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I beg to move,
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I much regret that this Bill has not been introduced to the House by the Government as a Government measure. It raises questions of large and grave importance to many parts of the country, not alone affecting the individual citizens, but the interests of great public bodies. I did not quite realise what I was letting myself in for when I made myself responsible for the introduction of a Compensation for Subsidence Bill. As hon. Members know, their correspondence is very large, and it appears to be increasing from day to day. When it became known that I was going to introduce a Compensation for Subsidence Bill, I was overwhelmed with correspondence. With the usual courtesy of Members of Parliament, I attempted to reply, but I have now reached a stage when I should want several shorthand writers to assist me in giving a simple, courteous reply to those who have been writing to me emphasising the importance of this subject. No one who has given any consideration to the subject can come to any conclusion other than that a large number of people are suffering a great injustice. These are the days when Parliament is upon its trial and when constitutional government is upon its trial. There is a number of people in this country who apparently have lost hope of getting their grievances redressed by constitutional Parliamentary means. If they get encouragement they will extend their influence to what I verily believe to be the serious disadvantage of the State and of the Empire. If citizens are to be encouraged to rely upon constitutional procedure for the correction of their grievances, then they must be given the assurance that, whatever their grievances may be, they can safely look to a constitutional Parliament to redress them. We are a wonderfully patient race. If we had not possessed the patience that was so characteristic of Job this grievance would have been corrected long ago. People have been waiting for its correction with a hope and a patience that to me is abso-
lutely marvellous. Now the Labour party has come to this House with a Bill. I am not pretending that the draftsmanship of the Bill is perfect. If the Under-Secretary to the Home Office, who I presume is going to reply, cares to find fault with the way the Bill is drafted, I will not enter into a contest with him, but I say to him that if the Bill is not drafted well we shall be glad to have the co-operation of the Parliamentary draftsman and the Home Office to put right any technical details which may be wrong. I am not standing hard on the letter of the Bill, but I am standing broadly and quite hard upon the main principle of the measure, and I hope that the Under-Secretary to the Home Office will give us not only a sympathetic but a hopeful reply. I have had sufficient experience of Parliament to know that if a measure of this character is produced at this stage of the Session and is to have any hope of passing on to the Statute Book, we must have some help from the Government. I am now appealing not only for a hopeful reply from the Government, but for an undertaking from them that they will either make themselves responsible for the Bill from this stage forward as a Government measure, or that they will undertake to give to us who are making ourselves responsible for it sufficient time to carry it through all its stages on to the Statute Book.
Public authorities have carried resolutions at their properly constituted meetings in favour of this measure. I have had resolutions from the urban councils of Risca, Abercarn, Abertillery, Blaina, Tredegar, Rhymney, and Rhondda Valley. As if the resolutions were not sufficient, they have had taken some large photographs to show me the actual damage done in many parts of their urban areas, and if hon. Members would care to see those photographs they will be at their disposal. It is a dreadful state of affairs for a British subject to have his property damaged with no hope of redress. It is a very serious condition of affairs. It is in that direction that I see danger to the State. When thrifty, provident people see their savings of a lifetime being destroyed and Parliament standing by and making no effort to correct their grievance, it is in that direction that I see danger to the State. I hope the Government will address itself to this subject as a matter of grave national importance. There is a real passion in the working classes of the British race to own their own homes. In no country in the world will you see such a demonstration of self-help as you see in the endeavour of our working classes to own their own cottages. Building societies flourish in all parts of the country. By a weekly or monthly payment out of their hard-earned wages, scores and even hundreds of thousands of working men have become the owners of their cottages and have invested their life savings in them. There was a time when this was a matter which, politically, affected only the men. Make no mistake, there is another factor in the situation now, which has to be reckoned with. The women have votes. It is they who have to live in these cottages, and they will say, "What is the use of the vote unless we use it to get compensation for the damage done to these houses?" Consequently, with this new factor, no Government can afford to stand by and treat as of no importance a grievance such as that in which this Bill proposes to deal.
It is not only cottages, but chapels, churches, public institutions, and schools. This morning I received a communication from the headmaster of an intermediate school with which I am very well acquainted, calling my attention to the fact that that building, which has been built at an enormous cost to the area, has been damaged, and is showing increasing damage day by day. How can there be peace in the land if this thing is allowed to go on and Parliament does not attempt to meet the difficulty? In the Rhondda Valley you have, I believe, the largest urban authority in the Kingdom. They have no less a population than 180,000. A distinguished friend of mine is clerk to the council, and he has taken the trouble to send me this letter:
At the last meeting of the Rhondda Council a resolution was unanimously passed in support of the principle of the Subsidence Bill. As instances out of many which can be given I may say that streets consisting of shops, chapel, public-houses and private dwellings have been affected at Mardy Portygwarth and Upper Williamstown, and the owners of these properties in some cases have failed to recover damages. Public property such as highways, sewers and gas and water mains have also become affected and in our area one or two public schools have also been damaged, a school at Hafod having been closed for some years in consequence of damage by subsidence. There is one point in connection with the subject which I should like to draw your particular attention to and that is this. The matter is too often looked at from the point of view of the owners of the damaged property. The owners of property sustain pecuniary loss only, but the unfortunate occupants of the premises
incur considerable inconvenience and risk to health, for once subsidence takes place, the drainage becomes deranged and the roofs and walls of the premises, owing to cracks, let in water, and this inconvenience to the occupants almost invariably continues whilst the owner is litigating. He thinks he weakens his case if he commences putting the property in repair before a legal decision is reached, and if pressed by the local authority to do so, puts forward as an excuse for delay that the matter is subject to litigation. If there was a common fund such as your Bill suggests repairs could be started immediately.
That is a letter from the legal adviser to a public authority which is suffering deeply as a result of damage by subsidence. I should like to read a letter from a miner. He says:
Eleven years ago I purchased the house in which I am now living, and during the past week my neighbour and I have been obliged to have the boundary wall between our premises taken down and rebuilt. I may say the house itself has been very much affected by the movements caused by the underground workings, as doors have had to be eased on a number of occasions, the ceilings have been so badly cracked as to necessitate replastering, The bow windows in the front of the house have suffered badly, and the floor of the front room on the ground floor had to be taken up last summer and relaid. When I mention that I am a miner who has had to maintain a family of four children, all girls, you will readily appreciate what it has meant to me to have repairs effected to the house on so many occasions, repairs over and above those which would be necessary in a district not so affected by subsidences. I may add that all the houses in the terrace where I reside are suffering from the same cause. To have to make such replacements as I have referred to, especially during the present time when such high prices prevail, proves very expensive, and can hardly be said to be an inducement for me, a working man, to be thrifty and use his best endeavours to see that his family is provided with a decent house which they may call their own.
That is from a decent, clean-living, thrifty, provident man. What do you expect other than agitation when men find their homes coming down about their ears, and they can have no redress either in law or in any other way? It is because the Labour party feel that this matter has been too long delayed that we have made use of the privilege of this Friday to introduce this Bill.
To come to the Bill, Clause 1 says:
In any district where the Local Government Board are of opinion that damage to houses and buildings (including schools and other buildings belonging to or occupied by a local authority), and property therein as defined by this Act, or to highways, including tramways or other works thereon, or to reservoirs, drains, sewage or other public works, belonging to or under the control of a local authority (hereinafter called such property), has been caused, or is likely to be caused by subsidence or disturbance of land occasioned directly or indirectly by mining or
quarrying operations of any kind (both of which operations are hereinafter described as mining), the Local Government Board shall make an order forming a compensation district and establishing a compensation board.
Broadly, what is proposed in that Clause is that in every mining area there shall be created a compensation board under the Local Government Board. The representative of the Home Office is going to speak for the Government, and if the Home Office think it is their Department I have no objection at all. If I have a special liking for any Department of the State it is the Home Office, and I would trust it to administer this Bill not only in all fairness, but with great power and with the highest qualifications. Therefore, if the Government likes, I will substitute the Home Office for the Local Government Board. Having set up the compensation board, Clause 7 deals with its composition:
One-third shall be appointed by the county council or councils of the county or counties in which the district is situated; one-third shall be appointed by the district council or councils within the area of the district; one-third shall be appointed by the Local Government Board,
or, if you like, by the Home Office. Under Clause 14 a Board may appoint such surveyors and other officers as they think necessary, and they can make such surveys and valuations as they think necessary. Therefore, we start with a board established in each mining district where there is actual subsidence and damage or where there is likely to be subsidence and damage, and it, therefore, seems to me it would mean that we would set up a board in every mining area in Scotland, England, and Wales. Having set up the board, we then select the board, and that is provided in Clause 7. We then give them power in Clause 14 for the appointment of the necessary staff.
In Clause 17 we come to the point upon which I knew my right hon. Friend would want information:
(2) The compensation fund for the district shall be formed and maintained by the assessment and levy as in this Act provided of such rate for every one thousand tons of mineral gotten within the district as the board may from time to time think necessary and order to be levied.
It is proposed to raise the money from a levy fixed upon the output of the area, so much per ton. Having decided on the amount of money, which it to be a kind
of insurance from year to year, which is necessary to meet the compensation for damage in the area, the board will commence to lay the levy upon a tonnage basis. Clause 31 says:
Every person who after or within twelve months before the passing of this Act was either the proprietor or the mining lessee or worker of minerals as defined by this Act, in any compensation district, shall be liable to be rated under this Act if during the year, or any part thereof in respect of which he is sought to be rated, he has derived profit from or worked minerals.
Therefore it is the people who benefit from the underground workings who will have to find the money. It seems to me to be quite a fair proposition, that if people's property is damaged through the action of the mine-owners who are advantaged as a result of bringing up the minerals, and if the landlord is advantaged as a result of giving a lease for the minerals to be worked, it seems to me to be quite fair as between man and man and between interest and interest that the people who have been advantaged through the working of the minerals should be called upon to pay for any damage done to other people's property because the minerals have been brought out. How should the payment of the money be apportioned? Sub-section (2) of Clause 31 provides:
Half of the rates in each levy shall be paid by such proprietors; and half by such mining lessees and workers of minerals respectively.
That is half and half. If that proportion is not fair and the Minister makes a proposal of a different kind, I am not tied to the rate of proportion in the Bill. We thought that the two parties who benefit by the operation of winning the coal should be called upon, half and half, to find the amount of money necessary to compensate the people whose property has been damaged. We next come to the kind of damage for which compensation is to be paid. Clause 18 sets forth in detail what kind of damage will be paid for:
The appeal shall be brought in the County Court within whose jurisdiction such property is situate, in manner prescribed by rules made or to be made by the authority for the time being empowered to make rules for the procedure and practice of County Courts.
The judgment of the County Court shall be binding on all persons, subject to an appeal to the High Court of Justice.Suppose either a landowner or a mineral owner feels aggrieved at the amount of rate, then an arrangement is made in Clause 35 for an appeal on the question of rates to Quarter Sessions.
Any person who deems himself aggrieved by any rate made under the provisions of this Act may appeal against such rate to the Quarter Sessions for the county.We want by this Bill not to create litigation but to prevent it. The House will remember that in the letter which I quoted in the early part of my speech we had a real grievance of the tenant, which is that while litigation is going on he is called upon to live in a house that breeds tuberculosis and all the other things that reduce the physical fitness of our race. If we are to be a really Imperial race then we shall have to address ourselves much more readily in the future than in the past to these kinds of social problems. We have a provision in Clause 24 to protect the small man who may be intimidated by litigation. I can quite conceive such a man whose property was damaged, as in the case of the man whose letter I have read, being intimidated at the idea of heavy litigation expenses. Financially he may find himself in a position that he could not meet such expense. Therefore, we have taken a prudent course in Clause 24 of making a provision that—
In no case shall there by any appeal, by special case or otherwise, where the amount claimed does not exceed twenty pounds.We want to have a board which will be set up under this Bill to deal with claims which do not exceed £20. We want to get on with this business, to create this authority in each mining area, so that the people whose property has been damaged shall find there a board who will know the kind of problem which is to be dealt with, and in whom they have confidence. This cannot be delayed. Delay is dangerous. The miners are sometimes given to agitation. What kind, of agitation do you think is going to develop if this Bill is rejected? What kind of agitation is going to develop if the Government decline to give the necessary facilities for getting this Bill through its stages in Parliament, and if they will not make themselves responsible for the Bill? Believe me you cannot touch the homes of the people without touching their hearts. There are scores of thousands of decent people in England, Scotland, and Wales who feel this grievance. The Labour party has come forward with this Bill as its contribution to the solution of this grievance. If we are to be a constitutional people, and discourage in this House the Bolshevism of which the War Minister spoke yesterday, this House must not fail in its duty in providing the machinery necessary, that will give confidence to the people, that when they have something to complain about, they may come here and present their case and have their grievances corrected. It is with this spirit that I submit this Bill for the consideration of the House, and I close with the final appeal, that the Government should make this Bill their Bill, and if they cannot do so, that they should give us the necessary Parliamentary time which will enable us to carry it through Grand Committee, Report, and Third Heading, send to the House of Lords, and place it on the Statute Book. This question having been raised in this House, the position cannot be left as it was. These grievances cannot remain unremedied. It was because my colleagues and myself stand for constitutional councils, that I appeal to the House of Commons not only to give this Bill sympathetic consideration, but to co-operate with us to make it a really effective measure to deal with an admitted grievance.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not want him to think that, if I offer a few criticisms on the Bill, I am saying a word against comfortable homes for everybody in the coun- try. Where damage is done to a house, and the owner has no claim, there should be a. right for that man to get some compensation, and he should be put in such a position, that he can see that no damage can be done through the fault of other people for which he has no redress. But the Memorandum to the Bill says that it is introduced to avoid the serious difficulty of proving who is the actual author of the subsidence. I know a little about colliery districts, and there must be very few places where coal is being worked, where there is any question at all as to who is the author. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] To compare the case of pumping out brine, where there may be several people pumping in the same area, with the case of collieries, as if the shafts of different collieries were side by side, is not justifiable. There is no comparison at all. It seems to me that there must be very few cases, where there ought to be any difficulty in proving who is the real author of the damage. If damage is done, and there is no redress at the present time, then there should be redress to the man who is damaged. I have been in this House for some time, and I have always worked to secure that a man should become the owner of his property, and if that property, great or small, is damaged by the action of another man, the owner should have redress. But the Bill proposes that everywhere these committees shall be set up. There are a great many localities where there is no need for these committees, although there may be many places where they may be needed. Therefore, to make this compulsory will have an effect which I am sure the Labour party, in common with everyone else will not want to see produced. It would mean more officials having a separate branch for each local authority that has to deal with the matter, and that is the question we have to consider seriously in these days when it is the desire of everybody that officialdom should not be increased more than is absolutely necessary.
Then there is another point. Whore subsidence has taken place, say a man has bought a house, where he knows a colliery is being worked. He has bought the house knowing that there was a possibility that he might suffer to a certain extent, and consequently he has probably bought it cheaper than he would have done otherwise, if the ground on which the house is built had been absolutely firm and sound. That must be taken into account and it always has been taken into account in any cases where there was any likelihood of subsidence which was bound to affect the value of the property bought. It is provided in the Bill that where colliery companies have made themselves responsible for surface damage, these contracts are under Sub-section (2) of Clause 20, to be in all cases null and void. The present arrangement is working satisfactorily in many districts, and the proposed change creates a very serious state of affairs, which I would ask the Government to consider very carefully. The right hon. Gentleman has got a great knowledge of these matters. I can only speak in a small way from the point of view of the part of Yorkshire in which I live, and I would urge on this question of contracts that, where they are working satisfactorily, and there is compensation for damage done to the owner on the surface, that fact should be borne in mind. The Government should also give consideration as to whether Clause 1 shall be permissive, and "shall" shall be turned into "may." I do not know anything about Scotland, and I know very little about Wales, beyond the fact that during the War I happened to be a great deal in it. But I do think this Bill is not necessary in many parts of the country. The Local Government Board is to set up districts for the purposes of the levy, and a royalty-owner may have to pay a heavy levy in one part of a district for the benefit of somebody else in another district. If this Bill is going further, the question of the arrangement of districts should be very carefully considered. I am sure the Labour party want a Bill fair and just to all concerned, and do not desire that one part of an area, or the owners in that area, should be penalised because in some lower area owners have not done their duty. Under this proposal of districts it might quite easily happen that in many cases the owner of the upland part of an area might be called upon to pay a levy for setting right wrong caused by the letting down of land in another part of the area. While I want men to be the owners of their homes, and while I wish to see no man in a position in which he could not secure right and justice for any wrongs done to him in his home, I do hold that this Bill is not necessary in many parts of the country.
I was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman say that he was not anxious to thwart the desires of the Labour party. We are only asking for justice. The Bill is really a plea for justice for the people who cannot help themselves. I was very pleased to hear the clear statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery in explanation of the Clauses of the Bill. I do not think any Member of the House will be able to say that there is likelihood of any partiality in the selection of the Board which has to administer this work. Absolute freedom of choice is given and equality of representation for the local authorities concerned, so that the boards will carry out their work as impartially as possible, and in the interests of the whole community. That proposal ought to commend itself to the House. We are all agreed that it will be necessary to have some officials. It may not be possible to reduce the number of officers as low as one would desire, because in some parts of the country the subsidence is so heavy that it will entail upon the board very considerable work. I come from a part of Lancashire where the subsidence is as heavy as in any part of England. Within a few miles of where I reside and a few miles from Wigan we find that not only is property giving way considerably and that many houses have been taken down, but that there are lying under water hundreds of acres of land which ought to be used in the national interests. That is a point not dealt with in the Bill, but it ought to be dealt with. The common compensation fund which is secured by levying on the whole of the people working mineral in the district is an admirable suggestion, and will do away with the feeling that some employer or some winner of mineral is being hardly dealt with compared with other people. It will obviate the necessity of the great work done in the past in trying to find out who is responsible for subsidence. The hon. and gallant Member (Lieut.-Colonel Wheler) did not think it was necessary, and held that there would be no difficulty in defining who was responsible for subsidence.
The hon. Member knows that in every district there are mining engineers of very great experience, and I cannot believe that they could not define who were the authors of a subsidence.
But there are many cases where colliery proprietors have disagreed. I come from a district where
disagreement exists to-day as to who is responsible for the subsidence of a county council bridge, and of the local church and property surrounding it. It is not so easy as may be apparent to define responsibility. The line of cleavage is quite peculiar in some districts, and it is difficult to define which colliery is directly responsible for damage done. As has been stated, this is the work of the mining engineer. The line of cleavage is not always vertical, but may affect property hundreds of yards from a mine. The institution of a common fund, levied upon all mineral workers and landowners, is therefore a reasonable proposal, and should overcome many of the difficulties which have been brought about by subsidence in the past. This fund, of course, is only applicable to compensation for damages arising from subsidences and disturbances, or the expenses of the board. We must look at the conditions which we find obtaining through subsidence. I can point to villages which, as a whole, have sunk over 20 ft. below normal level. You can quite imagine what must be the effect on property, no matter whether it be cottages, mills, workshops, a church, or anything else They have practically every one suffered to some extent through the sinking of these particular lands. I have in mind two blocks of property. There are, perhaps, six or eight houses on each block. One is leaning forward, the next is leaning backward, and they are something like a yard out of the perpendicular. They have had to be bolted in order to keep them habitable. Near the same place many cottages have been taken down because they were dangerous for human habitation. These are conditions of things which this Bill seems to remedy. Only two summers ago I was riding on the top of a car in a mining village. As we passed some property we heard a crash. Naturally every person on the car turned round and we could see that the front of the house had fallen and the whole of the front bedrooms were exposed. Those are some of the things which are common occurrences. In a village where I have resided for twenty years I saw a fortnight ago a block of property of ten or twelve houses built by a colliery manager who made a boast at the time that they would never stir and were absolutely firm and that there was no fear whatever. When I saw them I could put my hands right through the wall, which has broken, and not for the first time. Within the last two or
three years it has broken so badly that in the near future it will have to be bolted together and drastic steps taken to preserve the property. I have known during a single night walls to break to such an extent that you could put your hand through and the neighbours could talk through the walls. Those are common occurrences in mining villages. Local authorities have constantly to relay sewers in order to get outflow and they have no recourse to a compensation fund. Those are some of the things which require to be dealt with, and by introducing this Bill we are doing something in that direction. I have received a letter suggesting that this matter should be brought before the Coal Commission. In his letter the writer says—
I wish to remind you of the injustice which exists with regard to the subsidence of property owing to the mineral being taken from underneath. I and my two brothers have some property in——.It has been built out of our hard-earned savings. The houses are constantly giving away owing to coal being worked from underneath. The landowner and the colliery proprietor refuse to pay one penny towards compensation. We have spent over £500 in the last seven years bolting and trying to keep them in repair. I estimate that depreciation is at least another £500. I am sorry to say they are constantly moving, and I hope this matter may be brought before the notice of the gentlemen sitting on the Coal Commission with a view to something being done.
The nation is undertaking a great housing scheme, and what is going to be the position of local authorities if they are to be subjected to such damage as has occurred in past years. Some landowners do include in their leases reparation for all damage, but others do not. During the last twenty-five years it has been the custom not to put such clauses in leases. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]
I am not taking it as universal. I mean some of the landowners. I know differences exist as between different districts. I do not wish to tarnish or blot the record of any good landowner in order to build up my case. I think it is an injustice that such a clause should not be included in every building lease and every agreement, because in coal-mining villages it is impossible to find a piece of land which will not sooner or later give way owing to the very thick seams of coal underneath. The thinner seams are now being worked, and those are playing greater havoc with tramways, water lines, gas mains, sewers, and everything else on the surface. We think the time has come when not only local authorities but other owners, tenants, and everyone affected should be recompensed for any damage. They have, in our opinion, suffered sufficiently long. Take the case mentioned of those who have invested their saving sin cottage property. People like to live in their own houses, and they probably buy one or two more, as it is a popular form of investment amongst the industrial community. After some years the property begins to break, and they have to borrow money to keep it in repair, and eventually there is a mortgage and the property becomes absolutely useless, and the whole of their savings are practically lost. We think the people responsible for the damage and who have created it ought to pay for it. They have been receiving the benefit of the extraction of the minerals. No doubt the work has found employment, but the people employed have found the profits for those employing them, and the workmen ought not to be called on to pay, but the mine-owner and landowner. We ask in common justice for the acceptance of this measure, and we consider it is a meed of justice which has been too long delayed.
Those who draw rent and royalties should compensate the local authorities and those who suffer. I have lived in a house in which I cannot shut the back door, and I know of cases where people cannot shut either front or back door because of subsidence. We appeal to the Government to support this measure.
I am in a position in which perhaps no other Member is, since I am both a royalty owner and a landowner, and, consequently, the Bill appeals to me very strongly. I may say at once I give my cordial support to this Bill with one or two reservations. I do not think the last speaker did justice, first of all, to the landowner. He was wrong in saying that the landowners during the last twenty-five years have not put in their leases reparation clauses. They do in the North of England in most of the mining leases.
I am inclined to think also that the hon. Member was not quite correct in saying that local authorities have not the right to get compensation against mine-owners. In my leases, and in those of a great many landowners find mineral owners, all who are damaged by subsidence have the same remedy against the person who causes that subsidence, and, consequently, the local authorities would have certainly the same right against all the people who caused the subsidence as I have myself. Supposing the mine-owner brings my own house down. In that case, being the mineral owner and also the owner of the land myself, have I to pay half the levy myself because my own house is brought down? That seems to me to be a point which is not taken into consideration in the Bill. Any objection to the Bill, could, I think, really be met, with the exception of certain small points which could be dealt with in Committee, if the Mover of the Bill would substitute, in the first Sub-section of the first Clause, the word "may" for the word "shall," so that it would read that the Local Government Board "may make an order forming a compensation district," etc. I make that suggestion because, as has already been shown to-day, there is a very great difference between the different mining districts, and what applies to one might not apply to others at all. Many hon. Members opposite have a considerable knowledge of the mining district on the East Coast of Durham, and there they know, as well as I know myself, that subsidence is a very uncommon thing, and that for ten miles from the sea it is very uncommon indeed to have any subsidence at all, on account of the depth of the scams.
I know of no subsidence there whatever, except one which is caused by the water and not by the coal. If the Mover of the Bill will accept the suggestion to substitute "may" for "shall," I think that will remove any objection we can possibly have to the Bill. I would like to remark that there are districts in which subsidence may be caused by the drawing off of water equally as by the taking away of coal. I can instance again a large part of county Durham, and I suggest the action which was brought with regard to a shipyard on the Wear some years ago, when I think it was quite impossible to decide whether the subsi- dence at that shipyard was caused by the drawing off of water or the taking away of minerals. If the Government take this Bill up, something must be done to safeguard the case of a county like Durham, where enormous quantities of water are drawn up for the purpose of supplying the population above ground, and where, consequently, the whole of the natural reservoirs underneath the surface are gradually being depleted, because, as the hon. Members opposite know, the head of water is falling, and falling rapidly, and will fall more rapidly still in future unless something is done, and you will have subsidences which cannot be traced to the minerals at all. If they will take that into consideration, either now or in Committee, I personally shall have no further objection to the Bill at all, and I beg to associate myself very strongly with what has been said by the Mover of the Bill in regard to the hardship which is very often caused to the poorer tenants, whether my own or those of collieries, or owners of their own houses. The inconvenience and the unpleasantness and the constant irritation which are caused in many localities by the constant alteration of houses owing to the taking away of minerals from underneath cannot be exaggerated. It is always happening, and a house may alter entirely within twenty-four hours, and it is a very great and a very reasonable source of irritation to mining populations in many districts, and certainly in my own. I hope the Government will themselves take the Bill up.
I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words in support of this Bill, and I only hope that the Government will receive it in the kindly spirit of toleration shown by the last speaker, who is himself vitally interested in the Bill. It is a Bill which affects mining interests all over the country, and I know something of it at first hand in my own Constituency in Scotland. I had heard various accounts of these subsidences, and about a month ago I made a visit to inspect the position on the spot, and I can only say that what I saw there baffles description. One hon. Member remarked that no doubt houses were sometimes bought cheaper by a purchaser on account of the probability or likelihood of subsidence, but the houses of which I am speaking were new houses a year or two ago, so that that consideration does not arise in the present instance. That block of houses resembled nothing so much as some of the London houses after an air raid by the Germans. They were rent from foundation to ceiling, and they were really uninhabitable. One house especially at Cowdenbeath which had been bought out of the savings of a lifetime, was quite uninhabitable, and I asked the woman who lived there why she did not live elsewhere. But there is not another house to go to in Cowdenbeath, and that family are living in that house to-day with positive danger to life and limb for every minute spent in it. This is a matter that not only concerns the private citizen, however important his interests may be. It also concerns the public authorities, and the Government themselves have now got a most direct interest in an equitable settlement of this whole surface-working difficulty. For instance, the public authorities in my own Constituency have got great undertakings of a public nature there which at the present time are costing an enormous amount of money on account of disturbances through mineral working. Not only the tramways, but the sewage system and also the water system are all affected.
I will give an illustration of what I mean. The Cowdenbeath Town Council have taken over, a little time ago, under the Cowdenbeath Water Order of 1918, the Loch Glow Waterworks from the Dunfermline District Committee, and they take possession as from the 21st of this month, but the council have just been advised by the lessee of the mine that the mine working is now approaching the waterworks where the storage tanks and filters are, and they are now faced with the alternative either of a serious subsidence there or the purchase of the coal that is under the surface, and to purchase that coal that is under the surface would be an expense almost as great as the purchase of the waterworks. I think this Bill requires very little indeed in the way of speech to recommend it to the House, and I only wish to refer in a single word now to the Government's intention in this matter. We have a scheme locally at the present time whereby, under the Government's big housing scheme, 300 houses are to be built at a cost of £240,000. That is really a Government responsibility outside of the 1d. rate, and in the interests of the Government themselves they must see that something is done with this Bill in order to put the responsibility of damage through subsidence on the right shoulders. It seems to me an elementary principle that any firm or any company engaged in business for profit should compensate any citizen or any public authority who suffers damage through that business. I hope that the Government themselves will see it from that point of view. There is just another example of the curious anomalies about the legal system. You can have protection in various ways for very much smaller things than damage through subsidence. You can even go to the Court and get redress against your neighbour if his dog barks too loudly in the garden next to your own, but in this very vital matter there is no redress, and there is no compensation. I do appeal to the Government to give this Bill their benediction and their cordial co-operation in having it placed on the Statute Book.
I give this Bill my hearty support, for I may say that it was my intention—in fact, I was under an obligation to my Constituents—to introduce such a measure in this House, but I had not the good luck of my right hon. Friend who introduced this Bill. The Division which I have the honour to represent is situated right in the centre of the great coal, steel, and engineering industries of Lanarkshire, and I do not know any district in the country that has suffered more grievously through damage to property than have the industrial districts throughout Lanarkshire. It may interest the House to know that on no less than four former occasions, by four different Members of Lanarkshire, a similar Bill has been introduced into this House. They met with no success. Why, I am not quite certain. I should imagine it was in a large measure through a sort of apathy and indifference on the part of Members to a Bill such as this. Those were entirely Scottish Bills, applicable to Scotland only, and possibly they were viewed as a kind of local or parochial measures, and there was no widespread interest shown in them. But this Bill is applicable to the whole of the country, and therefore I do hope that it will receive more widespread and sympathetic support from all sections of the House. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill, in a most excellent and lucid speech, spoke of the hardships accruing to owners of property throughout Wales and England through subsidence, and one hon. Gentleman opposite also told us what was occurring in Lancashire, and gave some very striking illustrations. I appreciate that this is not the time to enter into very much detail on this Bill, but perhaps it might interest, and in a way educate, the House, if I also gave one or two really concrete cases of hardship in Scotland arising out of the law as it at present exists—cases, I may say, which have come under my own personal knowledge and observation.
When the land proprietors in the great Clyde Valley discovered minerals in their properties, and began to develop those minerals, they, of course, tried to encourage public works to come to the district by offering their land at a cheap rate. The consequence was that great industries, such as iron and steel works, and engineering works, were put down, and great communities sprang up among those works. Those land proprietors, I may say. charged for building land, perhaps, two or three times more than what they got for public works. I do not blame them for this. This was simply a sprat that caught the whale. In the charters of those lands for building purposes and for public works no security whatever was given for mineral damage. The town of Mother-well, for instance, in which my own works are situated, was a quiet roadside village about forty years ago; but when these industries started this little town kept on doubling its population for several years, until to-day it is a great thriving industrial town of over 40,000 inhabitants. Now, the house property in the town is privately owned; by that I mean the property is built by private enterprise as an investment. I asked the town clerk of Motherwell the other day if he could furnish me with figures giving the sum it has cost this town for damage from mineral subsidence, and he has been good enough to write me as follows:
Summarised, the damage to gag and water pipes, electric cables, sewers, and sewage purification works, roads, and streets, amounts to £23,000 for the past ten years.
That is only for ten years, and this damage has been going on for something like thirty years, so that one might easily multiply that by three. He says:
Stated in another way, the actual cost to the ratepayers is between 3d. and 4d. on the rates for each year. I need not say that this is a very heavy burden to fall upon the ratepayers. The town council are in a different position from the private individual, who takes a. ground lease on condition that he is to run the risk of damage from mineral workings. The town council must have sewers, water pipes,
electric cables, gas pipes, etc. They have no opportunity of making a bargain on the subject. It appears to me to be an equitable condition that whoever damages these public services should repair them. Town councils and the other local authorities have aright of user of the streets for their water, sewer, and other pipes, and by law are entitled to support to such pipes. Ownership of the soil of the streets belongs to the proprietor and if he by any operations damages those pipes or streets, I think the law is that he must repair such damage. No one, however, is prepared to carry this point to the House of Lords and it is the duty of Parliament to declare that the law is as I now state it.
I hope Parliament, through this Bill, will decide this point for ever. I am very well acquainted with the gentleman who has written this letter. He is a very astute lawyer indeed, and an expert on municipal matters. Whether or not he is correct in his opinion, as I say, the passing of this Bill will settle. There is no doubt of this—and this is a point which has not been raised by any former speaker—that a very great part of the damage done to property is caused through the careless working of the minerals. If the land proprietors and the mineral tenants under this Bill are liable for the damage then, of course, they will exercise greater care in removing the coal, and so enormously reduce the damage. A most callous indifference is shown both by the land proprietors and the others.
I promised to give some concrete instances. I recollect one very glaring case which occurred two or three years ago. This concerned a property substantially built of stone which belonged to a neighbour of mine, who is an ex-Member of this House. The property was absolutely and utterly destroyed. It collapsed in a heap. The material that was worth picking up was picked up, and the houses were reconstructed on another and safer site. Again, about fifteen years ago, another friend of mine, when there was a great dearth of houses throughout an industrial district of Lanarkshire, thought he would endeavour to meet the shortage by embarking on a building scheme for the erection of workmen's houses. He approached a certain land proprietor for a safe site for these houses. The estate plans were shown to him, and a safe site was recommended by the estate agent. The land taken ran parallel to a railway. Under this railway the coal was preserved. On the other hand, between the railway and the pit there was a trouble or dyke in the coal measures. This left a pocket of coal between the railway and the pit. It was considered it would be absolutely safe to build the property over this pocket of coal. The gentleman who proposed to erect these buildings was assured by the estate people that this pocket of coal would never be worked because of the extra cost of driving a head through this trouble or dyke. This very handsome stone terrace of superior workmen's houses, extending to many hundred yards in length, was built. About two or three years after the houses were occupied they began to show signs of wreckage. Two or three days afterwards some of the blocks of these houses were so badly shattered that the local authorities turned the tenants out into the street for their safety's sake. The houses were propped up by timber to prevent them collapsing. Then it was discovered that the mining engineer for the estate had ordered the mineral tenant to take the coal out of the pocket under this property.
The cost, as I know, to the mineral tenant was more than he got for the coal. The land proprietor, on the other hand, got a few hundred pounds royalties for that pocket of coal. Close upon £10,000 worth of damage was done to the houses, which my friend had to pay. He was never approached by the land proprietor. He was never warned that damage would be likely to occur. If he had been in all probability he would have been quite willing to pay the land proprietor two or three times more than he got for the royalties to leave the coal in. He was, as a matter of fact, entirely at the mercy of an irresponsible, highhanded, and stupid mining engineer. I am informed, when this gentleman was asked—after it was too late, of course—if he did not realise what inevitably would happen if this coal was removed, simply replied that of course he did, but he was acting quite within his rights, as the coal belonged to the estate. I am sure the House will admit that the case I have cited is really a bad one, and in this case not one penny compensation has been paid to the houseowner, who was really a public benefactor in supplying houses for the working classes. Houses are still a necessity throughout the whole of Lanarkshire, as in other parts of the country. There building enterprise has been at a standstill for many years because of this want of security. Had this evil been rectified years ago, there would have been less need for State-aided building. Some of these cases are very illuminating, and really educating, as showing the state of the law as it exists at the present time.
I will give one more illustration which discloses another aspect of this question of which I am cognisant. The estate proprietor did all he possibly could to encourage building on his property. At the same time the mineral was being worked, and anyone who wanted to take a bit of land for his house, and approached the land proprietor to make an arrangement, was assured of the safety of the surface, because he was told that the arrangement with the mineral tenant was that the stoops or pillars of coal would be left in order to support the surface. This was a growing community, and the ground was sold like hot cakes, and hundreds of houses were built on the understanding that they would be absolutely safe from wreckage. It turned out, however, that they were not safe, because in a year or two the houses began to get wrecked. It transpired that the lease between the landowner and the mineral tenant had expired and the land proprietor was tempted to relet the coalfield to another mineral tenant, who took out those stoops or pillars which supported the surface. In my opinion, this was a case simply of letting land under false pretences. Of course, there was great indignation, and many meetings were held, such as the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned took place in South Wales. There were even threats to destroy the pit-heads and the equipment. Those threats were not carried out, and I am surprised that they were not, because we are a long-suffering people, and cases such as these breed Bolshevism. I could give many more examples, but I think I have given sufficient to show the House the need for such a Bill as this.
Turning to the Bill itself, there are a few points which I think require some light thrown upon them. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if the members of this compensation board are to be paid for their services? I should also like a definition of what is meant by the provisions in Clause 17, where compensation is to be given for such things as reservoirs, sewers, and drains, and I wish to know if that includes farmers' drains? One hon. Member has already spoken of land in Lanarkshire getting flooded, and being rendered unfit for agriculture. I think field drains ought to be included. The right hon. Gentleman introducing this Bill specially mentioned Clauses 24 and 25, which deal with the filling up of holes for the restoration and repair of property. I think in this Bill there is too much about material damage. I should like to know whether in some of the cases I have quoted the owner of the property is to be compensated for the loss of rent through the houses standing empty? I do not think there is any provision in the Bill dealing with that point, and I should like an explanation.
Clause 42 deals with railway and canal companies, which are not included in this Bill. I understand that railway companies can get compensation for houses damaged if they are far removed from the canal or railway. I presume that means if the houses belong to the railway and canal companies, and the railway is some distance away. I should like this Bill to give compensation for structural damage to such things as bridges, viaducts, and railway stations. I think the railway companies suffer all over the country very severely through being blackmailed by certain people who subsist by working minerals under their structures. I recollect some years ago a very glaring instance. I was asked by a railway engineer to meet him at a viaduct to consider the best method of supporting it as it was being threatened by mineral subsidence. We met at the site, and I asked the engineer where the pit was. He pointed to a single windlass arrangement some considerable distance away. It appears that a syndicate had sunk a shaft and had driven a heading in a beeline right from one of the buttresses of the viaduct, threatening it with destruction. It was simply a case of blackmail, and the railway company were determined to resist it. They strengthened the viaduct with timber and steel, and I am pleased to say defied the syndicate. That sort of thing, however, is going on all over the country. Hon. Members must have noticed when travelling that the train has slowed down over bridges and viaducts. That is because they have been undermined. The Bill, therefore, should extend to such structures as bridges, viaducts, and railway stations. Take another case. If a bridge subsides a municipality may be put to enormous expense diverting or altering the roadway, whereas if the bridge were protected they would not be put to that cost. There are some minor points which can be adjusted in Committee. I give the Bill my blessing, for I recognise that it is a much-needed measure of reform, and I hope that it will reach the Committee stage and eventually be placed on the Statute Book.
I am delighted with the manner in which the House has received this Bill. I speak as the custodian of public property, being chairman of the education committee of the county to which I belong and therefore well acquainted with what damage by subsidence means. There is always between different mines a barrier which is usually selected for any heavy structure, but despite that fact damage is caused by the collieries drawing away from both sides, and it is extremely difficult to say which colliery has caused the damage. There is also the question of different owners and adjoining owners. All that makes it difficult to find out who has been the real cause of the damage and to get the compensation to which you may be entitled. We usually take the greatest precaution to find out the safest site, but as a rule a school follows the community. We must build in the midst of the people. We pay a tremendous price for our land to secure the safest site, and we take whatever precautions we can, but, despite that, we are weekly being called upon to examine into cases of subsistence. I could take hon. Members to a mining village—I am not speaking of large towns such as London, Birmingham, and Manchester, but of rural areas—where we purchased something like 9,000 yards of land for a school for the children of the miners, and paid £1,800 for it. We knew that it was not a safe site, and we spent nearly £4,000 putting in concrete reinforced foundations, but within a few months of the school being built the county authorities were mulcted in damages amounting to £375 in the repair of the school. The local authorities are meeting with that sort of thing every day.
In another case, before the walls were 5 ft. high the site began to go down, and we had to stop building. Damage has been caused everywhere, and we cannot avoid it, because we must build the schools where the children are. At the present moment it costs the county of Durham anything from £20,000 to £30,000 putting right schools which have been damaged by subsidence. This Bill will simplify matters, because we should then know exactly to whom to go to get our compensation. I agree with my hon. Friend opposite that there may be something in the question of the pumping for water on the eastern side of the county, but this Bill does not prevent us trying to find out who is doing the damage, and, if it is a water company, then the colliery is not to be liable for it. I hope that the Government are going to take hold of this Bill for the sake of the local authorities who are hard-working people and are at present doing the best for the community at their own cost. Remember that side by side with the school stands the miner's cottage which is being damaged to such an extent that many an owner is unable, for lack of funds, to put it right. We ask the House to accept this Bill and to place it on the Statute Book, thereby doing an act of justice to people who reside in counties particularly affected by these subsidences, and who will thereby be relieved of a considerable amount of anxiety and trouble. It will encourage people also to become owners of their houses.
Most of the Members of this House are already converted to the principle of this Bill, and I would not have intervened in the Debate but for the fact that I have in my own Constituency very serious trouble of this nature, and on more than one occasion have received deputations from workmen's associations complaining that buildings put up at the expense of working men, at an expense often of from £10,000 to £20,000, have suffered irreparable damage. Among the buildings are those erected by co-operative societies. They have been the results of the enterprise of working men and it has been found necessary after a short time to prop them up. It is quite a common thing in our district to see buildings thus propped up. Our people are as thrifty, if not more so, than people in other parts of the country. We have some hundreds of club building societies in the district, and it must be most irritating to workmen who have saved their money in order to build houses to find later on that house is all awry, that the back door is nearly where the front door was originally, and that cracks have appeared in the wall to such an extent as to render it easy to watch what is going on in a neighbour's garden. All these things should be amended, and I hope this Bill will find acceptance for one particular reason above all others, and that is that especially in Wales leases have been insisted upon—I do not know who were the brigands who invented them—making people undertake, if leases were granted to them, not to make any claim for damage in the event of buildings erected tumbling down or cracking up. It is well known that the people who insist on these leases have done very well out of royalties and way leaves, and I think it is disgraceful that anyone should object to a Bill like this; only those who are consciousless could oppose a Bill of this nature. Still, there may be one or two of that ilk here. I shall consider it my duty, at any rate, to support any measure of this kind that will help to put wrong right in this direction. Right through our district are to be found workmen's homes which are cracking up. Even the railway station in my district is disappearing, and a public park which has been laid out is threatening to disappear. People feel that something ought to be done, and I am delighted to have an opportunity of supporting a measure of this kind. I trust hon. Members will insist that justice shall be done and that the present disgraceful condition of things, which has existed far too long, shall be got rid of.
I should like to express my sympathy with this Bill, which is a very necessary one. I, for one, am astonished that its introduction has been so long delayed. I can speak with a certain amount of sympathy, because I have personally suffered inconvenience from workings actually underneath my own house. I understand that, under the provisions of the Bill, the owner of the house is to become liable for half the cost of repairing. On that I will not say anything now. It is a question which can be dealt with in Committee later on. But I do wish to suggest that it is absolutely unnecessary to interfere with existing contracts between proprietors of land and the owners of houses—contracts in which compensation for damage has already been provided. By the terms of my lease with the colliery company that company are responsible, and I do not think it is desirable that any arrangement of that sort should be interfered with. To break existing contracts is to set a bad precedent and, after all, will only help the colliery owners. One hon Member has referred to the railways, but I think I am correct in saying that colliery workings are not allowed within forty yards of existing railways.
Nearly the whole of this Debate has gone on the line that a man who owns a house or cottage has no remedy in law at all in the case of its being damaged by subsidence. But that is not the case at all. Everybody has a remedy under the law at the present moment, provided, of course, that he has not already entered into an arrangement under which he takes the risk upon his own shoulders. Where a man enters into an agreement to build a certain number of houses on a property and is prepared to take the risk of subsidence, he obtains that property on cheaper rates, and surely when he has made a bargain of that kind it ought not to be broken. He ought not to be placed in the position, having obtained property at a lower price, to be able to claim compensation in the case of damage by subsidence. I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words on this Bill, because otherwise it would have gone forth to the public there was a grievance, whereas, as a matter of fact, nothing of the sort exists. The Debate has been conducted as if the only place where subsidences occur are colliery districts. As a matter of fact, there are subsidences all over the country. Take the Fen district, in which for many years I lived. There are many subsidences owing to the pumping of water, and I remember a post which was erected in the year 1860 in Whittle sea Mere, and was at that time practically level with the ground, is now 10 feet above the ground. Cottages and houses and other property have suffered from subsidences there. Again, take the case of Winchester Cathedral. An enormous sum of money has been spent during the last fifteen years because the foundations are going. That has nothing to do with mining; it is in consequence of the clay. Then there is the district in which I live now. Owing to the dry weather, the clay is cracking and subsidences are occurring. It is said that this is a very fair Bill because it provides that when a person has entered of his own free will into an agreement with somebody else to do a certain thing, that contract is to be broken in favour of one of the parties. An hon. Member opposite spoke of certain schools that have been erected, and said that when they were erected it was known that there was a danger of subsidence. Therefore when they erected the schools they took the risk knowing there was such a danger.
But you admit that you put the schools there and that there was a liability to damage. I understand you are going to claim from somebody else the cost of the damage which has been incurred, and which you knew would be incurred if you put the schools there. Supposing it is possible to remedy that damage by pecuniary payment, you ought to have erected the buildings in such a manner that they would not be damaged by subsidence. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hook them to the moon!"] If a man erects a house on a certain place where damage is likely to occur, he has to take the risk if he chooses to do it. It is said that it is impossible to find another place for the buildings, but one of the parties who are gaining by the fact that the coal is taken are the miners. The colliery owner is also responsible, but the miner is equally responsible. He is getting extremely high wages to-day for his work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Well, is he not? I should have thought from reading the evidence given before the Coal Commission that he was. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the owners?"] I do not want in any way to misrepresent the case, but the miner is one of the persons who is gaining an advantage by the taking of coal and the taking of the coal causes the subsidence. The person who does the damage ought to pay. Some of the people who do the damage are the miners, but they apparently are to be let off scot-free, just in the same way as they are not prepared to pay Income Tax. I would draw the attention of the House to a very curious point in the Bill. Clause 20, which is an extremely bad Clause, shows that I am quite correct when I say there is a legal remedy for the difficulty at the present time. The Clause says—
A board shall not disallow any claim for damage on the ground that the claimant or any person on his behalf has under any deed, lease, or other document, or by contract or otherwise, agreed not to claim damages.
Clause 28 says:
A board may sell any land acquired under this Act, subject to such conditions as to the
future use of such land, and with such restrictions or prohibition as to building thereon, as to such board may seem fit.
What does that mean? Those two Clauses are contradictory. Does it mean that these particular boards are to be privileged persons, and that while at the present moment any person who has entered into a contract to do certain things and has agreed that if damage ensues he will not make any claim is to have that contract broken and is to be privileged to claim damages, while this new board that is to be set up is going to be in a different position and, if it chooses, to say, "I will let you the land," because the Clause says:
subject to such conditions…and restrictions.…as to such board may seem fit.
"I will let you the land on the understanding that you do not insist upon putting a building on it"—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] It is all very well to say "No." That is how the Clause reads. I will read it again. If it means that the board is to have no claim, what is the use of putting that Clause in?
Suppose it does not? That is a new argument brought forward occasionally now which ought to be exposed. It does not matter what the board may say. There is not a single person in this House who knows what the board may say. You have to consider the Bill which gives them the power. Although I am not a lawyer, I say that these two Clauses are absolutely contradictory and show that the promoters of the Bill, when they reached Clause 28, realised that they were doing an injustice when they broke contracts and that some protection must be put in for the new body that is being
set up. An hon. Member said just now that he did not see why he as a colliery proprietor should be compelled to pay one-half of the damages to his own house. I do not believe he will be compelled to pay one-half of the cost of the damage to his own house. So far as I can make out, he will have to pay the whole of it, because Clause 42, Sub-section (3) says:
Any proprietor who receives mineral rents, royalties for minerals, or other remuneration or consideration, in respect of the minerals for which such rents, royalties, or other similar remuneration or consideration are paid
shall not be entitled to any compensation. Therefore he has to pay the whole cost. The hon. Gentleman said that he was in favour of the Bill, but apparently he did not see why he should have to pay one-half the cost of repairs to his own house. He knew so little about the Bill, and so anxious was he to appear in favour of it before he had read it, that he apparently overlooked the fact that he would have to pay not one-half but the whole cost of repairing his own house. Let me point out another little anomaly. It has been stated that it is fair that the people who make a profit out of working the coal should pay. Is that so? Look at Clause 31, which says that certain people shall be liable to be rated under this Bill—
if during the year, or any part thereof, in respect of which he is sought to be rated, he has derived profit.
That is all right. That carries out the intention. But the Clause goes on to say—
or worked minerals.
If he has worked minerals—I commend this to the attention of the Lord Advocate—during any part of the year, although he may have made no profit at all out of it, he is liable to be assessed. Therefore the idea that the Bill is fair because nobody is going to be assessed unless he has made a profit, is incorrect. I am not a mine-owner, but I believe there are some mines which are not worked at a profit. The only people in those mines who are making any profit at all are the miners. They are to be left out. They are not to be assessed at all. But the man who is working the mine, though he is making no profit out of it, is to be assessed. That is only another irregularity in the Bill. We are to set up boards. All this legislation entails the setting up of new boards. There are to be new clerks and new offices. It is to be hoped they will not subside when they are set up—I do not know who will have to pay for them—and for what purpose? To enable people to
break contracts. And that is set out as being something which remedies an injustice. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace), who made a speech more calculated to appeal to the good nature than the common sense of his hearers, said, "What will the women say? They will say what is the use of our having got the vote, if we cannot get our houses put right." No one thought that even women were given the vote in order that they might get some pecuniary advantage from it for themselves. They were given the vote in order that they might exercise it for the good of the whole country, and nothing can be more dangerous than to give the idea to a new class of voters that they are to exercise their votes, not for the benefit of the country, but for some personal and pecuniary advantage for themselves. It seems to me this is an extremely bad Bill which is being advocated on extremely bad grounds. No one has pointed out, till I have spoken, that at present the law is sufficient to deal with every case where a man has entered into a contract that he will run the risk if there is subsidence. The law has to deal with every case of that sort, and this is merely an attempt to allow people who of their own free will entered into certain contracts to break them. Under these circumstances, I hope the Government will not give any facilities to the Bill.
The right hon. Baronet's opposition will undoubtedly give the measure its hall-mark. My reasons for intervening in the Debate are, in the first place, that the Bill aims at performing an act of justice, and, secondly, because I represent a constituency which has suffered more in this respect than any other throughout the country. Other hon. Members have stated that their areas have suffered more than others, but the classic illustration of the effects of mining subsidences is the Black Country district. The mines are shallow, and in most cases the seams are very thick and come so near the surface that immediately the coal is extracted we get damage to property, and so forth. My Constituency is a very large one, and if you go from one end to the other you can see wreckage on every side. New and old houses, bridges, water mains, churches, chapels, roads, canals, have all suffered alike, and it is a commonplace to hear it described as the switchback railway of the Midlands. New buildings which were put up only a few months ago are already cracking from the very foundations to the roofs, and the most unfortunate part of it is that thrifty and hardworking men have invested their money in this property and have never been able, in any case that has ever been tried, to-secure a penny piece by way of compensation. If the Bill did nothing more than standardise the law it would be worth the while of the Government to make it art Act.
In this connection it is interesting to point out the anomalies in the law at present. There are two Enclosure Acts affecting my Constituency. Under one, under certain conditions, compensation is provided, but the terms in the Act are so very vague that it means endless litigation almost every time a case of wrecked property occurs through mining subsidence. For instance, the word "commodious" occurs in the Act, and it does not follow that if a road sinks something like 9 ft. the colliery proprietor has to bring it back to its original level. All ho has to do is to show that it is a commodious road, and that covers a multitude of sins. Under the other Act, no compensation whatever is provided. Sometimes the lord of the manor has as an act of grace, or probably out of the generosity of his heart, given certain sums to certain people whose property has been destroyed, but it has always been on the understanding that it did not affect his legal position. Let mo emphasise, the unfairness of this monstrous and amazing Act by summarising its main provisions. It was an Act passed in 1784 for enclosing the commons, waste lands, and woods within the manor and parish of Kingswinford, Staffordshire, and it provides that Lord Dudley or the lord of the manor shall and may, by whatever method he or they choose to decide, procure, and remove at any or all times the minerals from the areas enclosed as fully and effectually to all intents and purposes as he or they might do before the passing of the Act. It also gives liberty, power, and authority to do all that is necessary for the purpose of discovering and working minerals as he or they shall think proper without molestation or interruption and without paying or making any satisfaction to any persons whatsoever for the same or for any damage done thereby, he and they doing, in the quaint words of the Act, "as little damage as may be." The Act confers further extraordinary privileges to erect machinery where the lord of the manor thinks proper, and finally establishes the lord of the manor's right to tip rubbish on the commoners' land.
Lastly, the Act makes provision for compensation to those persons whose property has been damaged by the people doing this, but provides no machinery for the collection of it. I think there must have been method in the madness that no machinery was ever created for the collection of this money. It stands to common sense and reason that if that machinery had been established this Act would have been repealed. There would have been such public indignation that it would have had to have been repealed. I think it would be generally agreed that it will be difficult to conceive an Act more calculated to protect the landowner in any act he chooses to perform or to deliver the people of this particular area helplessly into his hands than this. It is, in my opinion, Germanic in its ferocity and in the inequality of its terms. Within this machine any man engaged in mining operation may look wheresoever he can, but he could find no escape. The only thing he could do would be to imitate the wail of the starling in the cage, "I cannot get out; I cannot get out!" This House ought to safeguard the natural beauties and architectural amenities of our villages and towns, for it is certain that posterity will never forgive us if we allow this present injustice to continue, which supports and encourages a person to damage, destroy, and ruin the property of the country without any statutory redress. A big responsibility, therefore, rests on this House, and it is equally incumbent upon all parties represented here, of different political complexions, to see this great principle of justice enforced.
My right hon. Friend who introduced this Bill must be gratified with the reception which it has received. It has not only received support in strong argument from his own colleagues from the various mining districts, but also from property owners and royalty owners. There has been approval of its general principles. I am quite sure that the appeal which my right hon. Friend made to the representative of the Government is an appeal which will meet with the response which it deserves. I hope, therefore, that in urging this matter upon the Government we are only pressing an open door, and I trust that not only will the Second Reading be passed, but that the Government will give opportunities for the succeeding stages of the Bill to be taken during the present Session. If that is done, when the Government at the end of the Session come to garner their harvest of legislation, they will find there are few sheaves which they will be able to look upon with greater satisfaction than the sheaf represented in this Bill. It would have been disappointing if we had not had the opportunity of enjoying the interlude of the one discordant note from the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury). I withdraw that phrase if it suggests any reflection upon the musical and dulcet-like notes which the right hon. Gentleman always endeavours to introduce into this House. When he intervenes, I am always irresistibly reminded of a story which the late Joseph Chamberlain used to tell of his early political adventures. In his Radical days he was a leading spirit in a Parliamentary debating society, known as the Local Parliament in Birmingham. He began his political career there. At the annual dinner, which closed the proceedings for the session, the treasurer reported that there was a surplus in hand, and the members debated what was to be done with the surplus. Whereupon Mr. Chamberlain suggested that the best method of spending this accumulated wealth was to go outside and buy a Tory. That, no doubt, would have been a very admirable investment, because probably proceedings which might otherwise be dull because of the unanimity of the views of the members would be very much relieved. If we have reached a stage in this House when it is necessary that we should secure at least one representative of the old school we could desire no more genial representative than the right hon. Baronet. But the right hon. Gentleman docs live in a very unreal world. What is his answer to my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill? He says that my right hon. Friend forgets that there is already legal protection for everybody who is aggrieved by subsidence. As I understand it, he agrees that it is right for this legal protection to be given.
He takes no exception to the law. He says that if a man suffers from subsidence it is quite right that he should be able to go to the Law Courts or some proper authority and say that the working of the minerals under his property had destroyed his house, ox injured his business and that he desired a remedy. The right hon. Baronet quite agrees that that is fair and reasonable, but he goes on to say, "Yes, but if the owner of the land comes to you and says, I shall not lease you the land under these conditions, but if you will agree to contract out of the protection that the law gives you, then I will lease you the land, but under no other conditions." The right hon. Gentleman says, "You agree to that with your eyes open and you have no protection." I wonder if he ever visits the Welsh mining valleys represented by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace). I have lived there for nearly thirty years, and have taken part with my right hon. Friend and those associated with him in local public work there. These narrow valleys are enclosed by high ranges of mountains and you have mining villages about a mile apart from each other, and as a rule both the surface land and the minerals underneath are owned by the same owner. What is the resource of the people who desire to build houses? They go to the owner and say, "Here is a great body of men engaged in hewing coal, not merely for their own pocket but to meet the needs of the people of this country, and it is necessary that they should be housed." Whatever criticism may be brought against the miners I am sure that if it were not for their labours, not only should we be entirely unable to maintain our population, but we should be unable to maintain our great industries. It is agreed that it is necessary they should be housed. Is it suggested that they should live in some nomadic fashion, in tents or something of that kind, so that when subsidence occurs, and the tent goes, they should live somewhere else? If they are to be housed, where are they to be housed other than near their work, where they can take advantage of their legal rights? Supposing their landlord says, "I will grant you a lease on these conditions and on no others"? The right hon. Gentleman says that we build at our own risk, but we can build nowhere else. You cannot convey these men twenty or thirty miles, as many of them would have to be conveyed, before getting out of the region where subsidence is usual. What happens in my own Constituency in Lancashire—though I understand that it is common in South Wales, too—is this. I took the trouble when my right hon. Friend's Bill was introduced to ask for information, and I was told that throughout my Constituency, in Atherton, Astley, and Tyldesley, there are cases of subsidence all over these towns, but that in the great majority of the hardest cases compensation has been paid. But the compensation was paid under old leases, and when the owner had paid compensation in a few cases he altered his whole system and said, "I will grant no lease in future under which compensation will be payable."
I have not made inquiries, from my Constituents, and being a Scotsman I am a cautious man, but I can say at once what happens in the mining valleys in. South Wales, and there when a lease expires and we have to take a new lease there is no reduction in terms, but inevitably there is an increase. That is the point which I desire to put to the right hon. Baronet. He says, if you build, you build at your own risk. But my house is there. My ninety-nine years' lease has come to an end. Then the ground landlord comes tome and says, "I will renew your lease if you will agree to waive your legal right, and I will renew it on no other conditions." What is my remedy then?
My little piece of land has works which I erected to carry on the industry with which I was connected. I put all of my life's saving into these buildings, and when my lease expires and I want to continue my industry and keep my works there, the right hon. Baronet says that I have no security, that I should let the works go and let the ground landlord take possession of the place and I can leave the district and the business which I have built up and sacrifice the goodwill which I have created, tear myself away by the roots, and lose the whole benefit of my life's work.
I agree absolutely entirely with the right hon. Baronet that that is not in the least degree peculiar to the western valleys of Monmouthshire, but although there is still one Tory in this House of Commons who is prepared to defend that state of things, yet whatever Government is in power in future it will not live long if it adopts the formulae of these Tories and says that these grievances must be perpetuated. I look with confidence to my hon. Friend (Sir H. Greenwood) to say that this will not be the attitude of the Government with regard to this Bill. One word of warning to my hon. Friend and to my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill, because I know what an admirable tactician he is. The suggestion has been made from two quarters that the Bill might secure practical unanimity if a concession were made in the first Clause. In my view, that concession would be very dangerous. It is suggested, if the Bill were made permissive instead of compulsory, that there would be no great objection to it and it might go through. There would be no great objection to it on the part of those who desire the present state of things to continue, but there would be very great objection from the point of view of those who my right hon. Friend desires to protect. It has been said that the Bill in its present form requires compensation authorities to be set up even where they are not necessary. The Bill does nothing of the kind. What the Bill says is that the Local Government Board are to make inquiry, and where, after inquiry, they are of opinion that these difficulties exist, then, and only then, are those compensation authorities to be set up. I do suggest that when they have made that inquiry, and when they have arrived at the view that these are districts in which this grievance exists, then no option should be allowed, but the Bill should be put into force.
I doubt very much whether you will find very many, if any, mining districts in the country where it will not be necessary to -apply the Bill. My right hon. Friend speaks with an almost unsurpassed experience of mining conditions in South Wales, and I can speak as an -active member of a district council and a county council there for something like twenty years. I do not wish to exaggerate. I do not suggest that if you walk through the villages you will find row after row of rickety streets, but what I do suggest is that no one feels that it is safe. In these circumstances there is no inducement to people to build houses. In the case of every local reservoir erected by the local authorities— sometimes erected at great cost—the local authorities have found after a time that the streams which supplied the reservoir had been diverted by subsidence and the work had to be abandoned after great cost was incurred. We have heard to-day from mining areas in the most diverse parts of the country—Lancashire, Fifeshire, Durham, Staffordshire, and most of the coalfields in the country. I do not think that we have heard a voice from Derbyshire, but there is a case, which at the moment is very well known in the Nonconformist community—the case of a Nonconformist chapel in Derbyshire which cannot be used, as it has been completely ruined as the result of subsidence, and when the authorities of the chapel applied for compensation they were told that it could not be given, but that if they cared to open a subscription list then the royalty owner would be willing to give a subscription along with other people to put things right. There is no indication as to whether the subscription is to be £10 or £100, and I am not surprised that the offer has not been accepted. In the meantime, the congregation cannot worship there, and are put to the greatest inconvenience.
I listened with great interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Staffordshire. He gave some very striking cases. He, perhaps, did not recall the case reported in the newspapers some years ago which is, perhaps, the classic case in connection with this controversy. It is the case of a miner near Dudley who went out with his wife and children one Saturday evening to a place of amusement, and when he came home at ten o'clock he found that his house had been completely swallowed up by subsidence during the evening. I do not intend to weary the House with the number of cases from Lancashire. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, who also speaks from a very great wealth of experience, has already spoken with regard to the Lancashire coalfields. I am sure that the hon. Member for the Ince Division will confirm me when I say that over a very wide area in the Lancashire coalfields, from Swinton to St. Helens, an area twenty miles by three miles, subsidence is practically general. In my own Constituency it is only fair to say that in the hardest cases which have been brought to my notice subsidence has been paid for, but it remains true that under the new leases, if similar circumstances occur in future, there will be no compensation given. I find that the local authorities in my division have special reason to complain. At Atherton, one of the towns I represent, I am told that the main sewer is affected by subsidence the whole way, and that the local authority will require to relay it at a. cost of something like £3,000. With regard to what has happened in connection with the subsidence, I should like to know whether it has the approval of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. The case seems to me too farcical for words. In connection with the subsidence of the sewer, the local authority has been met by claims for compensation by farmers for damage which has been done to their land. These claims were so persistent—they are hardy annuals—that it occurred to the local authority that it would be better to hold the land in its own possession. They have now rented the land, 6 acres, at a rental of £12 per annum. They are handing it over to the tenant farmer, who stays there rent free. Who gets the £12 a year? The owner of the royalties underneath the land which is subject to the subsidence. I suggest that that is not merely an anomaly, but that it is really a travesty of justice. In this same area a technical school has suffered from subsidence, and about £100 has been paid for compensation. I am told that the public library is also affected. The cases with regard to houses are very numerous indeed. In Tyldesley, which is another of the mining towns I represent, one street is so affected that it was necessary to cut a section out of the gables of each house and to rebuild at a cost of £70 a house. There are ten houses and the cost was about £700. Under the existing lease compensation was paid. If these houses had been, as many houses are in the mining districts, the property of the working miners who live in them, this would have been a very serious expenditure indeed and might probably have meant, if they were buying the houses through building societies on the instalment system, that they would have had to surrender the property.
There is one point with regard to this district which I desire to put before my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill. I observe that the Bill, following the precedent of the Brine Pumping Bill, is not to apply to gas and water companies. I hope, however, that where subsidence affects gas works, whether they are the property of gas companies or of local authorities, they ought to be considered. In Tyldesley I am told that the gas works have been seriously affected by subsidence and that the gasholder was damaged so seriously that it had to be restored. The cost of gas in this township is 1s. per 1,000 more than in the next township of Atherton, and I am told that this serious additional charge is due largely to the outlay found necessary because of subsidence. There is one further point which has not been much stressed during the Debate. It is that my right hon. Friend is not asking for something which is new or untried. Exactly the same difficulty arose with regard to the salt mines, and the Brine Pumping Compensation Act was passed in 1891. My right hon. Friend does not follow that Act in all its details, but in the main his proposals are based on the proposals of the Brine Pumping Act. I am informed that at Northwich, a scheme similar to his scheme, where a compensation authority had been set up, has worked admirably and to the satisfaction both of the people whose property has been affected and to the satisfaction of the interests involved. I have no doubt that, after due consideration in Committee, and with the introduction, perhaps, of certain Amendments, this Bill would work equally well, and I appeal to the Government not merely to give it a formal blessing to-day, but to make it part of the legislative programme which they intend to see on the Statute Book this Session.
I promise I shall not detain the House for many minutes. I think I can speak with as long an experience of mining districts as any Member of this House. I have been connected with the miners for forty years in an official capacity. One knows how deep-seated is the feeling not only of the miners, but of the general body of citizens in respect to this matter. Only this wek a letter was sent to me from a citizen in the neighbouring division represented by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wigan. The letter points out that his father built a house at a very considerable cost many years ago. Mining operations took place which practically pulled the house down. They had no redress and expended £500 on it. Later on there were further mining operations which inflicted the same amount of damage. That is not a single instance. There is a mining village, probably the oldest in Lancashire, in a neighbouring constituency to mine, that of Haydock, in which there is hardly a row of houses in which subsidence has not taken place. The conditions of unrest caused by such occurrences are very serious. Great cost is imposed upon the local authorities, and surely in all sense of fairness something should be done to apply a remedy. I am not at all surprised at the attitude taken up by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City. I think he himself must admit that he is fighting on this occasion a really hopeless cause.
I think every Member of the House certainly must recognise the perfect sincerity of the motives of the right hon. Gentleman, and there is no Member but respects him as being capable and honest and perfectly sincere in his support of the theory of individualism to which he has so long been faithful. I think that on this occasion, if there were a Division, he would probably find himself the solitary occupant of the "No" Lobby. Even he, I think, must admit that there is no equity in the contract. It may be, as he says, that people entered into contracts with their eyes open; but, even so, there is a succession of people. There are the sons and daughters who had they known would not have entered into such contracts, which are really relics of feudalism. An hon. Member put the case quite plainly when he said that the nation depends to a very great degree upon coal being got from the bowels of the earth. People must live within reasonable access of the mining shafts, and houses, therefore, must be built in the locality, and there is really no choice. Surely now, when we realise what a grave social problem the housing question is, and when we see the landowners recognising the desirability of coming more into contact with the new social conscience of the people, a Bill of this kind ought to pass its Second Reading practically unopposed. 1 know that in my own district, that which I represent and in which I have spent the greater portion of my life, tens of thousands, and I may say hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent by the localities in repairing damage caused by mining operations. The ground landlords are very decent people, and exceedingly fine specimens of landowners in their social life and in their general relations with the people, and I do not think there is a word to be said against them. I have never heard a single word of reproach against them. It is not the men we complain of, but the system. Surely the burden of taxation is so heavy that there ought to be some redress given to the people. If a law is bearing heavily and cruelly on people then I submit this House is entitled to come forward and amend that law, with as little injury to existing interests as possible, but with the recognition that there ought to be something like equity and consideration of all the interests. I think, broadly, that is the case we present from these benches for the Bill. The Bill is practically unanimously accepted, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City is not going into the Lobby against it. The principle which the Bill contains is not at all new. There was a tremendous amount of damage done by the Cheshire Salt Mines, and the same principle which applied there applies to the mining districts.
I was sorry to hear in this Debate of so many personal and sometimes bitter experiences on this question of subsidence. I congratulate my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) and my predecessor in the office I hold upon the introduction of this Bill, and upon his moderate speech, based upon an experience as long and as honourable as that of any Member of this House. I think every speaker in the Debate approved of the Bill with the one exception of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City, where, at any rate, there are no coal mines.
He mentioned that, although there might be subsidence there, it would not be affected by this Bill, but every speaker other than the right hon. Baronet, and representing, I think, every mining area in the Kingdom, has spoken in favour of the object of this Bill which is, in short, that the author, or authors, of subsidence in connection with mining in a district in its widest form should pay damage to those who suffer. I represent a constituency in the county of Durham, and one. of the great mining areas, and from experience as to nearly every mining area in the country there is undoubtedly a long standing grievance in reference to subsidence as it affects the homes of many people and not people restricted to the miners themselves. It also affects the local authorities, as has been so clearly stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson), and especially education authorities, who are compelled to build where subsidences are always possible.
I know also that this is an irritant among the miners, whom my right hon. Friend describes as somewhat turbulent at times, though I found as an officer commanding a battalion of South Wales miners, raised very largely in his own constituency, that the Hun could speak best as to their vigour. However that may be, let me say, and I now speak not so much for the Home Office as I do for the Government, that if this Bill ever becomes operative, in my opinion it will become operative under the Local Government Board and not under the Home Office. Let me say, first of all, that there are a very large number of landowners and mine-owners who live up in spirit and in letter to their responsibilities to those who suffer by subsidence, and I could not allow anyone in the House or out of it to suggest that those interested in mining operations are other than fully mindful of their responsibilities for life and property to those who are not mine-owners or landowners, and if the natural right is excluded, the mine-owner as a rule, I believe, is either by some condition or covenant bound to pay compensation for injury caused to the surface, and that would include houses on the surface, by reason of his mining operations. I think that is a common rule, and in some mining areas I can say that it is the rule of the majority. The person now suffering damage from subsidence has the right of action against someone responsible for the subsidence, subject, I admit, to certain contracts and conditions, and the general object of this Bill is to restore the natural right of the owner of the surface or the householder on the surface and the private and the local authority to receive compensation, but this Bill would make it regardless of contracts that now exist and regardless of the damage that would result to those now enjoying the benefit of the present contracts. I think it is fair for me to point out that that is one of the points of criticism that can be urged against the Bill, and which must, of course, be dealt with on a subsequent occasion.
Let me raise some other points. I might say at once that I am in favour of the object of the Bill. The Bill is based on a measure passed in 1891 to provide compensation to owners of property suffering damage by reason of the pumping of brine. The pumping of brine is a vastly different operation, and the subsidences are vastly more difficult to trace and to allocate as to responsibility than the question of mining generally. Let me say also that the statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace), which I must controvert, that those pay who get advantage from the minerals mined—namely, the landowners arid the mine-owners. Let the House of Commons be perfectly clear that those who pay for any additional charge on the coal industry are the consumers of coal. Let there be no mistake about that. If this means an additional charge on the coal-owners, the consumers in London and in the whole country will pay. It is not the landowner or the mine-owner who pays in the long run, but it is the consumer. I am sorry also that some estimate of the cost of this was not put before the House. I admit the difficulty, but it is a factor that must be considered. There is one Clause which offends several Members in the House, and which has been dealt with by many in the Debate, and that is Clause 20, which in effect breaks every contract now existing in reference to mining. The House will agree that it is a strong thing for Parliament to break every contract; and remember also that under the Bill those who suffer from the breaking of the contract are not to get any compensation. I am only pointing out one of the great difficulties—in fact, the greatest difficulty, from the point of view of the House of Commons—in the Bill, namely, this breaking of every contract regardless of consequences with those who have signed them, entered into great obligations under them, and are responsible for heavy obligations because of them. Let me say also that I do not understand why my right hon. Friend exempts from the advantage of the Bill certain companies like gas companies and other companies.
I think they are as much entitled to consideration under the Bill as any other persons or corporations. Let me point out another thing—namely, the system of levying the compensation for the compensation fund. Here you discriminate, I think, between the good owner and the bad owner or, rather, the owner who is unable or unwilling to pay compensation. It is a question whether this is the best way of raising a fund for this purpose. It is true it is the way that has been adopted, and carried out, so far as I know, successfully, in connection with the pumping of brine; but whether it is the best system or not remains for those who are expert in this matter to thrash out in subsequent stages of the Bill. Let me come to what I think is the most important point to be considered, and which has not been raised in the course of this Debate. There is a Royal Commission on the Coal Industry now sitting, and the terms of reference of that Royal Commission are wide enough to include the whole question raised by this Bill, and the Commission is now taking evidence in reference to the nationalisation of mines, and their Report, as the House knows, is due on the 20th June next. I think that this question, and all other questions in reference to mining, must be considered by that Coal Commission.
I think myself the terms arc wide enough to include it. I have read the evidence with great interest of the damage already suffered, especially in connection with the housing of miners.
It may be, but I still think the terms of reference are wide enough. I am not urging it against the Bill, but I think it is my duty to put it forward that from the Government point of view, and indeed from the point of view of those who want to see this Bill made law, we do not want to get a conflict between a Report of the Royal Commission on Coal and a Bill in this House dealing with a matter that they might be considering, and I think will consider and report upon. I simply put that forward as a warning, and it is one that I think I am justified in putting forward.
In conclusion, I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend. The Government will not, of course, oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. The Government is fully aware of the grievance, and of the irritating grievance, throughout the mining areas in connection with this matter. We all share the passionate desire to own our own homes, a desire which is not restricted to the miners, but is happily a splendid characteristic of our race throughout the Empire, and 1 think one that makes for the stability of the whole fabric so society. So far as I am concerned, any measure which makes for increasing the number of owners of homes and the maintenance of the home and the higher standard of comfort, will have my own, and, I hope, the Government's, support. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery said there were some people who were losing faith in Parliament. He will agree with me that the leaders of those people are defeated candidates. I have never known a General Election where candidates have been defeated—and there was an especially large number defeated at the last General Election—however eminent, including ex-Cabinet Ministers, but as soon as their defeat was realised they lost faith in the Parliament that succeeded. I hope they are not all with Bolshevik tendencies, but everybody who loses faith in an elective Legislature, such as this, has started on the slippery slope of Bolshevism, though most of them, fortunately withdraw before they slide far. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that there is nothing in the attitude of the Government towards this or any other Bill that would justify any serious person, who wanted reform through a properly-elected Assembly, urging that he had lost faith in Parliament. I regret that there is anybody who is losing faith in Parliament. Certainly it is not those whom the right hon. Gentleman said support him in this House in furthering this Bill. I cannot say any more than to remark how much good work I think has been done on this Friday afternoon. It is called a "quiet Friday afternoon," but my own experience has always shown me that the quieter the Debate, the more effective the arguments, and the more certain is the ultimate result of good legislation.
I realise that one of the greatest deterrents to housing, especially in mining areas, has been the absence of any provision for compensation to those who build their homes, and I think one of the root causes of the overcrowding in the county of Durham has been this system. In the county of Durham to-day we have 28per cent. of overcrowding. In the urban area in which I live we have 41 per cent. of overcrowding, and in the neighbouring area which the hon. Member for North-West Durham represents we find 43 per cent. I agree it is due in a very large measure to the system which enables the mine owners to take out the coal underneath the houses without giving compensation to those who have built their homes. The right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) suggested that no one got more gain by the present system than did the miners. If the right hon. Gentleman knew the conditions under which miners live find labour, and the great sacrifices they have made, and if he had known, as I have known, men who have put their life's savings to try to build themselves a home, suddenly finding the house in which they lived, and in which they hoped they were settled, tumble round them, he would realise that the miners, instead of gaining, have great grounds for complaint. This Bill should give hope to the miner and assist substantially in grappling with the housing question both in the county of Durham and throughout the country. As the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. E. Richardson) mentioned, in the county of Durham schools are being put up at great expense to the county, but no sooner are those schools put up than they commence to crack and tumble down to the expense of the ratepayers and the inconvenience of the population.
I have been a miner, and lived in a miner's village all my life under conditions that are most deplorable, where we have one room and a garret to bring up a family of twelve. These conditions are largely due to the fact that people were deterred from building. I have been interested for a matter of twenty years in the housing question, and we have tried to find land in my area whereby we could legitimately go to public expense to try to solve this question, but with the greatest difficulty could we find any land in which there was any security. I have a letter this morning from a friend in a neighbouring village, and he says there that they cannot get land to build to give the miners security, nor can they get mort-
gages from any co-operative society to build a house because of the insecurity of the land. He says:
There is practically no land available for building purposes within two miles of this district, except subject to conditions that no damages are to be paid where the working of the coal affects the surface.
We suggest that if the Government desires to solve the housing question, one of the best mediums whereby they can do it is to see that this Bill is carried through. I have had some experience of the influence of undermining in the house in which I have lived, and my friends have had experience, too. I know in my village there was a whole street of cottage houses built by miners, shops likewise were brought almost to the ground, and, at any rate, shaken, and so were the schools of the district. The hon. Gentleman on the opposite side of the House said there should be no difficulty in proving who did the damage. We find there is great difficulty, seeing there are so many mining companies in any one area. To try to get damages, miners and property-owners have combined with a View to trying to allocate the damage between the various mining companies, royalty owners, and so on. However, I hope the Government will see their way to help to carry this Bill in the interests of the whole nation.
I had not the opportunity of hearing the Parliamentary Secretary of the Home Office, but I understand that he has agreed to give us a Second Reading. I hope that not only will we have an undertaking of that kind, but that the Government will either make themselves responsible for the remaining stages of the Bill or give us the necessary time to get it placed upon the statute Book this Session. From all quarters of the House, excepting in one case, the right hon. Baronet for the City, we have had support for the Bill. Throughout the country there is a widespread demand for this Measure to be made law. We have a large part of the country that is subject to subsidences from the working of minerals of various kinds. It is not a measure that alone applies to coal miners; in addition to these there are ironstone mines, salt mines, and the shale, and in view of the intimation from one of the Members of the Government the other day that oil had been discovered at a certain part of the country, there is just the possibility that we shall have subsidences from oil to add to the number.
In the course of the past month or so, since it became known that we were introducing a Bill of this kind, I have received many letters from the part of the country which 1 represent. These letters bring to my notice facts well known to me as a mining man. But the letters place before me these facts in a concrete form, and show that all classes of property are suffering from subsidences caused by underground working. Houses, shops, schools, municipal property are involved; and in some instances farming operations are interrupted and loss suffered by the farmers as a result of these subsidences. I have no intention of going over the long list of letters that I have received. I only want to deal with a very few cases, briefly, which have been brought to my notice. For instance, I have a letter from Cowdenbeath—the case of one property owner who has had to spend on repairs on his property an average of £35 per year for the past nine years. In another instance an old man is concerned. He is living on the proceeds of his life savings which have been invested in house property, valued at £1,000. The mining operations are being unhappily felt in the borough of Cowdenbeath. Like many others, this very gentleman, during the course of the recent struggle, sent his sons out to the defence of the country. Two out of three were killed in the course of the conflict. The third son has come home, discharged from the Army, and finds that during his absence the home has become scarcely recognisable because of the damage done by underground subsidences. These are a few of the instances, out of the many I could give, from all parts of the mining districts of Fife, where the savings of the working classes are materially affected by the serious damage done by subsidences.
Another aspect is the serious damage done to property owned in a collective way by the municipalities. In the case of Cowdenbeath the damage done to property by underground subsidences amounts, in round figures, to £10,000. That is a very serious state of affairs, and one that requires to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. If the Government do not make themselves responsible for the future stages of this Bill we hope they will at least give us the necessary time to deal with it. During the discussion some of those who are quite friendly to the Bill have pointed out some things which I, myself, say are defects in the Bill, and they express the hope we would be willing to re-arrange these. My right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill has already said that we are quite willing that the Bill should be carefully considered in all its aspects. But there are some suggestions made that I hope neither the Government nor ourselves will be consenting parties to. For instance, one hon. Member, in his criticism, said he hoped that in Clause 1the word "shall" would be taken out and "made" substituted. Neither my right hon. Friend nor any member of the Labour party could consent to an alteration of that kind, which would largely leave us in the same position as now.
Then another hon. Member who was making suggestions in quite a friendly-spirit said he hoped that it would not be applied to this country, where there was at present an arrangement between the landowners and those that were feuing or leasing land for the purpose of building property. I wanted to draw the hon. Member's attention, had he been present, to the fact that such an arrangement must apply to a very small part of the country, and as a matter of fact it does not apply to the very small area in the part of the country where he himself is a landowner and a royalty owner. According to the information that has been placed in my hands, something like five miles from his own home we have house property that has been broken in two by these subsidences, and no compensation has been paid. In certain other cases in the same locality we have had collieries which had had to be closed down because the landlord or the royal owner refused to be responsible for any compensation, and it so affected the collieries that I understand they could not continue to be worked.
There again I hope that both the Government and my right hon. Friend will be very careful as to the acceptance of amendments that will make this Bill of less value to the people than we intend that it should be. I think that the Bill should have the widest application. Wherever you Have property being damaged by underground workings of any kind, whether it is coal, iron, salt, shale, or any other mineral, the parties who are reaping the benefit of the working of those minerals should be responsible for the damage that is done to the people who are putting up these properties. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) pointed out that everybody who built property in this coun- try had a legal remedy for damage done by these subsidences unless an agreement had been entered into to take the risks. That was information that was not new to most hon. Members. We understood perfectly that we could recover compensation for damage unless we had entered into a special arrangement to take the risk. The difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman refused to face was that the people cannot get land on which to erect either houses or other properties necessary for the communal life unless they were prepared to enter into such agreements. As one hon. Member remarked, it is impossible to hitch these properties which were acquired to the moon, and consequently we have to deal with the landlords, and the landlord refuses to deal with us except we are prepared to take the risk involved through these underground subsidences. That being the case, it is time we had a Bill to take such power out of the hands of the landlords.
One of the cases brought before me is that of a colliery company in my own part of the country who worked out a small pocket of coal very near to the surface, and that is doing enormous damage to house property. This pocket is so small that the value the collier will receive is less than the damage that will be done to the house property, but, notwithstanding that the profit is smaller than the damage, having no liability to compensate, they continue to work it out and do the damage. It would be quite possible for portions of coal to be left in to protect house property and other communal property, but that would mean that a very large amount of the coal in the various coalfields would require to remain in.
I do not think we need pursue that argument, but there are difficulties attaching to this problem. The point we want to make in introducing this Bill is, where the minerals are taken out and damage to property is done, the people profiting from the workings of the minerals should compensate the parties whose properties are damaged. We are very thankful to the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Home Office for the very friendly attitude he has taken up towards our Bill. We hope that friendly spirit will continue until we are able to get this measure placed on the Statute Book, and I can assure him that not only will he receive the thanks of the Labour party once this Bill has found its place on the Statute Book, but he will also receive the thanks of many thousands of people who have suffered grievous loss as the result of these underground subsidences.
This is a measure which those who live in mining districts have been anxious to have placed upon the Statute Book for a very long time. It is a measure of justice to the poorer classes in the community who have built their own houses and to the owners of house property who have been unfortunate enough to have built before the coal has been extracted. We hope that the Government will give us the facilities for having the measure placed upon the Statute Book. If they could see their way to make it their own measure, it would be one of the happiest things that they have done for a long time, because there are a great many heartburnings regarding this subsidence, and every effort has been made to get reparation. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that we have our legal remedy, but in practice there is no remedy at all. I know that he has suggested that, the miners who extract the coal would be among those who would subscribe towards compensation, but I should not like to be the mine-owner or his agent who went down to any mining community and said that compensation was going to be given for the property being destroyed out of their own hard-won earnings. We are very desirous of having this Bill passed. We have waited a long time for our opportunity. Everybody seems to be sympathetic towards the Bill, and, seeing that there is so much sympathy and so much knowledge regarding the extent of the damage done and the extent of the high feeling that exists in most of the districts, we trust that everyone in this Chamber will give it his blessing and afford every facility for getting it placed upon the Statute Book. Many Members, I am sure, have no idea of the sense of injustice that is bound to rankle in the breasts of people who have had their properties destroyed. It is oppression that makes the wise man mad. If this injury had been done to large numbers of people more would have been heard of it, but, although the number may be small compared with the population of the country, it is sufficient and the injustice is so great as to demand reparation for the damage done. The proposals in the Bill are quite just. We only want some rate, placed upon the mineral gotten, taken from the royalty owners and the mine-owners in order to build up a fund from which people who have their properties destroyed can be compensated. I am glad to give my adherence to the Bill, and I do ask the Government to give us facilities for placing it upon the Statute Book.
As the representative of a district very much liable to subsidence and as the member of a party, not being the party which has introduced the Bill, I desire to join my voice in urging the Government to give time for the further consideration and completion of the Bill. I am afraid I understood the hon. Gentleman opposite that the Government had not yet made up their minds to do that, and, if so, I very much regret it. I would urge them to reconsider that view of the matter, because if the Bill could be got through after proper consideration of all its details it would not only relieve a very great deal of ill-feeling in the country and save a great many most worthy people from undeserved loss and suffering, but it would be a valuable asset at this time of social unrest and danger. We cannot afford at this time to allow any unnecessary cause of social friction to continue, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman and all the Members of the Government, from my own knowledge, that this question of subsidence does cause a great amount of feeling of wrong and injustice. If it is known throughout the country that the Government have declined to find time for the further consideration of the Bill, I am afraid that it will tend very much to the promotion of that ill-feeling. I do think, therefore, that the Government ought to strain every point in order to enable the Bill to be properly considered in Committee and finally passed into law.