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

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

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Photo of Hon. Adam Butler Hon. Adam Butler , Bosworth 12:00 am, 15th July 1975

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.