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New Right of Board to Withdraw Support to Enable Coal to Be Worked.

Coal Industry Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th July 1975.

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Lords Amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 16, leave out subsection (4) and insert: (4) Subject to the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act, where damage to any land or to anything lawfully on that land whenever constructed or brought thereon arises from the exercise of the right to withdraw support conferred on the Board by this section, the Board shall either—

  1. (a) pay proper compensation for the damage including such consequential loss as would be recoverable in an action of nuisance in respect of that withdrawal, or
  2. (b) with the consent (which shall not be unreasonably withheld) of the person who would otherwise be entitled to the payment of compensation for the damage, make good the damage to the reasonable satisfaction of that person and without expense to him;
and, where appropriate, the Board shall pay such proper compensation in accordance with paragraph (a) above for damage not made good in accordance with paragraph (b) above.

10.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

In dealing with this amendment on subsidence compensation, I would point out that the Government have never envisaged the Bill—we discussed this matter in Committee—as the right vehicle for making the fundamental change in the compensation provisions for subsidence damage which the Lords Amendment represents. The Bill merely sought to re-enact the compensation provisions from the Coal Act 1938. Together with the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957 they provide the basis of a compensation régime which by and large has worked very well over a number of years.

The National Coal Board goes well beyond its statutory liabilities to avoid individual hardship. In the case of the Selby development it has reached broad agreement with the National Farmers' Union about compensation for crop loss and other matters. The régime appeared to give little cause for complaint until the introduction of the Bill. There was little pressure for change. Nevertheless, an interdepartmental committee of officials was studying the situation to see what improvements, if any, were necessary.

It has been said during the passage of the Bill that it was only right that the National Coal Board should have to pay improved compensation for damage and losses arising from subsidence as quid pro quo for the sweeping new powers to withdraw support which it was said the Bill would provide. Although Clause 2 may give the appearance of providing sweeping new powers, the reality is quite the reverse. The new powers are simply a clarification of the existing rights, to put the matter beyond doubt that the board has the right to withdraw lateral as well as vertical support. It has hitherto always believed that it had such rights and has conducted its operations in that belief. It is generally impossible to withdraw vertical support without at the same time withdrawing lateral support. As regards the generality of surface owners in coal areas, the new powers will make no difference. Existing obligations, whether they are based on formal written agreements, verbal understandings or gentlemen's agreements, will be honoured by the board.

Thus, the call for compensation to be improved to balance the granting of new powers has no base in reality. The existing régime provides a stable basis for operations and transactions, both underground and on the surface. In this way people know where they stand. The National Coal Board is able to plan operations on the basis of compensation costs which can be estimated. On the surface land values can be based on a compensation probability in line with well-known procedures.

To make the fundamental change envisaged in the Lords Amendment would upset these procedures. The board would have to reassess its activities in the light of the increased compensation costs which it might incur. Some faces might have to be closed and the development of others modified. On the surface land values would be affected and, until the newer situation had been operating for some time, there would probably be a great deal of uncertainty.

Another bad feature of the amendment is that it drastically changes the balance between the National Coal Board and the surface owners without any safeguard. Under the present arrangement the surface owner generally has an incentive to take such steps as he can to minimise the damage which might arise from subsidence. Under the amended provision, that incentive virtually would disappear. Consequently, there could be a good deal more damage and loss from subsidence than there is at present. Apart from throwing a big burden of additional costs on the board, that would also lead to a waste of national resources which at present are being safeguarded by the prudence which the existing régime encourages land owners to adopt.

As has been said many times in the passage of the Bill, subsidence compensation is a complex matter which does not lend itself to the simple change which the Lords Amendment would make without running the risk of undesirable and unwelcome side effects and disruptions of the kind I have outlined.

For all these reasons, I ask the House to reject the amendment. In so doing, I repeat the assurances which have been given on a number of occasions—namely, that the working party of officials will complete their review of mining subsidence as quickly as possible and that an early opportunity will be sought to introduce amending legislation if that turns out to be desirable.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , New Forest

The Minister in his closing remarks gave clear reasons for the amendment. Despite what was contained in the holy writ which he read to us, he well knows that the compensation provisions at present are inadequate and unsatisfactory and are recognised as being so by bodies such as the National Farmers' Union and also by the National Coal Board.

The promise with which the Minister ended his remarks—namely, that the interdepartmental committee will report speedily—is a promise which I have heard him utter on a number of occasions during the passage of this Bill. He well knows that the inquiry has been sitting since 1971. We learned from a recent parliamentary answer that the committee has had only six meetings in four years. Therefore, there is not much hope of obtaining a speedy answer from that body. The Bill when enacted will join a number of Acts of Parliament governing the operations of the coal mining industry. Many of them affect the right to extract coal and, as a result, the rights of surface owners. There is an undisputed common law right in respect of the supporting services. That has been established over the years and would remain in an unencumbered state provided that other legislation did not interfere.

As the Under-Secretary of State has pointed out, the two principal Acts of Parliament which have interfered are the 1938 Coal Act and the 1957 Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act.

The Bill we are considering introduces a number of opportunities for the National Coal Board to win coal in new areas. It was because all hon. Members wanted an exploitation of our coal energy resources that Conservative Members did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. Indeed, I welcomed the Bill as a major step forward in winning these new resources. I am quite prepared, as an enthusiast for the industry, to repeat that promise. However, the fact is that the Bill introduces significant changes which will materially affect the surface owners in those areas where coal is to be won.

The power which the Under-Secretary brushed aside as not being a sweeping power nevertheless creates, according to the wording of the Bill, a new right. In the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum which accompanies the Bill it states that: Clause 2 and Schedule 1: give the National Coal Board a general right to withdraw support from land so far as is required for the working of any coal instead of the rights available under paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938. The new right allows support to be withdrawn from any land including land adjacent to that directly above coal being worked. It is a new and important right and I do not quarrel with it. All I am saying is that if the right is to be exercised, those people who may be adversely affected by that extraction taking place should also be protected.

This is not a party matter in any sense. During our discussions in Committee hon. Members of all parties were perfectly happy to point out the importance of this compensation provision. The fact of the matter remains that as at present drafted the compensation provisions in Clause 2 are inadequate, not only because they are now challenged by many respectable bodies but because Clause 2 provides this new right in areas where coal has not been worked before—perhaps, for instance, in my constituency of the New Forest. Those areas where mining is not a known art but where it is a practice to which people are not accustomed could see serious problems created for surface owners who have buildings which could be subject to damage from subsidence.

The Lords Amendment at least provides, in the interim to which the Minister has referred—namely between a Bill to tidy up these compensation matters and the report of the inter-departmental inquiry—some safeguard which can immediately be incorporated into this legislation without in any way delaying either the Selby project or any other important aspect which this legislation covers.

Only today I received, as other hon. Members received, a note from the National Farmers' Union which does not give quite the same rosy view of the past practices of the National Coal Board as the Under-Secretary would have us take. It states clearly that the National Farmers' Union regards this Lords Amendment as being of considerable, indeed, paramount importance.

10.30 p.m.

The NFU note states: It is of great importance to the agricultural industry that this amendment be retained in the Bill if it is to become law. Though this matter is affecting all sections of the community in areas affected by coal mining subsidence, it has an obvious and particular importance for agriculture. The payment of compensation in respect of coal mining subsidence damage is at present regulated by the Coal-Mining (Sub- sidence) Act 1957. This provides for compensation in respect of immediate damage, but does not include a legal right to the recovery of compensation in respect of consequential loss and it is therefore an inadequate basis of compensation. That is perfectly true. It covers immediate damage, but if as a result of that damage something else goes wrong—if, for example a water supply is affected—that is not covered by Clause 2. It is that consequential loss for which the surface owner has no redress. It is with that loss that we are concerned.

The NFU note ends with these words: The provisions of the 1957 Act, without this augmentation, do not bear any relation to the practical realities of the agriculture which they were originally designed to protect. The National Farmers' Union has long contended that there should be statutory provisions for the payment of compensation by the National Coal Board to farmers in respect of consequential loss resulting from subsidence caused by coal mining activity. Having listened to that, the House will recognise that while the happy relationship which the farming industry has with the coalmining industry, and, which the Under-Secretary of State described in such honied terms, may exist in most cases, that is not the general rule and the industry is concerned about this problem.

Not only is that industry concerned, but the Under-Secretary of State will be aware of what has been taking place on the M6 motorway. The busiest motorway service station in Britain is now closed because of mining subsidence. The Under-Secretary of State is, I know, familiar with this problem, but it was brought out clearly in the reports in The Times and other newspapers at the end of May. On 30th May there was a report in The Times, under the heading "Mining closes M6 service area", as follows: The northbound side of one of Britain's busiest motorway service areas, on the M6 at Corley, near Coventry, is closing down its fuel and restaurant facilities next Monday because of the danger of mining subsidence.It was opened only three years ago with the final link-up of the Midland motorway network and yesterday a spokesman of Trust Houses Forte, the operators, said: 'It is one of the busiest in the country but the interests of public safety must come first.'The Coal Board said that operations would continue for at least a year and a probable maximum of two years. An official said: 'We have advised that the fuel tanks at the service area should be drained for safety. We have taken steps to minimise subsidence by reducing the length of the coalface and the thickness taken out. The area being worked is known as the North Pillar and the face is already under the service area, but not yet under the built-up part. It will not be until November, although it is liable to come under the influence of possible subsidence in July or August.The Trust Houses Forte official in London said: 'The decision to close down the northbound section is endorsed by the Coal Board and the Department of the Environment. We think it is the proper action to take in the interests of public safety'. There may well be a claim for consequential loss because the service area is allocated by the Department of the Environment through the Minister for Transport to various catering companies. The fact that about 80 people have lost their jobs at this service station and that no doubt a certain amount of trade is also lost may well lead to a case in the courts. Given the provisions of Clause 2, there is no way of arriving at a reasonable figure for a consequential loss.

Photo of Mr John Ryman Mr John Ryman , Blyth

The hon. Gentleman has referred several times to a consequential loss not being provided for specifically by the Bill. Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that a farmer who suffers a consequential loss has a common law remedy for negligence quite apart from the provisions of the Bill? Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is incorrect in saying that there is no legal remedy for consequential losses by farmers.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , New Forest

The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to me with the attention that I would have wished. I was referring to Clause 2 of the Bill, which is the law we are about to make in Parliament, and there it does not refer in any way to consequential loss.

Photo of Mr John Ryman Mr John Ryman , Blyth

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. It is the common law remedy which exists, quite apart from Clause 2.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , New Forest

As I pointed out at the beginning, the common law right of everybody in this country is the right to support under his land, but it is eroded by various Acts of Parliament. Of course there is a common law right to recover damages for loss, but are we suggesting that if somebody suffers serious damage to a water course on his farm, he has to fight this beak and claw through the courts without being able to have any recourse to a law which states that the Coal Board shall have a responsibility in the matter? I do not think that that is fair at all.

I do not see any reason why we should be passing legislation which gives any authority the right to come on to anybody's land or under his land and cause him damage which may lead to severe financial loss, and then expect him to have to fight it through the courts.

If the hon. Gentleman had followed our proceedings he would know that in Clause 1, on the pneumoconiotics provisions, it was precisely this point about the old common law right—on which, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out so many times, he had to fight for people who were suffering from pneumoconiosis—which led to this provision in the Bill in Clause 1 to make it an obligation that these people should be looked after, I suggest that that obligation should be just as important in Clause 2.

There are not only those two cases. I could cite others. The British Ceramics Manufacturers' Federation made it clear that its members too, are extremely concerned. They have every reason to be, because, as I said at the beginning, in this matter the Government have been dragging their feet very badly. In a Written Question recently to the Secretary of State for Energy about this interdepartmental committee to which the hon. Gentleman referred in his speech, I asked the Secretary of State for Energy what are the terms of reference of the interdepartmental committee appointed in 1971 to consider the questions of compensation for damage and injury resulting from mining or other industrial operations; how many times the committee has met; when it is due to report; whether its conclusions will be made public; and whether it is his intention to incorporate the recommendations in the current Coal Industry Bill. The answer was: The terms of reference of the Working Group on Mining Subsidence Compensation are: 'To study the problem of damage resulting from coal mining subsidence and to make recommendations with regard to two separate issues, viz.: (a) the National Coal Bord's statutory liability to pay compensation; (b) the Board's attitude towards the cost of structural precautions to lessen the risk of damage to new buildings'. The answer went on: The Working Group has had six full meetings and in addition various consultations have taken place by correspondence and between individual members. It has been asked to report as quickly as possible after it has had time to give proper consideration to the new evidence which has been coming to light … As is usual in the case of committees of officials, the report will not be made public but the Government will make a full statement on the subject when it has had time to consider the report. If new legislation is then called for, an early opportunity will be sought for it.—[Official Report, 23rd May 1975; Vol. 892, c. 699.] This committee—and I am not blaming only the hon. Gentleman's Department here, because two Governments are involved; indeed, three separate Parliaments—has been sitting for four years and has had six meetings. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Coal Board has given evidence to this body? I am not at all sure that it has. In fact, I am not at all sure that there is any sign of this committee reporting at all. I do not think it right to have legislation introduced into the House at this time which calls for the introduction of new rights to withdraw support without either having that body's recommendations available to the Government or a satisfactory compensation Bill being made available.

It boils down to whether the Minister is satisfied to rely entirely upon the Coal Act of 1938. I was always told that the wicked old days of the private coal owner before the days of nationalisation were so evil as to be hardly mentioned in polite company, yet the Minister's argument relies upon that Act of Parliament. That and the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act of 1957 are two pillars of the law which obviously have been overtaken by events.

In Committee, when the Minister referred to both the inquiry and the Acts, he said: Consequential losses and blight are not included as such in the provisions of either the Coal Act 1938 or the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957, which are the existing basis for subsidence compensation."— [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 11th March 1975, c. 99.] From the hon. Gentleman's own lips, it is clear that these two real concerns have to be covered some time soon.

This amendment from the other place at least builds in a safeguard. At least it includes the phrase "consequential damage". It also gives people an opportunity of treating for nuisance. It provides for individuals a safeguard, even if it is not the full safeguard which the Opposition wanted.

I am afraid that the story of this compensation discussion is one of slovenly and half-hearted attitudes by many people who should have the individual citizen's interests very much more at heart than they appear to have. The Opposition do not believe that this Bill should be passed into law without giving those individual citizens some real rights written in legislation upon which they can rely should the industry spread into their areas. I remind every hon. Member that his own constituents may be affected. Are hon. Members satisfied that the gentlemen's agreement to which the Minister referred and the old Acts of pre-war days are sufficient safeguards? The Opposition do not think that they are. For that reason, we shall vote against the Government's motion.

Photo of Mr Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North West

It pains me to have to prefer the arguments of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to those put forward by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I say that because I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend. In all other respects, his judgments are cogent and compelling. I regret that his adjudication of the merits of this case seems to me to fall below the merits of the argument itself.

This is not a matter which should be treated in a partisan spirit. It is one of great concern not only to farmers but even more so to industrialists and to those whom they employ. It is a matter which concerns workers as well as manufacturers, and that is why I wish to outline briefly the history of this discussion and also to discuss the Lords Amendment.

I am no stranger to this problem. For many years, I have been in contact with successive chairmen of the National Coal Board and with Ministers who have been dealing with questions of subsidence.

I am surprised that no mention has been made of the Robens Agreement. This matter of subsidence first became one of great concern in Coventry when the NCB published its intention to start mining in certain areas, especially in my own constituency in the north, where the proposal was a matter of great concern to manufacturers.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

The Robens Agreement does apply.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North West

I am sure that the Robens Agreement does apply. That has been underlined by Sir Derek Ezra. I am not so much dealing with its current application. I would like to deal with the concern felt by manufacturers in my constituency over this problem. What we are discussing is not something new. It has been going on for a long time and has been dealt with pragmatically in the past.

The Robens Agreement of 1968, in which I played some small part, was brought about because there was great concern among manufacturers of precision machinery in Coventry, people who work to tolerances of thousandths of a millimetre, that because of undermining of their factories they might be disadvantaged. They feared that they might not only incur direct physical loss but suffer consequential damage, with the result that their workers would be put out of work and they might suffer closure such as that on the M6, but which in the case of a manufacturing company is obviously of much deeper concern.

A gentlemen's agreement was mentioned. That is all very well. One of the reasons why those directly concerned want the situation to be changed statutorily is that there is no absolute guarantee that either Ministers or Chairmen of the National Coal Board will always be gentlemen. It is, therefore, necessary to embody in the law the broad preoccupation which is felt by those who are worried about what might happen.

My hon. Friend touched on the existence of an inter-departmental working party considering the general question of compensation. As the hon. Member for New Forest has said, this working party has been in existence since 1971. In the whole of those five years it has met six times. I wonder whether it should be called the non-working party. A working party dealing with such a vital problem which is so dilatory in reaching a conclusion is surely not to be relied on by us tonight. That is why so many of those concerned feel that this Bill is the occasion for building in specific measures to make sure that at least in this area there shall be proper provision for compensation.

It has been said that the better is the enemy of the good. I have no doubt that if we had a general decision about compensation which would be of wide and general application we would all be much better off and manufacturers and workers could sleep more easily at night, knowing that if anything happened they would be compensated. For the time being we are dealing with the coal industry and the problem of undermining manufacturing industry in places like Coventry.

I quote from a letter I received from the Director of the Coventry and District Engineering Employers' Association. Although he speaks in the name of the employers I can say from my own contacts with the trade unionists in Coventry that what he says expresses the feelings not only of the employers but of the workers in industry there, too. He says: I know that you are very well aware of our long term concern in relation to compensation for consequential loss arising from the withdrawal of lateral support. I am sure that you will readily appreciate that in a city like Coventry which depends for its prosperity so heavily upon industry that compensation merely for the immediate physical loss caused by subsidence can fall far short of providing anything like an adequate remedy for the firm concerned. Then he comes to the nub of the matter, namely Clause 2: For example, even a very modest degree of subsidence could cause a factory assembly line to be taken out of commission for many months with very serious consequences to the firm in terms of lost production not to mention the effect on employment in the factory concerned. Here I would also feel that you would readily see the essential equity of industry's case. He then goes on to give the roll-call of the firms mentioned. I think it will be agreed that in giving this roll-call of industrial firms concerned he and I, in quoting him, are referring not just to parochial matters in my constituency, but to the concern of the whole nation. He continues: At present some of the major companies who are vitally concerned include Courtaulds, Dunlop, Alfred Herbert and Morris Engines to name but a few, but really the same problems apply to many other employers to the north of the city. In mentioning those firms, which are directly over the potential line of mining underneath the city of Coventry, I think we are dealing with the legitimate claims of those engaged in industry in the city to see that in this important Bill these dangers are recognised. Perhaps I might in parentheses say that I find this a curious hybrid Bill when I see pneumoconiosis, which we all deplore and are happy to see provided for, somehow related to the more controversial question of mining under various cities and farmland.

Be that as it may, the fact is that we have a proposal here which has dangers which has been recognised by my hon. Friend's predecessors. Indeed, they have been recognised by previous chairmen of the National Coal Board. I pay tribute both to Lord Robens and to Sir Derek Ezra who are fully apprised of the dangers. They have promised that the so-called gentlemen's agreement will be maintained.

But, even accepting that, we have now reached a point where the Lords, in their wisdom, have produced a sensible recommendation which I believe should have the non-partisan support of the House. What they are asking is reasonable. I hope that it will be supported.

I should like to give one final illustration. When the first intentions were announced, that the National Coal Board might mine under the City of Coventry, naturally the most acute anxiety was the fear that mining would be carried out underneath the cathedral. That was a legitimate anxiety which immediately produced a proper emotional reaction.

Photo of Mr Alec Woodall Mr Alec Woodall , Hemsworth

Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth) indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North West

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is shaking his head because he disputes the facts. The facts are as I have stated them. There was anxiety about the possibility of mining being carried out underneath Coventry cathedral. But the National Coal Board has quite properly given undertakings and guarantees that that will not happen.

It is equally proper, when we are concerned with factories employing tens of thousands of people—factories on which the national interest depends—that certain inhibitions should be placed on those who might threaten those factories.

The hon. Member for New Forest properly underlined the fact that probably all hon. Members, vitally concerned about the future of the coal industry, are anxious not to weaken the power of the National Coal Board but to extend its workings wherever possible in the interests of the nation and the workers in that industry. We would applaud any intention by my hon. Friend, which he has exercised in many other directions, to try to provide facilities for the expansion of the industry and the welfare of those who work in it.

But we are dealing with something which is countervailing. We want to ensure that some inhibition is imposed on the NCB so that it will not exercise its power arbitrarily. There is a danger that great public authorities which are statutorily exempt from the burden of having to pay compensation in the event will abuse that power. Therefore, unless my hon. Friend can produce compelling reasons for the case that he has made today, I shall, with regret, but in accordance with the general principle that I have maintained for many years, go into the Lobby against him in support of my argument.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman).

I shall refer to the agricultural arguments advanced by the Minister. He said that if this Lords Amendment were accepted, additional compensation costs would be incurred by the NCB. I object to that. If the NCB does not meet the costs, the farmers must do so. The considerable costs involved were not covered by the clause as it went to the House of Lords. It ill behoves the Minister to say to farmers, "Never mind the extra costs which farming must meet, but the Government will not allow the NCB to compensate you" when the Government recently produced a very good White Paper calling for additional food expansion from British farms.

The Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957 is 18 years old and is now hopelessly out of date. It was geared to the immediate post-war period. It provides for compensation for immediate damage. However, it does not give the farmer or agriculturist a legal right to compensation for loss.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

Why is that 1957 Act hopelessly out of date? I was a member of the Committee on that Bill. My constituency suffers tremendously from mining subsidence, but farmers have never had a better deal.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I think that it will be better if the hon. Gentleman waits until I tell the House why that Act is hopelessly out of date and thoroughly inadequate.

There are several reasons why this clause was inadequate before it was amended in the Lords. Reference was made to land drainage. If subsidence affects the delicate pattern of drainage in a field, it may take years before the full effect of the damage is apparent. It may take several years of declining output from that field before the farmer realises that the land drainage is affected and that the land is becoming water sodden. Under the Bill as it left this House, farmers would be entitled to claim only for the repair to the pattern of land drainage when the damage was discovered but would have no right to claim for any consequential loss which may have arisen over a number of years, causing a steady reduction in the output of crops in those fields.

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) asked me a question. He is now speaking to someone else.

I give another example why agriculture is hard hit. The 1957 Act is out of date in relation to farm structures. I have in mind certain farm buildings which have been placed out of use by land subsidence. They may be out of use, depending on the extent of the damage, for some time. I am not thinking only of farm buildings. I am thinking of expensive milking parlours, for instance, which may be put out of action for a period. The farmer may get compensation towards putting them back into working order, but there is no compensation for the consequential loss of income as a result of the disorganisation caused by the damage which has affected his particular enterprise.

11.0 p.m.

There are many other examples. Concrete yards can be put out of action. Fuel tanks can be rendered dangerous. Another example which can hit farming very hard—I know that this has hit a farmer in Yorkshire very hard indeed—is when a farm road, in the middle of a busy harvest season, suddenly becomes unuscable because of subsidence. The farmer can manage, but long and expensive detours are made necessary for machinery and equipment and delays in the harvest occur as a result of the upheaval of the road.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest mentioned the example of a burst water main and the damage that that can cause. Many farmers today are on metered water supplies. From a slightly fractured water main, water can seep away for a number of years before the loss is pinpointed. The damaged pipe will be repaired at no expense to the farmer, but the loss while water has been seeping away into the ground for some years is not the subject of any compensation.

This Lords Amendment is particularly valuable for one special reason. The boundaries of existing coalfields are always being extended. New coalfields are always being sought and prepared for production. Some of our best agricultural land lies over our most prolific coalfields. It is for that reason alone that I urge the Government to bring this piece of legislation up to date and to provide a fair deal for agriculture.

Photo of Mr William Wilson Mr William Wilson , Coventry South East

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) in opposing the Government's motion to disagree with this Lords Amendment.

Those of us who represent Coventry know full well that although we have no coal mines within our constituencies, the mines situated outside our boundaries operate to a considerable extent beneath the City of Coventry. It is not only the Engineering Employers' Association that has called upon us to support the Lords Amendment. The Coventry City Council has also called upon us to back the Lords in their amendment.

Even without the Coventry City Council urging me to take this action, it still seems to me that the Bill, as it was proposed by the Government, is unfair in the matter of compensation.

All too many years ago, when I was a law student, I learned that whoever owned the surface owned right the way up to heaven and right the way down to hell. That was before the days of the National Coal Board. But the common law of England has always existed. Unless there can be some good reason for breaking the principle of the common law of England, I stand by them.

It is because of that principle and because tonight I have heard no reason, and in looking through reports of earlier debates I have seen no reason, why the common law of England in respect of the right of support and of damages and entitlement to damages should be broken, that I must take this stand. This is not a matter for gentlemen's agreements, for nods and winks, and for the old boys' act. Simply, it is that a person who owns the surface is entitled to the right of support and, if that support is broken, to compensation for the consequential damage.

That is a substantial principle of English law. It should not be broken, even by the National Coal Board. For that reason, unless the Minister says something quite extraordinary, I shall vote, with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West in support of the amendment.

Photo of Mr Paul Bryan Mr Paul Bryan , Howden

In Committee, the Opposition won the argument for consequential compensation. There was no answer to it. But inevitably we lost the Division. Our colleagues in the Lords won both the argument, in an admirable debate, and the Division and we congratulate them on their victory.

Until I heard the Under-Secretary of State tonight, I had had new hope for, by chance, reconsideration of this amendment coincides with the arrival of a new Minister at the Department of Energy. Looking at the problems with a fresh mind and for the first time, he could not fail to be struck by the lack of justice of the Bill as it stood before the Lords Amendment. So far we have been up against two Ministers, both with a mining background, who have lived with a ludicrous situation so long that they do not appreciate its absurdity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) in Committee noted that if the fatal pipe at Flixborough chemical works had been broken by subsidence, and not by some other cause, the company would have had a legal claim against the coal board for repair of the pipe but none for the huge plant which the fracture was responsible for destroying.

The board is not as other men. It enjoys a unique immunity. Who would have believed that a public institution like the National Coal Board would have had the arrogance to presume that that situation is acceptable to other people? The only answer to the unanswerable case we advanced in Committee was, "Do not worry. The NCB are good about this sort of thing". In another place, the Minister bluntly stated that granting rights of compensation for consequential damage would lead to unnecessary litigation for damages. As litigation would not arise if the sufferer were satisfied, the noble Lord clearly was not so sure that NCB paternalism would survive a legal case.

May I kill once and for all the idea that the NCB has such an admirable reputation for fair dealing that the citizen need not worry about having no legal rights in his dealings with the board? That is not the impression of my constituents. They had no knowledge of coal mining, and only the discovery of the Selby coalfield has brought them into contact with the NCB. In this community the NCB had to build up a reputation from scratch and so far it has not done well. Take the case of the main line railway. Suddenly, without notice or consultation with the local community, it was announced in the course of the public inquiry that the stretch of the main line railway between York and Selby was to be removed and the people of Selby were to lose the great asset—which they had enjoyed for the past 100 years—of being on the main London to Scotland line.

It is perhaps fanciful to imagine that the community would receive compensation for this very real loss which is a direct consequence of the NCB's mining operations. From the way in which the people of Selby have been treated, they do not get the impression that the board minds very much about this severe consequential damage. The story of the motorway service area at Corley only confirms their worst fears. Who else but the board would expect to have the right to take action, with impunity, the consequences of which have been to close down a lawful trading concern, deprive 80 people of their jobs and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds? If private individuals or firms took such action, they would have to face the consequences in the courts. The board has the privilege of legal immunity. The deplorable aspect of this is that Ministers see nothing wrong in this outrageous anomaly.

The amendment gives people affected by the board's mining operations the same rights as they would have if their property were interferred with by anybody else. Surely this is a perfectly natural and legitimate aspiration?

During the Committee stage, farmers were fobbed off with assurances on compensation that appeared to have no legal validity. I am glad to see that the National Farmers' Union has reacted with commendable vigour to claim for its members their legal rights. In the memorandum we have all received from the union, it states: It is of great importance to the agricultural industry that this amendment be retained in the Bill if it is to become law. The statement goes on to repeat the arguments we put in Committee highlighting the damage that subsidence could do in such areas as the Selby coalfield. It says: The 1957 Act is inadequate for a number of reasons. In the first place, even slight subsidence may result in disturbances to drainage patterns. This can be extremely important especially in areas with a high water table, where the land may be liable to flooding and high agricultural production has been achieved only by consistent improvement and steadily developed under-drainage. Disturbance to this drainage may well result in a degradation of the land and a continuing loss of crops over a number of years. This continuing loss of crops may he the only available evidence for some considerable time that damage to the drainage system has resulted from coal-mining activity. Lack of liability on the part of the National Coal Board for continuing loss may therefore mean that by the time any deficiency in the restoration of the drainage system can be shown the farmer is unable to claim compensation in respect of the damage and loss suffered.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

Surely all this was brought out in the public inquiry? The NFU and other people gave evidence at the inquiry. Would it not be as well to wait until the report comes out?

Photo of Mr Paul Bryan Mr Paul Bryan , Howden

I gave evidence at the inquiry, as did my hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). May I remind hon. Members of what was said at the inquiry by Mr. Griffiths, the QC for the National Coal Board? He said: You have heard evidence that the Board works fairly and generously within what the law provides and I recognise that consequential losses are not all covered by the law of compensation. I would remind you that, as you yourself observed early in the inquiry, that compensation is a matter to be considered by Parliament and is perhaps best considered by them. We are doing tonight as Mr. Griffiths has recommended.

11.15 p.m.

Both in this House and another place the Government have been humiliated in their efforts to defend the proposition that in a free country the citizen need have no legal redress for consequential damage against a public board. That is the long and the short of it. As this proposition was so clearly indefensible, the only resort has been feebly to fall back on to a committee—and what a committee! It has sat on average just over once a year for the last four or five years. Clearly, even now we are not being given any idea of when it is to complete its findings. We are told "as soon as possible" and "with all speed" but that is totally unsatisfactory in view of the seriousness of the case.

I am reminded of the situation with the capital transfer tax and agriculture. The tax has been imposed and subsequently we have been promised a committee to decide how much damage it will do to agriculture, the tax already having, been established.

The discovery of this lift. seam between Barnsley and York gives the Government and the National Coal Board the chance to create the perfect coalfield community. This huge deposit of coal has fallen into the board's hands free of all charge and compensation. The conditions are so favourable that it will be mined at a fraction of average costs. All the circumstances are there for the Government to show the utmost generosity to the local community, the only people in the United Kingdom who will suffer rather than benefit from the coal development.

The chance of winning this good will is rejected at every opportunity. The old wooden toll bridge at Selby, built in 1792 and crying out for replacement for the last 50 years, is to be the gateway to the largest and most modern coalfield in Europe. The Barlby-Riccall by-pass is to be cancelled because of the coming into operation of the coalfield. No assurance is given that schools and other essential services will be expanded to meet the incoming population. Now in the House of Commons the Minister is about to tell my constituents that they have no legal redress if, as a consequence of the National Coal Board's activities, their homes, businesses or farms are damaged. That is no way to win the confidence of Yorkshire people.

Photo of Mr Robert Cant Mr Robert Cant , Stoke-on-Trent Central

I do not wish to detain the House for long. I say immediately, so as not to provoke the wrath of my hon. Friends below the Gangway, that I regard the National Coal Board as a dynamic nationalised industry, and one with tremendous social conscience. It is my favourite nationalised industry. When at home I look out of the front window of the room in which I think my profoundest thoughts I can see what is alleged and reputed to be the largest coal refuse tip in Western Europe—nearly 16 million tons of refuse which the NCB very generously is helping the city council of Stoke-on-Trent to transform into a magnificent land reclamation scheme. If I am slightly critical of the NCB I trust that my deeper motivations will be clearly understood.

I think that all the arguments on this amendment have been deployed, but I have a few comments to make about my own constituency. I do so, first, because after the war Stoke-on-Trent—I hope that I can have the agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) on this matter—took the initiative as regards the negotiations that led to the 1957 Act. That was a step forward. That step was taken after 20 years' experience of the previous Act. Some of us are now hoping that the Coal Industry Act 1975 will take the matter a further step forward along the lines that have been indicated.

It is important to think not only in terms of the broad acres of agriculture or of such sophisticated modern cities as Coventry but of some of the older urban areas such as Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke represents an area of approximately 33 square miles and has a population of a quarter of a million. By statistical coincidence, not only is 85 per cent. of the city undermined but this relatively small area, a unique industrial concentration, produces some 80 per cent. of the total ceramic output of Great Britain. In the surrounding area it is the main employer of labour.

In those circumstances, subsidence is a serious problem, despite the guffaws of some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway. I know that in Stoke-on-Trent we are fortunate in terms of vertical movement because we have the soft cushion of etruria marl which, in conjuncture with coal, made the great pottery industry possible. It is a tremendous industry producing the exquisite wares of Wedgwood, Spode, Doulton—I must put them all on the record because if I do not my omissions will be noted.

It should be pointed out that 60 per cent. of the industry's products is exported to some of the richest countries in the world.

We are faced with a complete change in the techniques of manufacturing in the pottery industry. The old pottery companies which were, to some extent, a source of jokes and to a larger extent a source of pollution, are using the new types of kiln. Although the kilns do not work to the precision of thousandths of an inch, which is common in the motor industry, they require accuracy in terms of the great quantities of pottery that pass through them at a certain speed and at a constant temperature. That means that if anything goes wrong with the foundations there is not only a serious and immediate loss but a consequential loss of a high order. I think that the Minister should face that situation. It may be that we come along with far too many constituency points and problems, but we are talking about the employment of thousands of people and not only the profits of a number of firms If the Minister will say that he will concede this point of compensation along the lines that have been suggested, I think that we can leave the rest to the working party. I am not as cynical as many of my hon. Friends, and I believe that it is doing a grand job. It is doing it a little more slowly than some of us would wish because it wants to do it thoroughly.

Photo of Mr Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North West

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it would do a grander job if it did it a little more quickly?

Photo of Mr Robert Cant Mr Robert Cant , Stoke-on-Trent Central

I am no expert on these matters, but my hon. Friend may well have a point.

I conclude by saying that if the Minister will make a concession on the point I have mentioned, we can leave the rest of the wider issues to the working party.

Nobody has yet mentioned the cost of implementing the principle. I only wish to emphasise that this expenditure, although not perhaps important in a global sense involving the overall National Coal Board's requirements or indeed the Government's public sector borrowing requirement, will be enormously important to individual firms.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

I wish to be brief at this hour and will make only three major points.

When I found myself in the Minister's shoes with responsibility for these matters, I gave instructions that the committee in question should report as soon as humanly possible. I think that there is reason to be critical of the fact that we have not had that report earlier.

Secondly, I accept that the National Coal Board has more or less, without exception, been both thorough and generous in the compensation which it has given. I wish to pay tribute to the board on that score. But it is a nonsense to say that the board has never made a mistake in these matters. Therefore, it is nonsense to resist the Lords Amendment. The Government cannot say that there has been no element of consequential damage in respect of the National Coal Board. If that is the case, why do not the Government establish this procedure in legislation?

It is easy to be generous when the economic situation allows adequate money to be allocated to these matters, but at times of major economic stringency the board has tended to interpret the letter of the agreement and not to be quite as generous as it has been in the past. Since we are now facing a situation of economic difficulty and since the Minister appears to take the view that the "ad hockery" and the Robens Agreement has worked in most cases satisfactorily, I believe that at this moment of time it may well be necessary to include in the legislation an amendment such as that which has come from the other place. This is not a matter of mere party polemics, but it involves sensible compensation to ordinary people. I could refer to three cases on which appeals have gone to the Minister. Those cases involved ordinary householders who had no rights in respect of consequential damage and who were unable to meet the costs incurred by subsidence to their homes.

With those few remarks I urge the Minister to be sensible, to have second thoughts and to take the initiative and tell his advisers that the arguments of the House were strong enough to persuade him that at this late stage it made sense to accept their Lordships' amendment.

11.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

I should like to add briefly my note of concern to those already voiced by my colleagues from Coventry. I appreciate that there is a clash of national interest in the matter before the House tonight. We need coal in ever-greater quantities. However, it is equally true that the activities of the companies referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) are also in the national interest.

I first became involved in this subject as the city councillor for the area referred co by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West. I had to initiate long-drawn-out negotiations at regular intervals with the National Coal Board to make good in some cases the severe damage done to hundreds of houses in the area—damage which included cracks in walls, doors that would not open and windows that were stuck.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) said that the board was dynamic, I first had to prise it loose from the idea that council tenants in Coventry had not got beyond the idea that their living rooms were white-washed. That is where we started and at regular intervals this had to be examined again and again.

The workings have now extended under my constituency and I believe that there is little point in re-activating and re-tooling companies such as Alfred Herbert if, as a result of other work by the National Coal Board, they are prevented from getting on with the work that is so urgently needed by machine tool firms.

It should also be noted that because of the delicacy of work done at one company the city council reconsidered a road scheme because it was felt that the vibrations from vehicles would upset the work being done. Here we have a situation in which the local authority has already had extensive trouble over these matters and in which industry is constantly concerned about it. If the Minister cannot reconsider this situation, I shall have no option but to join my colleauges in the Lobby to vote against the motion.

Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth

To try to improve compensation for the victims of mining subsidence has been a crusade of mine for some few years, even before I became a Member of Parliament—indeed, when I first became associated with my constituency. Therefore, I am happy to join in the debate, if briefly.

I must draw the Minister's attention to four basic points. I know him to be an understanding and sympathetic man and I hope that, having listened to all the points made by others, some of which I shall underline, and the points which I shall make, he will reconsider this matter.

My first point relates to the line up of those who are in favour of the Lords Amendment. Apart from the majority of their Lordships—and I was interested to hear what Labour Members have said—the Coventry City Council as well as the old Urban District Councils Association spoke strongly on this matter. I am sure that the Minister has read the 13 points which were passed as a resolution at the 1969 conference. I believe that the other local authority associations also feel strongly about this. The line-up is powerful.

My second point concerns the discretion of the National Coal Board. We all know from experience over the past few years that the board has chosen to interpret the 1957 Act generously. The local liaison committees between the area offices and the district councils have worked well. In the past two or three years I have received very few, if any, complaints about wrong treatment as a result of mining subsidence damage. But that can change with the economic situation. Already the board is rightly determined to undermine where it has not undermined before. For the same reasons of economy it could well revert to the strict provisions of the 1957 Act. That is why we must legislate now to improve the compensation provisions.

Thirdly, I should like to think that the review will be produced as quickly as possible. I am sure that that promise was given as sincerely as the Minister could give it. But in December 1972 my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), then a Minister in the Trade and Industry Department, said in reply to a Question that I put to him: The review is nearing completion and I hope to be able to make a statement in the near future."—[Official Report, 4th December 1972; Vol 847, c. 289.] That was two and a half years ago. The Minister wrote me a nice letter after the Second Reading debate, because he was not able to deal with the subject then, and he made the same promises. I fear that the review will be an old man before it reaches the cradle. We cannot wait for it.

My fourth point is the one that should command the most attention. We should pay fair compensation to those who work in the industry and to those who suffer as a result of it. Wage rates and payments for miners are not a matter for us to debate tonight. But there is a close relation between the provisions for pneumoconiosis compensation and mining subsidence compensation, because both are for sufferers. We all welcome Clause 1, because of what it does for the victims of pneumoconiosis. They have suffered, and are suffering, as a result of coal mining. On this amendment from their Lordships, we are debating other sufferers from mining. Those people are not receiving the full compensation that they deserve. They need compensation for consequential damage. That is why I support my hon. Friends and look for support for the amendment from the Labour benches.

Photo of Mr Edwin Wainwright Mr Edwin Wainwright , Dearne Valley

I have not for a long time heard such falsity as I have heard tonight from the Opposition. Before the nationalisation of the mines there was no talk of compensation for subsidence. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or pneumoconiosis."] The Conservatives never appreciated what happened to the miners as a result of pneumoconiosis, but that is another point.

We are told that compensation must he paid by the coalmining industry, whatever its profits are, to people affected by subsidence. I have no objections to the principle. Let us bear in mind that people are reluctant to build new factories and plants in coalmining areas. No matter how one prepares underground with packing material, about one-third to two-thirds lowers and affects the surface. The slightest deviation can cause a tremendous upset to sophisticated, automated machinery on the surface. Therefore, industry is always reluctant to come to mining areas. The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) knows that.

But before the nationalisation of the mines the Conservatives did not trouble about compensation. Houses could be wrecked and it did not matter. After nationalisation, Conservatives became interested and brought the matter to the fore. Of course it matters to the individuals who are affeced, but what shocks me about Opposition Members is that they are mute and quiet unless the argument is against a nationalised industry. Now that the mines are nationalised they become vociferous.

The country requires coal, and the Opposition try to put all the responsibility on the coalmining industry. They are trying to ruin the nationalised industry. Is it their intention to sterilise many areas where the coal that the nation needs exists? They are encouraging people not to build concrete rafts and not to prepare against subsidence by proposing that compensation should be payable.

I have no objection to the payment of compensation, but if Opposition Members want to make it impossible for the industry to be viable and productive, that is the way to do it. That is what they seek to do because they are so much against nationalised industry. Before nationalisation there were no arguments about the cost of subsidence. Since nationalisation more compensation has been paid to owner-occupiers because of damage to houses than ever before, and rightly so.

If, in spite of what industrialists do to try to make certain that the factory floor is safeguarded against subsidence, subsidence occurs, I agree that the National Coal Board should be responsible. But if we are seeking to make the coalmining industry unprofitable and non-viable let us accept the amendment.

If the nation requires miners to go below ground to mine coal, and if it wants a profitable coalmining industry, the nation must be prepared to pay for it. Let us not saddle the industry with all the faults we can find and all the misguided ideas of people who are not miners. Everyone knows that in building houses and factories preparations must be made to prevent subsidence, but there will be subsidence no matter how much packing is done below ground.

Let us not sterilise great areas of coal. It is not just the area of coal that matters. The angle of subsidence stretches out, so that there can be 10 acres of coal and 30,000 or 40,000 acres involved.

I hope that Opposition Members will not be too partisan on this issue and will be fair and just in their arguments, and make certain that they do not saddle too great a responsibility on the coalmining industry. If they do they will sterilise great areas of coal in this country which otherwise could be worked.

11.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

I should like to attempt to reply to the debate. I do not challenge the sincerity or integrity of any hon. Gentleman who has spoken. With regard to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman), I would say to him and his other hon. Friends that I shall seek to persuade them by argument that they should not go into the lobbies and vote against the proposition which I presented to the House.

I tried to assure my hon. Friend in the course of his remarks that the Robens Agreement still applied so far as Coventry is concerned. It is no use saying that the agreement is not worth very much when it has been honoured right up to this very day. We are discussing the question of compensation, and I know how sincere and compassionate he feels about the city that he represents. Compensation in itself would not solve the problem of Coventry cathedral, and we are discussing today the issue of compensation—not just compensation but compensation arising from subsidence.

There are no changes of substance proposed in the Bill. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson) mentioned rights, I can assure him that there is no change of rights in relation to this Bill. I hope to demonstrate how the Government propose to meet precisely the points raised in the course of the debate. I shall try to do it by argument and by persuasion.

There was what I considered to be a debating point made about the length of time taken by the committee. I think it was the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) who, in a very fair contribution, made the point that he was the Minister involved in 1972 and that he had been concerned about the activity of the interdepartmental working group. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken with great compassion and concern, but if they want to make this a debating point, the House is entitled to ask what they were doing all the time in Government in respect of all these anomalies with which we are faced at the present time. There was very powerful criticism of the working of the interdepartmental working party, but if there were so many burdens imposed on people, the Opposition have done nothing about them. The hon. Member in the course of the debate made a point about the delay in relation to the working party. Indeed, the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who led for the Opposition, made some rather scathing comments about the interdepartmental working party and the time that it has taken. I hope that he will concede if he is to raise the question of the time that it has taken and the lethargy of this Government, that it is equally fair that I should make the debating point that the Conservative Government had a long time in which to do something but in fact did nothing about bringing the whole matter to fruition.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , New Forest

I do not want the hon. Gentleman's blood pressure to rise any faster. I made it clear that three Governments, including a Conservative Government, were involved in this. I am not criticising. It is not a party issue. It is lethargy or inertia, but it is not a party political issue.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my blood pressure is fairly normal. However, it was right for me to put the reverse of the debating point which he made.

The hon. Gentleman said that I brushed aside the Opposition's argument. We debated this matter extensively in Committee. We gave it a long run. It was a constructive debate, and it is on the record.

I deal now with the activities of the working party, and I address myself especially to those of my hon. Friends who attached some importance to it. The report of the interdepartmental working party, completed last summer, was withdrawn for review so that account could be taken of new evidence and opinions expressed during the preparation of the Coal Industry Bill and its passage through Parliament. All this time, a great deal of study has been going on in the Department and, as soon as the major stages of the Bill were completed and most of the new evidence could be considered as having been presented—although I must inform the House that we are still waiting for a memorandum promised by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities—meetings of the working group were resumed.

Following intensive discussion with the National Coal Board, a meeting of the full group was held on 18th June, and a further meeting is to take place on Friday next. It is expected that the group will be able to finalise its report before the end of the Summer Recess. The House can be assured that the Government will lose no time in coming to their own conclusions, and an early opportunity will be sought to introduce such legislation as may be required.

It would be wrong to leave the clause to stand in its amended form meantime. It would upset completely the present balance—unfairly against the National Coal Board—and it would introduce for many people uncertainty and confusion while the new regime settled down. Then we would have another change when the more comprehensive and long-term solution came into effect.

An interim arrangement of that sort is precisely not what is required at present. We want to try to resolve the problem thoroughly and fairly and to give the House an opportunity to debate it.

Photo of Mr Maurice Edelman Mr Maurice Edelman , Coventry North West

My hon. Friend has been putting the case for the committee on compensation very fairly and properly. But I put it to him, I hope without irony, that he ought perhaps to consider the deliberations of the Standing Committee as having more significance and weight than even the deliberations of an interdepartmental committee, however meritorious it may be. We are applying ourselves to this matter of compensation in relation to this legislation. Why should that have less validity than the protracted deliberations of an interdepartmental committee of civil servants?

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

The answer to that is quite easy. This is a complicated matter, as the debate has shown. There is some confusion among hon. Members. In such a situation it is right for the Government to say that they will examine the proposition through an inter-departmental committee and consult those involved. We shall consult the agencies and bodies involved. This is the fair way to deal with the matter, and it certainly does not denigrate the House.

I do not think that the Opposition can object, because that is exactly what they put forward. The subject needs study and consultation with those who are qualified to speak on it. The hon. Member for New Forest referred to the circular from the National Farmers' Union. I have studied that letter. It is full of hypothetical examples but singularly lacking in concrete examples of farmers

who have suffered losses as a result of subsidence for which they were not compensated. It completely ignores the fact that it is the board's practice often to go well beyond its statutory liability. Because of this there has been little cause for complaint over the years.

This letter makes no reference to the comprehensive agreement which the National Coal Board has made with the NFU about the Selby area. I wish that the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) would be a little more excited about this new development. It is wealth for this country. I described it in Committee as a miniature North Sea oil find which will mean great riches not only for the area but for all our people. We have agreements with the NFU covering such things as crop loss, loss of livestock, permanent depreciation of land value and so on. Farmers can feel confident that their legitimate claims will be met until a more comprehensive and overall solution, equitable to all, can be worked out.

It has been said that the NFU was unable to negotiate agreements with the National Coal Board. I have here the agreement on the Selby coalfield dated March 1975, not 15th July. It deals with the negotiations between the board and the NFU. There are six or seven paragraphs of negotiated agreements between these two bodies. The Government's arguments can be accepted by the House because they show that what the Government are proposing is a sensible and realistic solution in the best interests of all. We shall come forward later with a proposition to solve the problem properly rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 129.

Division No. 284.]AYES[12.00 midnight
Allaun, FrankCampbell, IanCunningham, G. (Islington S)
Anderson, DonaldCanavan, DennisDavies, Bryan (Enfield N)
Armstrong, ErnestCant, R. B.Deakins, Eric
Ashton, JoeCarter-Jones, LewisDean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Castle, Rt Hon BarbaraDell, Rt Hon Edmund
Atkinson, NormanClemitson, IvorDempsey, James
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodCocks, Michael (Bristol S)Doig, Peter
Bishop, E. S.Cohen, StanleyDormand. J. D.
Blenkinsop, ArthurColeman, DonaldDouglas-Mann, Bruce
Boardman, H.Conlan, BernardDuffy, A. E. P.
Booth, AlbertCook, Robin F. (Edin C)Dunn, James A.
Boothroyd, Miss BettyCorbett, RobinDunnett, Jack
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurCox, Thomas (Tooting)Eadie, Alex
Bray, Dr JeremyCraigen, J. M. (Maryhill)English, Michael
Brown,, Ronald (Hackney S)Crawshaw, RichardEvans, John (Newton)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)McCartney, HughShort, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.McElhone, FrankSillars, James
Flannery, MartinMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Skinner, Dennis
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Mackenzie, GregorSmall, William
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Madden, MaxSpearing, Nigel
Freeson, ReginaldMagee, BryanStallard, A. W.
George, BruceMahon, SimonStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Gilbert, Dr JohnMarks, KennethStoddart, David
Golding, JohnMarquand. DavidStott, Roger
Gourlay, HarryMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Grant, George (Morpeth)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Grant, John (Islington C)Millan, BruceThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Grocott, BruceMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Miller, Mrs. Millie (Ilford N)Tomlinson, John
Hardy, PeterMitchell, R. C. (Soton, lichen)Torney, Tom
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Urwin, T. W.
Hooley, FrankMoyle, RolandWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Howell, Denis (B'ham Sm H)Murray, Rt Hon Ronald KingWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Newens, StanleyWard, Michael
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Noble, MikeWatkins, David
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Ogden, EricWatkinson, John
Hunter, AdamOwen, Dr DavidWeetch, Ken
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Palmer, ArthurWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartlord)Parry, RobertWhite, James (Pollok)
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)Peart, Rt Hon FredWhitehead, Phillip
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Pendry, TomWhitlock, William
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasPhipps, Dr ColinWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Johnson, James (Hull West)Price, William (Rugby)Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertRoderick, CaerwynWise, Mrs Audrey
Kinnock, NeilRodgers, George (Chorley)Woodall, Alec
Lambie, DavidRodgers, William (Stockton)Woof, Robert
Lamborn, HarryRooker, J. W.Wrigglesworth, Ian
Leadbitter, TedRoper, JohnYoung, David (Bolton E)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Rose, Paul B.
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Rowlands, TedMr. Joseph Harper and
Loyden, EddieRyman, JohnMr. Laurie Pavitt
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Sandelson, Neville
NOES
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Awdry, DanielGower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Baker, KennethGray, HamishMudd, David
Banks, RobertGrieve, PercyNelson, Anthony
Beith, A. J.Grist, IanNeubert, Michael
Benyon, W.Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Berry, Hon AnthonyHannam, JohnPardoe, John
Body, RichardHawkins, PaulPark, George
Boscawen, Hon RobertHolland, PhilipParkinson, Cecil
Bottomley, PeterHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Penhaligon, David
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Hunt, JohnPrior, Rt Hon James
Brittan, LeonHutchison, Michael ClarkPym, Rt Hon Francis
Brotherton, MichaelJenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Raison, Timothy
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)Rathbone, Tim
Bryan, Sir PaulKaberry, Sir DonaldRees-Davies. W. R.
Buchanan-Smith, AlickKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Buck, AntonyKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Bulmer, EsmondKitson, Sir TimothyRifkind, Malcolm
Burden, F. A.Knight, Mrs JillRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Carlisle, MarkKnox, DavidRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Lamont, NormanSainsbury, Tim
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Langford-Holt, Sir JohnShelton William (Streatham)
Clegg, WalterLawrence, IvanShepherd, Colin
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Lester, Jim (Beeston)Shersby, Michael
Cope, JohnLuce, RichardSilvester, Fred
Crouch, DavidMacfarlane, NeilSims, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Skeet, T. H. H.
Drayson, BurnabyMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Edelman, MauriceMadel, DavidSpeed, Keith
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Elliott, Sir WilliamMates, MichaelSpicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Eyre, ReginaldMawby, RayStanbrook, Ivor
Fairbairn, NicholasMayhew, PatrickStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fairgrieve, RussellMeyer, Sir AnthonyStradling Thomas, J.
Farr, JohnMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fisher, Sir NigelMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Tebbit, Norman
Fox, MarcusMonro, HectorTemple-Morris, Peter
Freud, ClementMontgomery, FergusThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)More, Jasper (Ludlow)Trotter, Neville
Vaughan, Dr. GerardWeatherill, BernardYounger, Hon George
Viggers, PeterWiggin, Jerry
Wakeham, JohnWilson, William (Coventry SE)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wall, PatrickWinterton, NicholasMr. Adam Butter and
Warren, KennethYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Action)Mr. Spencern Le Marchant

Question accordingly agreed to.