Lord, three days were occupied in Grand Committee on the Bill as originally brought in. No progress was made whatever. One meeting of the Committee only lasted fourteen minutes, and on the fourth day, when this Bill appeared before Grand Committee for consideration, there were only twenty-four members of the other House present.


I quite appreciate Lord Gainford's remarks; I am sure he is perfectly right. At the same time this Bill is admittedly a compromise on the part of the interested parties who have had innumerable conferences. The representatives of the property owners had numerous conferences with the interested parties trying to draft something that would be found to be workable. If the present Bill is not workable it can be amended in Committee of this House. I hope your Lordships will not send it to a Select Committee. Bills sent to a Select Committee have a habit of disappearing altogether, and you never hear of them again. The Bill could be made to work by a Committee of this House, and on behalf of the property owners I do ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading now and have the Committee stage on the floor of the House.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, as I anticipated, this little Bill has given rise to considerable discussion. I was comforted by the observation of the noble Lord who spoke last that there is another interest in this matter which perhaps has not received all the prominence to which it is properly entitled, but It think it is material, in view of some of the observations that have been made by various speakers, to remind your Lordships of the very drastic recommendations of the Royal Commission. It has been urged by more than one speaker—I think the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, mentioned it last—that there is retrospective applicability of this Bill. I would like therefore to read what the Royal Commission recommended. They said: We recommend that private owners or occupiers of existing houses of an annual value not exceeding £40 who at present have no right of support or right to compensation for damage caused by the withdrawal of support through mineral workings, shall, subject to certain conditions, have a right to compensation for such damage accorded them. The Royal Commission specifically had that point in mind, and deliberately recommended that these people should have this right.

Again, in paragraph 94 of their Report, they say: Dealing therefore broadly with the matter on this basis, and influenced most of us consideration of the cases of hardship which have been brought to our notice, we recommend that private owners or occupiers of houses of an annual value not exceeding £40 who at present have no right of support or right to compensation for damage caused by withdrawal of support through mineral working should have a right to compensation for such damage accorded them. That was the specific and definite recommendation of the Royal Commission composed of men of experience of all Parties which reported some ten years ago.


You have not given the conditions. They say "subject to certain conditions."


The conditions they recommended, so far as they are applicable to the narrow scope of the Bill, are inserted in this Bill. I confess I was a good deal puzzled by what was said by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in reference to paragraph (d) on page 2 of the Bill. The paragraph says: such damage first became manifest after such owner-occupier acquired the fee simple and so on. The words in the Bill may perhaps require to be amended to make more definite the intention, but the intention is to prevent claims for compensation being brought forward by people in respect of damage which may have happened a long time ago. The intention, whatever may be said about the precise form of words, clearly is to limit the right to bring a claim for damage to cases that have occurred since the owner acquired the house and to rule out all former damage. If it is not put in the best legalistic terms we shall be only too happy to secure that it does carry out the intention to limit claims in that way. Whilst I followed with great interest what the noble and learned Lord said about Clause 1 (2), at the top of page 3, I confess I was not clear at the end of his remarks what particular limitation he had in mind. I was, however, clear on this point, that it would be a distinct loss to your Lordships' House if we did not have the advantage of his guidance in Committee and it would be a bad thing for the Bill.

May I now, as the rules of procedure in your Lordships' House permit me, say a word on the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. If this Bill goes to a Select Committee at this time of the Session the Bill is dead.


Does the noble Lord mean to take the Committee stage of the Bill at this time of the Session?


I am coming to that. I am quite sure that if we recognise this principle—it is a very righteous principle, in a sensible and practical form—the proper thing is to give the Bill a Second Reading and then consider it in Committee of the Whole House under the guidance of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Now I come to the question just addressed to me by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. I think it is a perfectly reasonable point. There probably is not time between now and next Monday properly to consider possible Amendments. I am afraid one has to admit that. It arises from the fact that the Bill has come to us very late in the Session, and it is no fault of any of us here. But there is usually a continuation of the Session of a certain duration in the autumn, and the interval would give opportunity for the usual discussions which take place on Bills of this kind. I can say quite frankly on behalf of those who have asked me to take charge of the Bill that they are anxious that the intention and purpose of the Bill should be made definite and clear, and they would welcome any Amendment which may be suggested to ensure that the Bill achieves that purpose plainly and distinctly and does not go beyond it. I am quite sure that the best way of doing that is to take it in Committee of the Whole House with the best guidance and criticism that we can obtain. I therefore hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading, and that you will not agree to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing on the Paper in my name. I do not propose to make a speech on that Motion, but I think I must refer to one or two points raised by some noble Lords who have spoken. I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, speaks on behalf of large property owners. I would point out that the object of this Bill is to provide compensation for small property owners whose assessments are not greater than £40. As regards the royalty owners, they apparently do not support my Motion because this is a good Bill but because they feel the Bill might be made to work. Surely that is a poor argument. I feel so strongly that this Bill is unworkable, and requires thorough examination, that if necessary I must press my Motion to a Division.

Resolved in the affirmative and Motion agreed to accordingly.