HL Deb 26 June 1958 vol 210 cc309-50

4.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Opencast Coal Bill. Opencast coal operations are now carried on under the Defence Regulations. The Government believe that these wartime Regulations have gone on long enough. We have already revoked about three-quarters of them, and this Session we intend to pass legislation which provides for the repeal of the Defence Regulations relating to land, and their replacement, so far as is necessary, by peace-time statutory provisions. Your Lordships have already discussed the Water Bill and the Land Powers (Defence) Bill which form part of this operation; but the main purpose for which these Defence Regulations are now used is opencast coal production, and the present Bill is the last and largest step towards getting rid of them.

I am not going to-day to explain every detail of this long and complicated Bill. I want instead to try to do three things: first, to explain why, when there is at the present time a substantial surplus of some coal, we need to continue with opencast coal production; secondly, to explain why we need new powers for this purpose, and thirdly, to describe the main features of the new arrangements which will come into operation with this Bill.

Opencast coal working on a substantial scale began in this country in 1942 to help to relieve the acute shortage of coal which had then developed. Since that time the opencast sites have produced 160 million tons of coal. This coal was won at a time when we were having the greatest difficulty in balancing coal supplies and demand; indeed, we were able to do this only by curtailing exports and in some years by making substantial imports of coal. The opencast coal has made an essential contribution to our coal supplies and, an important point, it has been obtained from slightly less than 110,000 acres of land; most of this land was agricultural but it represented only about one quarter of one per cent. of the total acreage of agricultural land in the country.

Opencast coal output is now running at about 14 million tons a year. If, from now on, we brought no new sites into production, output would fall in two or three years to about 4 million tons a year. About a quarter of the 10 million tons of coal which we should lose would be large coal, of which, even to-day, there is no surplus. A loss of output on this scale in the next two or three years would inevitably mean a resumption of imports, particularly of large coal, and would compel me to reconsider the decision to remove restrictions on house coal supplies. To avoid this we must maintain a substantial level of opencast output for some time and we shall probably need some opencast output for the next ten years. The National Coal Board are, however, now reviewing their general coal production plans; this review includes opencast coal output. The Board will inform me of their conclusions, and I can assure your Lordships' House that I will give very close attention to their plans for opencast coal output. My aim will be to ensure the maintenance of adequate coal supplies while doing the minimum of damage to agriculture and amenity.

In the meantime the Government will continue to examine the Board's proposals for working individual sites on their merit. We will try to weigh the gain to the national economy from working the coal in these sites against the agricultural and amenity disadvantages, and we will continue to exempt from working sites which are on exceptionally good agricultural land or which are part of a landscape or close to a building which forms a part of our national heritage. Indeed, I hope that our improved coal situation will enable us to be a little more selective, and I am glad to say that in recent months we have been able to defer indefinitely the working of several sites sss which, in a more difficult coal situation, would not have qualified for exemption.

My Lords, I have given you in those few words our case for continuing with opencast coal production. The next question is: why do we need new legislation? Why cannot the National Coal Board manage to obtain sites by agreement or by using existing legislative provisions? The Board have authorised me to say that when this new Bill comes into operation they intend, whenever possible, to obtain the land or rights in land which they need for opencast working by agreement. They will be willing, if the landlord so wishes, to buy the land outright and when they do this they will dispose of the land when they have no further use for it. We cannot, however, just leave it at that. There will be cases when an owner or occupier flatly refuses to do a deal and so prevents the working of a large quantity of coal. In other cases the owners and occupiers may be willing to do a deal, but coal working may be prevented by restrictive covenants on the use of the land. Without new powers the only way in which the Coal Board could possibly overcome these difficulties would be for them to satisfy the High Court under the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923, that the other parties were acting unreasonably. Such legal actions would be too uncertain in their outcome, and too slow, for us to rely on them in this important matter. We should run the risk of a serious loss of opencast production which might be greater than the country could afford.

A second serious objection to relying on existing legislative provisions is that there would be great difficulty about town and country planning control. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, responsibility for authorising the working of new opencast coal sites would rest with the local planning authorities. Our general policy is to delegate as many decisions as possible to local authorities and to reserve as few as possible for Whitehall, but there are two special difficulties in this case. In the first place, the level at which it is necessary to maintain opencast coal production must be decided nationally, in the light of the coal situation as a whole. This level of production can be achieved, however, only if the right decisions are taken about the working of new sites. I think it follows that these decisions must also be taken for the country as a whole by the Government, who have full information about the general coal situation as well as the opencast coal position in all parts of the country.

In the second place—and this is a matter to which the Government attach the greatest importance—we have, during the past years, developed a high standard of agricultural restoration after opencast coal working. We all want to see that standard maintained; and that means imposing on the Board detailed conditions about working and restoration. It is doubtful whether the local planning authorities have the power under the Town and Country Planning Act to impose these conditions, and, through no fault of their own, they certainly have not the necessary technical knowledge which is at present concentrated in the agricultural Departments. To ensure a high standard of agricultural restoration we must make special arrangements for the close Ministerial control of opencast coal production. For these reasons, the Government have come to the conclusion that if opencast coal production is to go on at all, new legislation is necessary to replace the Defence Regulations.

I should now like to outline the main provisions of this legislation. I shall concentrate on the first few clauses of the Bill, which provide for ministerial control over opencast coal working in place of the normal town and country planning control and which give the Board reserve compulsory powers to obtain certain rights in land. Ministerial control of opencast coal working is secured by Clauses 1 and 2 which prevent the Coal Board from working coal by opencast methods except under an authorisation granted by the Minister of Power. When applying for this authorisation the Board will have to go through the procedures set out in the First Schedule. They will have to publish in the local Press and in the London Gazette and the Edinburgh Gazette a notice of their intention to seek the authorisation, and to serve notice on all the main local authorities concerned, and on the owners, lessees and occupiers of the land. There will be an opportunity for objections, and if these come from an owner, lessee or occupier, or from a local authority, the Minister will be obliged to have them heard at a public local inquiry. The Board have told me that, in addition to these formal requirements, they will, before they apply for the Minister's authorisation of opencast coal working, discuss their plans informally with the owners and occupiers of the land, the local authorities and other public bodies likely to be interested. The Board's aim in these informal discussions will be to work out a detailed proposal which is acceptable to all the parties concerned.

These procedural proposals go far beyond our present arrangements and are, I think, in accordance with the spirit of the Franks Report. We propose, however, to supplement the statutory provisions by certain administrative arrangements designed to implement the main recommendations of the Franks Committee. From the start of the new procedures I am going to require the Coal Board to make a full statement of their case available to objectors in good time before a public local inquiry. I will give full, reasoned decisions in all opencast coal cases, and I will make copies of the inspector's report available to the parties to an inquiry. Moreover, public local inquiries under the Bill will not be conducted by officials of the Ministry of Power. In England and Wales, the inspectors of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will do the job, and in Scotland, in accordance with the normal Scottish practice, I shall appoint suitably qualified independent inspectors.

Under Clause 2 the Minister can attach to his authorisation of opencast coal working a direction giving what we call a "deemed planning permission"; this means that planning permission is given for the working of the site. Such directions can include all the normal planning conditions and, under Clause 2 (2), they must include conditions to secure the restoration of the site. In the case of agricultural land, these conditions must normally provide for the restoration of the land so that it is reasonably fit for agricultural use. I should like to take this opportunity to state quite categorically that it is the Government's intention at least to maintain present standards of restoration, and, in particular, to require the Board, in the national interest, to restore all agricultural land to the general standard laid down in a code of restoration which was adopted in 1951 and which is now being improved as a result of discussions which my Department and the National Coal Board have recently had with the agricultural organisations.

This code provides for five years' special treatment of restored agricultural land. This treatment is now carried out by the Agricultural Departments and, as has already been announced in another place, they will continue to do this job as the Board's agents for this purpose under the new arrangements. The Forestry Commission will act similarly in the case of woodland. This means that the knowledge and experience which these Departments have accumulated will still be available to secure the best possible restoration of the land taken for opencast coal working.

Before I pass from this subject, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 3. This clause is modelled on Section 37 of the Electricity Act, 1957, which was added to that Act when it was before your Lordships' House. It requires both the Board and the Minister to pay full regard to the preservation of natural and man-made beauty when carrying out their functions and duties under this Bill. The inclusion of the clause means that in their statement of the case for an authorisation, the Board will have to argue on all the points it mentions; that the inspector who holds a public local inquiry will have to deal with these points at the inquiry and in his report, and that the Minister will have to address himself to them in his published decision on the Board's application for an authorisation.

I turn now to the Board's reserve compulsory powers to obtain the rights in land they need for opencast coal working. These are contained in Clauses 4 and 5, which empower the Board by means of what is called a "compulsory rights order" to acquire the right to occupy land for a limited period, which must be stated in the order and which must not exceed ten years. In addition, Clauses 4 and 6 empower the Board to acquire the rights needed to hold, for up to ten years from the commencement of the Act, land which is at present held under requisition for opencast coal disposal points and stocking grounds. This provision was added to the Bill in another place. The Board have valuable equipment on this land and this equipment could be dismantled and re-erected elsewhere only at the cost of considerable inconvenience and expense. The power to hold this land under Defence Regulations expires at the end of 1960, and the Board would clearly be in a very weak bargaining position if they had to negotiate its purchase or lease before then without any reserve compulsory powers in the background. We are not, however, giving the Board compulsory powers to obtain land for new disposal points and stocking grounds. For these, the Board have some choice of sites, and their position is no more difficult than that of many other industrial concerns who have a limited choice of sites for their works but who do not enjoy powers to obtain land compulsorily.

A power to obtain rights in land for a limited period is, I think, without any major precedent in peace-time legislation. We decided to make this novel provision because we thought that it would be wrong in principle to give the Board a power to purchase land compulsorily when they need to occupy it for only a few years. I am quite sure that this general decision was right, but it is largely because of it that the Bill is so long and complicated. We have had to work out a new and detailed code of compensation to the owners and occupiers of the land which is taken, and we have also had to include complicated technical provisions adapting the whole of the law dealing with relations between landlords, tenants and others with an interest in the land. I do not want to wander far over this very technical ground, but I should like to make four points about compulsory rights orders.

The first point is that under Clause 4 (1) no compulsory rights order for a production site may be made after ten years from the date of operation of the Act. As I have already said, we think that some opencast production will be necessary for the next ten years. Thereafter, our energy supplies will be more flexible and we hope that it will be possible for any continuing opencast output to be obtained by the Board without these special compulsory powers. We think it is right that the farmers and others affected should have this assurance that the use of compulsory powers to opencast coal working is not going on indefinitely.

The second point is that we think it wrong to take people's homes and gardens for opencast coal working against their wishes. We have therefore provided, in Clause 9 (1), that no compulsory rights order may be made against an occupied dwelling-house, its garden and certain other land held with it.

Thirdly, every compulsory rights order will be subject to confirmation by the Minister of Power under a procedure which will give all persons with a legal interest in the land or a right restrictive of the use of the land a right to object and to have their objections heard. This procedure also provides extra protection, including "special Parliamentary procedure" for certain types of land such as common land, land owned by local authorities and land held inalienably by the National Trust.

Finally, I come to the compensation provisions. Our general aim here has been to replace the present rather arbitrary code of compensation by a new system which is designed to work out fairly in the individual cases. The tenants and owner-occupiers of land which is comprised in a compulsory rights order will receive rental compensation equal to the annual value of the land which is taken, plus an annual sum designed to compensate them for any further loss which they suffer as a result of the order. This latter sum may, quite fairly I think, be reduced by any sums which the occupiers could have earned if they had taken all opportunites which are reasonably open to them of mitigating their loss and which would not have been open to them if there had been no compulsory rights order. For example, a farmer who loses his entire farm can reasonably be expected to seek another farm or take another job, if there is a suitable one available, while the Board are in occupation of his land, and his compensation will be assessed on the assumption that he does this. Landowners will continue to receive rent from their tenants; they will get compensation from the Board for the injurious affection of any other land which they own, and they will get their lands restored to a high standard. In addition, the Board, after the end of their occupation, will have to pay the costs reasonably incurred in carrying out the work needed to complete the restoration of the land to its former condition, and landowners will also receive terminal compensation equal to the diminution in the value of their land caused by the Board's operations, but taking account of the Board's liability to pay for further works of restoration. This new system of compensation is certainly fairer than the existing system and, on the whole, I think that it will also prove more generous.

There will be a later opportunity to examine in detail the other provisions of the Bill, but there are two or three to which I think I should draw your Lordships' attention. Clause 15 empowers the Minister to make orders temporarily suspending footpaths which cross opencast coal sites. There are various safeguards, including provisions about the provision of suitable alternative rights of way, the restoration of the footpath after working, and the revocation of the order as soon as it is no longer required. Clause 39 gives the Coal Board a power to enter land compulsorily to prospect for coal workable by opencast means and for certain other purposes. Normally, the Board will seek to prospect by agreement with the owners and occupiers of the land, but as large tonnages of coal could be sterilised if an owner or occupier refused to agree to prospecting, the Board must have a reserve compulsory power. Clause 48 and the Tenth Schedule contain the detailed provisions needed to ensure a smooth transition from the existing requisitioning arrangements to the new system.

My Lords, this is a complicated Bill and I am sure that your Lordships will have many important points to raise on it. I hope, however, that it will, in principle, commend itself to all sides of the House. A high level of opencast coal production will probably be necessary for some time, and it is very desirable that the war-time requisitioning powers should be replaced by new peace-time legislation which contains more adequate safeguards for the people and authorities who are affected by opencast coal working. This is what this Bill seeks to do, and it is on that basis that I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

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

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Mills, and in reading the debates in the other place, my mind went back sixteen years to this very month, when I was persuaded by my noble friend Lord Attlee and the late Ernest Bevin, along with the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, to leave the House of Commons and to accept an administrative post in the then new Ministry of Fuel and Power. The post I was given was Controller of the North West Region. I had in mind mainly deep coal mining, but it was not long before I found out that there was another aspect of the problem, which was opencast mining, and I am not too sure that opencast mining did not cause me more headaches than deep coal mining. I can well remember that when some sites were suggested for prospecting, the landowner, the farmer, at once got in touch with me, sometimes privately, to ask whether something could not be done to prevent it. When agreement there was reached, I then found that those fine voluntary bodies concerned with the preservation of natural beauty wanted to know what I was going to do here, there and everywhere.

The reason for opencast mining in those days was that the output of the ordinary mines was inadequate and did not meet the domestic and industrial needs for coal. Therefore it was necessary to find some other coal somewhere, and it was decided to go to opencast. Opencast mining during the war provided many millions of tons of coal which were sorely needed in this country. I found myself fairly often faced with the initial problem of agreeing that certain sites—some very near my home—should be allowed to be dealt with on opencast mining lines. The difficulty I had in many cases was to satisfy the landowner, the farmer, that this was in the national interest, but I was helped in particular by one consideration, namely, that there was a war on, and it was not as difficult as it might have been to get agreement, especially if we had had a few air raids the week before. All interested parties then realised the importance of getting along with the war effort and the part opencast coal would play in that.

But things have changed. To-day the ordinary collieries of this country can produce all the coal required for the domestic and industrial needs of this country. There is no need to-day to supplement the output of the ordinary collieries; they can produce sufficient; they can meet the need. But, despite that fact, it is said that we shall continue opencast mining. It is not this Bill that continues opencast mining. Opencast mining is going on and will continue to go on. But those of us who were in the coal industry and closely associated with all its activities are a little concerned. The ordinary miner is unable to understand why certain collieries are closed for economic reasons and yet here we have this kind of coal production; and there is an element of dissatisfaction right through the coal industry because of the continuation of opencast mining. The miners thought that if any legislation was required it would be to end opencast mining.

Personally, I am inclined to think that the case put forward by the Minister goes a long way to answer the question of why opencast mining should be continued. After all, over a million tons of coal every month is sure to mean something; it is bound to play some part, if not an important part, in the economy of the country. It may help—I think it will help—to eliminate the need to import coal, and I am not so sure that it could not be a means of helping to export coal, which we all know to be of great advantage to the national economy. Therefore, on the question whether the case has been made out, personally I am not too happy, but I feel that the case made in the other place and made to-day by the Minister goes a long way to satisfy me on the issue.

I should like to ask this question. The period of ten years has been mentioned many times this afternoon. I should have thought that a shorter period would have been better; that the rate of opening up new sites could slow down and that opencast mining should be given five, six or seven years in which gradually to cease. It is a big thing to dismantle the tremendous organisation involved in producing opencast coal on hundreds of sites throughout the country. I should have preferred some gradual close down of opencast mining, and a concentration on deep coal mining. But if I accept the need for continuation of opencast mining, then I accept this Bill, and I think the Bill is a step forward. The problems I had to deal with are dealt with in this Bill. I am quite certain that what is in the Bill to-day would have helped me immensely during those four years of operation in the north-west.

But the problems are not easy. Think of the problem of compensation referred to by the noble Lord in his closing passages. I always felt during the war, and have felt since the war, that the previous compensation arrangement was rather ungenerous. I think that the new proposals will be more generous. I think so; I am not too sure, because I find that the National Farmers' Union (and I have no doubt other Members of your Lordships' House have seen the circular statement which they sent out) call attention to a point covered by the Minister—I would not say covered adequately, but covered by the Minister fairly well this afternoon. They refer to a provision in paragraph 8 of the Sixth Schedule, which imposes on the occupier upon whose land a compulsory rights order operates an obligation to take all reasonable steps to mitigate his loss of profit.

The Minister referred to the possibility that a whole farm had been taken. You then set about assessing compensation for that whole farm and you say to yourself, "Taking the whole farm has liberated the farmer and made him find another job. Therefore, we assess the compensation bearing in mind the other job he has found." It may be that he has taken another farm. I can see the power of the Ministry's argument that since you have liberated him to take another job—and maybe, judging, from farmers' complaints, the other job is better than a farm—therefore one should say, "He has earned more than if we had not taken his farm; therefore compensation should be paid accordingly." But I have a feeling in my mind that there is something here that is slightly ungenerous. After all, that farm is his livelihood. He has lived there—and probably his parents and his grandparents before him—and he has suffered some loss. It may be difficult to translate the loss into pounds, shillings and pence, but I do not think the Bill need have been so ungenerous as it is in that particular respect. Generally, in regard to compensation I think that the provisions of the Bill are adequate.

Restoration was never easy, and it is not easy now. The difficulty lies in determining the degree of fertility of the land before it is taken over for opencast working, and to contrast that with the fertility of the same piece of land some time after restoration. I found a tendency to claim that it was the most fertile land in Great Britain before we took it over, and the poorest land for fertility after we had restored it. It is not too easy to determine whether there has been a change. I had letters of thanks from farmers for the improvement of the land as the result of restoration following opencast mining. On this particular issue, I hope that regard will be had to the fertility of the land before and after the Operation.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin that it is a question of how long the site is going to be worked. There are sites which will go on for years. I had sites in the North-West which went on throughout my official career there. What happens? The topsoil is taken and put in a heap to await completion of the extraction of coal. The site is eventually filled up and the topsoil brought back. But the fact that it has stood there for perhaps two or three years does not always improve the topsoil. To assess exactly when a site is restored to the degree of fertility required is not easy. This Bill makes better provision for restoration than the present Act. I agree entirely that we should get away from the Defence Regulations. I am quite certain that the machinery laid down here will be much better for dealing with this difficult problem and its many different aspects than the machinery now in operation. The result is that, on the whole, since it has been decided in the interests of the country to continue opencast mining. I find this Bill acceptable.

I want to emphasise the words "this Bill" because I am speaking of the Bill introduced into your Lordships' House, and not the Bill as first introduced into another place. I was pleased that both the Minister and his colleagues were so reasonable and so wise (I have no doubt whatever, under his guidance) in dealing with the hundreds of Amendments that were suggested. Seldom have I seen a piece of legislation so greatly amended between its introduction and its Third Reading in another place. I feel that this Bill is a serious attempt to deal with a difficult problem, and that it is an improvement on the present machinery provided for dealing with the various aspects of the problem. I feel certain that all the interests here involved—those of the landowner, of the farmer, and of the cottage owners—are served. I have plenty of sympathy in regard to the question of gardens. I was called to many places to see sites where gardens were in danger. In every case I did not hesitate to do what I could to prevent gardens from being endangered. I am glad that this Bill does the same thing. Since it is considered necessary to continue opencast mining, I personally extend a warm welcome to the Bill.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, in addressing your Lordships on this Bill I ought in some sense to declare a personal interest in the matter, as is usually clone by those Members of your Lordships' House who have interests involved. I have, in fact, experienced the working of opencast mining on land belonging to me for a matter of fifteen years or so, and I have had the misfortune to come closely in contact with the working of the present machinery. I can, however, absolve myself, I think, from any real interest of that sort in the matter because I intend to contract out of it. In fact, the Minister has said that the Coal Board are willing to make voluntary agreements for the working of coal without compulsory orders.

We are in great difficulty here because of the importance of the land, on the one hand, and the need for coal, on the other. May I say at the outset that I have heard—and I believe it to be quite true—that in some parts of the country, on certain types of soil, land has been worked for opencast mining and has not been damaged. I have, indeed, heard, and again it may be true, that in some cases the land may have been improved. There is, no doubt, however, that some kinds of land, mainly on heavy clay subsoil, are considerably damaged, even after restoration—drainage and so on. So that at least on some types of land there arises the question of the usefulness of the future state of the land. It is not entirely a matter of coal. As the noble Lord has just said, it was impossible during the war to argue very much about the absolute and overriding necessity of coal being got for the national need. It is more difficult to-day to accept that argument so completely. We know about the stocks of coal in hand and of pits slowing down, and I think one feels a little more doubtful about this opencast working than one used to do.

I remember that a few years after the war those concerned about this matter from the agricultural point of view almost had a promise that opencast coal mining was going to stop in (I think it was) three years. But when those three years had passed it was said, "No, we must go on for longer." So this type of working has continued, under the requisitioning system. I appreciate that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has to some extent made a case, on the score that certain qualities of coal are needed which can be got in this way. I feel that however much, from the agricultural point of view, we dislike this method of working, it would be wrong to oppose this Bill on this ground, although I think that, had it not in other ways been amended in another place, we should have felt compelled to oppose it in this House, so as to get the improvements that are now evident. In fact, in the other place the Bill was changed radically to meet these views.

On the question of coal as against land, I think one must admit that there are occasions when the interests of the country in regard to its need for coal must override the agricultural view. The agricultural view, I think, should properly be, and I believe is, based first of all on the importance of preserving the land, both for the present and the future, and, secondly, on the proper protection of the present owners and occupants of the land concerned. I think that that view would be met if there were in the Bill a statement to the effect that the Minister should not enforce opencast coal mining in any particular case unless at that time it was in his view clearly in the national interests that such work should proceed. That is the assumption underlying the Bill, although it is not, I think, actually stated. I think one would feel easier in one's mind about accepting the Bill if that were categorically stated in an early and prominent part of the Bill itself.

There are many people who say—I personally do not say this, but I have heard it said—that there is a strong vested interest among those who are employed on working opencast coal and who have invested in machinery and so on, so that there is a strong motive to have the system continued. I am not saying that, but I have heard it, and I am repeating it. It is certainly true that the National Coal Board find opencast coal more profitable to mine than deep-mined coal, and some people have a feeling that that may influence the attitude of the Minister in making a compulsory order. I am not saying that the Minister would be so influenced, but I feel that all doubts would be removed, both now and for the future ten years, if there were at the beginning of the Bill a categorical statement that the Minister must not enforce these arrangements unless at that particular time—and that is the operative point; at the time—there was a national need for this coal and it could not be got in any other way.

In practice, the objections to the requisitioning procedure were mainly two. One was that there was no provision whatever for appeal. In the ordinary way there was no provision for anybody whose interests were affected by an order even to say that he did not like it or that he hoped it would be varied in some way. That, of course, is the inevitable nature of a requisitioning power which is intended for war-time use. The other objection was that, at the end of it all, the various interests, the owners and occupiers-whether tenants or owner-occupiers—felt that financially they had been rather harshly treated. If, therefore, this form of coal production is to continue, one cannot but welcome a Bill which has as its objects something in the direction of meeting the two main difficulties about requisitioning to which I have referred.

The point about the Bill which strikes one most is its extreme length, difficulty and complication. It seems that it must inevitably involve a great deal of work, trouble and misunderstanding for the sake of working to a system laid down by the Bill itself. I had hoped that we could have a much simpler Bill which would re-enact a small part of the Compensation (Defence) Act, with the alterations on the two points to which I have referred. The point is that although those affected by the Compensation (Defence) Act and requisitioning object on the ground that they have no say and because of the strict limits of compensation which are imposed in that Act, the whole procedure—the way the land is restored and drained—is really working reasonably well. During the last six or seven years, since the National Coal Board took over responsibility from the Ministry, this Act has become much more easy to work from what I may Call the "victims' "end than it used to be. Perhaps it is not going too far to say that from the very beginning, driven on by the urgency and necessities of war, those who came from various Government Departments and initiated these proposals were not always as tactful as they should have been in their approach to farmers and owners of land. I am glad to say, however, that it is the experience of most of those affected that the National Coal Board have been seriously trying to behave—and I believe they are succeeding—in a reasonable and practical way, which is a great advance on the conditions that existed originally.

As it has been decided not to tinker with the requisitioning powers and the Compensation (Defence) Act, the structure of the Bill itself makes matters extremely difficult, and I doubt whether in many ways it is practical. As a first step, the authorisation by the Minister (which gives the Board power to work, whether by voluntary or compulsory arrangements) has been hinged on planning legislation: it has become a matter of planning. I entirely agree—and practical experience on a planning committee would tend to make me agree—that proposals of this kind for working large areas of coal can be decided only, on planning grounds, by the Government Department concerned. I cannot imagine how a planning authority could be in a position to know enough about the overall position of the needs of the country for coal and so on, and all the other factors which go to justify an authorisation. So one must admit that it is reasonable enough that the Minister, in making the authorisation, should also be able to give planning permission.

The defect of the Bill in this respect is that the really important thing, which is the restoration of the land—a matter which runs all through the Bill—is not included somewhere in the Bill on its own merits. It is simply hinged on to the planning permission, in the Part of the Bill dealing with the authorisation by the Minister. Far too little is said about restoration. The Minister is told that he must restore agricultural land except under certain conditions, but he is not told to what standard the land is expected to be restored. That provision is very loosely worded, and it leaves out entirely forestry land, which requires restoration in exactly the same way. Whether land is afterwards to be used for forestry or for agriculture is perhaps beside the point, because in many cases the two are interchangeable. Where difficulties may arise is about who is to enforce the conditions. The conditions in the authorisation made by the Minister are presumably the conditions which the National Coal Board will have in their contract with the contractor. The National Coal Board will supervise the contractor's work, but if it goes wrong, it is not clear who will have the duty of getting in touch with the National Coal Board and seeing that they get those conditions seen to.

Coming now to compulsory orders, I am glad that the Minister has repeated what has already been said in another place: that after the authorisation a great deal of this work will be done by agreement, and that the National Coal Board have expressed their intention of following that course. Nevertheless, this Bill is a little formidable. It is true that in order to make a voluntary agreement it is necessary to have authorisation, but the voluntary agreement is not mentioned at all anywhere in the Bill. It looks as if the policy of Her Majesty's Government is that there should be compulsory orders. It may be only a question of appearance, but I believe that it is important that in a Bill of this kind the Government's policy should be expressed; and I believe that, as a matter of policy, there should be a reference to the fact that, if possible, voluntary agreements are to be the normal procedure.

One would like to see somewhere in the Bill that the Minister may not confirm a compulsory order unless he is satisfied that the National Coal Board have made a proper attempt to reach agreement with the owners, occupiers and other interests. It is reasonable to suppose, and one believes, that the National Coal Board will try to do that, and in practice I do not feel there should be much difficulty. But I believe that it is good for the policy to be in the Bill. It is to last for ten years, and there may be different people and different Ministers in charge—though we hope not. These things should be written into the Bill, and I hope the House will agree with me that, as a matter of policy, that should be done.

The combination of two public inquiries, one if people object to authorisation and another if they object to a compulsory order, seems to me very difficult to envisage. I take it to mean that an owner may object on planning grounds, for instance, because his land in his view is too good to be used for these purposes and should therefore be exempted; then if he finds that the Minister gives authorisation he may be willing to make the best bargain he can. Whether he will be in a position to do that or not, or whether he will find that there is also a compulsory order made against him before he has had the opportunity of coming to a voluntary agreement, I do not know, but I think we need to be careful on that point.

I sense all the time a feeling behind the Bill that "We want to push these things through as quickly as ever we can". That, of course, is right enough: we want to keep the production going and we must prepare the sites in reasonable time. But these things cannot really be done as quickly as all that. Voluntary agreements are going to take a long time to make, whatever we may wish to do. I am at this moment engaged in trying to make a voluntary agreement which will operate if this Bill becomes law, but with the best will in the world, it is not the sort of thing one can do quickly. One has to give a farmer who is perhaps a tenant or perhaps an owner, and who may have been in occupation for a long, long time, some opportunity to look around him. One may want him to move right out and go to another farm or give up half his land, and he must have time to look around and see what he can do and how he is going to farm. The alternative to ruthless and quick legislation is, in fact, a certain amount of delay so that people can be given the chance to accept things with more or less good will and can have time to make their plans.

I feel that there is difficulty about another point in relation to compulsory orders, and that is the situation that arises when property is excluded. As I understand it, if one owns a rather large house with a garden all around it, the house and garden cannot be taken for opencast coal working under a compulsory order. But if one lives in a very small house in a village and it has a diminutive garden or no garden at all, the land can be taken up to the very walls of the house. I have had this point explained to me: that if one lives in a cottage one is not the legal occupier of the land around and one has therefore no interest in the matter and so should not be considered. I do not think that that is in any way reasonable or fair, whatever the legal position may be. People have had such working quite close to them. In fact, I have been living for the last two years or so with working 200 yards away from me. It is tolerable, but it is by no means pleasant. It is noisy, it is dirty, there are violent explosions, and there are lights on all night; but one just has to put up with it and keep on hoping that there will not be too much damage to the land at the end of it.

I simply cannot imagine the condition of anybody living in a small cottage in a village or the outskirts of a town with this sort of thing going on right up to the walls of the house. It seems to me absolutely fantastic and perfectly ridiculous that a large and substantial garden around a big house should keep that house safe and enable it to escape, whereas not even fifty yards around a small house should be protected. I should have thought that, quite apart from legal arguments (which I am quite certain are impeccable and which I cannot oppose), there are several grounds of simple humanity for saying that this sort of thing should not be perpetrated within at least fifty yards of anybody's house. It seems to me to be an extraordinary thing that this should not be so. I must not get too far into the argument on this matter because I am afraid it is verging on a Committee point; but one of the difficulties about this Bill is that there are so many complications and so many Committee points that altogether they seem to add up to some point of policy which is perhaps more properly dealt with on a Second Reading debate. I think the House will be wise to give very serious attention to that point when it comes to the Committee stage.

There is another point of policy which I think is going to be extremely difficult to decide. The Government have always taken the line (and it is in the Bill now and was so discussed in another place) that land which has once had a compulsory order made in relation to it cannot by law have another one put upon it. Immediately one asks, what is the reason for that? In this Bill land which has been requisitioned—and that, in effect, is the same as having a compulsory order made upon it—is capable of having such an order put upon it. We know why that is done. It is done because in the early days of working, coal was capable of being got out from sixty, seventy-five or eighty feet, and then the time came when machinery became available which could go deeper and they wanted to come back and take out a seam again. I should have thought that in the next ten years or so it was more than likely that machinery could be developed which would make it equally sensible to come back to the land which had been the subject of the compulsory order, and ask for another one.

On the other hand, on grounds of proper use and care of the land, one might well argue that land which had once been disturbed and consequently damaged had far better be taken again, if possible, than land which had not yet been disturbed, because the disturbed land had already depreciated considerably. But whether the land is taken by compulsory order or by requisition, at least the treatment should be the same in both cases.

The next most difficult thing starts with Clause 10. This concerns the treatment of timber. I am perhaps rather taking this out of order in the Bill, for it starts in Clause 10 and goes on through, I think, four other clauses, and ends up in a Schedule. The question is, how timber is to be treated and paid for. I am quite clear that there is every intention in the Bill to pay the proper value of the timber and to do it in the reasonably sensible way, but I am afraid that the method adopted is an extremely difficult one. At present, if land is requisitioned the procedure is very simple. The timber standing on the land is valued, the price agreed, and that is the end of it. In this Bill, Clause 10 starts off by saying that all timber on the land when the order is made belongs to the Board. Then the other clauses go on to deal with the matter, and the end of it is that when the land is handed back in ten years' time, the same timber is, so to speak, replaced on the same site in the same condition as it was in the beginning, and if it is not in that same condition, the difference is paid. That seems to me really too far-fetched and too imaginary a system to be practicable.

There are various cases of plantations of different ages, where it is possible to envisage that the owner might get the proper increment on the present timber during those years; and there are other cases where he might not. Certainly in the case of land with fully-grown timber all of which was mature and ready to sell, the owner cannot prove what the difference in value would be in ten years or what would be the difference in value of the land if the timber had been on it. In fact, it may be that the opposite happens, so that the owner of the timber gets paid ten years ahead and gets no interest on his money. I am quite certain that it is not the intention in this Bill to do anything which is unfair, but I think it will inevitably happen as I have suggested, and I should have thought that there was a simple solution. The well known practice about which there has never been any difficulty and which has usually been quite easy has been to buy the timber as it stands and for what it is worth and be done with it.

Now there is the question of annual compensation. The system proposed in the Bill, though complicated, has the appearance of being extremely fair, but it is based on the necessity for the occupier of the land to demonstrate what he has been making out of it; and for many small farmers that is an extremely difficult thing to do. Although the intention here is to be fair to all, rather than to go on the old rough and ready system in requisitioning, based on so many times the rent, it seems to me that it is making a mountain out of a molehill. I believe, in fact, that although from the point of view of annual compensation many occupiers will perhaps be slightly better off under this Bill, there will be some who will be worse off; and I think it is impossible to suggest any means of writing a sort of bottom limit into the Bill. It would probably have been better to have something more like the rough and ready system which goes on in the matter of requisitioning.

I cannot help but refer to the matter of diminution of compensation, to which the noble Lord opposite referred. It is reasonable enough to assume, if a man has a certain sum paid to him by way of compensation (that was one of the things referred to in the Sixth Schedule), that he will invest it and the income from it should be taken against the compensation he is to get. It would be reasonable enough if a man could take over a farm at any time he liked. But that will not always apply; there are not many farms to let. A man could not be expected to take a farm at any time. He could hardly be expected to take a job as a farm manager at any time, because there are few jobs of that type. To expect him to change his occupation and to go to work for the Coal Board or anyone else is totally unreasonable. Such people cannot be expected to work in a subordinate position on work they do not know and understand, wasting all their skill and training; I think that that is really too harsh. There may be some logic in saying that a man must mitigate his compensation to a certain point—in a minor way that is reasonable—but I am certain that the matter goes much too far in this Bill.

Again trying hard to keep out of detail, I would say that there are some terrible difficulties in the terminal compensation. The system proposed in this Bill when it was first introduced has been changed round almost entirely in another place. I would suggest that it has been considerably improved, but I think that it needs more work done on it. There is such a complicated relation between restoration and compensation that the two can hardly be considered separately. May I refer briefly to what happens now?—I do not mean in regard to compensation but in regard to what is done to the soil. The coal having been removed, the overburden is put back, followed by the subsoil and then the top soil. That, in the jargon of those who deal with this matter, is called "restoration".

On top of that there are the questions of fences, gates, water supply, water mains, roads and so on; and these are dealt with nominally on a like-for-like basis. That is to say, the land is not supposed to have more amenities of that sort than it had before; but it need not be in the same condition. That being so, the land is kept under requisition for five years and the Ministry of Agriculture try to improve it. That is known colloquially as "rehabilitation". The things which can be done under rehabilitation are cultivations, fertilisations, subsoiling and operations of that sort. After five years it is generally felt that rehabilitation has been taken about as far as it can go, except in the matter of drains. They have been removed and are not put in again, and the policy so far has been not to put them in for fifteen or twenty years from the date of working. I think the trend of opinion now is to put them in sooner, but they are not put in when the land is handed back. The owner gets a promise from the Government to drain the land when it is suitable, and he gets what I would describe as a "mingy" undertaking to keep the drains working for three years only. On the basis of that promise for the drains, the owner puts in his claim for diminution of the value of the land as it is assumed it should be when the drains are put in.

The complaint about the present system, from the point of view of the owner, is the very narrow limits imposed by the law under which requisitioning is done and the amount of compensation one can get for the diminution of the value of the land. To put in under this Bill a very elaborate cost-of-works payment, which may continue for fifteen years after the work on the land by the Coal Board, seems a complete misconception of what is intended to be done. Also, the drainage cannot be dealt with at the time, and the cost cannot be estimated at the time, because, with changing prices, no one knows what the cost will be ten years hence; and apart from drainage only minor things can be done. About the only thing that would be reasonable for a claim would be the removal of stones and rocks, although I think it is true to say that the later method of restoration does avoid that, and rather exceptional repairs to fences over the first few years, because they are put into soil which is not in good condition and they tend to move because the ground tends to move.

Why it is necessary to provide for costs-of-works payment to landlord or tenant for fifteen years it is very difficult to see. One would have thought it better to settle up when the Coal Board go out, and to make a definite arrangement—so much for the diminution in the value of the land, with a promise to drain the land and maintain it for five years afterwards or whatever the period may be. That course seems so much simpler. I do not think it is really fair to land on the Coal Board an unknown amount in respect of cost-of-works payments for fifteen years. They cannot know what is going to be involved and there will be endless arguments. The point is that whatever you do you cannot get the land back to its value. Its value is not spoilt only because of the condition of the top-soil; the question involves what is underneath—certainly in the sort of clay land which I know so well. It is packed so hard and so solid that water and air cannot get through it, and no amount of fertiliser will overcome that. It is only time that will do it. It has to be watered for years and years—at least that is how we understand the position to be, although I do not think anyone really knows.

What one wants is a promise by the Government to drain the land when it is ready for it, and for the bargain to be made at the time the Coal Board go out, and be done with it. That seems to me to be the really practical way of dealing with the matter, and I am alarmed at the difficulty that will arise for people who are faced with the Bill as it is. This Bill needs a lot of work done on it, and there is not much time. Whatever happens, it is going to be a very complicated Bill, and when it becomes law it will be necessary for people to know what it is all about arid how it affects them. I think that one can ask that there should be a certain amount of publicity about it in simple language, so that those affected in various parts of the country should get to learn what their position is. They will find that this Bill is so difficult, complicated and frightening that they will make a bargain with the Coal Board at any cost whatever, to avoid their being subject to the compulsory provisions of this Bill.

The owners or occupiers feel that they want more than they are getting because the basis underlying the compensation side is so small in relation to the scale of operation and profit of the Coal Board on opencast coal mining. They put their profits at 6s. to 7s, a ton. We all want to see the Coal Board make a profit and be successful, but I do not think that anybody, either the Government or the Coal Board, wants to make a profit at the expense of other people. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill quoted the figure of 1,500 tons an acre for opencast coal working. I have known cases where the estimated amount was 6,000 tons an acre, but if we take the figure of 1,500 tons as an average, at 6s. to 7s. a ton there appears to be a profit of £500 an acre, and the sort of figures that make people dissatisfied and sore do not come to more than £30 to £40 an acre. It seems to be out of all proportion to be so strict and severe on all these points.

In spite of that, I think that the Government have gone the right way in introducing this Bill, and I hope that it can be improved in its passage through your Lordships' House. There will be a number of Amendments of which I know, and I hope that other noble Lords will have some more. I hope that we shall have adequate time to deal with them. At this time of the year there is often trouble about changing the times at which Bills are taken, and I hope that the dates in respect of this Bill which have been announced will not be changed.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships long, but I have a point to raise in connection with the water industry. Perhaps I should declare an interest, because I am a director of a statutory water company, but this is a general point and I think a proper one to voice on Second Reading. Naturally water undertakings have considerable concern with the advent of this Bill. Their own statutory duties, which are extremely important, are to provide adequate supplies of unpolluted water and to see that their works are safe and not a public menace. For instance, a dam which gives way would become a public menace.

These requirements of the statutory water undertakings are naturally in jeopardly with opencast coal mining. It does not take much imagination to realise how easy it is for underground pipes to be destroyed or water-bearing strata to be seriously disturbed; for water sources to be polluted, or even for the structures of water works to be damaged or for the major calamity of their collapse. It is not a question of monetary compensation. The payment of a sum of money to a water company, even if possible, will not provide water for a town. This is a small country, and if one source of water is damaged it may well be that there are no other sources upon which to draw. The ideal solution to the problem, from the point of view of the water industry, would be an absolute ban on opencast coal mining in areas which are the gathering grounds and reservoirs under the control of the water undertakings. I can understand that the Government may find it difficult to accede to such a request, because often the gathering grounds lie in mineralised regions where there may be large quantities of coal; and these gathering grounds are extensive. But it has to be considered that this Bill is only for a ten-year programme, and I wonder whether these grounds could not be immune for ten years from the ravages of opencast coal mining. Perhaps that point can be considered as the Bill progresses.

The position would not be ideal, but it would be largely safeguarded if it were made clear that this Bill did not confer any overriding power over the Statutes under which the water companies operate. This point was discussed at length when the Bill was in Committee in another place. On April 29, Mr. Ian Horobin, the Parliamentary Secretary, said: I think I can assure my honourable friend that the Bill has been carefully drafted on the basis that authorisation gives no right to override. He went on to make the specific statement: The Water Act, 1945, and the by-laws made under it cannot be overridden. On that basis the various Amendments that had been tabled were withdrawn and the water industry felt itself, though not in an ideal position, to be reasonably safe. Unfortunately, there appears to be some doubt about the validity of that statement and as to whether the Bill is, in fact, so drawn that the Minister can give that absolute assurance. I should like to quote a letter sent by the Ministry to the water industry. The letter states: We have been looking again at this point and we are now advised that although our previous statements were broadly speaking correct, the rights of controlling the use of land which statutory water undertakings may enjoy under the 1945 Act or by-laws may sometimes fall within the class of rights restrictive of the use of the land. In that case they would be overridden by a compulsory rights order. So there is this element of doubt, and we in the water industry are back where we were before we received this assurance.

I am sure your Lordships realise that it is a disturbing position for the water industry to be in, and that it is right that the point should be ventilated. I have every hope that the Minister will be able to meet us on the point and give us an assurance that if the Bill, as drafted, does, by implication, have this effect of overriding the Water Act, 1945, the matter will be put right so that it does not do so, because I understand that that is not the intention. The Ministry have been at pains in drafting this Bill and, as I understand it, the interests of coal-winning by the opencast method are not to be at the expense of that other statutory use of land (if I may so call it) for the provision of water. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to satisfy us on this point and give us an assurance that the necessary steps will be taken so that we may be safeguarded.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, while regretfully accepting the view of the Government that the continuation of opencast mining is necessary, and recognising the sympathetic and fair-minded attitude of the Minister as exemplified in his speech and in this Bill, there are three points that I should like to mention. Clause 4 of the Bill provides that opencast coal a working may be carried on by the National Coal Board under the authority of a compulsory rights order made by the Board and confirmed by the Minister which will enable the Board to carry on opencast working under compulsory powers, provided, however, that no such order shall be made after the end of a period of ten years from the commencement of the Act.

In another place Amendments were moved during the passage of the Bill which were designed to cut down this period, in view of statements which had been made, I believe by the Minister, that it would not be necessary to continue opencast working at the present level for more than five years. It was, however, pointed out that these Amendments were misconceived, because Clause 1 of the Bill will enable the Minister to grant an authorisation to the Board at any time to work by opencast operations, and the Board could make voluntary arrangements with landowners for that purpose. One would therefore like to see some sort of limit placed on the powers of the Minister under Clause 1 of the Bill. If only in the light of the increasing stocks of coal, the diminishing demands from industrialists and the appalling damage and substantial annoyance which is caused by these workings, it would seem that further justification of the powers contained in Clause 1 is certainly needed.

My second point is this. Clause 2 provides that if the Minister grants an authorisation to the Board and gives them planning permission for opencast working, he must impose such conditions as he thinks reasonable with respect to the restoration by the Board, or at their cost, of damaged land. That is, of course, a most necessary provision, but the clause makes special mention of conditions (although perhaps it does not go, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, pointed out, into adequate detail about it) as to restoration of agricultural land. It is understood that this proviso is included especially because most opencast coal sites are on agricultural land. But a number of sites are, or may be, on other land—for instance, highways or public open spaces. Surely any land used for public purposes and subsequently taken for mining operations should be restored to its former use without any distinction. Thirdly, the machinery for notifying possible objectors is contained in the First Schedule of the Bill, and so far as local authorities are concerned it requires the National Coal Board to serve notice of their application for authorisation upon all local authorities in whose area any part of the land to be worked is situated. Cases have arisen where a local authority has been seriously concerned at opencast working immediately outside of its area, where the effect of the working would be felt inside its area. It would seem reasonable to ask for an extension of the right to service of notice of application for authorisation and the right to make objections to local authorities whose areas adjoin a site proposed to be taken for such workings. I do not propose to detain the House further on many points which might be mentioned, but which will properly be considered in Committee, where, as noble Lords have pointed out, we shall be faced with a large number of attempts to improve the working of this Bill.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should be grateful if your Lordships would allow me a minute to ask the Minister if he would consider one point between now and the Committee stage of the Bill. Against the admitted advantages of opencast there are also, of course, admittedly, certain grave disadvantages, both as regards agriculture and as regards amenities. I think many of us were probably disappointed at the mention of ten years as the period which we must apparently wait before opencast is given up. It is a distant prospect, and an uncertain one, because, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, reminded us, we have had dates indicated to us before—and nearer dates; but as we have got nearer to those dates the date has receded, and the period offered as a possibility has now become a good deal longer.

The point I want to ask the Minister to consider is this. I do not contest that opencast coal may be necessary for some time, but, as the Minister has admitted, the actual necessity for opencast coal is at least now much less, having regard to the changed relations between the supply of deep-mined coal and the demand, than it has been hitherto. Under this Bill the Minister of Power decides whether or not opencast shall be permitted and naturally he decides upon the advice of the experts in his own Department. When it comes, however, to balancing between the need for coal, on the one hand, and the damage to amenities or to agriculture, on the other, it is, I think, no reflection upon the Minister or his departmental advisers to suggest that they must inevitably be somewhat biased in their judgment by the fact that what they are concerned with departmentally is not agriculture or amenities, but coal.

I quite understand the Minister's point that the decision on such a question as amenities, for example, cannot be left to purely local planning authorities; some national guidance is needed. That is true. But it is also true that the Minister has amongst his own colleagues Ministers who are responsible for agriculture, and also, in the person of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, a Minister who is departmentally concerned with amenities. Could he not see that there is a provision in this Bill to ensure that before the decision is taken giving coal priority over agriculture or amenities there is some procedure which enables the competing interests to be weighed impartially? There is a danger in the Bill as it stands of a departmental failure to judge judicially because of the Department's preoccupation with one of the competing interests, a danger which is perhaps even greater in the case of the keen and good official than in the case of those who are more indifferent. The point to which I am referring is of course one that is relevant rather to the Committee stage than to the Second Reading of a Bill. I mention it at this moment only to ask if the Minister would consider whether something could be done between now and the Committee stage to meet this point.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, it is not my intention to detain your Lordships for long, but my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, who has had to leave, has asked me to say a few words in relation to this matter. I want to express to the Minister our thanks for his explanation of this Bill. It is a complicated Bill and, as has already been pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is very different from the Bill which was originally introduced in another place. I thought then that it was a very complicated Bill; it consisted of some 53 clauses and about 8 Schedules, and occupied 70 pages. The clauses have increased, the Schedules have increased, and the pages have gone up by nearly 50 per cent. If the Minister is going to take heed of what has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and by the noble Lords, Lord Milverton and Lord Salter, then I am afraid there is going to be another mutilation of this Bill.

I must say that, after reading the proceedings of another place and seeing the attitude of the Opposition, I thought that the Bill, which had long been awaited, was welcome—welcome from the angle that at last it is ridding us of Defence Regulations and emergency powers and putting opencast mining in its proper perspective and making it the law of the land at its own calling. As most noble Lords know, I am interested in coal; I have been associated with it all my life, and I think that work in opencast coal is quite alien to this country. We have sufficient deep-mine coal, we are told, to supply the requirements of this country for another 150 or 200 years. Opencast coal working was first brought into operation during the First World War, but at the end of that war the getting of opencast coal was discontinued, It was essential to have opencast coal again during the period of the last war, but no one ever expected that it would be carried on, even to the extent that it is at the present time. I certainly never expected that that would be so; but there it is, and I think that good reasons have been given for it. Nevertheless, I hope that the National Coal Board, and indeed the Ministry of Power, will address their attention to the importance of discontinuing opencast coal working as soon as possible.

I agree with much that has been said about the restoration of agricultural land, the improving of amenities and compensation and all those questions. They are very important points. But one of the most important matters is the inconvenience and the nuisance caused by opencast working to the population of the mining areas in this country. All opencast coal is produced in the coal fields, and very little consideration has been given to this aspect. The noble Lord, Lord Mills, referred to the fact that 160 million tons of coal have been produced by opencast in this country from the time when it was started during the war. That coal has not been produced from a mine, which had all the facilities of screening, and where there were railway facilities for taking it away: most of it has been carried through the valleys, through the townships, to the railways, night and day, by heavy lorries. Dust is being blown about; some of the areas where these heavy lorries have to travel are nothing but mud-tracks.

One aspect of the matter with which the Bill does not deal is the question of the prevention of working with these huge floodlights, and all the detonations for blowing up the rock at night-time, when the people should be able to rest in their beds. That is the inconvenience which the people who have lived in the mining valleys during the whole period of this opencast coal-getting have had to suffer. I am not suggesting that this Bill ought not to be passed: it should be passed; it is necessary that it should be passed. But I do not want it to be regarded as something that will encourage the continuation of the getting of opencast coal, even for ten years. I am certainly very sceptical whether we ought to be getting opencast coal, and also about its value. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said that we are producing opencast coal at the rate of about 14 million tons a year. We must ask ourselves what quality coal it is. We are producing in this country about 205 million or 210 million tons of deep-mined coal. The problem of the coal mining industry in this country at the present time is the quality of the coal that is produced.

The Minister said that we were producing 14 million tons of opencast coal, much of which is of low grade, and he mentioned that 25 per cent. of that coal was large coal. Seventy-five per cent, is small coal. Indeed, the production of large coal by opencast methods is lower than the percentage of small coal in deep-mined. The Minister very kindly—I am grateful to him—wrote me giving me the figures, and he will not mind my just dealing with them. Deep-mined coal, large and graded, is a most useful coal. What it amounts to is this: large (screened, over two inches) deep-mined, 24 per cent.; graded (mostly doubles)—which is a very useful coal—21 per cent. That makes a total of 45 per cent. of what I would regard as most valuable coal.

As to opencast, the figures are: large coal, 23 per cent.; graded, 4 per cent. That makes a total of 27 per cent. As to small coal, opencast accounts for 65 per cent. and deep-mined for 46 per cent. I should not like to ask the noble Lord for the figures of the stocks of small coal in the country at the present time. As one passes up and down on the railway one sees the growing mountains of small coal. In my opinion, all that you are really getting from opencast of great advantage is not 14 million tons, but 27 per cent. of 14 million tons. I do not suggest for a moment that that is not of great value. I hope, however, that consideration will be given to the aspect of the problem which I have mentioned.

I am not going to deal with the matter any further because it is really one which we can deal with fully in a debate on coal. If we could make greater use of the smalls by turning them into briquettes—I know what it costs—or turning them into Phurnacite and selling it at a reasonable price, then, instead of households taking almost one half of the large coal, that large coal could be used to a great extent for export. We have been losing our export trade. Last year we exported less than at any time since the war. Five million tons less coal was exported from this country last year than in 1955, and something like 3 million tons of the 5 million tons was large coal. That is the problem. If that problem can be solved, then I think we could do away with opencast mining. But I suppose it must go on until such time as we can bring about the change which I have suggested.

I saw in one of the newspapers this week—indeed, I have the cutting here—that only fifteen pits are going to be closed by the National Coal Board during the period of the economy campaign. I have no doubt that the Minister and the Coal Board have good reasons for closing down these pits. But this would not be necessary in my view, even if they are uneconomic, if we could find something to do with the smalls. We cannot go on piling up the smalls which have been stocked in this country because we cannot sell them abroad. Nothing will be more uneconomic than to produce 14 million tons of coal by opencast in this country if you sell the large coal and stock the small coal. I hope that the Minister and the Coal Board—I am sure they are—are giving attention to that aspect of the matter.

I believe it is important that this Bill should be passed. I do not think that any Bill for some time past has had a more agreeable and comfortable passage in another place. The debates were conducted with every good will. The remarks on the Third Reading of the Bill were so complimentary to the Government, to the Minister, to the Paymaster General and to the Minister's Parliamentary Secretary, that they almost made me blush. If opencast mining is to be carried on, this Bill is a most necessary one. I know that the Minister has Amendments that he is going to put down. We should like to have a word with him about those Amendments; but, so far as we are concerned, we shall do all we can to assist him in the passage of the Bill.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I ask leave of your Lordships' House to reply to the points raised in the debate. I feel that we have had a most useful and instructive debate, because there are noble Lords on both sides of your Lordships' House who know a great deal about this subject. I think we are all united in our desire to go cautiously in this matter of opencast coal mining. But unfortunately at the present time we need to produce enough large coal to enable me safely to go forward with ending rationing and to do without imports. I am most grateful to noble Lords, and particularly to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, for what they have had to say on that subject.

Perhaps I should say a word or two on the need for opencast coal. In introducing the Bill this afternoon I gave your Lordships some idea of the important part opencast coal has played in meeting our coal requirements. Unfortunately, we need the large coal in opencast output to reinforce the production of coal from deep mines. I should not like to tie myself to an estimate of how much opencast coal we shall need in the future: that will depend entirely upon the way in which the coal situation develops. But unless we continue to rely upon Defence Regulations, which I am sure none of your Lordships would desire, we cannot be sure of being able to carry on opencast operations on a sufficient scale without the power which this Bill makes available.

I should like to repeat the assurances that I gave in my opening speech; that in the exercise of these powers Her Majesty's Government will continue to examine on merit the proposals of the National Coal Board for working individual sites; and in considering such proposals I assure your Lordships that, in so far as the coal situation permits, I shall make it my object to reduce to the absolute minimum the inconvenience and annoyance that such operations are likely to cause. At this point I should like to refer to the question of whether we could have a shorter period than ten years in the Bill. I went into that question very carefully and I came to the conclusion that it would be wrong for Her Majesty's Government to suggest any shorter period than ten years. After all, this is only an enabling Bill; it only enables these powers to be used. We have also to take into account the nature of opencast operations and the fact that plant has to be purchased and provided.

Perhaps I may now refer to one or two of the many other points that have been made, and then I will deal with particular questions. It was suggested that we should write into this Bill a clause requiring the Board to acquire land on a voluntary basis—in other words, that reference should be made in the Bill to the fact that the National Coal Board must try to obtain land voluntarily before resorting to compulsory powers. I have every sympathy with that proposal, but it just is not practicable to put it in the Bill. The Board do not require powers to act on a voluntary basis. Nevertheless, I can assure your Lordships that it is my intention to see that every effort is made to deal with these matters on a voluntary basis before authority is given for the exercise of compulsory powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, dealt first with the point about a shorter period, which I have tried to explain, and then spoke of mitigation of compensation in relation to the earnings of a man whose land had been taken over. It appears to me that profits can be earned only by the employment of time and capital and when land is taken over under a compulsory rights order, clearly the occupier has both spare time and capital. If there were no mitigation provision he would receive full profits in the form of compensation without the trouble of earning them. I suggest that in assessing his compensation account should be taken of the opportunities he has to employ his spare time and capital. The principle of mitigation is established in general law and we feel that it must be maintained. But we do want to avoid hardships, and we shall be only too happy to consider suggestions for detailed changes.

The third point raised was the question of supervision of restoration, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor and Lord Ridley. There is concern that the conditions about working and restoration of the land which the Minister imposes on the National Coal Board should be carried out. I can assure the House that I share this concern, and I have looked very carefully into these arrangements. In fact there is a three-fold check on the enforcement of the Minister's conditions. First, the National Coal Board are a public authority who will try honestly and sincerely to carry out these conditions. They will embody the conditions in their contracts with the civil engineering firms who actually carry out the work on the sites, and they will keep a very close watch to see that the terms of the contracts are carried out.

Secondly, as a I stated in my opening speech, the Agricultural Departments have agreed to act as the Board's agents on the agricultural treatment of restored sites. As the effectiveness of this treatment may depend on the way in which the site has been worked and restored those Departments' services to the Board will include consultative duties during the working of the site. Thirdly, and as a last resort, the Minister's conditions will be planning conditions. They will be enforceable by the local planning authorities, and if they fail, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland have default powers to enforce the conditions themselves. I think that this three-fold line of defence should be adequate to ensure that the Minister's conditions are observed.

I was most impressed by the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I am sure that we must all have been impressed with his knowledge of the subject. He raised a large number of important points, and I think they deserve a more detailed answer than I can give them now. I hope that he will not mind if I suggest that he raises them on Committee stage when they can be more thoroughly discussed. I could not help being impressed with the work that he promises me by his talk of hundreds of Amendments which we shall have to face; but that is part of my job. There are, however, two points on which I should like to comment now.

The first is the noble Viscount's suggestion that we could have a much simpler Bill by putting into statutory form the present arrangements. We considered that possibility very carefuly, and I can assure your Lordships that it was not without its attractions; but we decided against it for three main reasons. The first is that the existing powers, although administered sensibly, are very sweeping. The whole object of the revocation of the Defence Regulations is to replace these sweeping general powers by specific limited powers. Secondly, the existing compensation arrangements, although working quite well, are very arbitrary. Farmers get an annual rent plus supplementary compensation equal to three times the rent to compensate them for loss of profits. Some farmers make profits which are more than three times the rent and they now suffer quite a considerable loss when their land is taken. Others make profits which are less than three times their rent. Such an arbitrary system would, in the Government's view, be inappropriate to peace-time legislation and should be replaced by general principles which will work out fairly when applied in individual cases. Thirdly, the Government feel that proposals for opencast coal working which would cause inconvenience to many people and might mean serious damage to amenity must be subject to a public local inquiry, whether the land is obtained compulsorily or by agreement, and that these inquiries must be conducted in the spirit of the Franks Report.

The second point on which I should like to comment is the noble Viscount's suggestion, if I have understood him correctly, that the cost of works terminal compensation payable when the work of restoration is carried out after the end of the Board's occupation should be replaced by a lump sum paid to the landowner at the end of the Board's occupation. That, my Lords, would mean reversing the main change made in the Bill in another place.


I do not seem to have made myself clear. What I was really trying to say was that there was only one cost of works which is really important, and that is drainage and maintenance of drains, and that is to be left as it is in the Bill. But the other thing which has been completely undone is not such that it should continue for fifteen years, and I should have thought, taking into account these matters, that an item could be agreed at the end of occupation so that the Coal Board would know where they were in the matter,


I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his suggestion and I will consider it. What we were concerned about was that if the amount were paid by the Board when they went out, there would be no guarantee that the money would be spent on the land, and that would defeat the main object of the cost-of-works system. It was the general view in another place that this was the right system, both in the national interest and in the interests of the tenant farmers, who would not get the lump sum compensation but who had got to go on using the land. Therefore, I am doubtful whether we could advise such a change; but perhaps we can consider that further in Committee.

The noble Viscount also referred to the question of the land around a house. I have a good deal of sympathy with the noble Viscount's view on this matter, but I am afraid it does not seem practicable to make any condition which would be satisfactory and which would not result in the sterilisation of large tonnages of coal. On the other hand, it is a point that I am sure every Minister, whether myself or my successors, would have closely in mind. The nuisance of opencast mining next to a dwelling house is fully appreciated and I have already myself taken action to prevent some cases.

The noble Viscount referred to the question of timber and said that compensation for matured timber should be paid at the beginning of the Board's occupation of land taken compulsorily. This is sometimes done at present in return for a waiver of the terminal compensation payable under the Compensation Defence Act, 1939. It is not possible to fit such arrangements into the scheme of terminal compensation under this Bill. The main item in the terminal compensation will be the cost of restoring the trees, and that will be paid only when the work has been carried out. It is essential, we feel, that compensation for woodlands should remain on this basis. It was clear from the discussion in the other place that all Parties attach the utmost importance to the replanting of trees, and this will be carried out whenever reasonable and practicable.

The woodland compensation provisions are quite fair to owners. If the timber is mature when the Board enter the land, the owner will receive compensation during the Board's occupation for the loss of profits which he would have made in those years. If the timber is immature, his diminution in value terminal compensation under Clause 22 will take account of the fact that although the trees are being restored at the expense of the Board, the Board's operations have set back by many years the time when they will reach maturity. If the noble Viscount would permit me to deal with his points generally in Committee, I should be very grateful.

The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, spoke about the effect of opencast coal working on water supplies. I myself am not entirely satisfied that the Bill adequately covers the matter, and perhaps in due course I may have a word with the noble Earl about that subject. So far, there has been very little working on water-gathering grounds, and I hope we shall be able to steer fairly clear of them in the future. We do not intend that the powers conferred on the National Coal Board by this Bill should enable them to override the Water Act, 1945, or the by-laws made under it; and if it appears that they do in any way override that Act and by-laws, it will have our attention.

Lord Milverton raised three points which, again. I think we could usefully deal with in Committee, if he agrees. Lord Salter raised a point and he was good enough to ask me to consider it. I would rather, however, if he is agreeable, deal with it now. Under our system of collective Cabinet responsibility a decision by any Minister, as I am sure the noble Lord knows well, represents the views of the Government as a whole, and is given only after full consultation with all his colleagues concerned. Your Lordships can be assured that there will be such full consultation in all opencast cases. But it would be contrary to normal constitutional practice to write provisions into the Bill requiring such consultation between Ministers. The arrangements for consultation are an internal matter for the Government, and to include provisions in the Bill would weaken the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.


My Lords, perhaps I might just remark that I am, of course, fully aware of the principle of Cabinet responsibility. In this case, however, some of the Ministers concerned are not members of the Cabinet and do not, therefore, perhaps, have quite an equal say with the Minister, or their officials quite art equal status in this matter with his officials. I do not think that it is without precedent to write into Bills something that requires consultation between a particular Minister concerned and another Department. It is very frequent, for example, to make such a provision with regard to the Treasury, as the noble Lord will realise. However, I shall not argue my point further at this stage.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. If I in any way wrongly stated, or over-stated, the case I hope he will let me know, but as advised at present I should find considerable difficulty in doing what the noble Lord suggests.

My Lords, I am sorry to be the means of conveying to you such a long and a complicated Bill. We shall have full opportunities in Committee of debating its various clauses, but I think we should keep in mind that it is an enabling Bill, to enable us to do certain things which we now do under the Defence Regulations, and I believe that in many respects it is a great improvement on current procedure. I share with noble Lords their anxiety to get our fuel position in such a state that we can go on being more and more discriminatory in regard to opencast sites, in order that we may see that the least damage to land and amenities is inflicted.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.