Any person who satisfies the Commission that he is interested in land that is supported by coal, or that was before the working thereof supported thereby, shall be entitled, upon making an application to the Commission and payment of such reasonable fee as may be prescribed in that behalf, to inspect at any time during usual office hours all plans of workings of that coal in the possession of the Commission, and to be furnished by them with a copy of, or of any part of, any such plan.—[Mr. Stanley.]
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This new Clause has been put down to meet a desire expressed from several quarters. The desire was expressed that local authorities should have an opportunity of seeing the plans of workings if they might affect buildings on the surface. I said at the time, that I could not consider a restricted amendment of that kind, and that if local authorities should have this privilege, other people, such as builders, should have the same rights. I pointed out that there was in existence a pledge given by the Mining Association, and I suggested that that pledge might be more valuable than a statutory provision of this kind. I think it was clear, from the Debate, that it was the general opinion of those interested in this particular question that they would prefer to have a statutory provision of this kind. We have, therefore, inserted this provision.
There is one other point to which I would refer, although it is not strictly bound up in this Clause. It was particularly raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), and dealt with the question of the plans of abandoned workings. Hon. Members know that, as the law stands, it is not possible to disclose those plans until after a period of 10 years. It was suggested by several hon. Members, including the two to whom I have referred, that under these new conditions it might well be that that provision no longer applied, or should no longer be retained. I promised that I would look into it. I have looked into it, and my hon. and gallant Friend and I have both come to the conclusion that it is unnecessary now, in the new conditions, by which the Commission is the owner of all the coal, to retain a provision of this kind. Unfortunately, it is also clear that the Amendment cannot be effected in this Bill, but it will be done when opportunity offers. If I might make the suggestion, I think a provision of this kind is not at all unsuitable for a private Member's Bill, which, if it were introduced, would receive the support of my hon. and gallant Friend and myself, and might be the most expeditious way of bringing this about.
The right hon. Gentleman has gone a long way to meet Members on this side in respect of the plans of abandoned mines. Since he has been good enough to refer to the other matter, although it is not strictly appropriate to the Clause under review, and has given an assurance that if a private Member's Bill is introduced he will support it, I wonder whether he will reconsider his decision at a later stage and use his influence to get a Government Bill promoted. It would be a much more appropriate way, and we ought to have no difficulty in getting through what would be, in effect, a non-contentious Measure.
I will just answer that point. I said we will repeal the provision at the first opportunity. Hon. Members know the congested state of Government business now, and how congested it may be for some time. I only threw out the suggestion that procedure by a private Member's Bill might be more expeditious; also, there are times when hon. Members are looking for private Member's Bills.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, in line 2, after "thereby," to insert:
or in land situate below, adjoining, or near to coal.
This Amendment is related to the two following Amendments in my name—in line 5, to leave out "of workings" and to insert:
sections, records, particulars, or other documents relating to the situation, condition, management, or working,
and, in line 7, to leave out "plan," and to add:
plans, sections, records, particulars, or other documents.
The purpose of these Amendments is really the same as that of my right hon. Friend, but it carries the principle a little further. I think that those who are interested in land and other things should have the same rights as those interested in coal.
My Noble Friend has moved this Amendment expeditiously and lucidly. There is, in fact, rather a difference between this Amendment and the other two Amendments, but my answer to all three at present is the same. It is, that I do not feel able to accept them. I confess that I cannot at present quite see what is the point of the first Amendment. We have already provided that anyone who is interested in land which is supported by coal, or was supported by coal before working, should have this right, and I do not see the point of this very indefinite extension, which gives the right to people who, apparently, have no interest in its support, but happen to be very near the coal. Nor do I quite see the reason for extending the privilege to those people who have land which is situated under coal.
With regard to the other two Amendments, which go together, it seems to me that to give to these people who have an interest in land supported by coal a right to inspect every document on the files of the Commission, is going a great deal too far. It seems to me that in giving access to the plans of working we are imposing all that can reasonably be imposed on the Commission. That is not to say that the Commission, who will be a reasonable body of people, acting reasonably, will not give to people who approach them what information it is proper that they should have, but when we are putting this into legislation we should limit it to those documents which it is necessary for people to see.
It is true that if we give the right of inspection to those interested in land supported by coal it is really all that is required. But you do not get always nearly merely vertical support. You may have land some distance from East to West or North to South of coal which is being worked, and which is to some extent supported by it. If you own a piece of surface which you believe to be supported by coal, and you go to the Commission, they may say, "Nonsense, we are not working under your land." It is to get over that very difficult and technical point, of cases where an adjoining owner would want to see whether his suspicions are right or wrong, that we want the right given to a landowner whose land may be supported by coal to see by documents whether they are or not. I consider that the wording of the Clause should be altered to deal with this point.
I would say, in reply to my hon. and learned Friend, that it has certainly never been my reading of this Clause that it is confined to the actual vertical position above the coal or the working. The support may be, as my hon. and learned Friend says, not only vertical but lateral, and, therefore, people other than those whose land happens to be directly over the working would be entitled to the privileges of this Clause. That has always been my meaning and intention, and if there is any doubt under the present wording whether that is the fact, I will certainly look into it, but my view is that, under the Clause as it stands, the people who draw this lateral support from the coal would be entitled to the privileges of the Clause.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into this matter again, as this is not an unreasonable request. In spite of the fact that there is an appeal against abuse, I can visualise a case where people might be carrying on mining operations that were not covered by the Act, and it might, in the long run, do very great harm if the people carrying on these operations were ignorant of what was taking place. It would be pure common sense, if anyone were carrying out any kind of work on adjoining land, to give that person access to the plans both for his protection and the protection of the people carrying on the coal mine. I can see no conceivable reason why the Amendment should not be accepted, unless, presumably, it is the usual practice that when the Minister and his officials study these Amendments they say, "We do not see why they want it, and, therefore, we will not give it to them." There are sound reasons why the concession should be made, and I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to take a different view of the matter.
Really, the last reason that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) has given seems to be the only really valid one for refusing the Amendment. Looking at the names attached to it, one would imagine that it ought to be refused. But the President of the Board of Trade is wrong in this instance. He gave his whole case away when he admitted that probably these particulars would be given by the Commission, as they were reasonable people, if anybody asked for them, even though they did not come within the terms of the Clause a? it now stands. If that be so, surely, it is reasonable to put them in the Clause. If the Commissioners, as reasonable people, are going to give these particulars in all probability that is the very argument for putting them in. You should not allow the Commissioners to pick and choose between individuals and to exercise their discretion whether one individual was to receive them and another individual was not to receive them. If that is what will probably happen, let it be the right of every individual who has land "situate below, adjoining, or near to coal." A person will only ascertain the facts, which cannot hurt anybody, and he will have to pay for ascertaining the facts. I cannot see that any conceivable damage or harm will arise, and it will enable authorities, landowners and others who are contemplating building and such things, to see the whole position and whether the workings are likely in the future to come in their direction. It may be that the support is still there, but it may be that, by looking at the workings and seeing the directions of them, one might say, "It is unwise to build here because perhaps in 10 years' time these workings will extend under my land."
That is the sort of think that anyone planning a big building estate, a school or anything else wants to know. He does not want to go to the Commissioners and be told that he has the support, and that nothing will happen; he wants to know what is likely to happen in the future. If he is near the coal workings he can ascertain how they are proceeding. There is every reason that the first Amendment containing the words "or in land situate below, adjoining, or near to coal" should be included in the Clause. As far as the second and third Amendments are concerned, it may be that the words are a little too wide in what they include. Records regarding management may be something which are not wholly necessary, but
sections, records, particulars, or other documents relating to the situation, condition, management, or working
certainly would be material in order to try and estimate the direction in which the workings were going and what would be likely to happen. We shall support the present Amendment, if necessary in the Lobby, because we believe that it is right that it should be inserted.
Has the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade taken into account the difficulties that local authorities may experience in this matter when engaged upon town planning? Ought they not to have an opportunity of looking at the plans of the development of coal in their district? I know from experience in my own area that land has collapsed and buildings have been damaged when no coal has been worked at all, and, in fact, when there has been no coal under them. The fall of rock beneath them has affected the land more than half a mile away. It is desirable that the local authority, when planning for the development of a district, should find out where the outcrop is, whether it is proposed to work the coal, and in what directions the workings are to go in order to avoid future damage by setting back the boundaries of their village or buildings further from the point of danger. As I understand the terms of the Clause it will not be possible for a local authority or an owner of land to insist upon the right to examine plans, unless it can be shown that the land is being supported by the coal. I entirely agree with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has said. It is a matter of practical experience which must be obvious to every Member of the House, that, if you take the support from one point, you at once make a releasing point which shifts further and further away. It is restricting the position far too much merely to give the right to examine when land is being actually supported by coal, and I think that the case has been made out for extending these powers.
I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment. My experience has been very similar to that of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I know of many cases where buildings have collapsed simply through insufficient information having been available when they were put up. There is the further point which no hon. Member has mentioned so far, that in many cases it is not known definitely whether there is coal or not under the land. I can visualise a district where big faults may occur which throw the coal measures completely out. In cases like that there may be circumstances in which someone owning a house might not be able to show definitely that there was coal beneath the building. Therefore, the first Amendment ought to be accepted, so that people who have property or land near to coal should have every facility for getting information from the plans available. The whole of recent legislation with regard to coal mining is to try and make these things available, and the more information that there is available the better for all concerned. It is unfortunate to find in coal mining districts buildings cracked by mineral subsidence which could have been avoided by putting them up in other areas nearby. I hope that the Minister will either accept the Amendment or some form of wording which will meet the views of the majority of the Members of the House.
The combination between my Noble Friend the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) is so formidable and unusual that it is one to which any Minister must pay attention. I admit, particularly in view of the last two speeches, that a case has been made out for the fact that the Clause, as at present drafted, may be too restricted in its character, and that it might be well that people who cannot actually prove that their land is supported by coal should be in a position to inspect these plans. I am, therefore, prepared to accept the first of these Amendments, subject only to the fact that it may be necessary to see whether the drafting is quite accurate. In principle I accept it, and the Amendment will, of course, be passed. I cannot accept the remaining two Amendments in their present form. It is possible that the word "sections" might be added, and, again, I will look into the matter. I am anxious that all information that is proper should be given, but I do not want to place upon this Commission the duty of showing documents which really are quite unnecessary for the purposes of this Clause. If that, therefore, is the wish of the House, I am prepared to accept the first Amendment, subject to any necessary drafting alterations, but I am unable to accept the other two Amendments, although I will look into them and see if there are any of the extra particulars which are required which could without damage be added to the Clause.
Amendment to the proposed new Clause agreed to.