HL Deb 20 March 1985 vol 461 cc542-4

2.41 p.m.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the on-going costs for surface damage and subsidence in mining areas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, at the end of the financial year 1983–84 the total provision for subsidence damage was £280 million. An estimate for 1984–85 is not yet available.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he say whether those figures include the 27,000 new claimants for damage by mining subsidence at the present time?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am not absolutely certain about that. The financial provision for subsidence damage is, I think, a matter for the board. An estimate for 1984–85 will be given in the board's annual report to be published in August this year.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the figure he has given includes subsidence from limestone workings as well as mining subsidence? This is a problem in the middle of England which is just as acute.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am not aware that it does, but I shall let my noble friend know.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that the Mining Subsidence Act, which requires the National Coal Board to compensate people who have suffered damage as a result of mining subsidence, requires the Coal Board to pay that compensation only when it, the National Coal Board, is satisfied that the subsidence is complete? Is the noble Earl aware that the National Coal Board very rarely is satisfied that the subsidence is complete, and that there are sometimes very long delays in paying the compensation? An example is in Leigh in the county of Lancashire, where a local authority housing estate had virtually to disappear through the ground before compensation could be paid.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord makes his case by a bit of exaggeration, but I agree with him that this can happen.

Lord Taylor of Mansfield

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the system of accountancy has been changed by the National Coal Board and that instead of subsidence costs being a national charge on the Coal Board's funds they are now an individual responsibility on each separate pit?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, inasmuch as the National Coal Board is a centralised institution, that is indeed the case. I believe it is board policy at the moment to repair subsidence damage rather than pay cash compensation, thus helping to maintain the nation's housing stock, avoiding dereliction and blight and assuring those living in mining areas that their environment is not to be sacrificed in the interests of the nation's need for coal.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, can my noble friend say what part of this total sum is payable to the water authorities in respect of damage to mains and mains sewers caused by subsidence?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, not without prior notice.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I am sure the noble Earl is not aware that he has not answered the question of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield. My noble friend asked whether the Minister is aware that the charges are not distributed throughout the industry but are charged against each particular pit, which makes that pit uneconomic.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying what the noble Lord asked earlier. I was not aware of that, but I shall find out about it.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, has my noble friend any figures for the damage suffered by the British Waterways Board, which I believe is a rather heavy sufferer in this particular direction? I believe it receives only a part of the compensation that it should for the damage that it suffers.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am not aware of that. I am sure that the agreements would have been to the best advantage of everyone.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that compensation was never paid when the pits were privately owned, or was very rarely paid? It began only under nationalisation. Although there may be complaints about some aspects of nationalisation, at any rate those who have suffered from subsidence have received compensation.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I can only thank the noble Lord for his wisdom about those earlier days.