HL Deb 08 May 1975 vol 360 cc462-80

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Coal Industry Bill is modest in size but important in its effects. It is largely uncontroversial and it sterns very largely from the tripartite examination of the coal industry which the Secretary of State for Energy carried out last year in conjunction with the National Coal Board and the trade unions in the industry. It did not take my right honourable friend and the Government team very long to work out, with the chairman of the Coal Board and the leaders of the unions, what needed to be done. They produced an interim report in June 1974, only two months after the examination started. This tentatively laid down the guidelines, which were confirmed in a final report which followed in the autumn.

The examination endorsed the National Coal Board's Plan for Coal, which the Government have accepted as the broad strategy for the next 10 years. This envisaged the maintenance of the current level of deep mined capacity of about 120 million tons a year. Over the next 10 years it is estimated that more than 40 million tons of capacity will be lost due to the exhaustion of coal seams and exceptional mining difficulties at some collieries. Plan for Coal included a massive new £600 million capital investment programme to provide 42 million tons of new capacity to offset the obsolescence. The biggest of the new collieries is at Selby and this, subject to the grant of planning permission, is planned to produce 10 million tons a year-easily the biggest coal mine in the world.

This is a tremendous programme which will require determined effort from all concerned—effort of planning and management on the part of the Board, and full confidence and co-operation between them and the unions and the men they represent. The collaborative basis on which the coal industry examination was conducted should help to bring about the much needed improvement in the spirit of co-operation in the industry. One immediately important problem for us is that of pneumoconiosis, and its solution would be an earnest of the Government's belief in the Social Contract. For many years the question of compensation for this terrible disease had been an unresolved problem, and decisions by the courts had paved the way to what could have developed into an extremely expensive, protracted and heart-breaking series of legal proceedings.

This is the first aspect of the coal industry with which this Bill deals. Clause 1 authorises the Government to make grants of up to £100 million towards the cost of the compensation which will fall on the Board through the new scheme in respect of existing sufferers. By any standards this is a considerable sum. If anything were needed to demonstrate this Government's belief in compassion and their concern for the industry and the men in it, then surely this must be just such a symbol, especially in that the Government, amidst all the grievous strains on the national economy which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has described so graphically on a number of recent occasions, agreed to make available so large a sum in recognition of the sacrifice of their health which the pneumoconiosis sufferers have made for the industry and the nation.

It has been suggested in another place that the scheme is not fully comprehensive—that it makes no provision for sufferers who commuted their compensation at some time in the past, and provides inadequately for the widows of men who died before 26th January 1970.

However, it must be remembered that the scheme is an industry scheme, negotiated between the NCB and the unions. The Government did not settle the detailed terms and conditions. Their role was to provide a very large sum of money towards the costs of compensating the existing sufferers, and this they are doing through instrumentality of this Bill. In other circumstances—if the pressure on the national resources had not been so overpowering—it might have been possible to provide more, so that there would have been a better chance of the Board and the unions being able to extend the scope of the scheme. But no Govern- ment can ever do all they would like to do and I doubt whether any Government have ever made a better gesture than this one at a time of such severe economic and financial pressures.

The rest of the Bill is principally concerned with measures to help the Coal Board to obtain access to the coal which they have to provide to meet the basic needs of the nation. This is an absolutely essential task in view of the acute energy crisis and its impact on the balance of payments. In respect of deep mining, it contains two measures. The first concerns the Coal Board's rights to withdraw support from the surface by taking away the coal underneath. For the most part these rights stem from paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938. For many years the Board considered that these paragraphs gave it all the rights it needed, and included the right to withdraw support not only from the land immediately above the coal which had been extracted but also from adjacent land which might be affected by what is known as "draw "—the in-filling. Recently doubts have been cast upon this wide interpretation of that Act, and the purpose of Clause 2 of the Bill is to remove any uncertainty about the Board's rights by giving it a new right to withdraw both lateral and vertical support. This may sound like a major innovation, but its practical effects will be absolutely minimal. As I have said, the Board has believed, until quite recently, that it had such rights, so there is no question of any great numbers of people being affected by mining subsidence who would not have been affected before. For this reason the clause, and Schedule 1 which is associated with it, largely re-enacts the existing provisions in regard to compensation for damage due to mining subsidence.

There has been considerable misunderstanding about this and representations have been made that the opportunity should have been taken to improve the compensation provisions. However, the subject of compensation is very complex and it is no simple matter to change the rules in some of the ways that have been suggested. An official Working Group has been set up to put forward new proposals and I should like to ask for a little patience in this matter. The second matter concerning deep-mined coal which the Bill deals with is in connection with the retained interests which subsist in certain land formerly subject to copyhold tenure. These interests are a residual of the old manorial system—one of those quaint corners. They were not acquired by the Coal Commission under the Coal Act 1938 and the practical effect nowadays is that the Coal Board is unable to mine the coal which it owns under land subject to these retained interests, or to withdraw support from that land, without the consent of the surface owner.

In areas where the presence of mineable coal was unknown in 1938, like, especially, Selby, it would be a difficult if not impossible task to trace all the owners of the retained interests and reach agreement with them about mining the coal under their land in time for the urgently needed development of these very important coal deposits. Accordingly, Clause 3 of the Bill gives the Board the right to mine coal under land subject to these retained interests, subject to giving notice of intention to do so, and provides for the owners of the retained interests to register them and obtain compensation of this erosion of their rights. Failing agreement, the amount of the compensation is to be settled by the Lands Tribunal. Noble Lords might like to know that we shall be laying Amendments at the Committee Stage for the purpose of clearing up certain uncertainties, including a new Schedule setting out the procedure. I think that the noble Viscount wanted to have an assurance in this respect.

The next three clauses of the Bill relate to opencast mining. This has had a chequered career since it first started as long ago as 1941. But there is no doubt about the need now for opencast coal. It ought to be increased from 10 million tons to roughly 15 million tons per annum. The Coal Boards' Plan for Coal calls for opencast coal production to be increased and this target was fully endorsed by all the parties in the coal industry examination, including the unions. This will be a difficult task. The prime need for an expanded programme of opencast coal production is access to sites from which coal can be obtained. These sites are of only limited availability. They can be only where the coal is in situ and where it is prac- ticable to excavate it in civil engineering and economic terms.

The Coal Board can sometimes be held up in getting possession of the sites it needs by the landowner who seeks an exorbitant price or unreasonable conditions for the use of his land. Clause 4 of the Bill is designed to meet such cases by restoring to the Board the power to make Compulsory Rights Orders which was provided in the Opencast Coal Act 1958, but lapsed after 10 years because it was not thought that opencast coal would be needed in any quantity after 1968. We had at that point very cheap oil. Again, your Lordships should not imagine that this is intended to presage an enormous incursion by the NCB upon the rights of private landowners. It will be its invariable practice to continue to do all it can to gain access to the land it needs by negotiation and agreement. When these powers were in existence between 1958 and 1968 they needed to be invoked in only a handful of cases, and in most of these it proved possible in the event to reach agreement before the compulsory process was completed. I fully expect that this will continue to be the case.

But there are two very important safeguards for the individual. A Compulsory Rights Order cannot take effect until it has been confirmed by the Secretary of State, and before an Order is confirmed it has to go through a process similar to that for a compulsory purchase order under the Town and Country Planning Acts, with provisions for a public inquiry and so on. Secondly, it should be remembered that Compulsory Rights Orders are concerned only with getting access to the land—a matter solely between the Coal Board and the landowner. They do not affect the requirement to secure authorisation from the Secretary of State to work the land in question for opencast coal.

One feature to which I would draw particular attention is the imposition of conditions on methods of working and restoration. Great efforts are made to minimise the inconvenience to the locality: screening of the working by banks of earth, suppression of dust and noise, limitation of hours of operation, specification of times when blasting may be allowed, and so on. In all these and other ways every effort is made to minimise disturbance; and when all the work is over the site is landscaped. I should mention that Clause 4 also extends the maximum life of a Compulsory Rights Order to 20 years. Formerly it was 10. This is intended to meet the quite exceptional case of a very large site.

Clause 5 of the Bill and Schedule 3 introduce a revised procedure for the temporary suspension of public rights of way over footpaths and bridleways across opencast sites. Clause 6 provides additional compensation to assist farmers to accustom themselves once again to their land when they regain possession of it after a Compulsory Rights Order has been in operation. They will have been getting full compensation for rental and loss of profits while the Coal Board has been occupying their land. This new provision is in addition to that, and it recognises the fact that, when a farmer comes back to his land, it may have different characteristics which will take time for him to get used to before he can farm it for the best results. The remainder of the Bill is concerned with procedure and consequential matters which are not in dispute. It is with confidence that I now recommend it to the House. I beg to move.

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

3.52 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, for answering one or two of my questions already. May I also congratulate him on getting his bust into the Royal Academy this year. That is quite an achievement for your Lordships' House. My Lords, we on this side acknowledge the importance of this Bill, and welcome it. In many ways, it makes very generous financial provision for compensation and we would not wish to delay it, other than to investigate certain points in the Bill that are slightly weak. Before I go any further I would say that I believe it is essential at this moment that the coal industry should be encouraged and helped as much as possible. The fact that we have discovered oil does not mean for a moment that we must let up on this very valuable mineral, coal. We shall need it for many years to come; we shall need the men and the technology and the brains to go along with it. So it is important to encourage and inspire all those who cut the coal and those who administer the industry which is so vital to the country.

Dealing first with Clause 1 concerning the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme, the Government are providing (I understand through the workings of the National Coal Board and the unions) a substantial grant. As your Lordships will see, the grant is not to exceed £100 million and there are 39,000 people suffering from this disease, so, in these inflationary times, is £100 million really enough? I should like to mention two points about this grant. There are two groups of people who will not be covered at all by this compensation—widows whose husbands have died before 26th January 1976, and those whose husbands die after that date. So this grant, which has been so generously given, differentiates between two groups of people who will feel slightly bitter if they know that some of their friends in the street where they live will be benefiting slightly more than themselves. It could be a little dangerous in that respect. In the administration of the National Coal Board, records are destroyed five years after a death, which means that there is no way of finding out who died before January 1970. There are also approximately 8,000 to 10,000 pneumoconiotics who commuted their rights before 1948. This grant which the Government have given so generously misses out these two groups.

I should have also liked to see one other item brought into this clause; that is, a more generous offer for research to combat this terrible disease. How we can discover how to destroy dust in a mine remains to be seen. I can think of two ways; first, spraying water continually at high pressure, but then men would be walking in water so I do not think that would succeed; secondly, which is a very uncomfortable solution, men can wear respirators. My experience of wearing a respirator in a paint spraying shop in a hot summer—and mines get up to a very high temperature—was very uncomfortable. It would be a good idea if a certain amount of money could be allocated to research to try to find a way of combat-ding this disease of the lungs. The principle is the same as when we were fighting tuberculosis. I well remember that in my younger days it was fought in every hospital and community centre. Money was subscribed and eventually the disease was overcome, and we have little tuberculosis in the country today. Perhaps the noble Lord could give us some indication as to whether the National Coal Board give a loan for research into this disease.

I come now to Clause 2, which I think needs to be examined more thoroughly. One or two points should be carefully studied in the Committee stage. Clause 2 deals with the right of the National Coal Board to withdraw support from land so far as is required for the working of any coal instead of the rights available under paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938. This clause involves several different people, such as farmers and industrialists, and the compensation provided for needs to be looked at. I mention industrialists, because they may have a factory or a company within the vicinity of a mine, and at the moment they are particularly worried as to how the new Bill is going to work.

Under subsection (2), the National Coal Board is now required to give three months' notice of withdrawal. Also, subsection (4) states that, Where damage to any land arises from the exercise of the right to withdraw support conferred on the Board by this section … ". compensation shall be made payable to those people. I feel about subsections (1) and (4) of Clause 2, in particular, that they threaten to extend the expropriatory powers of the National Coal Board by, as I see it, removing rights which have always been implicitly respected by the Robens Agreement and by previous legislation. If lateral support is allowed to be withdrawn by the National Coal Board, for instance, from land adjacent to coal mining, there cannot be any certainty that the affected parties would receive any more than the minimum compensation.

Your Lordships will realise that conversations on this point could take time and, today, people probably cannot afford the money to shore up their houses or to repair them while waiting for the National Coal Board or the tribunal to which I think I heard the noble Lord. Lord Balogh, say these matters would be referred, to reach its decision. As a result, people will be living in broken- down houses, cattle will be sheltering in broken farmsteads and industrialists will have machinery standing idle.

My Lords, that brings me to the matter of consequential compensation. It is one thing to have one's building standing idle but it is another when one cannot afford even to store one's furniture and cannot do anything about one's machinery standing idle. There is nothing in the Bill that I can see about compensation for that type of damage. A whole factory floor with 30 or 40 people working on it could be held up because of this wait for the decision of a tribunal. Those people might lose their jobs or the factory might have to close down and go elsewhere.

I should, therefore, like to ask the noble Lord a further question on this point. As I said, at the Committee stage, I should like to go into the meaning of one or two of the words used and, in particular, into the meaning of the words, "proper compensation ". That still worries me. May I ask whether the National Coal Board will continue to abide by the Robens Agreement which, as I understand it, was a verbal rather than a written agreement? It seemed to work between individuals—the National Coal Board and those who had a problem. Or is it the case that the National Coal Board wilt hide behind the new Bill and will totally ignore the Robens Agreement? I know that that is the worry of people who had very good relations with the National Coal Board through the Robens Agreement. I should like to feel that the Board would continue the Agreement and the other legislative powers which it had before and would not use the Bill to make it more difficult to apply for compensation.

The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, mentioned the Selby mine, which is now to be the largest coal mine in the world. I did not hear him say that they were to lower the mine from 9 ft. above sea level to 6 ft. That is only 3 ft., but I feel that an enormous amount of damage may be done to the drainage of the area in the movement of this mine. That area could overspill into other farmsteads and I feel that the inquiry regarding Selby should take that point into account. I do not know whether the inquiry is complete. Is it completely agreed? Is it safe for those who farm and for the homes surrounding the mine and will it continue to be so? If not, there will be enormous compensation to be paid, which I am sure the National Coal Board will not want once the mine is in operation.

My Lords, I come to a point regarding the advertising of the withdrawal of working from a coal site. I see that, in the clause, the National Coal Board is required to advertise in the Gazette and local newspapers. However, I believe that there are those who work in coal mining areas and those who live there who do not feel that this will be strong enough. They are asking for heavier advertising media to be used. How is one to get over that? I am not at all certain. The only possibility is television, but, other than the Press and the London Gazette, I do not see that television is a possibility. I should have thought that that ought to be looked at in the light of the fact that many people do not buy or read newspapers.

I come to a further point which is not in the Bill. I am interested in it because a Bill is likely to come before your Lordships' House from another place regarding what is called" land registry ". It is, if I understand it rightly, to deal in one of its parts with tied cottages. I noticed with surprise that the National Coal Board owns over 87,000 tied cottages, and I really wanted to jog the Government's memory on this point. What would the National Coal Board do if its tied cottages were taken away? I do not suggest that the noble Lord should answer me now. All I want to do is to raise the point that it is a possibility and, equally, I should like the National Coal Board to realise that it could have this done to it. The same applies to the Electricity Council and other bodies. However, as I say, that is not in the Bill and I shall not challenge that point at this stage. If the Bill comes to this House, we shall challenge the matter of tied houses.

My Lords, as I said, the Bill sets out fairly generous terms of compensation. It provides for a 10-year programme as to what coal will be brought in and, as I heard the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, say, it sets out the reorganisation and modernisation of the machinery to be used in the mines. We on this side all welcome these provisions. However, we should like to know how many mines will need to be closed in order to modernise those other mines. Has that been taken into account at this stage? I feel that I have said enough, except to indicate that I shall wish to raise one or two points at Committee stage. I and my noble friends welcome the Bill and we do not want to delay it unless we can possibly help it.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, we, too, would like to welcome this Bill on two main counts. The first is that it deals with the health of one of our vital industries. More and more it is important at the present time, when we have a great number of economic and industrial problems, that we concentrate on, cultivate and strengthen, the rather simple technologies of our basic self-support, agriculture, conservation of fisheries and coal mining, as opposed to North Sea oil. These basic things could be strengthened and kept healthy. None of us knows in what kind of a world we are going to be in in 10 or 15 years' time, and I think to concentrate on the essentials is a very good thing. Part of a healthy industry is the health of the people concerned in that industry.

My Lords, the second reason why we support and welcome this Bill is the generous nature of the grants which are dealt with in Clause 1 of the Bill. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Long, we are slightly worried about the sections of people who suffer; the widows and people who commuted their rights earlier, and who have been ignored in this legislation. I do not think that the answer that this is merely something arrived at between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, is, in itself, a complete answer. One of the troubles is that, as so often happens in these cases, there are certain classes of people who are not directly represented by either body. When I see big business and big unions getting together I always want to look into the corners to see what has been neglected and who is being squeezed out.

While I would not accuse the National Coal Board or the National Union of Mineworkers for one second of being unsympathetic to the problem of these other people, it is true that they are not directly represented by either of these two bodies. We recognise that no Bill can do everything and that, in fact, the grants are very generous and are a considerable advance on the situation in which we find ourselves. We therefore welcome that, in addition to welcoming the Bill as a whole. I end by giving notice that I shall be raising one minor point on the Committee stage; and this is the situation with regard to the closure of footpaths which comes up (I think I am right in saying) in Schedule 3 to the Bill. Although it is an advance on the powers given to parish and community councils about objecting to the closure of footpaths, they are still at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Coal Board as opposed to their rights under other legislation such as a highways Bill. This matter was raised in another place in Committee, but only in Standing Committee and was not dealt with by the full House. Since your Lordships in this House have a certain knowledge, expertise and great interest in this kind of matter, I propose to raise it at Committee stage. With that one reservation and warning shot across the Government bows, we welcome this Bill heartily.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to give a wholehearted welcome to this Bill, and in the first place would refer particularly to the provisions which are made with regard to grants for pneumoconiosis. This is one of the most important things that I think can be done; for everyone who has any contact with the mining industry knows that there have been, and still are, many such cases. But while they are doing something which is right and proper and adequately generous, I would remind Her Majesty's Government that they are still doing very little with regard to the incidence of lung disease in other industrial occupations. It surely is right and proper that attention should be paid to this as well. While heartily applauding what they are doing with regard to the coal industry, I would suggest that Her Majesty's Government should pay attention to lung diseases produced in other industries.

With regard to the remainder of the Bill, this is in my opinion a Bill of very great importance because the coal industry is a great industry, and from the point of view of the supply of energy it will become of increasing importance. We in this country are now the biggest producers of coal in Europe, and our production of coal is going to matter a very great deal to the future of the European energy industries. It is therefore vital that we should do what is set out in the Bill. Recently, the Chairman of the National Coal Board stated that every year they are now discovering another 500 million tons of exploitable coal in this country. That is to say that four times our annual consumption of coal is now being discovered as being exploitable in the future. Therefore the steps that we take today in order to ensure that this exploitation is properly carried out will be vital for the energy supplies of this country and for the whole of Western Europe. Consequently, this Bill is doing something which is absolutely vital for our own future. Without this sort of provision for the future we shall find that our resources of fuel for producing energy and other purposes will dwindle. Therefore this is quite important.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, made reference, rightly, to rights of way. I think that this is something to which close attention should be paid because although, obviously, if one takes over a whole area it may be necessary to close rights of way, nevertheless it may be that those rights of way are quite vital to the ordinary functioning of life in the communities concerned. Consequently, it really is important that if a right of way is closed it should be realised that some alternative should be supplied. It is not good enough to say, "You cannot go through this right of way. You must go across a certain track and you must go 20 miles further round." This is all right if you do it for a period of one or two years while some development is taking place; but this is a closure of rights of way which may last for 20 to 30 years; in other words, it is lasting for a generation and not just for one or two years. I am sure that it is in the experience of all of us that what is surrendered for a period of months or for one or two years tends often to be surrendered forever. We have cases now where there is still a struggle going on to recover what was surrendered temporarily during the last war. It is really important when any right of way is given up for some purpose which is highly desirable in the national interest that some guarantee should be given, and also that some alternative should be supplied to those people who are living in that area who, after all, are making the sacrifice for all of us. It is not right that we, sitting here, should ask individuals to sacrifice for the benefit of all of us when we are sacrificing nothing in the process. While completely welcoming this Bill and regarding it as a highly desirable Bill, I hope that the Government will be prepared to pay attention to certain details.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a very satisfactory debate, and I hope I shall be able to answer in a satisfactory manner the questions which the noble Viscount, Lord Long, put. First, I should like to thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for the generous spirit in which their speeches were made. We are agreed on the necessity of encouraging the coal industry as much as possible. As your Lordships know, we are doing our utmost to increase coal production and modernise the mines. We are fully aware, of course, of the fact that so long as coal can be produced economically it is an enormous addition to our assets; in the potential export of oil, for instance, which can perhaps be used abroad in a more flexible manner than our coal exports.

The Government have a very extended research programme on pneumoconiosis. There are many noble Lords who have had direct working experience of coal mines. That none of them has spoken against the Bill is a sign that the Government, if not living absolutely up to the maximum possible expectations, have at least not done too badly. Let me first give your Lordships the figures for pneumoconiosis. In 1950, we had 4,000 new cases; in 1960 there were still 3,000 new cases a year; in 1974, the figure had fallen to 500. I think we can all congratulate those researchers, managers and miners who are in charge of these matters on a very splendid achievement. I hope all sides of your Lordships' House will agree that this is a really good effort.

Regarding compensation for pneumoconiosis, this scheme is not something additional to the two existing forms of compensation, but is an alternative because there are so many cases and they present legal difficulties which are completely different from cases in other industries. We are doing our utmost to reduce the incidence of the other lung diseases due to industrial conditions, but this scheme had to be set up because there are 39,000 cases and, obviously, the judicial process would have been impossible and would have distorted the whole situation, causing extreme anguish and disappointment in certain cases. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones can rest assured that in other industries, where there are smaller numbers of cases, there are already adequate ways of getting compensation. The Government are keeping this matter well in mind and we shall be looking at it continuously.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord before he leaves the subject of pneumoconiosis? He has told us that the figures are declining year by year. Do the Government anticipate that this decline will continue and that the disease is virtually being mastered? If so, could the noble Lord give us some idea of how this is being achieved?


My Lords, I cannot possibly answer this question at short notice. If the noble Lord will put down a Question, I will certainly endeavour to give as full an Answer, either by way of writing or verbally, as possible. With improvements in machinery, we can obviously still hope for a further reduction. But if the noble Lords wants a more positive, detailed answer I shall be only too glad to furnish it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Long, raised the question of National Coal Board houses. The National Coal Board owns about 90,000 houses; it is one of the great landlords. Its policy is to dispose of them, giving priority of course to ex-members of the industry. There is no question of the property owned by the Coal Board being treated in any way as tied cottages, or of retired or redundant employees or their widows being evicted from their homes by the Board. This is a fixed policy and I can assure the noble Viscount that it will remain so. I can also assure the noble Viscount that the Robens' agreement, which related to the Board agreeing not to work certain areas of coal, will continue unchanged.

The noble Viscount raised two detailed questions on subsidence. One related to Selby and the other to the industry as a whole. I can assure the noble Viscount that extensive consultation has been held with the Board, the National Farmers' Union and other local interests. This has been one of the most important issues raised at the public inquiry which is still going on, and I am quite sure that the utmost care will be taken so that any problems which may arise on a site will cause no trouble. So far as lateral support is concerned, perhaps I did not explain myself adequately. The Coal Board have already withdrawn lateral support in many cases, thinking that paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938 covered lateral subsidence. This is not a new problem at all; this is something which, in practice, has been solved adequately, and there is no reason to suppose that this situation will not continue in the future. If the noble Viscount has some specific questions and suggestions, of course we can debate them and dispose of them in the Committee stage.

Clause 2(4) reads as follows: (4) Subject to the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act, where damage to any land arises from the exercise of the right to withdraw support conferred on the Board by this section, the Board shall either—

  1. (a) pay proper compensation for the damage, or
  2. (b) with the consent (which shall not be unreasonably withheld) of the person who would otherwise be entitled to the payment of compensation for the damage, make good the damage to the reasonable satisfaction of that person and without expense to him;
and the obligation imposed on the Board by this subsection shall extend to damage to buildings and works on that lard, whenever constructed. I should have thought that, in practice, there had been no challenge at all of the compensation provisions, and no legal case has arisen out of them. So it would seem that the Board have always acted in a reasonable way. Provision is also made in the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957 for damages to be paid for death and serious or permanent disablement. The subject is a complex one and is under study, as I said, by an inter-Departmental Committee, which will report to the Minister. The Minister will then, in the normal way, announce his findings and introduce legislation if necessary. In Committee we shall be introducing a new Schedule on the procedure for the abolition of copyholders' rights.

I think that those who have been responsible for the passage of the Bill so far can really be satisfied with it. The greatest efforts are being made, and will continue to be made, co-operatively by management, unions, the Mines Inspectorate, equipment manufacturers and research institutes. These combined with stricter controls underground, which have been instituted by both sides of this House, are improving conditions, and we have been able to achieve very good results. The Bill also deals in a practical and reasonable way with some of the procedural and other obstacles which stand in the way of our securing the coal we so desperately need at this time. The coal industry—and here I echo what the noble Viscount said—has a vital contribution to make towards the future of this country, and part of this contribution will come from opencast mining. While facing up to the need to expand opencast mining from 10 million to 15 million tons a year, I hope that Members of your Lordships' House will agree with me that we have shown proper care and consideration for local communities and for the environment in this Bill.

This Bill is part of the overall approach by Her Majesty's Government to the securing of a more efficient, more productive and happier industry. The action taken so far by Her Majesty's Government has created better morale in the industry, has stepped up recruitment to the necessary levels, and has increased production to the point where record output is already being achieved in certain areas. The Coal Industry Bill is a significant part of the overall plan, and I hope that your Lordships will receive it favourably.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, might I ask him whether he would answer the point made by my noble friend regarding the people who have been left out of the Bill with regard to compensation for pneumoconiosis. This is a very important matter, and although I find it rather difficult, if I may say so, to hear all that the noble Lord says, I do not think he dealt with that point at all. For a very long time I have had a keen personal interest in the mining industry and in pneumoconiosis, and I should like to know whether the noble Lord is going to get his Government to find the money to compensate those people who have been left out of the Bill. I should be most grateful if he could now tell me whether he is going to make those representations because, if not, I shall certainly, where I can, support my noble friends in the Amendments they may decide to put down. But I hope they will not have to do so, because it is most important, now that this new decision about the disease has been taken, that we should know that everybody will derive advantage from it.


My Lords, I am always prepared to answer the questions of the noble Baroness. I hope I said that this Bill enshrines an agreement between the Coal Board and the trade unions of the industry. In a democratic society, it has to be the people in the industry who decide on the priorities to be given regarding the sum of money which is available. It was not the Government who decided how the money should be allocated.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, but I do not have the same ideas as the National Coal Board. I may have my own ideas; and it certainly will be a matter of money. If £100 million is going to be found, there is really no reason why the noble Lord should not emphasise to the National Coal Board that your Lordships' House wishes more to be done for these people who have been left out of the Bill. This is a free country and we have a right to say that—I certainly want to say it—so perhaps the noble Lord will take the matter to the National Coal Board, who do not always do what I want or indeed what the people inside the industry want. Many arguments have to take place; sometimes the National Coal Board wins and sometimes they do not. I believe the National Coal Board ought to do something for these people, and I should be grateful if the noble Lord would be kind enough to convey these views to the Board so that they know that at least some of us are not entirely satisfied with the decision they have taken. I should be grateful to the noble Lord if he could confirm that representations will be duly made.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that her words, whether spoken in another place or here, are always taken into acount. Certainly the attention of the Coal Board and of the trade unions will be drawn to what she has said; but, as I said in my speech, there is a priority scheme. If the money had been allocated authoritatively by the Government, I am sure we would have been accused of Stalinist tendencies.


No; good gracious!


My Lords, sometimes we are accused of them in any case.


My Lords, I recall in the past, when I was a Minister concerned with industrial injuries, that we had arguments about the correct diagnostic criteria. The years passed, as the noble Lord will know, and nothing was done. I am astonished to learn that the number of new cases has dropped to 500. Could he say whether there has been any change in diagnostic criteria?


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot answer that question. If my noble friend wishes to put it down, I shall certainly give an answer, or I will write to her, if she wishes me to do so.


I thank the noble Lord.

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