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 Gentleman waits until I tell the House why that Act is hopelessly out of date and thoroughly inadequate.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 The 1957 Act is out of date in relation to farm structures.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.
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.