§ 6.2 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of ENERGY (Lord Balogh)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Balogh).
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Lord AMHERST OF HACKNEY
in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Grants to National Coal Board to meet expenditure under pneumoconiosis compensation scheme]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord TAYLOR of MANSFIELD
Before this Bill passes through your Lordships' House I should like to make a few observations on Clause 1. It will be apparent to your Lordships, particularly after the Second Reading, that Clause 1 deals with three matters; first, 1085 pneumoconiosis, that dreaded disease common among so many coalminers; secondly, an agreement between the National Coal Board and the unions whose members are directly working in the production of coal in the British coal industry. I would point out that that is an agreement not only between the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, but between the two other unions—that representing the deputies and shotfirers, and the British Association of Colliery Management. The third point about this clause is a Government grant not exceeding £100 million to give effect to, and to implement, the agreement to which I have just referred.
On 16th June 1974, there was a most interesting article in the Sunday Times, and I shall read a few words from it. it is in connection with the grant that is being made by the Government of the sum that I have mentioned. It said:The Government's offer to make lump sum compensation available to miners with pneumoconiosis, the diseases caused by pit dust in the lungs, is a singular executive humanitarian act to the men who will be affected.I am sure your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments if I take this opportunity to make a few observations on this important matter of men's lungs being affected by the inhalation of dust in the course of their employment. Those of us who live in the areas from which some of your Lordships come meet every day someone, even near relatives, who is affected by this dreadful disease. I also recall that years before lung infection under the name of silicosis was a prescribed industrial disease, we used to wonder why some men's breathing was affected as it was.
My mind goes back, and I recollect it vividly, to a two mile walk in-by to the working face. There were no riding facilities for the men; they came later. To use a local colloquialism, we had what we called "buttoning places ". These places for a few minutes' rest were almost like an oasis in the desert. We used to bid one another, "Good morning. And how are you feeling this morning?" Then this was a common reply, "Well, I'm a hit thick in the wind. The old breathing apparatus 1086 is very much impaired. I could do with the old blacksmith's bellows to pump some puff into me." Remember, it was the same distance out-by and the same experience at the end of the shift—maybe worse when men were tired—but the prospect of the surface and daylight was very alluring.
We were somewhat confused and ignorant, and we used to wonder why there was this impairment of the breathing apparatus. Then, I think, in 1928, this lung condition was prescribed an industrial disease, at that time in the name of silicosis. The victims, who were medically certified, became entitled to benefit under the Workmen's Compensation Act 1925. Those of us who have had experience of coalmining breathed a sigh of relief at that time when, at long last, lung impairment was recognised as something that was contracted at work. But the prescription in 1928 was certainly not a generous one. The scheduling of silicosis was so restricted that it had to be affection of the lungs by silica dust, hence the definition of silicosis. Further, to indicate the lack of generosity in the prescription, coalminers had not only to be medically certified as suffering from silicosis, but there was a condition that before a person could receive benefit under the Workmen's Compensation Act there had to be a percentage of silica in the strata where he was working. This restriction lasted for 10 years and was not removed until 1938. I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that when those factors were taken into consideration it was not too generous a prescription for this condition of the lungs.
In 1943, there was a growing dissatisfaction in all areas of the British coalfields respecting the numerical growth of those becoming affected by the impairment of their lungs and breathing. I was a member of the deputation of the miners' group in another place which met the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, which was then the responsible Department for workmen's compensation. We met Sir Osbert Peake as he then was, later to become Lord Ingleby. It was at that time that the word "pneumoconiosis" was conceived. Until 1943 the word pneumoconiosis had not been heard of. It was arising out of those discussions that this word was coined.
1087 The importance of the word "pneumoconiosis", as laid down in the Statute at that time, was that it brought about an important change, in that any person whose lungs were affected by any kind of dust at work—not silica dust alone—came within the ambit of a prescribed disease. If medically certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis before 1948 a man was entitled to benefit under the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1925, and since 1948 to benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act. In connection with the change that Clause 1 of this Bill brims about, I should like to say that it is a payment on the basis of an agreement between the employer, the NCB, and the unions for damages at Common Law, and has nothing whatever to do with the benefits under either the old Workmen's Compensation Act or the Industrial Injuries Act.
The obtaining of damages at Common Law, particularly in the sphere of industrial diseases, was not easy, certainly before 1948. There were many hurdles to surmount before a claim could succeed, and may I mention one or two. First, there was the cost of litigation. Before 1948, an affected person had to make his choice between receiving benefit under the Workmen's Compensation Act on the grounds of negligence by the employer, or having other benefit. The affected person could not have both. Further—and to some of us this is very important—the existence before 1948 of the doctrine of common employment was the biggest hurdle of all to surmount for a claim to be successful. I would mention only one point in this connection. A committee was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Walter Monckton, later to become Lord Monckton, to recommend alternative remedies. One of their recommendations was that the doctrine of common employment should be abolished.
Since 1948, the pathway to obtaining damages at Common Law for negligence is much less difficult than it was pre-1948. For this long-delayed measure of justice, I would give credit to a coal miner, a man who had seen so much tragedy in the pits, so many victims of accident and industrial disease. In 1945, this coal miner became the Minister for National Insurance and he was respon 1088 sible for the legislation giving a greater measure of justice to all the victims of accident and industrial disease. I refer to Jim Griffiths who will be known to many of your Lordships, and, if by any chance, in his eventide of life and with his health impaired, these words of mine should reach him, I hope he will regard them as a tribute to his work in this field. Before 1948, damages for pneumoconiosis at Common Law were very rare indeed; only a few cases succeeded and I should like to mention only two.
§ Lord JACQUES
May I remind my noble friend that we are in Committee and that a great deal of business remains ahead of us tonight?
§ Lord TAYLOR of MANSFIELD
I admit that I appear to he making a Second Reading speech, and if my noble friend thinks I am out of order I willingly accept his ruling. I wanted, in this period of great change, and particuarly in the context of Clause 1, to focus the attention of your Lordships on the dreaded disease of pneumoconiosis and what it is proposed to do for its sufferers. In view of what my noble friend has said, I will cut my speech short and will not go into the question of what happened in 1933. But I must mention briefly the well-known and interesting case of Mr. Pickles, a miner who left the pits and who was advised by the AEU, his union when he was working in a factory, that he had a case for damages at Common Law. The Court of Appeal gave permission for the issue of a writ and the NCB settled for £7,500 in the form of damages. It is really arising out of that case that we have Clause 1 in this Bill, for in the period that followed the Pickles case in 1968 no fewer than 3,500 actions for damages for pneumoconiosis were instituted against the NCB, and as was stated on Second Reading there are about 40,000 pneumoconiotics alive today.
The Working Party set up at the end of the stoppage in 1974 said that pneumoconiosis was becoming a stumbling block in the way of good industrial relations, so the agreement referred to in Clause 1 was accepted and the details can be seen in the Working Party's Report. In view of the intervention of my noble friend Lord Jacques, I will omit from the remarks I had intended to 1089 make all the other points. I conclude by congratulating my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on what he has done in this sphere in persuading the Government, at this time of financial stress, to give £100 million for the implementation of the agreement reached between the NCB and the unions, and I also congratulate the Government most heartily.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [New right of Board to withdraw, support to enable coal to be worked]:
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 2, line 28, at end insert—
(" ( ) shall relate only to land which is worked by one mine; ")
§ The noble Earl said: Perhaps I may be permitted to say, first, how moved I was, as I am sure all noble Lords were, by the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, to his colleagues in the industry. I, too, support Clause 1, as I am sure all Members of this House do, and I was only sorry that the Minister was not able briefly to express his thanks to his noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield. In moving Amendment No. 1, I should point out that both it and Amendment No. 2 stem from a genuine anxiety that the rights of private individuals will be trespassed under this Bill. We live in an age of very rapid change in this vitally important coal industry, and in a climate of support to equip the industry to meet the modern needs of the NCB's workings. But there is anxiety lest Parliament, while attempting to streamline the statutory procedures, erodes and damages the safeguards that have existed for many years, particularly since 1938, for private individuals.
§ This is a very important Bill for the industry and for the private individual. I think I am correct in saying that not since 1938 have the procedures to simplify the statutory duties been really examined or have come within the scope of a Bill. In 1938, the coal industry was very different from what it is today. In those days, it was fragmented into many small colliery companies and notices to which this Amendment particularly 1090 applies were of a purely local interest, physically limited to the area which the small colliery companies operated. But the scene today is totally different. The NCB has an immense job to do and has immense powers, and I am advised that to date it has handled these powers when dealing with private individuals' interests with tact, care and delicacy, but within its statutory limits. It is surely very important today, doubly so than in 1938, that Parliament should draft and write into legislation certain safeguards and statutory duties to protect the individual against the NCB. I say "against ", but I do not use that word in an unfriendly spirit. I use it simply in an effort to protect the individual, just in case the NCB should ever slip up in dealing with individuals by serving the notices that are required.
§ The purpose of the Amendment is simply to limit the scope of a notice—indeed, defining the notice to one area, and to one mine in particular—which the NCB will have a duty to serve when it has a desire to start some workings. I do not think the Amendment would cause a great burden to the NCB. On the other hand, I am advised that it would give a good deal of security and would safeguard the individual. Without the Amendment the NCB could, technically, serve a notice which covered the whole country, and such a policy would deride the whole purpose of notices. I am not sure how the Government view the Amendment or how the NCB have reacted to it, but it has been suggested by those concerned in the industry. It is not tabled lightly and I hope that the Minister will give it sympathetic consideration. I beg to move.
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS
As the noble Earl said, this Amendment is related to Amendment No. 2. I fully understand the fears which the noble Earl expressed, but I hope I may be able to persuade him that they are groundless. We accept that it would be undesirable for the National Coal Board to issue notices covering very large areas of land under which it may not intend to operate for many years ahead. We have already looked very carefully at possible ways of preventing this without placing unreasonable restrictions on its operations and forward planning, and without forcing it into inefficient methods. Unfortunately the Amendment 1091 could do just that, without necessarily producing the desired effect of restricting the currency of its notice. Quite apart from problems of defining what is meant by "one mine" in this context, it would raise practical problems.
It may be the Board's intention to work a panel of coal from one shaft. It publishes a notice in reference to that and then, because it encounters geological or other difficulties, it may become more efficient to work it from another shaft—what, in the words of this Amendment, might be "another mine". To make the necessary changes would require complicated provisions about the withdrawal, reissue and amendment of notices; yet, so far as people on the surface were concerned, it would not matter whether the coal was worked from one shaft or another. So the Amendment would introduce an undesirable and unnecessary complication which could hamper the flexibility which the NCB needs for its operations. It might seem that a possible way of preventing the issuing of blanket notices would be to limit the currency of each notice to a fixed number of years, as Amendment No. 2 seeks to do. The problem is that the circumstances of each case are likely to be very different. To attempt to cover them all would require very complex legislation and, even then, we might find something cropping up which would have unfortunate effects on the efficiency and progress of the Coal Board's operations.
We put this problem to the Chairman of the National Coal Board, Sir Derek Ezra, and he pointed out that it has always been the Board's policy to behave reasonably and properly in these matters and that, though they have had similar powers all along, they have never had any complaint about their practice in publishing notices of intent. I believe that noble Lords will agree that the Coal Board's record in this respect is excellent. Sir Derek has given a written assurance that the Board would intend to continue in this way—that is, to publish the notices it needs to cover the operations it foresees. Because the Board works on a five-year rolling programme, this would mean, allowing for possible delays in starting up, that their notices would normally cover the areas they would expect to work over the next seven or eight years. 1092 That would be the general pattern, though in some areas it might have to take longer.
For example, in a case like Selby, where it is essential for the proper planning of the project that the Board should as soon as possible have assured knowledge of the reserves available to be worked throughout the "take", the notices would need to cover a longer time ahead. However, Sir Derek has given an undertaking that where, for example, the working of a new scheme is concerned, workings which were planned under land in respect of which a Clause 2 notice had been published more than 10 years previously, the Board would give informal notice of its intentions exactly as would be required under Clause 2. Moreover, as noble Lords know, the Board is always ready to answer, in detail if necessary, inquiries from members of the public about its plans for working particular areas. In view of these very firm assurances by the Chairman and of the excellent record of the Board in the past, I hope that the noble Earl may decide not to press the Amendment or Amendment No. 2.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
Perhaps we could deal separately with Amendment No. 2. I apologise for holding up the Committee. I am very happy with the reply and with the Government's assurance and the undertaking which the Chairman of the National Coal Board has given. I am sure that it is valuable that it should be on the record. I am quite content to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 35, leave out ("and") and insert—
("( ) shall be effective for a period of ten years from the relevant date of publication and").
§ The noble Earl said: This is the second Amendment which concerns the rights of the private citizen. I hope that it may be accepted by the Government. Its purpose is to place some limitation on the life of a notice which is served. I think that that is a reasonable request. The type of anxiety which has been expressed to me is that the National Coal Board 1093 might, within its five-year rolling programme, decide to issue a notice to, say, plan a new working for 1975, and that work would then be delayed so that by 1977 the plan would be scrapped. Then in 1995 the National Coal Board might go back to the plan and, without notice, enter on to the workings. That sort of situation—particularly if, during the period of 15 years between the issuing of the notice and the working, the land had changed ownership—is a matter of concern outside the House. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davies, can give a sympathetic reply. I beg to move.
§ Lord SLATER
Listening to the noble Earl, the thought was running through my mind when he said that certain individuals had been in contact with him that I did not know whether he has any knowledge as to how a mine is worked, either from the surface, by drift, or going down in a cage to a seam where men are seeking to extract coal from Mother Nature. One can have what is known in a mine as a big fault. In Durham, we had what was known as the Buttonhole Fault, which ran right across all the strata of coal in the Durham coalfield. Therefore some way had to be found to get round that fault and to extract the coal on the side opposite that on which the coal had already been worked out. Unless that had been done, all that coal would in all probability have been lost, because it would have cost too much to reopen what had already been in operation before. One can find oneself in a position in which a new entrance has to be opened up to extract the coal.
Not very far from where I live now, three drifts have been put down to extract an area of coal that could not be extracted from three deep pits because of a particular fault. Nevertheless, there were within that basin millions of tons of coal that would have been left unless the new drifts had been put in. If the noble Earl is worried about subsidence which might take place because of extraction, I do not believe that his worries ought to be set against the importance of extracting the coal in the way I have explained, because of the nature of the problem. Whichever way one looks at it, deep mining is not like working in a factory; One cannot just press a button. Ways 1094 and means of extracting the coal have to be worked out so that one can get round these problems, and unless that is done it will be a great loss to the nation. Therefore I sincerely hope that the noble Earl will be satisfied with the reply of my noble friend and will withdraw the Amendment. I am speaking now as one who, before he ever became a Member of Parliament, served 30 years in the pit and who knows something about the subject under consideration.
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS
First of all, may I say that I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Slater who has pointed out some of the problems covered by these two Amendments. Often much time is required when obstacles are encountered. I can only repeat the assurances that I have given in answer to Amendment No. 1. We accept that it is undesirable for the Coal Board to issue blanket notices and we have been examining ways of preventing that in a reasonably simple way. We have considered the possibility of imposing a time limit. All this would put undue rigidity on the Board's legitimate operations, and we have been unable to find a satisfactory way. I wish to make the point to the noble Earl and to your Lordships that the Board has never been in the habit of issuing blanket notices, and an assurance has been given that it will continue to behave in a reasonable and responsible manner in this matter. We have every reason to accept the Board's assurances. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl feels that he can withdraw the Amendment.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Slater, for his intervention. I assure him that I do not purport to have any special knowledge of the mining industry, and I suspect that the Government also do not speak from personal experience. I was merely suggesting that there are certain statutory rights which the National Coal Board has to observe and that these should be preserved. I am happy with the assurance that the noble Lord has given, but I hoped that he could go a little further and say that if a notice of a scheme is served and the scheme is subsequently abandoned, the notice will have to be reserved if the scheme is re-adopted. That is a particular worry which, I am advised, 1095 causes concern. I do not know whether the noble Lord can give a reply to that.
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS
I have already referred to that matter with regard to the first Amendment, in relation to the assurance given by the Chairman of the Coal Board. We have a written assurance that the Board will continue in this way and that where working is planned under land in respect of which a Clause 2 notice has been published more than 10 years previously, it will give informal notice of its intention, exactly as would be required under Clause 2.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Douglas of Barloch)
I wish to point out to your Lordships that if Amendment No. 3 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 4.
The Earl of KIINTNOULL moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 3, line 16, leave out from (" Act ") to end of line 20 and insert (" the right to withdraw support from land reasonably required for the working of any coal pursuant to subsection (1) of this section shall be subject to a duty by the Board eithe—
(a) to pay proper compensation for damage arising from disturbance of the land: or ")
The noble Earl said: The Committee now turn to the vitally important part of the Bill—other than Clause 1—which concerns the compensation terms to property owners for subsidence. I regret to say that an error crept into my Amendment. It should have read:
to pay proper compensation for damage arising from such workings to that land.
A claimant for compensation due to subsidence or working by the National Coal Board may be a householder, a shop-owner, a tomato grower, or a farmer. I understand that at present a claimant has two choices in regard to service of a compensation claim: either he may elect to serve his claim under the 1957 Act, which restricts the compensation to the buildings and land, but gives no consequential damage; or he may rely on what is often regarded as a wider context of
compensation, based on the 1938 Act, which incorporates many Common Law rights.
§ Let us take a practical case. I understand that if a householder suffers damage, it is more than likely that his professional adviser would say that there is no consequential damage involved in the case and that therefore the client is quite safe to apply under the 1957 Act. But a business may be damaged in some way. I particularly cite a tomato grower, who has glasshouses with a tomato crop underneath. One night the glasshouses may be damaged, and the adviser, I am told, would almost undoubtedly recommend his client to elect to serve a notice of compensation under the 1933 Act, for the simple reason that consequential damage could be claimed.
§ There is some doubt in the minds of certain people that the 1933 Act is not strictly set out. It is left, to a certain degree, in abeyance and there has been no case law to establish whether the consequential damage is included. But it is of merit to note that the very fact that advisers would advise clients either to elect to proceed under the 1957 Act or, alternatively, the 1938 Act, must suggest that, particularly for businesses, compensation has a wider context in the 1938 Act.
§ We are now dealing with a number of Amendments on this subject. I should perhaps explain to the Committee the difference between my Amendment and the Amendment nut down by my noble friend and what is at present written into the Bill. My Amendment—subject to the correction that I gave earlier—brings back into the Bill the whole of the 1938 provisions. The Amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal and his noble friends seeks to spell out whatever one believes to be in the 1938 Act; that is, not only compensation for buildings, but also the consequential loss that may be incurred.
§ There is a real fear in the minds of many people on the technical side of the subject that the Government, by the wording in the Bill, are limiting the compensation that has always been available under the 1938 Act. In another place the Government stated that the Working Party had been looking into all aspects of compensation arising under the 1957 1097 Act. While one appreciates in the course of this Committee stage that the compensation matters under the coal Acts are very complex, nevertheless this Working Party has now been working for some three years, and to many people its progress resembles that of a snail with two legs in plaster climbing un a window. Its terms of reference are concerned only with the 1957 Act. It has no duty at all to look into the working of the 1938 Act. One immediately asks the Government why the Working Party does not include in its terms of reference the working of the 1938 Act. It is vitally important not just to take one Act but to look into all the Acts. I hope that in reply the Government will say something specific about this.
§ In another place the Government stated during the Committee stage that this Bill is, as I said previously, not regarded as a proper vehicle to make changes in the compensation provisions, and all that Clause 2(3) does it to repeat in substance the provisions of Schedule 2(6) to the Coal Act 1938. The purpose of my Amendment is to say to the Government that in the view of many people outside this is not what the Bill does at present. If the Government really intend to put back what was in the 1938 Act they should accent my Amendment. I would support the Amendment of my noble friend because it sets out much more clearly what many people feel the 1938 Act has always done. I beg to move.
§ Lord SLATER
I listened most attentively to what the noble Earl said about his Amendment, but I take a completely different line to the one he has taken in relation to the 1957 Act. If ever the Labour Government made a mistake it was during the period of the nationalisation of the mining industry, and it concerned subsidence. My noble friend Lord George-Brown is here. He probably has more knowledge than I have of how the Bill and everything else was introduced during 1945 to 1950 before I became a Member of another place. I was in the industry at the time.
I have always believed that the Government of the time made a gruesome mistake in fixing upon a global sum of money which was disbursed among the coal-owners throughout the country in 1098 all the particular coalfield areas, for compensation for those assets taken over by the nation, without in the first place setting to one side a certain amount of money to meet contingencies that might arise from mining subsidence that appeared following the extraction of the mineral under private enterprise in the first place.
The liability was placed immediately by the next Labour Government in 1957 in the Coalmining (Subsidence) Act on the National Coal Board, and in regard to dwelling houses application can be made because of mining subsidence and its effect on the property. People have to prove their case before drawing compensation for that mining subsidence. I know of no particular case in my own particular area—a mining area where we get mining subsidence more effectively than anywhere else—where property is seriously affected. I do not now know why the Government should be dragged in once more to impose on the National Coal Board the burden of having to find more finance—or the Government to find more finance and pass it on to the National Coal Board—to meet new contingencies that might arise under the noble Earl's Amendment.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My noble friend is quite right. I made my maiden speech in the other place on the question of how we should nationalise the coal mining industry. He is right in saying that I opposed the terms. Is he aware that none of us who have ever sat for a mining constituency would ever accept that the charge for mining subsidence should be placed upon the Coal Board? This was something which the nation decided to do. If the nation decided to do it, it is something for which the nation should pay. I entirely agree with my noble friend that Bournemouth should pay for the subsidence in Swadlincote because Bournemouth burns the coal.
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I intervene now, since there are a number of Amendments on the question of compensation. Perhaps I can speak about the general question of subsidence. For Lord Balogh's peace of mind, may I assure him that even those who were brought up to speak English as their native tongue are not quite sure 1099 whether it is "subsidence" (with the accent on the first of the three syllables and a short i) or " subsidence" (with the accent on the middle syllable and a long i.) When we have seen what kind of reaction this proposal elicits from the Government we can go back to which Amendments we like best and see how we proceed in that way.
First, may I make it clear that we are anxious to see the coal extracted and we do not want to add unnecessarily to the cost of the coal. Having said that, I think, if I understand it correctly, that I find myself at variance with the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, because it seems to me that it is vitally important that the Coal Board must pay prompt and comprehensive compensation for damage and loss which they inflict on anybody, be it a private landowner, a householder or a business. Let us suppose that somebody is carrying on an ordinary livelihood; somebody else burrows a great hole beneath him; suddenly his livelihood can be seriously interfered with. Somebody must compensate him for that.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My predecessor as the Member for Belper in the other place was Sir Herbert Wragg. Sir Herbert Wragg pulled in clay works, the civic centre and everything. No Conservative ever asked Sir Herbert Wragg, Conservative M.P. for Belper, to pay for what he was doing. Will the noble Lord please tell me why that should be charged to the Coal Board when it was not charged to Sir Herbert Wragg?
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL
I am not in a position to argue history with the noble Lord. I am ignorant about it. I would stick absolutely to the simple principle that if the Coal Board interferes with anybody's business or private rights it seems reasonable that they or the Government—and the distinction is not entirely clear in any case—should be responsible for total compensation for the damage they cause.
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL
I am sorry if the noble Lord is upset about Sir Herbert Wragg. I am hearing about him for the first tine. But 1100 I do not think it is relevant to the Bill we are discussing in Committee.
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL
I am sorry that the noble Lord is making this an intense Party issue. I do not believe it should be. The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, himself, on Second Reading agreed that the Bill was,giving it "—the NCB—a new right to withdraw both lateral and vertical support ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, c. 464; 8/5/75.]That can create new subsidence and consequent damage. We get into a slight difficulty here in following this matter through. Various more or less contradictory assertions were made both here and in the other place by way of assurance on these points. The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, went on to say in the same Second Reading speech:There is no question of any great numbers of people being affected by mining subsidence who would not have been affected before.He added that the Bill largely re-enacted the existing provision in regard to compensation for damage due to mining subsidence.
In another place, although the word "compensation" is mentioned at least six times in the Memorandum on the front of the Bill there was an attempt by a Minister to say, as my noble friend has said, that this was not a compensation Bill and it was not the moment to deal with that question. They apparently relied on the Coal Act 1938 and the Coal-mining (Subsidence) Act of 1957. It is curious to find this Government relying on the Coal Act 1938, which was pre-nationalisation. One thought that anything that happened pre-nationalisation was something of an anathema. But particularly after the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, has intervened, I do not want to develop that point.
The 1957 Act, I am assured by those who have to work it, is neither clear nor adequate. Surely it is clear that there are problems since Mr. Eadie in another place on 11th March mentioned that ex gratia payments were being made by the Coal Board for consequential losses. I suggest it is a very unsatisfactory situation 1101 for the law of the land to be relying on the good will of the Coal Board. Although naturally one welcomes it, it is not a very satisfactory situation to have to rely upon their willingness to make ex gratia payments.
We further had an admission by the noble Lord on Second Reading that some disquiet had been expressed about the question of compensation. He pointed out that it was an extremely complicated issue which was being studied by a Working Party. If there was need for a Working Party it suggests that all is not well in this area. The noble Lord enjoined us to display a little patience in this matter. I think that we are in a difficulty here. I understand that this Working Party was appointed in 1971, which is a very long time ago. When does the noble Lord expect this Working Party to report? I should be very surprised if he was able to give us an undertaking that he would accept the recommendations of this Working Party and guarantee to bring in legislation in a relatively short time to enact its recommendations. We cannot be fobbed off with allusions to the Working Party. Even if we cannot get a complete solution to what we admit is a difficult problem, this is no reason why we should not try to go some way towards improving what is, by definition, a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs at the present time.
The two Amendments in the names of myself and my noble friends are designed to do two things. Amendment No. 4 seeks to get over the ambiguity of the ill-defined words "proper compensation ". I am assured that this expression has never been used in any Act except the 1938 Coal Act. We seek to make sure that Common Law principles of compensation are enshrined so that they are not eroded by Statute, exactly as my noble friend Lord Kinnoull mentioned. The second Amendment seeks to make it clear beyond argument that compensation will be payable not only in respect of the damage itself, but also for the consequential loss, whether it is short-term or on a more permanent basis. Other noble Lords may give examples of such situations arising; we have heard one or two already.
1102 I should like to remind noble Lords of the very statesmanlike comment made recently by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. He said that he would not stoop to criticise an Amendment on the ground that it was badly drafted when he was really disagreeing with the underlying principle. We have taken a lot of trouble to draft these Amendments—we have had a good deal of help, and I should like to thank those who have given us that help. It may he that these Amendments are still defective. If the noble Lord is prepared to accept the underlying principles, we should be only too delighted to get together with him or his Department to see whether we can produce Amendments which achieve the objectives we are all seeking in a way satisfactory to all parties.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord BALOGH
I want to thank the noble Earl and the noble Lord for the conciliatory way in which they put forward a very complicated case. This Amendment is related to Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, and I shall now give the Government's view. We welcome very much the noble Lord's assurance that he wants to get the coal extracted. We are, after all, in a situation of extreme energy price crisis and obviously anything we can do to help the Coal Board to do its statutory duty is to be welcomed.
Before I go into details, I agree with the noble Lord, and not with my noble friends, about who should pay compensation. It seems to me the social cost of coal includes the cost of subsidence and damages; and, obviously, to give a coal subsidy on behalf of people who suffer as a result of the extraction of coal is not the right way of putting the burden, which the nation must, in any case, bear, where it should rest. It seems to me that social costs must be included in this extraction. Although one cannot do it with pollution and other damages, it should not lead us to adopt the wrong solution.
Having said that, I must confess that the two noble Lords who spoke before me more or less said all that I have in my brief, so it is easy for me to talk about this. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, said, the Government do not consider that this is a 1103 Bill in which the very complicated and complex question of reforming the law of compensation should be carried out. Because we are giving certain rights to the Coal Board—part of those rights it has possessed de facto, but only recently was the right of withdrawing lateral support challenged—therefore if there is no case law it means there are not serious damages which have not been properly compensated. The very fact that the noble Earl could say there was no case law means that under the 1938 Act people did not ask for compensation when the Coal Board withdrew lateral support not knowing that it had no right to do so. I think this very fact ought to still certain difficulties. In practical terms it is, except fortuitously, a physical impossibility to withdraw support from the land vertically and not disturb lateral land. The Coal Board has always carried out operations as if it had the right. It would never have been able to mine any coal had it not done so.
The latest concern is with the words of the Statutes. Doubts have been cast as to whether the words in paragraphs 5 and 6 in Schedule 1 to the 1938 Act meant what they were taken to mean. The sole purpose of Clause 2 is to clarify the doubts to make it clear that the Board does have the rights it had assumed it always had. The present proposals aim at clarifying the Board's mining rights. The basic provisions have been in operation since 1938 and are simply repeated in this Bill. In the meantime, there have been the 1950 and the 1957 Acts. May I remind the noble Lord that the 1938 Act was one of a number of Tory nationalisation Bills. It nationalised mineral rights just as petroleum mineral rights were nationalised in the 1934 Tory Act. Therefore, on the whole, I do not think I commit a sin against my partisanship if I accept that.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to interrupt for a moment? He said that this Bill adopts what was in the 1938 Act. What I must suggest to the noble Lord is that this Bill does not adopt the provisions of the 1938 Act, because it says in Clause 2(4)(a): "pay proper compensation for the damage ". Perhaps the noble Lord would refer to page 3 of the Bill? I also have a copy of the 1938 1104 Act with me, and if the noble Lard will refer to that Act he will see that in Schedule 2, at paragraph 6(1)(a), it says:to pay proper compensation for damage arising from such working to that land;Those are the words in dispute.
§ Lord BALOGH
Unlike the noble Earl, I do not have a copy of the Bill, but I am assured on the highest legal authority that the wording of the Bill covers the same object. I will certainly look into this. We have, after all, time to investigate further and I can promise the noble Earl that those who have not supplied me with a copy of the 1938 Act will tell me in what way the point is covered. Against the background of this legislation, the Board exercises a good deal of discretion. It is their declared policy to do everything possible to avoid individual hadship. If noble Lords know of any case of individual hardship and will pass the details to the Department, we shall certainly ask the Board to investigate.
It will be within the knowledge of some of your Lordships that the Board have reached full agreement with the National Farmers' Union about compensation and co-operation relating to farmers in the Selby area, since this area may he particularly affected by such provisions. Moreover, the values of land liable to mining subsidence naturally reflect that fact, and also the relevant compensation provisions and current practices. Therefore, industrialists and local authorities who may need to incur additional expense in one way or another because of mining subsidence have the compensating satisfaction that they are likely to be able to farm the land at lower values.
The present compensation arrangements have been in operation for 18 years and the worst problems have been covered in one way or another. The Coal Board will do everything possible to minimise any hardship on the part of a large organisation if people suffer from disadvantages. Nobody would argue that the present compensation arrangements are perfect. We have an Interdepartmental Working Party, about which the noble Lord has asked. This has not been instructed to look into the working of the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act, but it is to review the whole question of compensation for mining subsidence damage, root and branch.
§ Lord BALOGH
Most certainly. It is not limited at all to the 1957 Act; it is dealing with compensation in general. The other point I want to make—and I think this may influence noble Lords opposite—is that the Working Party has not concluded its job. We thought it was concluded in the autumn, but in the meantime this Bill went through another place and several questions raised there have had to be taken into account. Therefore, I can assure your Lordships that the Working Party will consider seriously and carefully what has been said here. They will adopt whatever course they think necessary, in which case we shall be able to discuss the matter further. Of course, it is highly desirable that this should be so, and when Ministers have had time to study the conclusions a full statement will be made. So I would ask noble Lords opposite, repeating my own words, to have a little patience in this matter. If we were to have sonic kind of Heath Robinson arrangement without the benefit of the legal advice which cannot be made available in such a short time, we might not advance the cause of the just compensation which, in our hearts, we all wish to achieve.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
The noble Lord did not stoop to that. I am grateful for his sympathetic consideration of this matter. My main burden, as I have already said, was to see that the compensation provisions of the 1938 Act were re-embodied in the Bill. The noble Lord has said the Government intend to do that, in which case there is really nothing between us. I hope the noble Lord will look at the Bill again, because I am assured that there is a difference as at present drafted. Perhaps I might also ask the noble Lord to re-check the position of the Working Party because, according to advice given to me on good authority by a member of the Working Party, it was intended only to review the 1957 Act.
§ The Earl of KINNOULL
Of course I accept that assurance entirely. It would appear that the noble Lord is asking us to wait for the Report of the Working Party, and I personally shall be perfectly satisfied to do that, so long as we make quite certain that we embody in this Bill the compensation entitlements for those suffering from land subsidence that exist in the 1938 Act. I do not know what attitude my noble friend will take on his Amendment, but I know it has been drafted carefully and that he has taken advice on it. If he feels that his Amendment should stand, there will be no damage to the Bill. It would simply mean writing in very clearly what the rights are.
On the fact that there has been no case law, I am not quite sure that I entirely followed the whole of the noble Lord's argument but would venture to say that, knowing the cost of case law and understanding the skill of valuers, how they work and give and take with one another, I can well understand why there is no case law. Nevertheless, it is very unsatisfactory when one hears that members of the valuers' profession say that they do not know precisely what the 1938 Act means but interpret it as covering consequential damage. I am happy to beg leave to withdraw my Amendment, and also Amendments Nos. 5 and 6. But I shall also await with interest what my noble friend says about his Amendment. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 3, leave out line 20 and insert—
("(a) pay full and proper compensation for the damage including such consequential loss as would be recoverable in a common law action for damages in respect of that withdrawal, or ").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 4 and shall not make any further general remarks, beyond saying that it seems clear there is at least a case for looking at what the noble Lord has said. It seems to me we are basically in the situation of being asked to accept assurances from the Government and the Coal Board. As a general observation, 1107 this is never a totally satisfactory state of affairs, however much we may trust the people with whom we are dealing in the Government or, indeed, in the Coal Board. Both of these groups of individuals can change, and I think the noble Lord would agree that it is not a very satisfactory legal situation that the rights of groups of people and individuals should have to rely upon assurances, even if they are given in the Houses of Parliament by Ministers or by the good will of the Coal Board.
§ I believe that one or two of my noble friends would like to make contributions. I am sure they will be greatly heartened to know that these will be taken into consideration by the Working Party. I think our proper course is to urge the Government to give most careful thought to these Amendments, and to say that we shall be looking at what they have said about them and will consider whether it is necessary for us to move similar Amendments or redrafted Amendments at a later stage of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
May I speak also to Amendment No. 7 at the same time as No. 4 because they run together? The purpose of Amendments Nos. 4 and 7 is to improve the wording from paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938, as my noble friend Lord Kinnoull has told us. The wording has been lifted out of that Act and written into Clause 2(4) of the Bill in paragraphs (a) and (b). The word "proper" as a measure of compensation, as my noble friend Lord Strathcona has said, appears in the 1930 Act only and nowhere else in law. There is a great deal of doubt as to what "proper compensation" is. This was argued at length in Committee in another place in March. Payment for damage to property as a result of coal mining can be perfectly proper without adequately and fully restoring what has been lost and the consequential damage that may persist for some time. The term "full compensation" comes from the Public Health Act 1875 and has been in use for 100 years. So this Amendment proposes the insertion of the words "full and proper compensation for the damage ". In order to make quite clear what is meant by "full and proper com 1108 pensation" the words defining "consequential loss" are added.
The other objection to the wording of the 1938 Act which appears in Clause 4 is that subsection (4)(b), which provides for making good damage by the Coal Board, is an alternative to paragraph (a); so actual physical damage to structures or to drainage works, for example, can be made good to the reasonable satisfaction of the injured person but without, it would seem, compensation for consequential loss. So if, for example, a farmer opts for remedy (b) he can get his land drains relaid free by the Coal Board, but under this Bill there is no obligation on the Board to compensate for crops lost or for damage—perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent—to the land resulting from flooding. It has been made clear from the Coal Board's proposals as to the method of working the seams at Selby that such flooding could persist for as long as 10 years while the 11-foot thick strips are being taken in succession from under a farm. Similarly, a manufacturer could get damage to plant and machinery restored under paragraph (b) without any compensation for, for instance, having to lay off labour while the repair was being done. Hence the proposed addition to the end of subsection (4)(b) in Amendment No. 7. The Opencast Coal Act 1958 gave a more satisfactory basis for compensation than the Coal Act basis we are now criticising. One of the purposes of this Bill is to give additional compensation to farmers whose land is subject to opencast mining, and Clause 6 of this Bill makes such provision. It seems anomalous that under this Bill as it stands a farmer is treated much better if his land is damaged by surface mining than if it is damaged by under-mining.
May I refer briefly to the arguments the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, put forward just now. May I refer to the fact that he said—it was said also by the Under-Secretary of State in another place—that this Bill is not a proper vehicle to make changes in compensation provisions. My noble friend Lord Strathcona referred to this point. The Bill contains new compensation provisions for pneumoconiosis and for opencast mining, and I hope that the Government will consider whether they cannot improve the 1938 wording and give us some assurance that they may 1109 be able to do so. The other argument which I think was stated in another place was that compensation is mainly dealt with under the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957. That may be so, but under that Act the Board is not obliged to pay compensation for consequential loss and the Board's liabilities are strictly limited under that Act. I hope that the Working Party will produce some useful recommendations soon. I feel that although we ought to be patient, as Lord Balogh has said, we can expect some delay before any recommendations are produced, and therefore I would ask the Government to consider whether an Amendment of the kind which is being moved could not be implemented for the time being until a careful working out of the implications of compensation has been done.
Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, referred to the way in which the Coal Board operates under existing provisions and he quoted communications with the National Farmers' Unions among other interested parties concerned with Selby. They expressed the present good intentions of the Board. The Coal Board claim that in the past there has been no trouble about agreeing upon what should be proper compensation. That may well be so, but the Board is about to embark on one of the most important coal mining ventures ever undertaken and this will take place under 110 square miles of Yorkshire. The intentions of the Coal Board, which are on record, with regard to compensation for the consequent letdown of the land over this huge area are admirable. But it would surely help the National Coal Board, the valuers and the arbitrators who will have to assess the inevitable surface damage to have clear statutory reference as to compensation payable, and this must include making good consequential loss. I fully believe that the Board's officials now serving intend to compensate amply. But present good intentions are not enough. We have a new coalfield about to be opened which will be of the greatest benefit to the nation. Above the coal are industries, and one in particular, agriculture, which will be in production long after the last seams at Selby are exhausted. We must ensure that the damage to these industries as a result of extracting the 600 million tons of coal is minimised.
§ Lord BALOGH
May I answer one question concerning Amendment No. 7. The proposed wording appears to be providing for the same thing twice over. It seeks restoration in a clause which already demands restoration and at the same time requires payment for damage.
§ Lord MIDDLETON
As I read subsection (4)(b), the Coal Board can compensate for damage to the reasonable satisfaction of the person who is damaged, but there is absolutely no provision for consequential loss. If he is a farmer, for instance, they can physically make the drains right, but they cannot compensate him for the loss of crops.
§ Lord BALOGH
I apologise for having expressed myself badly. If the Amendment is carried, with the consent of the owner the land or buildings have to be repaired. At the same time, where appropriate, the compensation which is set out in this subsection is payable. At first blush, it appears first that the Board has to restore the damage and then to pay for the damage—that is to say, to pay twice over. The Government want to know whether this can be looked at again.
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL
The situation is that you do some damage and put it right, but that is not quite enough because the man could have been out of production for three years and he may have had to pay compensation for the labour that he had to lay off during that time. Even though you have put right the physical damage, consequential loss could have been incurred by the person concerned, and it is that which we are trying to cover in Amendment No. 7. I have already said that we are prepared to withdraw Amendment No. 4 in order that all of us may have another look at it to see whether it needs to be returned to at a later stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.32 p.m.
Viscount LONG moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 3, leave out lines 26 to 28, and insert (" and the damage shall include damage to land and to anything lawfully on that land whenever constructed or brought thereon.").
§ The noble Viscount said: In moving this Amendment, once again we appear to be dealing with compensation matters. 1111 Many views on compensation have been expressed during this Committee stage. We have discussed compensation on buildings, on factories, et cetera. However, in this Amendment we are seeking to enlarge the basis of compensation. If the National Coal Board pays compensation for damage done to a building, we believe that there should also be compensation for other items. If, for instance, one's factory, farmhouse or building is put out of action, we believe that compensation should also be paid for the machinery one is using—let us say, a tractor or a similar machine—which is put out of action. One cannot make any further use of it, and probably one is losing money at the same time. In this Amendment we are seeking to achieve compensation for all things that go on and which are damaged on or around that land. I beg to move.
§ Lord BALOGH
May I repeat that all of these Amendments deal with the problem of compensation for mining subsidence. This Amendment has the disadvantage of introducing a substantial measure of uncertainty about the liabilities of the Board. How one proves that the consequential damage has been caused by subsidence and not by other factors is something which is very difficult to define. As it is now phrased, the wording of this Amendment would hamper the Board in its work, because it introduces total uncertainty about its liabilities. Again, therefore, I should like to ask the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness to withdraw this Amendment. The Government will have another look at it, and then perhaps we may discuss it before the next stage of this Bill.
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
I apologise for the fact that a long-standing engagement prevented me from getting to the House in time to participate in the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill. However, I have read the Report of the Second Reading debate in this House, and the Reports of all the proceedings in the other place. Like my colleagues, I welcome the provisions of the Bill, particularly those in respect of the compensation to be paid to sufferers from pneumoconiosis. I am well aware that some eyebrows may be raised at the fact that I should have plunged into a Bill dealing with this subject. However, for just over a year I 1112 was a candidate for Aldridge, Brownhills, and on my first tour I was plunged into the problems of subsidence. Indeed, it is as a result of some of those former colleagues thinking that they might have found a voice in your Lordships' Chamber, that representations were made to me to raise issues on the question of compensation about which there is a very real concern.
A moment or so ago the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, said that it is very important that the Coal Board should know the extent of their liabilities and be sure that anything they are called upon to pay should be as a result of subsidence. However, there is equal concern among the urban, the industrial and the farming communities that this Bill takes away areas of compensation which have applied hitherto and which, under the Robens agreement, have operated very fairly. There was hard bargaining as to the extent of the sums to be paid, but at least people knew the basis upon which that compensation would be paid.
I must confess that we are being asked to take a great deal on trust. We were told that a committee would look into the question of compensation, and that committee was set up in 1971. I was amazed to hear the noble Lord say that it is to report shortly, because when I made inquiries last week I was told that it had been "definalised"—whatever that horrible word means! However, after the noble Lord's comment this afternoon, I assume it means that they were ready to report but because of this Bill they decided they had better look at it again. So, having been finalised, they "definalised" the report and they are coming back with it later—nobody knows when. People who have been affected and who, indeed, have considered the Coal Board's attitude to be helpful, are deeply concerned when they see wiped out so many of the bases upon which they were previously due for compensation.
The purpose of these Amendments is to ensure that any undertaking given by the Board prior to the Bill—such as the Robens agreement which was an agreement not covered by Statute and in that sense not legally binding—will be honoured. We are anxious to be assured that there will not be an occasion when 1113 somebody will say, "Oh, the law is the law. It is not in this Act. Therefore, thee agreements which welt made between the Coal Board and various undertakings, such as county councils, areas and individual industrial undertakings, no longer apply ". I am perfectly certain that noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite have seen the joint representations which were made by the City of Coventry, in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce and the Coventry Engineering Employers' Association. It was a joint approach about the urban housing in a very densely populated area, with the immense amount of capital investment—hundreds, possibly thousands, of firms in that conurbation and the enormous amount of employment provided. There is an agreement in existence, and this is why I wish to place these facts on the record, although apologise for keeping your Lordships to so late an hour. flowever, it is important that we should be clear about the present position, and state what we fear will be the position if this Bill passes as it is now drafted.
Under the agreement of 1968, the immense value of the Coventry complex was realised, and no one needs me to point out, with the vast capital going into the car industry, how absolutely vital and important is this complex. Here I must say that there are a couple of hundred factories, including Courtaulds (who employ me) in Coventry, but Courtaulds is not to be compared with the motor car complex, which was the main reason for the 1968 agreement. But what worries us is the taking away of lateral support. At the moment, I believe that coalmining is to a depth of 1,500 feet below Coventry and lateral support gives a 32 degree angle from that. That is a great deal of land on which there are factories and houses and homes, which, on a strict reading of this Bill as it is, will no longer be entitled to the compensation which they had under the Robens agreement.
The Bill says that agreements binding on the Board will continue to be upheld, but the Robens agreement is not really an agreement in law as this House understands it, and since coal is so valuable a commodity it could be that at a future time the Government, or the Board, would reject it. We want to be sure that the Government are willing to uphold 1114 these agreements and to spell them out in some form in the Bill so that people may be reassured. Subsidence can put at risk not merely what results from physical damage; it can put at risk millions of pounds worth of domestic property, industrial property and plants, and if these are damaged employment is at risk.
Not long ago we passed in this House the Health and Safety at Work Act. Cracked pipes through some heating process, flooding that might appear dangerous or a cracked wall, could make it obligatory on employers to lay off their work force until repairs were undertaken, and interested people in Staffordshire and Coventry have represented to me that they are not happy with this Bill. Would it, for example, compensate them for shoring up, and if their work force had to be stood off? It need not be 500 people on a factory floor, because we saw only a few weeks ago how one component factory could put a whole industry like the car industry out of work, and that might occur as a result of damage from subsidence in one factory.
Therefore, we welcome the Bill for what it seeks to do, but we want much firmer assurances from the Government that in supporting this Bill we would not be losing those very necessary safeguards on which industry and local authorities, with their housing estates, have in the past been able to rely. They are perturbed and until we have the terms of compensation from this long-sitting Working Party I am afraid that those perturbations will continue.
§ Lord BALOGH
I think the noble Baroness is under a certain misapprehension. If I am not right, I apologise in advance. She says that people cannot rely on something on which they have relied before. I think she is not quite right, because they could not legally have relied on the Robens agreement. That was not a binding agreement, but it was taken by the Board to be a binding agreement and it was confirmed by the Board at all times.
§ Lord BALOGH
So that it is not really right to think of the present Bill as being derogatory of existing rights. I would ask the noble Baroness and the 1115 noble Viscount who tabled this Amendment to have a little patience, because this is one of the questions on which the Working Party is deciding. The situation is not changed by this Bill. In my opinion, nothing in either the 1938 Act or the 1957 Act has been revoked. What has happened is that additional assurances about compensation for additional losses have been put off. They have not been at all reduced—they have just been put off so that, if necessary, we can bring in a satisfactory general measure to deal with compensation. I hope the noble Baroness will realise that nobody is taking anything away from anybody; I can assure her of that. The problem is that, perhaps, we do not give certain additional things, which we may or may not think right, in the way in which perhaps the noble Baroness wishes to see them given.
I should like to thank the noble Lord for giving us a very good hearing, and my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith for covering the Amendment so ably. As I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, that he is interested in having another look at this clause I will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Viscount LONG moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 4, leave out line 23, and insert—
(" (a) any agreement or arrangement binding on or affecting the Board immediately before ")
§ The noble Viscount said: I come now to another part of my speech on Second Reading when I questioned the Government on the Roberts agreement, that under the new Bill there was no undertaking that the Robens agreement would be upheld. I think this was a general worry on the part of the industrialists, and especially in Coventry where they had known this agreement so well. We had the suspicion too that the National Coal Board could well have been hiding behind this new Bill and any other legislation, or the Robens agreement might not be used at all. So we are really raising this point to expose the Bill and to see what we can do with it.
§ The Robens agreement as applying to Coventry, for example, worked practically and satisfactorily, and it really is not clear that such agreements of an 1116 informal kind will be upheld in future. This is the other suspicion that lies behind the tabling of this Amendment. Perhaps the noble Lord could give us an assurance that the Robens agreement will not be "chucked out of the window ", if I may say so, but will continue to be of use for years to come in order to help industrialists. It struck me that we were given an assurance by the noble Lord that this agreement would apply only to certain areas. We feel it would be a good idea if the agreement could apply not just to some areas, but that it might cover all those areas where it was needed. It would be a great tragedy to drop it altogether, as it has been working so successfully. Can the noble Lord assure me that this agreement will continue?
§ Lord BALOGH
As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, when she raised the matter of this agreement in connection with the previous Amendment, there is absolutely no danger of the Robens agreement being infringed. In any case, if there were any possibility of that, much compensation would be payable, and nobody would be so foolish as to proceed in that way. To extend this kind of agreement over the whole country is a matter very dear to my heart, because one of the greatest coal deposits ever discovered in this country is under Oxford. Obviously, some kind of agreement will have to be reached with Oxford. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Robens, although he has not been to Oxford, is as good an Oxford man, perhaps better, as any of those who have spent a considerable part of their life in Oxford.
But to extend a legally binding force on privately arranged general agreements, understandings, assurances and so on in our opinion would be far too wholesale. This does not mean, and it has not meant in the eight years that the Robens agreement has been in force, that the Board has diverged one iota from that agreement which, as the noble Baroness said, was not legally binding and therefore one could not have sued. It seems to us that this sort of assurance is a better form of protection than making informal arrangements which are sometimes difficult to embody in legal form, and therefore cover a very much wider area than can be covered in very strict legal instruments. I do not think these should have statutory backing. A great many constituencies 1117 would he in grave danger if any Government did anything of that sort in a populous area, or even in an area of scenic beauty of which there are many to protect in this country.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, for his answer. However, I find it rather tragic that we cannot extend the Robens agreement throughout the country. I am sorry if it is found to be too wholesale, as he said. Nevertheless, as long as the agreement will be upheld, especially in places like Coventry, then I am pleased. I was amazed to think that Oxford has a coalmine underneath it. I have often wondered why the Oxford people were always so warm and comfortable, studying their economics and so on. I have had an assurance from the noble Lord with regard to the Robens agreement. It seems to me that the Government and the National Coal Board will continue to recognise the agreement, so I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount LONG moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 5, line 21 at end insert—
(" ( ) Where a notice under this section has been published any person who incurs expense in taking protective measures with a view to minimising the effect of any damage which may he incurred by reason of the withdrawal to which the notice relates may claim from the Board the expenses reasonably and properly so incurred by him and any such claim shall be deemed to be a claim made under sub-section (4) of this section.")
§ The noble Viscount said: With this Amendment we are seeking to protect the National Coal Board. We feel that unless this Amendment is added to the Bill, the National Coal Board could find itself in quite a lot of trouble financially. We wish to minimise the expense which the National Coal Board will have to bear if precautionary measures are not taken by the people who can take them, when they suddenly find they have a mine underneath them. If these measures are not taken, many millions of pounds could possibly be paid out by the National Coal Board. Perhaps the noble Lord could enlarge on this. Not only does the National Coal Board need protection when a mine is opened or is being worked, but people need protection, too. Sometimes people can play very funny 1118 tricks which may cost the National Coal Board a lot of money; so I hope the noble Lord can enlighten me on the point raised in the Amendment, which I now beg to move.
§ Lord BALOGH
This is one of the Amendments which the Working Party has under consideration. The problem here is that there is no simple answer. The Amendment would make a substantial change in the present position. On the whole, it would be inadvisable to do that, as it will make things even more difficult. Far from protecting the Board, the Amendment might work to the contrary, because who takes the precautionary measures, which way, and at what cost in advance of any danger is extremely difficult to determine. I would again appeal to the noble Viscount, Lord Long, to leave the matter until we have seen the Report of the Working Party, which is very active on this particular question.
In that case, as soon as it has finished work we shall be delighted to read the Report. This is a complicated subject. I fully realise the difficulty, and I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Right of Board to work coal in former copyhold land]:
Lord LOVELL-DAVIS moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 6, line 16, leave out from (" pay ") to (" compensation") in line 17.
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 12. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I add that this is related to Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 and No. 22 on the new Schedule, which I shall move formally. This list of Amendments to Clause 3 and the apparently formidable new Schedule have the sole purpose of setting out a procedure for dealing with 1119 notices of retained interest and the payment for compensation and for the settlement of disputes.
§ This has been occasioned by the decision made in an attempt to meet the wishes of the Opposition in another place to provide that compensation to owners of retained interests shall be paid at the time when the National Coal Board begin to exercise their rights to mine the coal in which those interests lay rather than when they gave notice of their intention to do so, as was provided in the original draft of the Bill. There may be a substantial lapse of time between these two events,and closer study of the way in which the revised arrangement could operate in practice has suggested that great difficulties might arise if the amended clause was left as it is at present; for example, in a case where land in which retained interests reside was sold off, possibly to a multiplicity of new owners, before the Board began to work the coal lying underneath it. The procedure is set out in the new Schedule. The Amendments to Clause 3 are mostly consequential to this, in that they revise the clause in order to make it compatible with the new procedure. I think it is sensible therefore to explain the new Schedule first and deal with the Amendments to the clause afterwards. With your Lordships' permission I will take this course.
§ Turning to the new Schedule, paragraph 1 is introductory. Paragraph 2 provides for the Board formally to accept or reject a claim in respect of a retained interest within three months or such longer period as may be agreed. Paragraph 3 requires the Board to pay the legal expenses incurred in establishing a claim as soon as is practicable, since it may be a long time before the compensation itself becomes payable. Paragraphs 4, 5, 6 and 7 deal with cases where more than one persons claims to have a retained interest in a piece of land. The principle is that once a claim is accepted it becomes a thing of value in its own right and does not pass automatically with the land if it is sold. This is fair, since the buyer of the land will be aware of the fact and the price may be adjusted accordingly. Paragraph 4 provides that once the Board has accepted a claim it can reject any subsequent ones, 1120 for example by a new owner if the land is sold. Paragraph 5 lays down the procedure for the settlement of disputes by application to the county Court. Paragraph 6 specifies that the person to whom the compensation is payable is the person whose claim is accepted, not necessarily the owner of the land when compensation becomes due. Paragraph 7 specifies that payment of compensation by the Board on production of the notice accepting the claim will discharge its liability. Paragraph 8 enables the Board to discharge its liability by making a payment in advance and in lieu of compensation by agreement with the person who has the right to receive compensation. Paragraph 9 prohibits the Board from acquiring a retained interest by agreement once it has issued an acceptance notice in respect of that retained interest. This is to prevent it paying twice over for the same thing. Paragraph 10 relates to the keeping of records, and paragraph 11 applies some procedural provisions from the Coal Act 1938.
§ As I have said, the Amendments to Clause 3 are consequential on the new Schedule. Amendment No. 12 removes some words no longer appropriate under the new procedure. Amendment No. 13 introduces the new Schedule itself. Amendment No. 14 revises the reference to the person who receives the compensation to make it compatible with the new procedure. Amendment No. 15 restricts the expenses payable in relation to the compensation to those incurred in valuing the retained interest, which is clone at the time compensation becomes payable. Under the new procedure costs of establishing the claim are paid when that is done, which is likely to be at a much earlier date. Amendment No. 16 makes it clear that the Board can continue to acquire retained interest by agreement if they wish. Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 make subsections (8) and (9) of the clause apply to the new Schedule. I beg to move Amendment No. 12.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Alport)
With your Lordships' agreement, I will take it that Amendments Nos. 13 to 18 are moved formally en bloc.
§ Amendments moved—
Page 6, line 25, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
(" (5) Schedule (Retained interests: notices and compensation) to this Act shall have effect for supplementing the provisions of this section.")
§ Page 6, line 37, leave out (" the owner of a retained interest ") and insert (" any person ")
§ Page 6, line 39, leave out from (" reasonable ") to end of line 43 and insert ("valuation expenses incurred by him for the purpose of ascertaining the value, at the date referred to in subsection (4) above, of the retained interest to which the compensation relates ")
Page 6, line 46, at end insert—
(" ( ) Subject to paragraph 9 of Schedule (Retained interests: notices and compensation) to this Act, the service of a notice under subsection (2) above shall not prevent the Board from acquiring by agreement any retained interest in coal or a mine of coal comprised in or lying under land in the area to which the notice relates.")
§ Page 7, line 14, after (" section ") insert (" and Schedule (Retained interests: notices and compensation) to this Act ")
§ Page 7, line 22, after (" section ") insert (" and Schedule (Retained interests: notices and compensation) to this Act ").—(Lord Lovell-Davis.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 [Supplementary provisions relating to right to withdraw support]:
§ 8.4 p.m.
Lord LOVELL-DAVIS moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 16, line 6, leave out ("(a)").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 19. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I say that this Amendment is related to Amendment Nos. 20 and 21, which I shall move formally. These are technical Amendments which seek, in disputes between the National Coal Board and other parties as to whether or not there exists a liability in a particular case from an arbitrator, as in the present draft of the Bill, to transfer jurisdiction to the Lands Tribunal or the Lands Tribunal for Scotland. This would be more in accord with modern practice. The Lands Tribunal has great expertise in these matters. To go outside them would only mean not to employ and make full use of the Tribunal. I beg to move.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.1122
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS: I beg to move Amendment No. 20.
Page 16, line 7, leave ouf from (" provision ") to (" as ") in line 9 and insert (" or ").—(Lord Lovell-Davis).
§ one Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS: I beg to move Amendment No. 21.
Page 17, line 15, leave out from (" obligation ") to (" Any ") in line 16 and insert (" and ").—(Lord Lovell-Davis.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS: I beg to move Amendment No. 22.
After Schedule 1 insert the following new schedule—