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.