HC Deb 17 May 1950 vol 475 cc1222-306

3.37 p.m.

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, at end, to insert: apparent on or.

The Chairman (Major Milner)

I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed this Amendment with the next one, in line 8, leave out "occurring," and insert "evidence of which first became apparent."

Sir P. Spens

I was going to suggest that, as they are very closely connected. The Committee will no doubt realise that the object of the first Amendment is to get over the major deficiency in this Bill. This Bill is governed in Clauses 1 and 2 and elsewhere by the fact that if it is left as it is at present the only housing which will obtain any benefit from the proposal will be that very small class of houses in respect of which it will be possible to prove on some future date that the subsidence damage occurred on or after 1st January, 1947.

There cannot be any person in this Committee familiar with our villages and towns where subsidence is known, who is not aware that there are hundreds and probably thousands of houses standing today with cracks in their walls and roofs, with windows that will not shut and doors that will not open, about which it is impossible to say when the subsidence damage occurred, but which all of us know, in the greater number of cases, were damaged before 1st January, 1947.

I cannot but believe that everybody in those areas who owns a house of that sort believes that the Bill will do something for him. If the Bill stands as it is worded it is one of the greatest illusions that has ever been put before the country. It is put forward as a Measure which will do a great deal of good in those mining areas, but when people realise the small percentage of houses which it will affect they will find themselves deluded. The Bill will be pure waste of time by this Committee if it is allowed to go through as it is at present.

My first point is to put forward the proposal that all houses where damage was apparent on 1st January, 1947, shall be brought into the scope of the Bill. At any rate, that would do a vast amount of good to a large number of people. Without it, I do not think that the Bill is worth the bother of going on with.

The second point is that I realise that the Bill brings in a large number of other houses and that it may well mean that the maximum figure authorised by the Financial Resolution will be reached It may even be that the Resolution will provide less than half the total expenditure and that a certain amount of expense will be passed on to the National Coal Board. I was comforted by the speech made on the Second Reading by the hon. Baronet who is a Member of the Turner Committee. He pointed out that, taking existing houses at the time when the Committee reported, it was not going to be very expensive to repair them. Bringing in houses where there was apparent damage on 1st January will mean that even this hard-up Government ought to be able to find sufficient funds to meet the expense. I do not expect that the cost will be so great that this provision cannot be brought in.

I have reason to believe from something which I have read today in one of the papers that this proposal will be met by a refusal. If so, I want to appeal not to the humanity of His Majesty's Government, for that seems useless, but to quite a different feeling. As a lawyer, I am going to ask them to consider the different phrases put into the Bill and to realise that because of those differences of wording it is impossible to know what the Bill covers and what it does not cover.

First of all, anyone who knows anything about this subject will be aware that subsidence very often starts deep down in the body of the earth. Everybody knows that stratum after stratum gradually collapses and that finally there are signs on the surface. When those signs first start, nobody knows Where they will end and how greatly they will increase. What does the phrase used in Clause 1 mean? It is: Subsidence damage occurring on or after the first day of January, nineteen hundred and forty-seven. I am certain that some mining Members will be able to give us their view. I, as a lawyer who has merely had to deal with mining cases in the years past, can only say that subsidence damage that occurs to a dwelling on 1st January must have started before that date.

3.45 p.m.

Does the phrase mean that, on that date, some subsidence started below the foundations but has not yet affected them? Does it mean that subsidence had already affected the foundations quite unknown to the people living in the house, or that cracks had appeared? Does it mean that cracks had occurred in the foundations on or after the 1st January, or in the walls, doors and windows, something that was visible and apparent at that date? The damage may have occurred on that date but the subsidence must automatically have occurred before that date.

That is the first phrase I want to deal with. Hon. Members will see that it is qualified a little later in the same subsection, where the phrase used is: subsidence damage occurring to or affecting any dwelling-house. It is easy enough to know what "occurring to" means, but what in the world is "subsidence damage affecting any dwelling-house"? Does it mean affecting the structure, or the ground around it, or a shed in the garden; or what does it mean? Finally, if we look at Clause 2 we will find that the Government leave out "affecting."

The Chairman

The argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman should deal with the precise Amendment before the Committee and should not go further into another Clause.

Sir P. Spens

I must point out, Major Milner, with great respect, that a different phrase is used in Clause 2 and a different one still in the definition Clause. I am trying to point out that the words in Clause 1 are not clear in consequence, and raise a great issue. By putting in the word "apparent" I hope to define quite clearly what the subsidence damage has to be. I hope therefore that I may be allowed to go on. I want to point out that Clause 2 simply says: where any subsidence damage occurred…to any dwelling-house. That may be a narrower phrase. The definition Clause at the end of the Bill, Clause 15, says: 'subsidence damage' means structural damage caused by the withdrawal of support from land as the result of the working and getting of coal or any other mineral which is worked with coal, but does not include damage caused as the result of the working and getting of coal and other minerals, if the working and getting of the coal is ancillary to the working of those other minerals. The definition Clause simply obscures everything that goes in front of it. There are two phrases in Clause 1, a different phrase in Clause 2, and then one in the definition Clause, which may either minimise or magnify the damage.

I would say to the Government: For goodness sake let us be certain that we include all houses in respect of which damage was apparent on 1st January, 1947, or became apparent thereafter. Then we shall know exactly with what we are dealing. If we leave it as it is we do not know which houses will be included and which will not. There may be a house where damage started on 1st January, but two doors away it may have started before 1st January. The house two doors away will be outside the scope of the Bill and the one where the damage started later will come within its provisions.

The result of the Bill will be a matter of "pick and choose" between certain dwelling-houses in a row according to what occurred on or after 1st January, 1947. That will be frightfully unsatisfactory from every point of view. We want to make quite certain that all houses where damage was obvious and where the people knew that there was damage on 1st January, 1947, come within the provisions of the Bill.

Colonel Lancaster (Fylde, South)

I support what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) has said. I should also like to call in aid a recommendation of the Turner Committee. If the Minister will look at paragraph 96 on page 26 of the Turner Report, he will see that it recommended that all subsidence which became manifest on or since 1st January should be compensated. In drafting the Clause the Minister has departed from the very strong recommendation of the Turner Committee in this regard.

In introducing the Bill to the House the Minister made some very wise remarks. He said that subsidence was a capricious matter and that there was no exact science in regard to it. He went on to propound a number of observations in regard to subsidence—presumably supplied by his Department—many of which were quite unexceptionable, but he made one observation with which I do not find myself in complete agreement, and in this regard I believe that I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) and other hon. Members opposite who are familiar with this problem.

The Minister said that subsidence may occur several years after the working of the coal and will then go on for a few months. I do not think I could agree with that. It may occur, as the Minister said, several years after the working of the coal, but it can go on—and very frequently does—for a number of years. The full effect of subsidence may not be felt for a number of years after it has occurred, or become manifest or, as we have suggested, it is apparent. Any attempt to stand by the Clause as at present drafted would not only cause a great deal of distress but would be completely inequitable to those affected by it. If we do not substitute some such word as "apparent" or "manifest" we shall, as my hon. and learned Friend said, have people gaining the benefit of the Bill while people living two doors away get no benefit, whereas exactly the same occurrence has affected all the houses in the street.

I have had some experience of subsidence in its various forms. Sometimes it appears to be at one moment very much worse than is eventually found to be the case. I remember the case of a large mansion which has since been taken over by the National Coal Board. At one moment one could see completely through the house. A long wall face had been worked under one part of the house. At a subsequent period another panel was worked out under the house, and the house came together. The final bill for putting that house right was a matter of a few pounds for a little plastering and a little painting although at one moment the trouble appeared to be of considerable gravity. Subsidence can affect houses in all sorts of ways. As the Minister said, it is a very capricious matter.

We shall only get a sense of justice if it is made perfectly clear to all who will be affected by the Bil that it is not just what happened on 1st January, 1947, but something which was either manifest or apparent on that date or subsequently. We cannot define precisely the effect of subsidence. The Minister acknowledged that in great measure when he introduced the Bill, saying that there was no exact science and that it was a capricious matter. Yet when he drafts the Clauses he tries to make them precise, and in doing so he is doing a disservice not only to his own Bill but to all the people who will be affected by it. I most strongly support the Amendment.

Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster) has illustrated to the Committee that subsidence plays various tricks with houses, but I have never known subsidence play such queer tricks as the Opposition are playing today in the Amendments which they have on the Order Paper. Throughout the years they have never brought forward a Measure to deal with this problem, and when any Measure was brought forward they damned it with faint praise and defeated it in the Lobbies. When for the first time this Government comes to establish by statute some provision in relation to mining subsidence the Tory Party say, "We have mended our ways now that we are not in charge. The coal owners are not there, so we will fight for all we can get out of the Bill."

I hope the Minister does not accept the Amendment. I will say why. I think I know more about this subject than the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken)——

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch) indicated dissent.

Mr. Blyton

—because I have lived my life among this thing and he has only seen it when he has been passing in a train at 60 miles an hour.

Mr. Bracken

The hon. Gentleman's wit is a little heavy. He says that he has seen this thing all the days of his life. Well, he has now got a comfortably padded career. I have to deal with the problem of subsidence every day of my life and, feeling strongly about it, I backed the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman, who is, after all, the miner's champion, must make up his mind at some stage or another to remember his past promises. I know something about subsidence, and I think he does too, but he has abandoned his principles in order to back this wretched Bill.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Blyton

The right hon. Gentleman says that I have a padded career. At least I worked for 32 years in the pit, and I hope I am entitled to a little rest now.

Mr. Bracken

After the next election the hon. Member will get it.

Mr. Blyton

I would advise the right hon. Gentleman at the next election to leave Bournemouth and test me out in my division.

Mr. Bracken

If the hon. Gentleman wants to fight Bournemouth, he is entiled to try, but I may tell him that the miners who backed him in the past will repudiate him at the next election because he has betrayed his promises.

Mr. Blyton

I am asking the Minister to reject this Amendment for one or two reasons. If we put in the word "apparent" every house that was shored up under private enterprise of the mines from 1920 in certain parts of County Durham, where they refused to do anything, would be eligible because the subsidence would be apparent on the 1st January, 1947.

Therefore hon. Members opposite are asking the Government and the Coal Board to carry a huge liability which the private owners refused to accept when the Tory Party supported them in the days that have gone. I say to the miners on this side of the Committee, and I shall say it to the miners in my constituency, that the first charge on our industry is not to carry the liabilities that private enterprise have refused to accept, but to see that the lower-paid men get better pay and to see that superannuation schemes are brought in. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not on this Clause."] If we take money from the National Coal Board for this purpose we shall be retarding the advance of the men working in the pits on these matters.

We on this side of the Committee have read in the "Daily Express" this morn- ing about the revolt in the miners' group. I say to my friends that we will not play the Tory game after their years of neglect. This is not a useless Bill, a great illusion, as the first speaker said. It means to many of our people, as well as to landlords, that where the rateable value is £32 or less, that which they did not receive in the past, they will now receive. Mining subsidence starts at the bottom. There cannot be subsidence on the surface unless there is excavation underneath. That is elementary knowledge. The fact is that subsidence will probably not show itself for many years, but it may show itself inside three months. Near a fault it will show itself much sooner than in other parts of the coalfield. Therefore, if coal was excavated in 1940 and the subsidence starts to show now, under this Bill those people will be eligible after 1st January, 1947.

I suggest that this is a dangerous Amendment in its effect, and that it is likely to saddle the Coal Board with an expenditure of thousands of pounds which would have to come from the revenue and would thereby defer an increase of wages for our lower-paid men as well as deferring the miners' charter, while helping those people its obligations to whom, private enterprise, when it owned the mines, refused to recognise.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

Is the Bill designed to correct all those omissions and neglect of past owners?

Mr. Blyton

This Bill proposes for the first time in history——

Mr. Grenfell

What will the party do then to remedy the damage which had become manifest so long ago?

Mr. Blyton

Mining subsidence is no worse in Wales than in any other coal field. This Bill provides that where subsidence occurs on or after 1st January, 1947, which is the date that the Turner Committee recommended, everybody will come within its purview and will get their repairs done.

Mr. Grenfell

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "done before 1st January, 1947"? Why not for the whole of the recommendation of the Turner Committee?

Mr. Blyton

Before 1st January, 1947, means that hon. Members opposite want to carry a liability of private enterprise to the Coal Board, which was something they refused to do to private enterprise.

Mr. Grenfell rose——

The Chairman

Order. Hon. Gentlemen must not get into the wider provisions of the Bill. This is quite a restricted Amendment.

Mr. Blyton

The Turner Committee is quite definite in saying that the commencing date should be 1st January, 1947, and that has been incorporated in the Bill.

Finally, I say to the Minister that to give way on this would mean deferring the demands of our men for a long time, and I ask him not to accept the burden which private enterprise refused. I hope he will carry his Bill and that, when the economic situation is better, the report of the Turner Committee will be fully implemented. The liability of the Board will be £1 million a year, £2 million will come from the State, and then we shall be able to meet the recommendations of the Turner Committee. Meanwhile, we as miners' M.Ps have to choose whether to get this, which is the maximum we can get, or see the Bill defeated by supporting the Tories and watch our people getting nothing as a result of those endeavours.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

I listened with amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). Not only was it inaccurate, but it struck me as positively dangerous because he was criticising his own Front Bench.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)

That is not dangerous in our party.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

If the hon. Member has read the "Daily Express", which I am sure he has, it seems to be very dangerous. No doubt the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring will remember that there were three Bills, in 1937, 1938, and 1939, all dealing with this question. When he says that we on this side defeated the Mining Subsidence Bill before the war, I hope he will look back at HANSARD, when he will see that on 27th February, 1939, a Mining Subsidence Bill was given a Second Reading, a Bill actually introduced by the present Minister of Education——

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Why was it not proceeded with?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not yet discovered that there happened to be a war soon after which made a slight difference to the progress of Private Bills.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Tomlinson)

The Bill was opposed from the Front Bench of the Tory Party on the Friday afternoon when it was carried.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

If the right hon. Gentleman looks back at that Debate he will see that certain provisions in his Bill were objected to by the Front Bench on this side of the House but, on the whole, it was the attitude of hon. Members on this side that the Bill should have a Second Reading provided certain Amendments were made at a later stage. If the right hon. Gentleman disputes that, I hope he will say so, because I have tried to give what I believe to be a fair summary of that Debate.

Mr. Tomlinson

It was definitely carried by 12 votes, in spite of the opposition of the Conservative Party.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I was just coming to that question, and I should like to look at Clause 1 of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill of 1939. He will see that it contained the words: and such damage is manifest and unrepaired at the passing of this Act. Those are the very words, only they are much wider, for which we are asking this afternoon.

The position strikes me as being even more curious when I look at the Division list to see how hon. Members opposite voted upon the Bill. They were led by the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, the Minister of Health, of course the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Education, and also, be it noted, the Minister of Fuel and Power; he voted for the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Who voted against it?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

As the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education stressed in his speech at the time—I have the quotation here; there are about two columns of HANSARD on this very point—it was quite impossible to introduce a Bill in which this problem of damage which was apparent on the date on which the Bill was brought into force, should not be taken into account.

Now the Minister of Fuel and Power introduces a Bill which ignores that fundamental point which was so much stressed by his right hon. Friend in moving the Bill in 1939. Is that consistent? The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring makes an impassioned plea to miners to support him and tries to throw the thing back upon private enterprise. This, however, will be subject to a later Amendment when we come to consider dates from which claims for subsidence damage should lie. I say to the hon. Member that that is quite the wrong principle that we should now be discussing. What we are discussing is the simple and narrow issue of whether we can have any fair measure of compensation under the Bill unless, as the Minister of Education admitted, a word like "apparent" or "manifest" is used.

From the way in which Members of the Front Bench opposite went into the Division Lobby in 1939, their attitude today is quite non-understandable by anybody in the House, whether he be on this side, because of the criticisms we have heard of the past, or on the other side, because of the wholehearted support which hon. Members opposite gave in 1939 to a much wider Bill. I hope that the Minister of Education is now coming to the Box and will explain to us how he, as a Member of the Government, in view of what he said in 1939, can now admit that all that he fought for then is false and that the present Bill is satisfactory and sufficient.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)

I have listened with a great deal of amazement and almost of disbelief to some of the things which have come from the other side this afternoon. One of the first questions that springs to my mind is this. If there has been such deep and apparently passionate concern for the effects of mining subsidence upon dwelling houses, why has not some Measure been placed upon the Statute Book to provide for the victims of this damage in all the years in which we have had a mining industry and during the greater portion of which we have had Tory Governments?

Mr. Bracken

What about the last Parliament?

Mr. Thomas

The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) referred to a Measure which was introduced in 1939. Had he said 1839, I should have attached some importance to it as evidence of the concern of Tory Governments for the effects of mining subsidence. Did our mining industry start only in 1939? I was brought up in South Wales, and I remember the effects of mining subsidence in the valleys of that part of the country——

The Chairman

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but we really cannot go into all the past history of this matter. I allowed a reference to the Bill of 1939 because it appeared to deal with the specific point which was before the Committee, but we cannot go into the general question on this Amendment.

Mr. Bracken

On that point of Order, Major Milner, may I ask whether this will rule out the opportunity for the Minister of Education, who has twice interrupted and referred to that Bill, to make the speech that we should like him to make?

The Chairman

We shall deal with that question when it arises.

Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)

Upon that point of Order, Major Milner, may I ask your guidance? I do not wish to put it in a positive sense, but surely we should not be compelled to assume that that means that there cannot be as much going back into previous history from this side of the Committee as there has already been from the other side. There have been one or two matters raised which, I would submit, have now become relevant to the Debate on the Amendment, however much they might have been questioned had it not been for the speeches made from the benches opposite.

Mr. Bracken

And interruptions by the Minister of Education.

4.15 p.m.

The Chairman

That, again, is a matter with which we can deal when it arises. I have endeavoured to allow both sides to go as far as I think it is desirable to go.

Mr. Thomas

I promise that I shall not disturb the dry bones of Tory misrule as far back as 1839.

What I have already said is merely a prelude to the pertinent point which arises in connection with the Amendment, and it is this. The Bill is related, in regard to compensation for mining subsidence, to the date on which the National Coal Board assumed the responsibility of our nationalised coal industry. I submit, and I think that I speak for this side in doing so, that it would be unjust to saddle the Coal Board with liabilities which should properly have been undertaken by the previous owners of the industry but which were absolutely ignored. I suggest, therefore, that the Amendment is totally irrelevant and unjust and should not be accepted, and I am sure that it will not be accepted.

Mr. Pickthorn

I apologise to the Committee for having arrived a few minutes late, and I am not quite certain whether we are debating the second Amendment—[Interruption.]. I am not quite certain, Major Milner, whether we are now debating the second as well as the first Amendment.

The Chairman indicated assent.

Mr. Pickthorn

It seems to me that the effects of either of these Amendments are not easy to follow at all. The thing is a little like subsidence itself—it is not so easy as might appear from first sight to say what will be the likely ultimate effect. I should have thought that, on the whole, the second was the better of the two Amendments, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not think that they are in some way bound by party or professional preconceptions to be sure that the second, anyway, is mistaken. I would suggest that it may perhaps be right.

I wonder whether possibly we may hope that now we have done the sort of ritual war dance that always appears to be necessary when mines are mentioned in this Chamber, we may really not go on much more from either side either with Tory neglect in the past or with the general wickedness of private enterprise, or even with moral comparisons between (a) mining workers, (b) mine owners and (c) the rest of God's creatures. I hope that possibly we may leave some of that out. But there is one point which, I think, is relevant strictly to the Amendments, and certainly is relevant to the arguments which have been put from the other side, and which I hope I may be allowed, therefore, to indicate very shortly.

I refer to the argument, why was this not done 50 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 10 years ago? I wish to indicate part of the answer shortly, because I do not want to go too wide of the actual Amendment; shortness will be easier for me if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) does not assist me. The short point in answer to that argument is that there are advantages and disadvantages in the socialisation of coal mining. It is not for us now to discuss which are the more important and, for the purposes of today's argument, I am quite ready to concede that socialisation, nationalisation, was absolutely inevitable and that on balance it does much more good than harm. However that may be, there are advantages and disadvantages in the method.

One of the advantages, I should have thought, was that there were remedies open to persons suffering from subsidence before at the common law and under con tract and so on. But there were various reasons why those remedies were frequently inapplicable, or inadequate, the most obvious perhaps being that in some cases, or in many cases, because of the form of contract entered into between the owners of the surface and of the workings underneath, the persons causing the damage and the persons suffering the damage were the same and therefore there was no necessity for compensation between the two and, as a result of that, it may be that houses were allowed to fall into decay——

Mr. Mainwaring (Rhondda, East)

On a point of Order. What in the world has this to do with the choice of words between the proposed Amendment and the words in the Bill?

The Chairman

I think I may say that the arguments have as much to do with the matter as some of the arguments which were put from the other side of the Committee. That is the difficulty into which the Committee get when they stray from the strict letter of the Amendment. I have allowed the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) to go so far, but I do not think it is really necessary, even in reply to what was said from the other side, to go into the matter in such detail and, if he would now deal with the point at issue, we could make some progress.

Mr. Pickthorn

I respectfully entirely agree with you, Major Milner, and very largely with the hon. Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Mainwaring). Detail is a matter not easily susceptible to exact evaluation, but as to length I do not think the time I have spent on this point has been longer than that which has been spent on it from the other side, I hope I have made plain that that argument ought not to be used against this Amendment and that is the strict relevance of what I have said.

Now, for good and for ill, and I am willing to admit overwhelmingly for good if that pleases hon. Members opposite, for the purposes of this argument, coal mining is entirely nationalised and, surely, the one thing that matters about houses in mining districts damaged by subsidence is that they should be mended. In the condition of shortage of houses that there is in England, those houses should not go unmended; and further where we fix the date is arbitrary and whether we say damage occurring or damage apparent done by that date is a matter we could argue forever because I do not think there is much real argument in it. I think it is a rather arbitrary thing and the over-riding consideration seems to me that within practical possibilities the Bill should so provide that the maximum number of houses is likely to be put and kept in repair.

I hope that seems a reasonable way to approach this Bill. I do not assert to the Committee that I have wholly understood what would be the exact effect of the first or the second of these Amendments, but I think that on the criterion I have just suggested to the Committee there would be more houses put and kept in repair, especially if the second one were accepted, than under the Bill as drafted. I therefore suggest that the onus of proof on anyone resisting this Amendment is to show that that is wrong, and that what I have just said is mistaken, and I would respectfully suggest at the same time, as I began my suggesting, that going back into our respective wickednesses in the past will not get us very much further on that essentially narrow point.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), who moved the Amendment, began by saying that the Bill in its present form would not be worth passing unless we accepted his proposed Amendments. On Second Reading he did not say that. He congratulated the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) on having got something improved. My hon. Friends who represent mining areas in this country, who are primarily concerned, think this is worth while and the House thought it worth while when they agreed to the Second Reading.

The hon. and learned Member raised two separate points. The first was the meaning of the word "occurred" and whether the language in the first Clause is consistent with the language in the second Clause and in the definition Clause, Clause 15, and whether the three together make sense; whether they are right or whether we ought to change them and meet his view to ensure that certain people will be given rights who under our present phraseology will be cut out. The hon. and learned Member's second point was—and of course it is the effect of the Amendment—that this should be made retrospective to the beginning of coal mining in this country and that any damage due to subsidence apparent on 1st January, 1947, should be repaired by the National Coal Board under the provisions of this Bill.

I shall deal with the two points separately. "Subsidence damage occurring"; we believe that is absolutely clear and absolutely consistent with the language in Clause 2 and with the language in Clause 15. I think that was the phrase the hon. and learned Member used. We have not spoken anywhere of when subsidence occurs; we have said, "when subsidence damage occurs," and, of course, the subsidence may have been at any time. On Second Reading I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) if damage which happened in his constituency as a result of water being let out of workings which had happened 40 years ago would be included under the Bill and the answer was yes, because the damage that happened was since 1st January, 1947. It does not matter at all when the workings were; what matters is when the damage occurs.

Is there any difference in the phrase in which "occurring" is used—in the Turner Report the phrase becomes "manifest"—or the hon. and learned Member's phrase "is first apparent"? We do not believe there is any difference. If a case is made on this we are perfectly ready to consider it and put in the language which will ensure the result we all want, namely, that people who suffer from damage which happens to their houses, which is first seen in their houses, and which can first be proved to have occurred in their houses on or after 1st January, 1947, shall receive repairs or compensation. That is what we want and we think it quite clear and we will take any words which make it absolutely clear if hon. Members opposite can satisfy us that there is something better than the words we have got. But we think, our language is all right and we must have a very strong argument before we, shall change it.

The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster), who supported the Amendment, said that subsidence was very capricious, but sometimes goes on not only over a period of months, but for a period of years. That is quite true. He said it might happen in a single street that some houses would get compensation under this Bill while others would not. That may happen with some of the retrospective claims. We go back to 1947. It will not happen with any future claims; they will be covered. With retrospective claims there may be some anomalies of this kind; there are bound to be anomalies in any piece of legislation which is passed. I do not apologise for the fact that there are some anomalies; I do not see how they can be avoided. I only say that I think those anomalies of which the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke will be extremely rare.

4.30 p.m.

The main question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and spoken to by my hon. Friends and by other hon. Members opposite, is whether this should be retrospective only to 1st January, 1947, or further back into history. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Hendon, South, said, as someone said this afternoon, that the establishment of the Coal Board had made it easier to deal with subsidence. The Turner Committee said it, and it is very true. Certainly it changed the attitude of the Opposition. I shall not say anything about that, because I have striven at all stages so far, and I shall to the end strive, to be as uncontroversial on this Bill as possible. I want this Bill to be in the best possible form.

Of course, the establishment of the National Coal Board has changed the problem, and it is therefore logical, prima facie, to take vesting date as the date back to which retrospective claims shall be allowed. The rights and obligations of the Coal Board begin on 1st January, 1947. If there is imposed upon them, as we are imposing, a heavy retrospective burden, it is surely right that that burden should begin with their responsibilities. As my hon. Friend said, it would be illogical to impose on them responsibility for what has not been done under existing law by their predecessors. In any case, in any legislation of this kind it is essential to have some date back to which it goes in order to limit the administrative burden. The Turner Committee thought it was right. That is why they said——

Sir P. Spens

I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to what the Turner Committee said. They said two things: (a) all subsidence damage which became manifest on or since the 1st January, 1947, whether such damage has since been repaired or not; and (b) all subsidence damage"— and this is what my Amendment goes to— which had become manifest before the 1st January, 1947"— and therefore was manifest on 1st January— provided that such damage was unrepaired on that date and was capable of repair at reasonable expense"— which is contained in a later Clause— so as to render the dwelling-house fit for occupation as such. There should be no mistake at all that the Government are refusing that subparagraph of those recommendations.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I shall deal with both sub-paragraphs of Paragraph 96 of the Turner Report. They said in sub-paragraph (a) that compensation limited to the cost of repair should be given for subsidence damage which had become manifest on or since 1st January, 1947. That is what we are doing in this Bill for small dwelling-houses.

Sir P. Spens

What about sub-paragraph (b)?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am coming to subparagraph (b) later. Now why did they propose that? Why did we think it right to go back as far as that? As I have said, the establishment of the Coal Board was one change. The establishment of the Turner Committee was also an important factor; it stimulated and sharpened the hopes of people whose houses were damaged by subsidence after that date; after the Committee was set up those people became conscious that the Government thought something ought to be done for them. As damage has happened since then, as the cost of repairs has fallen on them, they harboured some hope of relief, and there would be bitter disappointment if we did nothing for them. Therefore, as the Turner Committee want it, we propose to do it.

The Turner Committee also added subparagraph (b) which the hon. and learned Member has read out, but I would call particular attention to the proviso. Something is to be done for these people provided that such damage was unrepaired on that date, and provided that the house was capable of repair at reasonable expense so as to render the dwelling-house fit for occupation as such. We have not adopted that. Why? It would be infinitely difficult to administer; it would cut out most of the claimants, especially those with a really good case; all houses which had been so damaged by subsidence as to be past hope of repair at any reasonable cost would be cut out. Of course, that would be very contentious, but the Coal Board would go to the courts on many cases if it had to, and very often it would win. In any case, a very large number of cases would be cut out.

Secondly, everything on which repairs had been done would get nothing. Now what is the result of that? It is that an owner-occupier who has repaired his own house at his own expense gets nothing, while a bad landlord who has done no repairs but left the people living in slums would get paid. Is that equitable? Nobody, I think, would suggest that that ought to be adopted. I do not know how the Turner Committee came to draw up that recommendation. Perhaps the hon. Member for Hendon, South will tell us. Anyway, it is quite inequitable and we could not accept it. If we did anything beyond 1st January, 1947, we should have to take in all the claims, which is indeed what the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South proposes to do. He has not proposed the recommendation of the Turner Report. He proposes to go far beyond it and to include all claims going right back into history for all classes of property.

Sir P. Spens


Mr. Noel-Baker

Well, within the scope of the Bill——

Mr. Bracken

All dwelling-houses.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think that is open to grave, and indeed fatal, objections. First, there is the administrative difficulty of which I have already spoken. To go back into history, even to add a few years, however strong the case for doing so might be, would add a multitude of claims, and in every case we should have to check the validity of those claims to find: Was the damage really due to subsidence? How much of the damage or of the dilapidation was due to subsidence or to other natural causes? What was the condition of the house before the subsidence damage appeared? What was the date of the damage? All those things would be extremely difficult to determine, as the hon. and learned Member knows, and——

Mr. Bracken

Is there a limit to justice?

Mr. Noel-Baker

—however much one goes back, it becomes harder to do. The experience of the War Damage Commission ought surely to teach us that. If we did that it might well be that the machinery of the Coal Board would be so over-strained that the chance of dealing with claims since 1947 would be compromised. Indeed, I think it would probably prove to be impossible to weed out the claims put forward by people whose houses were dilapidated not as a result of subsidence at all, and many of those people would probably succeed in getting compensation which this House never intended that they should have.

The other objection is financial. If we reject the proposal of the Turner Committee, as does the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, if we include all small houses damaged, it would add, ex hypothesi, another £500,000 a year to the burden. If we go back into history, what will that become? If we go back only 10 years it adds £5 million. Is anybody suggesting that that burden shall be put upon the Coal Board? My hon. Friends have given the answer. Is anybody suggesting that it shall be put upon the National Exchequer? Surely not hon. Members opposite, after what they said yesterday. In the light of the speeches we have had I think that cannot be upheld from the benches opposite.

The right date for the retrospective operation of our Bill is 1st January, 1947, and we propose to stick to it. It gives a generous measure of retrospective claims. To make it later would disappoint many legitimate hopes: to make it earlier would add to the administrative and the financial burdens of the Coal Board in a way not to be endured.

Mr. Bracken

I have rarely heard a more disappointing or disingenuous speech in this House.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham)

The right hon. Gentleman says that every time.

Mr. Bracken

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me a testimonial for consistent truthfulness. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman was in his youth a champion sprinter: in his old age he has become an artful dodger. He has told us in effect that justice must be rationed by the Ministry, that anything that occurred before a certain date must be obliterated. He told us about the terribly difficult situation of the Treasury. Well, we have been making a few suggestions to the Government about economy which have not been well regarded. I really think that hon. Gentlemen opposite who are connected with the mining industry ought really to deal with the Minister for his statement that there was not enough money in the public till to meet the comparatively trivial amount required by the terms of this Amendment. The Minister is prepared to waste £30 million to £35 million on this mad monkey-nut experiment in Africa, but he will not do justice——

The Chairman

Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that what he is saying is far from the subject before the Committee.

Mr. Bracken

I was speaking about folly——

The Chairman

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate presumably that that is not the subject of the Amendment.

Mr. Bracken

Certainly the content of the Bill is. The Minister said, so far as one could follow his natural confusion of thought—because he voted for the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Education previously—that he might be willing to consult with the hon. Gentlemen on this side of the Committee to find a better form of words on the understanding that we do not vote on the Amendment. We are very reasonable people and are quite willing to consult with the Minister—Did the Lord President of the Council wish to say something?,

Mr. Noel-Baker

Might I make it clear that I cannot agree to any change of words which would make the Clause retrospective beyond 1st January. 1947.

Mr. Bracken

The Minister is a peculiar type of grammarian. He has made an offer to consult with my hon. and learned Friend to find a form of words—[An HON. MEMBER: "No, he did not."]—it will be in HANSARD tomorrow——

Mr. Noel-Baker

If there is any obscurity about the word "occurring" meaning "becomes manifest" or "becomes apparent" we will consult about that, in order to ensure that damage which happens after 1st January, 1947, will be covered. I am quite sure that the hon. and learned Member understands that, even if the right hon. Gentleman does not.

Mr. Bracken

The Minister is becoming a little perky. He is not now dealing with Seretse Khama.

I wish to revert to the right hon. Gentleman's offer, which was to consult with us—and we are more than willing to consult with him. He says that consultation must be based on a common understanding that the Minister's language in the Bill is obscure. Of course it is, more obscure than the thickest of London fogs. The Minister will have an adequate opportunity of meeting my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), who is quite capable of giving the Minister some tuition in clarity of expression. On that understanding we shall not vote on this Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not."] If hon. Gentlemen want to occupy the whole afternoon with parrot-like interruptions, I am at their service.

I wish to let the Minister into a certain amount of inside history. This Amendment is taken almost word for word from the Private Member's Bill which was introduced by the present Minister of Education in 1939. I have studied the right hon. Gentleman's speech with the greatest interest. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South, made a speech commending this Amendment, which was marked, as one would expect, by both learning and moderation. My hon. and learned Friend has his place in history. He was the last Chief Justice of India, and the only good thing I know about what has happened to India is that he is now happily restored to this House. Out of his great experience he has given wise counsel to the Minister. He reminded him of something about which the right hon. Gentleman did not know before. But one must forgive the right hon. Gentleman. No footballer has ever been transferred more rapidly than he has. He is now in a new Department and does not understand this question of subsidence. My hon. and learned Friend does.

4.45 p.m.

This Amendment is perhaps the most important in the Bill. It is quite impossible for us to accept the Minister's dogmatic view of subsidence. It is not a question of something that occurred 40 years ago; it might occur within six months of the sinking of mine shafts. I hope that the Minister will recognise that it is necessary for him to consider the lot of working men who put their money in houses and now see the foundations cracking through subsidence, and all kinds of other disabilities coming their way because of the mysteries of subsidence.

I am hoping for help from hon. Members opposite in putting the Government right about the virtues of this Amendment. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who was an extremely good Secretary for Mines, made a few interruptions. I was hoping that he would make a speech. He thoroughly understands this question, and I hope we shall hear from him. I should have thought that he would be rather inclined to support this Amendment, more especially as we are not taking it to a Division, because for many years now—does the Lord President wish to interrupt? I am not asking for your protection, Major Milner, against the mutterings of the Lord President of the Council, but I can tell him that the hon. Member for Gower is a much more respected Member of his party than he is. However, we must not get away from the point.

I think that we on this side of the Committee are entitled to say that this is an utterly inadequate Bill, that it is mean.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. John Wheatley)

We are not dealing with the Bill as a whole now.

Mr. Bracken

We are dealing with the principle of it. By this Amendment we hope to put a certain amount of sense into our proceedings. We are trying, through this Amendment, to remedy a mean and miserable piece of legislation. I repeat that we shall not go into the Lobby, so in accepting the Minister's invitation one can make an appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I hope that they will not go on allowing their lips to be sealed by the Patronage Secretary. Mining Members really must understand that this matter affects tens of thousands of their constituents, and that this Amendment will bring hope and justice to many homes in this country. That being the case hon. Gentlemen opposite will surely support it. It is a most extraordinary development in Parliament that Members who in the past have expressed the strongest possible support for the principle contained in this Amendment are now mute because they are afraid of being court-martialled upstairs. I hope that their constituents will do them the justice they deserve.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Whiteley) rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but it appeared to the CHAIRMAN that that Motion was unnecessary.

Amendment negatived.

The Chairman (Major Milner)

The next Amendment I call is in page 1, line 14.

Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

On a point of order. Is it not your intention Sir to call the third Amendment on the Order Paper which is in page 1, line 8, to leave out "January, nineteen hundred and forty-seven," and insert "June, nineteen hundred and forty-one"? Although it was to be answered by the Minister it has not been called.

The Chairman

It seemed to me that that matter had been quite fully discussed in the Debate we have just had. The Committee discussed at some length the question of the date, and it seems to me, therefore, that it is quite proper to pass on to the Amendment to page 1, line 14.

Sir P. Spens

Before we pass on, as you have not actually put the second Amendment Major Milner, may I say that in view of that semi-offer——

Hon. Members


The Chairman

Order. We cannot go back. It was agreed that the second Amendment should be discussed with the first. In my opinion, it is consequential on the first, and we have therefore disposed of it.

Mr. Bracken

Surely we cannot do much about the third Amendment until it is put to the Committee.

The Chairman

The right hon. Gentle man will appreciate that it lies entirely with the Chair whether or not an Amendment is put. Having regard to the con siderations I had in mind, I do not propose to select it. The next Amendment I select——

Mr. Pickthorn

I wish to put this to you, Sir. I fully understand that you are under no obligation whatever to explain your reason for calling or for not calling an Amendment. But you did indicate that the reason for not calling one Amendment was that the question of the date had been discussed at an earlier stage. I would ask you whether it was present to your mind that the Government case was that the Amendment then under discussion would not at all affect the meaning of the Clause. That was their case, and, that being so, the Amendment was not an Amendment for shifting the date.

The Chairman

All the circumstances have, of course, been present to my mind.

Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

With respect, Sir, may I ask if it is your intention to call the Amendment to page 1, line 18? If so I would suggest that these might be taken together.

The Chairman

I am obliged to the hon. Member. The Amendment to page 1, line 14, and the Amendment to page 1, line 18, to leave out from "dwelling" to "and," on page 2, line 3, may be taken together.

Mr. Redmayne

I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, to leave out from "dwelling," to the end of line 15.

It is necessary that I should go over some old ground just to create a framework, and I would remind the Committee of the words with which the Minister presented the Bill on Second Reading. He said it was intended to include all small dwellings used wholly or mainly as dwellings, whether they are houses, flats, maisonettes, tenements, or parts of larger buildings. For the reason that these Amendments are moved, those buildings are, in my opinion, not so included.

Those who framed the Bill have quite obviously been content to interpret the phrase "mining areas" in its narrowest sense. Indeed, the Minister used that phrase again just now, and it was quite obvious from the way he used it that it was relating strictly to those coal mining areas where coal mining is the major partner in industry, and the main feature of the landscape to which he was referring. In those areas the rateable values are undoubtedly low and probably 99 per cent. of the dwelling-houses are covered. There is no doubt that this threat of subsidence extends far beyond the sight of the pit head or the sight of the smoke, and as a result it does affect areas which, because of their better amenities, are in fact of higher rateable values on the average. There the Bill fails in its object in not including those areas.

To take one area with which I am familiar, the City of Nottingham, I am informed that the Bill achieves a 95 per cent. efficiency in areas likely to be affected by subsidence. We may say that 95 per cent. is sufficient, but at the same time we must realise that the reason it is as high as 95 per cent. is due largely to the fact that the property is terraced property. One could also use the argument that the 5 per cent. left out might in all justice be included; and the cost certainly would not be large.

The district south of the Trent could hardly be called a mining area in the Minister's definition. South of the Trent, the urban district of West Bridgford, is a large residential area in which 75 per cent. of the dwelling-houses which have been or will be liable to subsidence are in fact covered by the £32 rateable value limit in the Bill. Only 75 per cent. are covered, but I am assured that of the remaining dwelling houses in that area, four-fifths are essentially of the character which should be covered and which I am sure it is the intention of the Minister to cover.

I cannot believe, for example, that he has any reason to leave out of the Bill the sort of House, costing £800 or £1,000, built and paid for by mortgage before the war, with three or four bedrooms and lived in by precisely the same people who live in the houses with the £32 rateable value mark. In this district of good rateable value these houses are outside the Bill. If all the houses in that area were included it is quite certain the Minister would not be favouring any district he would not wish to favour. It would avoid an unnecessary anomaly and ensure that in this Bill we have commonsense.

I would refer to one other class, the small shop properties which are dealt with in the "wholly or mainly" class. Those properties may be occupied dwellings and are in the main hereditaments which may be rated as a whole up to as high as £75 a year. Quite obviously only a small proportion of them, the type of combined shop property, will be included in this Bill, with very grave injustice to the rest. But anomalies do arise at all figures, and some are obvious. It does not matter what limit of rateable value we chose in these areas; the character of the dwelling does not change and the owner does not change. If we make a limit we shall penalise an owner or tenant in regard to some small ambition which he has been able to put into effect, such as the erection of a garage or a 10 per cent. addition to the structure. I wish to stress that this takes place in each type of property and is taking place constantly today when these additions are difficult. When conditions become easier it will constantly create anomalies if the £32 limit is maintained.

5.0 p.m.

A far greater anomaly arises in the case of flats. They are covered by the second of these Amendments. I can quote a fair sample of 20 houses in a suburban area all rated outside the Bill which have recently been reassessed on conversion into flats. Six of these 20 have been let in parts, and each of those parts is under £32 rateable value. Therefore, those six houses qualify. Of the other 14 houses of which 33 flats have been created, 18 flats are under £32, six are under £40 and nine are over £40. Yet, of course, it must be patently obvious that the same sort of people live in all the flats in these houses.

Taken house by house, the anomalies are even more marked. In one of the converted houses all the flats are over £32 rateable value. In four houses out of the 14, all the flats are over £32, but one flat in each house is over £40, and in four other houses one flat in each house is over £32. Houses of this type are familiar to every hon. Member. They are fairly large Victorian villas and, in the normal course of valuation on con- version, the ground floor is rated higher than the other floors. In some cases, the first floor is rated higher than the floors above. Therefore, we have a situation in which the top floor is repairable for Mr. Smith, and the second floor is repairable for Mr. Brown, but the ground floor flat is "nobody's baby" except in so far as it supports the other two.

As I see it, the first requirement of legislation is that it should make sense, and I am sure that the Minister will agree that in this respect the Bill does not make sense in any way. Another point is that for as long as rent restriction must continue, a landlord of rent restricted property considering this Bill would feel that he should look for protection up to the rent restriction limit of £75 rateable value. Repairs for subsidence are——

The Chairman

I am not altogether clear on this matter. It appears to me that, in any event, the hon. Gentleman is discussing Amendments to line 14 and line 15 together. If so, they appear to be alternatives and I have no objection, but it must be clearly understood what we are doing. The hon. Gentleman is now talking about rent restriction and rent limits. Clearly that is a matter for the Amendment in line 15.

Mr. Redmayne

I am sorry if I was not clear. I have passed to the second Amendment. I thought that I had your permission Sir to deal with that. They are both on the argument that we should discard these limits altogether, both for houses and flats. Therefore, the argument has got somewhat involved. The sole point I wish to make about rent restriction is that the cost of repairs for subsidence damage will be chargeable as costs of repair and not of improvement. Therefore, with the present state of rents under rent restriction it will be impossible for landlords to do the work out of rents. That, in itself, is a strong argument for removing any rent limit from the Bill.

My last point is that the Minister himself has allowed for what I would call a mechanical variation to meet changes in rating valuation under the new procedure. I suggest that he does so in order that the classes he wants to keep in the Bill will be constant; but he cannot be sure that they will remain constant. This, again, is an argument for no limit. In many areas at present houses are low rated because of subsidence risks. In those areas when the houses are covered the rateable values will tend to rise. In other areas where the houses are not covered, there will be claims that the rateable value should come down.

Therefore, the Minister's standards of valuation—his classes of protection—are not permanent. I have put forward four arguments: that the Bill fails to achieve the Minister's intention as to the dwellings which should be covered; that it creates continual anomalies, especially in the case of flats; that it wrongly excludes landlords of a great deal of rent restricted property; and, finally, that by its own restriction it creates anomalies for the future.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I support this Amendment on two main grounds. The first is that this Clause is even more retrogressive than most of the Bill. The Blanesborough Report issued in 1937, which is the basis of the 1939 Act, recommended a higher level of rating valuation than is recommended now. That Report was made 23 years ago. Since then the value of house property has increased probably threefold, and yet today we are recommending a lower level than was recommended then. That is retrogressive, and I shall be interested to see what arguments are advanced to say that it is not.

Anything that we could do to simplify this Bill would be useful. It is highly complicated. It will give enormous scope for argument and for the fees of lawyers and solicitors who will have to interpret it. Any simplification would be to the good. If we simply said "dwelling houses" without trying to narrow the definition to certain classes of dwelling houses, that would help considerably. I do not think that a great many other houses would be included. It would not widen the scope very much.

I deprecate the proviso that though we are agreeing to this class, the Minister by Order, with the usual disadvantages that appertain to Orders, may alter what we accept today. I will not detail all the objections to doing things by Order. I only suggest that the Minister, and particularly his Parliamentary Secretary, know them well enough by now from the experience they have had in getting Orders through the House. There are a great many objections. A lot of time must be spent upon them. They cannot be amended. It is a thoroughly unsatisfactory method of legislation.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I think that there is some substance in the Amendment which was moved in a most able way by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne). I ask the Minister to reconsider this Clause. It is true that there are better types of houses assessed at a higher rateable value than those which we used to say were "built in the pit yard." In the past it was the custom to build houses as near to the pit bank as possible. In recent years a better vision of life has descended upon the mining villages and now they build houses further away from the pits, provided there are transport facilities. Naturally, the assessment of those houses is higher.

I ask the Minister to consider, between now and the Report stage, whether he cannot agree to a higher assessment for that type of dwelling. We all know that these houses in mining districts, particularly if they are villas or of the semi-detached type, are at a considerable distance from the pithead on the "dip" side and are, therefore, less liable to subsidence than those built round about the pit, because the further one goes from the pithead on the "dip" side, the deeper the workings go and there is thus not the same liability to subsidence. I therefore ask the Minister to give consideration to the Amendment, and see if he cannot agree to a much higher figure.

Mr. Higgs (Bromsgrove)

The purpose of the two Amendments now before the Committee is to remove the limit of rateable value, firstly, from buildings which are purely and simply used as dwelling houses, and, secondly, from buildings which are either entirely or mainly used as dwelling houses, but are sub-divided into a number of flats. The Amendments seek to add quite a substantial class of buildings to the benefits provided by this Bill, and these are buildings which were not within the scope of the Bill as drafted.

One must take the practical view of looking, first of all, to see what it is in the way of liability that we are thrusting upon the National Coal Board if we adopt these Amendments. We are all agreed that when this Bill finally comes to be operated we all want it to work, because we all hope at one time or another to add other classes of property to the benefits which it will provide. It is important to remember that this Bill provides a remedy which will not be used over the greater part of the country. The remedy of this Bill will not be attractive to the owner of a house or a block of flats in a part of the country where mining has never been contemplated in the past, because such an owner will also have, in addition to the rights which this Bill will give him, a very much greater right which he has under the common law to claim full damages, not merely in respect of the structure of his property, but also for damage to his furniture, for personal injury, inconvenience and removal. The rights which he has under the common law will therefore be far more attractive to him than anything this Bill provides.

Secondly, it is important to remember that at least in a great part of the areas which we now know as mining areas—and I know some of them quite well—the mines have already been worked out and subsidence has finished.

The Chairman

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is now going very much wider than the Amendment which is before the Committee. The question seems to be one of a particular amount of rateable value on dwelling-houses affected by the Bill, and not the wider question which the hon. Gentleman is now raising.

Mr. Higgs

I was endeavouring to show that if we add to the benefits of the Bill dwelling-houses over £32 in rateable value, which is the effect of the Amendments, we are not adding so much as may be thought, because we are only dealing with dwellings in certain very limited areas in the country. I hope I have said enough on the subject for the Committee to appreciate that we are only looking at a very narrow class of dwellings in a limited area of the country.

5.15 p.m.

May I now turn to another aspect of the same question, which I hope is well within the scope of the Amendments? I have taken quite at random two or three local authorities in order to ascertain how many of their houses are below the rate- able value figure that we are now discussing and how many are above it. The first one I look at is a borough which has 10,775 houses. There is some mining and a good deal of industry, and it is also, on its other side, a market town. Almost exactly 10,000 of these houses are under the £32 rateable value, and only about 700 of them are over that figure, so that these Amendments, in that particular town, relate to about 700 out of nearly 11,000 houses.

In the next case, which is that of a large industrial urban district, the whole of whose area is undermined, there are 13,072 houses, and only 32 are over a rateable value of £30. I could not get the figures for the £32 level. That means something like.3 per cent. In that case, all that we are asking the Government to do is to remove a limit which now excludes only.3 per cent. of the houses. In a country market town which I chose in order to show that the figures do not vary very much, no mining is expected at the moment, although we never know what the Ministry will do next. In this case, only 4.7 per cent. of the houses are over a rateable value of £30, so that I hope that, in considering our arguments on these Amendments, the Minister will bear in mind that what we are asking him to do will not put a very heavy burden on the National Coal Board.

It is worth while commenting in passing that those who in the past, rightly or wrongly, built these houses in mining areas usually had the sense to see that there were mine workings under them, so that not very many will be attracted to the benefits under this Bill. That is the burden which we are asking the Coal Board to assume. What is the benefit that will flow if the Amendments are adopted? As a practical man who may be concerned in the administration of this Bill when it becomes law, I shudder from the thought of some of the cases with which we shall have to deal, because they are on the border line one way or another.

I mentioned on Second Reading that a house can come in and go out of the Bill simply as a few rooms in it are let as separate dwellings and as it later becomes one dwelling again. The rent may be perhaps £40 or £50, but it does not matter, if the rateable value is above the limit. If the house is subdivided for a few weeks and a second family moves in, and the walls then collapse, compensation is payable, but if the collapse takes place after the second family have left and the house has reverted to one dwelling, it is outside the scope of the Bill.

I was told during the Second Reading Debate that this is the time to mention these matters, and I wish to refer to a pair of semi-detached houses, which are identical, except that one has a garage. The house with the garage is rated at £33, and the one without at £31. The house without a garage is protected by the Bill, but the one with it is not. We shall have the spectacle of landlords, among whom I must include the most important of all, the local housing authorities, being compelled to impose upon their tenants restrictions as to what they shall or shall not do. We shall have the building societies and others who lend money upon mortgage, as well as the local authorities, who come in under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts, placing irritating restrictions upon borrowers, unless by some perfectly innocent means they can take the house out of the scope of the Bill. Anyone who has experience of the operation of rent restriction well knows how one can multiply the examples of people who will be in and out of the Bill, like ducks in and out of water, for a long time.

I must turn for a moment to the second Amendment which deals with the subdivided building. There, I support what was said by my hon. Friend in moving the Amendment. I wonder whether the Minister has considered the case of the house where, because one of the sections into which it is divided—either as one shop and two flats, or one rather expensive flat and two less expensive flats—is highly rated, it puts up the average for whole building so that when one divides the whole building by the number of flats one gets an average of £33 although four out of five flats in the building are under £22. Such anomalies irritate, annoy and aggravate people. In a Bill which seeks to deal with only one class of property, we are bound to have some sort of limit, some marginal cases, but these two Amendments seek to reduce the number of marginal cases and the irri- tation which must follow without, we hope, imposing any very severe burden on the shoulders of the National Coal Board.

Mr. Noel-Baker

With regard to the last point made by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) about flats of different rateable value in the same building, I will look at it and consider it when I see it in HANSARD tomorrow. He argued earlier in his speech that we should do well to accept this Amendment, to change the whole basis of the Bill, and to include all dwellings, because, as he said, that might be a very small burden in practice as there are very few large dwellings in mining areas. He gave some figures, and I shall give some more in a moment. He said that those who built large houses in mining areas always took the precaution of keeping support, and that, therefore, if we brought in all dwellings we should be adding only a very slight addition to the burden of the National Coal Board.

When preparing the Bill, I considered that matter with my Parliamentary Secretary and with my other colleagues, and we consulted the National Coal Board about it. We came to the conclusion that as these houses nearly always have support, there was no hardship, and also that as the thing was unknown it was impossible to make a safe estimate and it might add a big burden. We thought that if we were dealing with mansions we should deal with them in a subsequent Bill. The same argument applies to houses, which come under the Rent Restriction Acts. Under those Acts protection is given to those who have houses in the provinces of a rateable value not exceeding £75. Those Acts were designed to protect houses which were in popular demand, that is broadly speaking, small houses. In many of the mining areas, a dwelling rated at £75 would be a mansion, and I think it would be covered by what I said before.

The purpose of this Bill is to include the small dwelling-houses. We accept the argument of the Royal Commission of 1927 on this point, that those who buy houses without knowing what is in the title deeds are usually working people who have to live near their work, and that the people who can afford larger houses probably know about the title deeds, are able to live further away, and are, therefore, able to look after themselves much better. It is with the small dwelling-houses that the real hardship arises, and it is with those that we propose to deal in this Bill.

The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) argued, I thought, that we were doing worse than the Royal Commission of 1927 because our figure was £32, and they said £40. As a matter of fact, the Royal Commission said £40 annual value, but from annual value there may be deductions up to 40 per cent. before one arrives at the rateable value. I am advised that, in fact, £40 annual value is equivalent to a rateable value of £30, and, therefore, we are doing better than the Royal Commission suggested.

Colonel Clarke

I also added that since 1927 the value of house property had gone up, I think I said, threefold, and I do not think I was far wrong.

Mr. Noel-Baker

What we have to look at is the class of property which is included up to a rateable value of £32 per annum. We think that includes small dwellings. There will be very few which will be outside that figure. We have had consultations with many people, with the associations of the local authorities and with the National Property Owners' Association. We have asked them to give us examples of small dwelling-houses in subsidence areas which could properly be called small, and which are rated at more than £32 per annum.

Mr. Redmayne

Does not the Minister accept my figure of 25 per cent. in one particular large suburban area, which represents exactly the type of house he is trying to cover?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am coming to that in a moment. I am now calling in evidence the fact that the associations of the local authorities and the National Property Owners' Association, who were asked to advise us about small dwelling-houses of more than £32 rateable value, had, up to day or two ago, not given us any examples at all. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne) has given us evidence about small dwelling-houses, and when I get HANSARD tomorrow morning I shall study what he has said. The flats he mentioned should, of course, only be included in the Bill if they rank as small dwellings, and if they are in areas which are liable to sub- sidence. If they fulfil those conditions, then I will certainly consider the point.

I may say that the two hon. Members who spoke on this matter during Second Reading were the hon. Member for Rushcliffe and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver). I had inquiries made about the Rushcliffe Parliamentary Division, and those who helped me could give me no examples of small dwelling-houses of over £32 rateable value. I will consider what the hon. Gentleman is now saying, but that was the result of my inquiries. With regard to Ilkeston, I found that there were 8,844 houses, of which 8,764 were rated at £32 or less. In other words, there were only 80 which were rated at over £32, and, therefore, ex hypothesi, I think they must be large houses.

Mr. Oliver (Ilkeston)

Would my right hon. Friend say whether that was the Borough or the Division of Ilkeston?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I understand that it was the Parliamentary Division. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman) has also given me the example of his constituency in which there are 14,000 houses, only 90 of them being rated at over £32 a year. In the light of those figures, I do not think it very likely that we are excluding small dwellings. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) asked me to consider this matter again. I will certainly do so, and if I obtain evidence which leads me to think that we ought to change the figure, I will make the proposal to the House.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest, and I have come to the conclusion that it is about one of the most stupid to which I have ever listened. It is quite clear that if we damage a man's property, he ought to be entitled to compensation. The Minister's argument is that if the property is rather large, the owner is not entitled to compensation, and that, anyhow, as there are not many of them it does not matter. But if there are not many of them it will not cost much, and therefore the risk to the National Coal Board would not be very much. I understand that the proposition is that if the house is over a certain size the owner will receive no compensation. Is that the doctrine?

Mr. Noel-Baker

The hon. Gentleman's point was put in a much more reasonable and rational manner by one of his hon. Friends, and I answered it.

5.30 p.m.

Sir H. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman may have answered it, but he is going to have it again. Is he then thinking of bringing in a Bill to provide that if a motor car runs over a man and that man is earning over a £1,000 a year, he is to have no compensation? What is the difference? One person owns a house of less than a certain value and he is entitled to compensation. The other person who owns a house over that value is entitled to none. This is the grossest injustice. It is a means test again. If a man has means and the value of his house is more than £32 a year, he gets nothing; if it is less, he gets something. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman getting excited at my saying that this kind of thing is unjustifiable.

What is the use of talking about statistics? Is that any reason why people should be treated with injustice? If somebody does me damage then I am entitled to be compensated whether I am a millionaire or a man out of a job. I cannot understand this totally unjust attitude of mind. In effect, it is saying that if one is a Member of Parliament one is entitled to compensation, but if one is a Parliamentary Secretary one gets nothing. The Prime Minister, whose gross salary is over a quarter of a million pounds, is to get nothing because he is above the limit both at 10 Downing Street and at Chequers. [An HON. MEMBER: "He pays no rent."] When he loses his job he loses his house at the same time. On what grounds do the Government justify the differentiation between people who live in houses just over or just under £32? It is quite monstrous that this thing should be defended by the intolerable argument used by the Minister.

Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)

Until the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) took part in the Debate, hon. Members opposite were winning a great deal of sympathy on this side of the House for the case put so reasonably by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne). But the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, East means that as a Committee we had better look at this a little more carefully.

We are not pretending that today is Judgment Day, that today, in this Committee, we are giving absolute justice and putting right all the grievances and injustices of past, present and future. I should say that there is general agreement in this Committee that in more favourable circumstances, both in terms of Parliamentary majorities and the financial situation of the country, we would have preferred to have the whole Turner Report. We should have preferred to cover houses of no matter what size, whether palaces, mansions, moderate mansions or cottages. We would then have been dealing with damage done to every kind of surface property—damaged farms, damaged lands, hospitals, schools, chapels and all the rest. But we cannot listen quietly to the strictures and criticisms that have been made so crudely by the hon. Member for Croydon, East. These at once rouse in our minds other considerations.

When I went to my constituency the other week, immediately following the Second Reading of this Bill, I was met by a miner of well over 60 years of age. He shook me by the hand and he said, "Well, it is too late to do me any good but, thank God for other people." He was an old miner living in the village of Norton Canes whose house had been damaged before the date covered in this Bill. I comforted him a bit by reminding him that he would be helped with regard to damage which had occurred since January, 1947.

We decided on Second Reading and when passing the Financial Resolution that the Coal Board at this time has not only to meet burdens placed upon it by this Bill. It has to meet other urgent claims. I wonder if the hon. Member for Croydon, East, when he put his case in the way he did, gave even a backward glance to the people to whom great wrongs were done in the past. I wonder whether he considered that the Coal Board has to meet claims of men who are paid as little as a £5 minimum at the pit surface.

I have to decide where the most urgent needs lie and where the gravest injustices, past and present, have been done. I am not going to be responsible in this Committee for placing additional burdens on the Coal Board that would make it more difficult for them to meet the present wage claims that they are preparing to settle with the unions. I see your eye upon me, Major Milner, and I know I am going a little bit wide.

I want to make clear that I am not unsympathetic to the case put by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe. I should be very glad indeed if the Minister could look at the points he made and see whether adjustments can be made in borderline cases. But, if members of the Committee speak in the way that the hon. Member for Croydon, East has spoken, it at once reminds me of harsher injustices in my own constituency. He reminds me of little chapels and modest Community centres and much else that mean a great deal to us.

We are not implementing the Turner Report. There are all kinds of problems that will be settled in the future. For the moment we do not pretend to do more than rough justice. [An HON. MEMBER: "Very rough."] It is very rough in the villages where people have no clubs and have lost chapels which had been built for poor folks penny by penny and brick by brick. Our people who are the worst victims of damage by coal subsidence keep in mind those other claims on the Coal Board, particularly for wages that buy their daily bread. I hope hon. Members opposite will also not forget those things and will speak in the reasonable terms of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe. If they press their claims too far, they will alienate the sympathy of this side of the Committee.

Mr. Bracken

I must say it is interesting to us who sit on this side of the House and to those who sit on the other side to hear from the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) that her judgment is swayed when she has any conversations with or is forced to hear speeches by people who use immoderate language. She hates apparently violent language and she, like me, despises people who talk about "vermin." [interruption.] I thought the hon. Gentleman wanted to get on with the business, because we are going to express our opinion on this Bill even though many mining Members are silent or absentees. The arguments of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe struck me as so reasonable that I cannot understand why they are not accepted by the Minister. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) brought forward other weighty reasons for accepting the Amendment and, as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has said it is an Amendment on which both sides of the House can agree.

Mr. T. Brown

I said there was some substance in it.

Mr. Bracken

I agree there is substance in it, but it may well be that there is something wrong with the formal language. I apologise for the language we are using. We took it very largely from a Bill which the Minister of Education brought before the House and there may well be something wrong with it. We are reasonable people on this side of the House and if the Minister will listen to what was said to him by the hon. Member for Ince—and I hope I did him no harm by supporting him—then we can find an alternative and acceptable form of words.

Perhaps I was a little sharp with the hon. Member for Cannock, but she rebuked my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and I am supposed to stand up for my hon. Friends. The hon. Lady, who made an appeal to us, would probably agree that if we could find a form of words which would better express our ideas, and if the Minister would accept them, then on the whole that would be an advantage, because we are faced with a very serious problem.

I am sorry that this Bill is being dealt with in such a strange way. We are now dealing with a very technical problem—something which affects the whole life of the mining community. This Amendment is a real effort on our part to try to deal with some of the grievances. No Opposition have ever worked harder on Amendments than we have worked on these. Believe it or not, we spent hours wading through the speeches of the Minister of Education and all the other speeches made in favour of the Bill introduced in 1939. What do we get as a result of our valiant endeavours? The Minister simply says, "Well, I will consider it, and I will read HANSARD tomorrow." That is not very satisfactory.

In point of fact, I cannot convince the Minister because I do not think he has studied adequately the Report of the Turner Committee, but in order to give him an opportunity of understanding the position I will make way—if you call him, Major Milner—for my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who was a member of the Committee and who can give the Minister the instruction which he obviously requires.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for his introduction. In view of the Minister's statement that he would reconsider this matter, I should like first of all to remind him that it was a unanimous decision of the Turner Committee that there should be no line drawn in this question of compensation. On an earlier Amendment the Minister asked me whether I could give the Committee's reasons for making a certain recommendation and perhaps I may say here that it would, of course, be improper for me to disclose the internal arguments of that Committee. All I can do is to look at the recommendations as they appear on the face of the Report.

We ask the Minister—what would be the cost of giving compensation in respect of all dwelling houses? I know that no accurate estimate can be made, but then no accurate estimate can be made about this compensation at all. I believe it is clear that the extra cost involved in removing the £32 limit altogether and including all dwelling houses would be infinitesimally small. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne) quoted examples of the numbers of houses involved.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

On a point of order. Is not this discussion outside the scope of the Amendment? If we are to go into the whole question of allowing compensation on dwelling houses we can go very wide. Surely the discussion should be limited to the Amendment.

The Chairman

I am afraid that is the main point of the first Amendment.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

As I understand it, that is the first Amendment. I do not want to be offensive to hon. Members opposite, but it is difficult to avoid it when I am interrupted on a point of that kind. I was asking what would be the cost of acceding to this Amendment and giving compensation in respect of all dwelling houses. Specific instances have been given, I think taken completely at random, to show that in particular areas the number of dwelling houses excluded by the £32 limit is very small. Indeed, that is the right hon. Gentleman's own case. He has said that the Bill covers the vast majority of houses in the mining areas. It is also true, of course, that, in the case of dwelling houses of a more expensive kind, very often more money was spent in putting in special foundations and in work of that nature. I believe it would be found that the additional cost would be quite trivial.

May I draw the Minister's attention to this aspect? There is a very considerable factor on the other side. If we are to draw a line, then we have to introduce all the administrative refinements which are put into this Bill in order to make that line effective. Quite clearly there would be a number of cases which are, to say the least, doubtful and where it may be that the nature of the building has been altered—a garage has been built or something else has occurred which raises doubts, quite genuine doubts; and disputes between the parties involved must necessarily lead to litigation, possibly to ex gratia payments and so on.

Would it not possibly be cheaper in the long run to have no limit? We might be adding a few thousand pounds. I do not think it would be more than £7,000 or £10,000 for the country in the year and that money would return not only in the tangible form of the avoidance of administrative expenses, of litigation expenses, but also in the intangible form of added goodwill, which is a very important factor in this connection.

The right hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable approach to this subject and I do not think he has closed his mind upon it. I ask him to bear in mind the small amount of the expense which he is seeking to save—and I think economy is the only reason he has given for his insistence on the inclusion of the words in the Bill. If that is so, may it not be that the real economy will be achieved by giving way and by accepting an Amendment on the lines of the first Amendment.

The Chairman

I hope the Committee will soon come to a decision.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Oliver

I want to say only a few words in reply to my right hon. Friend, in connection with the number of dwelling houses affected in Ilkeston. If his figure is correct, then I must ask him seriously to consider the arguments which have been advanced for the removal of this limit of £32 rateable value. I base my argument, for the moment, on the figures which the Minister himself gave. He said that in the Ilkeston division there are only a few houses of a rateable value in excess of £32. If that be the case, why should we worry about drawing this line of £32?,

It is reasonable to assume that if the position in a constituency like mine is that which he outlined—and mine is not wholly a mining area, but is mainly a mining area—then the position in other mining areas must be comparable. The major portion of the property will come within the £32 rateable value and there will be a very small proportion in excess of that figure. If that be the case, I would ask my right hon. Friend seriously to consider whether he could not remove this limit—whether he could not certainly increase it and, if possible, abolish it altogether.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

I must say at once that I am more or less an interested party in this discussion and, therefore, ought perhaps not to speak at all. I inhabit a house, and have inhabited it for a quarter of a century, which all the time has been subject to subsidence. It is not imaginary. I had an arrangement with the owners of the house, who are also the colliery owners, that I should have the house at a very low rent and, therefore, I received no compensation from them at any time. At the same time, there are many houses similar to that in which I live—although not many in the part of the country where I live—which are just as liable to subsidence as are houses in colliery villages. Indeed, they suffer more sometimes. It does seem to me that the Minister would be acting only justly if he accepted this Amendment. I do not honestly believe that it would cost very much—certainly not in the part of Durham where I live; and it would be only fair to those who have to pay now for their own losses by subsidence. I make an appeal to the Minister, I trust that he will see his way to accept this Amendment.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

As the Minister has intimated that his mind is not closed on this subject, I should like to detain the Committee for just two or three moments to argue to him that not a single ground either practical or logical, which has been put forward for this attempt to distinguish between one category of dwelling houses and another, is sound.

I take it that our reason for dealing in this Bill with dwelling houses as such, as opposed to other kinds of property, is especially the urgent need, at this time above all others, to preserve habitations—to preserve units of accommodation. In that case I suggest that we are wrong to leave outside its scope any unit of accommodation. Just because a house in a mining area is a large house—is, for example, assessed at £75 on the valuation role—it is not therefore unimportant for accommodation, because many of these larger houses are, as is well known, being sub-divided. Our object is to ensure that no property goes out of occupation, if that can possibly be avoided, because of subsidence, and so we ought not to exclude any dwelling house of any size.

In any case, the proportion of dwelling houses above the £32 limit which are only just above the £32 limit is exceedingly large. I am informed that in the case quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne), where 75 per cent. of the houses were under £32 assessment, there were 92 per cent. which were under £40. So that in view of the main object of this Bill, which is the preservation of housing accommodation, I suggest that we are not justified in excluding any type of dwelling house from the Bill.

Then there was given the practical argument, first that it was impossible to estimate what expense would be involved—I think that was the argument used by the Minister—and secondly that the expense would be excessive. Now, if it is possible to estimate the cost of dealing with houses under £32 assessment, it is difficult to see why an estimate cannot be made for the remaining dwelling-houses. Surely an estimate near enough to justify Parliament in taking a decision one way or the other could be made. My hon. Friends have shown, I think to the general satisfaction, that the additional cost of bringing in all dwelling-houses would be relatively negligible.

What, then, is the logical argument for attempting to restrict the Bill to small dwelling-houses? I am not going to argue that we are withholding a right from the owners of large houses. We are by this Bill creating a new right—at any rate, making a right general which at present exists only subject to limitations and in particular areas. But when we are altering the law, when we are tidying up the law, surely it is wrong that we should introduce a new distinction. Surely we should grant a general right for all owners of dwelling-houses; and in creating this new right, not indulge in property distinctions.

I think the only logical argument, so far as I could gather, which the Minister used, was that found in the Report of the 1927 Commission—that the maxim caveat emptor should not be applied too rigorously to owners of small property in mining areas; that, to quote the words of the Report, Such tenants and owners of small houses have often bought their houses without knowing if they had a right to compensation or not. If that is the ground on which the Minister is to take his stand—that, on the whole, it is the owner of small houses who have not properly looked after themselves in the past—then he has been entirely illogical in the drafting of this Bill, because he has included houses belonging to the local authorities. We are not going to be told, surely, that local authorities do not consult lawyers before they put up their houses? He has not excluded houses in the possession of land owners or built by speculative builders. But surely a man building 20 or 40 houses as a speculation looks into the legal position of the land on which he is going to build them. Finally, this Bill covers new houses built after it comes into force. Therefore, there is no doubt whatever that the argument of the Commission of 1927, for whatever it was worth, has been entirely rejected by the Minister, and he ought not to attempt now to take cover behind it. In his reconsideration of this matter he should say to himself, "We are unfortunately not able to clear up the whole law in regard to subsidence; but we are dealing with dwelling-houses. So let us, since Parliament is not likely to return to this subject again for, at any rate, a year or two, make a decent job of that to which we have confined ourselves, and bring dwelling-houses as a whole within the scope of the Bill."

Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I am bound to say that I always find the right hon. Gentleman most helpful in considering any practical proposals put forward from any side of the Committee, and I should like to say how glad I am that, at any rate, he has said that he will look at what has been said in the Committee today—with a view, I hope, to making the alteration which is suggested in these Amendments. I want only to put one question to him. He is aware—because he so stated—that the Association of Municipal Corporations does support the Amendment moved from this side of the Committee. He put forward as an argument for not accepting the Amendment, as I understood it, that he had asked the Association of Municipal Corporations to provide evidence where cases of hardship may be put forward because of the limitation of the Bill. If he has not had any evidence forthcoming from the local authorities, does that not, in fact, add emphasis to the views that were expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth)? It is a limited concession for which we are asking.

I shall not detain the Committee any further with this, but I come from an area which is closely associated with the mining industry, and I am delighted that this Bill has been brought forward, and I do hope that it will be improved by the acceptance of these Amendments, after the right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity of further consideration of the points that have been put forward.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The Minister, as one of his main defences, has said he justified himself in the light of the Re- port of the 1927 Commission, because of the differences between annual value and rateable value. As I understand it, he went on to say he was being more generous than the 1927 Commission because up to 40 per cent. could be deducted from the annual value before the rateable value was taken. Well, I have just been looking up the Act, and if he will look at it again the right hon. Gentleman will see that it is only houses of up to £10 annual value that can get the 40 per cent. deduction; and I think he will also find, if he now looks at the number of houses which so qualify, that his statement sounds very much better than in fact it really is.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I did not say a deduction of 40 per cent. I said that I was advised that £40 annual value was equivalent to £30 rateable value.

6.0 p.m.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I was coming to that. That is quite true. Between £20 and £40 the deduction is 25 per cent., which in fact makes the two figures the same. But I think it would be untrue to claim, as I understood the Minister to claim, that he was being more generous than the Royal Commission. There might be one or two cases, but all he could claim over-all is that he is not being more ungenerous than was the Royal Commission.

I do ask him to think of this further factor, that the gross annual assessments have gone up very much since 1927, and that moreover the value of the £ has gone down very considerably. For him to claim any basis between £40 in 1927 and the assessments today would, in my view, be a travesty of fact. He must particularly remember, as the Royal Commission pointed out, that these houses are, for the most part, owned by people who cannot live elsewhere; they have got no choice where they shall live.

Therefore, in limiting, as he is doing at the moment, the sum to £32, in view of the fall in the purchasing power of the £, the rise in assessments and the necessity for these people to live there, he is being far less generous than the Royal Commission of 1927, quite apart from the other arguments of my hon. Friends, which I heartily endorse, that he should have no qualification whatso- ever. If he insists on having a qualification, for any qualification to be fair in the light of what has been said in previous years, the figure must be very much higher than £32, and I would say it should be as a minimum double that figure if he is to achieve the same result as was anticipated in 1927. I therefore hope that, whatever final decision he may come to, at least he will not maintain his present figure of £32.

Sir P. Spens

I entirely support the view that another limit will be a cause of great trouble in administration and, I suspect, the cause of a good deal of litigation. Nevertheless, the figure of £32 seems to me to be far too low. May I, as a Scot representing an English division, suggest that the minimum figure ought to be the same as it is for Scotland? It is a very curious thing that, although the Debate has gone on for a long time, so far nobody has mentioned that subsection (4) imposes a £52 limit in Scotland, whereas it is only £32 for England.

Mr. T. Brown

Make it £32 for Scotland.

Sir P. Spens

I do not for a moment suggest it is too much for Scotland. Indeed, later on we may have an opportunity of even suggesting that that figure should go up. I do suggest that in the same Clause to have a figure of £32 for England and £52 for Scotland is absolutely unfair to all the good people living South of the Tweed.

Mr. Bracken

In order to speed up the business of the Committee—which is making no particularly swift progress in view of the handling of these issues by the Government—and in view of the undertaking given by the Minister that all these matters will be reconsidered, I should not like to put you, Major Milner, to the trouble of having to deal with this Amendment, and I would ask my hon. Friend to withdraw it. I look forward with great interest to the conversations which will occur between this side of the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Redmayne

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 1, line 15, at the end, to insert "and."

This is a drafting and paving Amendment.

Mr. Pickthorn

I fully understand that this Amendment was intended to be drafting, but I would submit that it may not be in effect purely drafting, and I should be grateful if the Government's legal advisers—unless I am quite quite wrong—would have another look at it. Is not the effect of putting in "and" here that the word "to" will have to go in at the end of line 3 on page 2? Otherwise, will not paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) look as if they are cumulative and must all be added? I hope I am making my point clear. I do not want to take up too much time on it because it is a very tiny point. I should like an assurance that the drafting will be looked at again. It does not seem to me certain that what is now proposed has the effect intended.

The Lord Advocate indicated assent.

Mr. Bracken

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot just nod his head. We really do want a rather better explanation. It is no use the Lord Advocate talking about "drafting" and "paving." He will almost be talking about slate soon, which is the principal product of the Coal Board. I think he ought to give us a better explanation. After all, the right hon. and learned Gentleman must earn his vast fee.

Mr. Pickthorn

Are we not to have an answer?

Mr. Bracken

Cannot we have any explanation?

The Lord Advocate

The right hon. Gentleman has just told the Committee that he is anxious to make progress with the Bill. This is purely a paving Amendment to make way for an Amendment which comes later. It is purely grammatical in its effect. I do not think that the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) need worry about the actual drafting of this Amendment, because we are quite satisfied that these are alternative and not cumulative conditions. I did indicate by nodding my head that we would look at the point, although I personally am satisfied. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that assurance. To go into any further explanation of this Amendment would merely anticipate what I have got to say in respect of a further Amendment, for which this is a paving Amendment. With that explanation I am sure the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman have been assuaged.

Sir H. Williams

This is the most extraordinary explanation of an Amendment I have ever heard. The Lord Advocate says that the explanation of this Amendment is to come on another Amendment later on. I always thought that in those circumstances, explanations should be given on the first Amendment and not later on. When we have the explanation later on we may decide not to accept it, in which case on Report we would have to insert something, or knock something out; I do not know yet what this Amendment does, and nor does anyone else. This is quite absurd. Surely the Lord Advocate could tell us in a few sentences what the Amendment means. If he is doing something to improve his grammar he ought to tell us the significance of the later Amendment, because apparently on this alteration hangs the substance of the later Amendment. I really think that Ministers have got awfully slipshod and that they want shaking up a bit.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)

Could the Lord Advocate tell the Committee the subsequent Amendment with which this is connected?

The Lord Advocate

Certainly. It is connected with the Amendment later in page 2, line 35, to leave out subsection (4), and to insert a new subsection. We are dealing with the general Scottish position on that Amendment.

Mr. Pickthorn

But that does not explain it.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

How on earth can this Amendment have anything to do with an Amendment to insert a new subsection (4) to the Bill?

The Lord Advocate

It is grammatical.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

It may be grammatical, but if it means what the Lord Advocate says, then the word "and" is for the first time in the English language being used as something to divide two subsections and not to unite them. If that be so, I still cannot see what on earth this Amendment has got to do with a subsection dealing with Scotland. Perhaps the Lord Advocate will tell us.

The Lord Advocate

I have given the explanation.

Mr. Pickthorn

This really will not do.

Mr. Bracken

On a point of Order. It may not be a very sharply defined point of Order, Major Milner, but I want to ask for your protection in this matter. The Minister has obviously been given a wrong brief. He has moved an Amendment which he obviously does not understand, and has related it to a part of the Bill with which it has no connection whatsoever. It is an abuse of conditions in this Committee that a Minister should do this.

We are most anxious to speed up business, but when Ministers, ill-briefed and not too courteous either, refer to passages of the Bill which, so far as we are concerned at the moment, are non-existent, we should surely be allowed an opportunity of asking for further and better particulars, if not from the Lord Advocate—because he has got a great deal to do—at any rate from the Parliamentary Secretary, who has been sitting here silent during the afternoon, who probably has read this particular Bill, and who might be able to enlighten us. We are being asked to pass an Amendment about which we know nothing and about which the Government will tell us nothing. Surely it is foolish to turn ourselves into a Reichstag and just rubber-stamp Government legislation.

The Chairman

The Lord Advocate has explained the reason, whether it be accepted or not, for the insertion of the word "and." I hope that the Committee will come to a conclusion on it.

Sir H. Williams

So far as anyone desires to speak, it is the duty of the Chair to give way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly. That is quite well understood. Hon. Members opposite do not seem to understand it, and I am saying this for their information.

We have been told by the Lord Advocate that the consequential part of the Amendment is page 2, line 35. That involves, first of all, leaving out subsection (4). On the Amendment we are now discussing, the operative part of it after this particular word "and" is to leave out: In the application of this Section to Scotland, for the words 'thirty-two pounds,' wherever they occur, there shall be substituted the words 'fifty-two pounds.' After this has been done, it is proposed to insert the new subsection (4) which occupies about 25 lines on page 57 of the Order Paper. I think that is a monstrous way of doing business, and I do not think that the Committee ought to accept the Government's Amendment. Now that the Lord Advocate has had time to read the words on the Order Paper and has grasped what they mean, perhaps he will explain them.

The Lord Advocate

There is a great deal of heavy weather being made about this particular Amendment. As I explained to the Committee—and I thought that they would accept it—it was purely a grammatical Amendment at this stage in anticipation of a subsequent Amendment in page 2, line 35. The purpose of this Amendment is to put "and" after the words "thirty-two pounds," on line 15 There is "and" after "thirty-two pounds" on line 3 of page 2. Part of the Amendment to which I have referred in page 2, line 35, includes "and" after the word "dwelling" in line 8 and therefore we have put in a series of "ands" in order to join up these four categories.

I trust that hon. Members will appreciate that this is merely a drafting Amendment, and if there are any objections to the grammatical aspects of it we are prepared to have a look at it. I understand the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) suggests that these categories are alternative categories to which the Bill may apply, and we will look at it from that point of view. I am personally satisfied that it is all right, but we are trying to be accommodating in this matter and we will give that assurance. I trust that with that assurance we can get on, and I propose to explain all that is contained in line 35 on the Order Paper, when we come to that particular Amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn

I thought that the Lord Advocate could have got over the whole thing in half a minute. Now in the explanation which has been dragged out, he has produced the wrong explanation. It is quite plain from what he now says that the answer to the objection which I see in this word is not corrected by what is to happen in line 35. It is quite clear that that is irrelevant to the point which I thought I had made clear to him. I must now make it clear.

Suppose that the Bill said: "This Act applies to Freeman, Hardy and Willis." That would be taken by everyone to mean that it applied to an entity made by the accumulation of those names. If what the Bill meant to say was "This Act applies to Freeman and to Hardy and to Willis" then it would be necessary for the Lord Advocate to clear his mind a little and not say in consecutive sentences that the word is intended to join up and in the very next setence that it is intended to mark the alternative.

If what is meant is that this Act is to apply to Freeman and to Hardy and to Willis, as I have suspected from the first, then the Amendment here is not justified by any Amendment which the House may make to line 35, and I submit in that case that for this Amendment to have the effect intended by the Government it will be necessary also to add the word "to" after "and" and in line 3 on page 2 to add the word "to" after "and." Unless the Government make these conditions, I suggest that the drafting is not having the effect that they intend, and that the reference to line 35 is wholly irrelevant to this point.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Higgs (Bromsgrove)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, to leave out paragraph (c), and to insert: (c) any hereditament which was constructed or has been structurally adapted for use in part as a private dwelling and part of which is so used and which hereditament has a rateable value not exceeding seventy-five pounds. The purpose of this Amendment is to deal with a group of properties which we have not so far touched. We have been dealing with those properties either solely used as dwelling-houses or at least wholly or mainly which, I suppose, means 51 per cent. used as a dwelling-house. We now turn to the class of building of which, although some part is used as a dwelling, is not a 51 per cent. dwelling. In other words, we have been dealing with business premises of a sort which have a dwelling included in the four walls, whereas we are now dealing with a dwelling which may have a business within the four walls.

Having regard to what the Minister said on the last Amendment but one, it may be that we can cut this discussion rather shorter than otherwise would be the case. At first, I think we should know one or two points which follow from the fact that we have far more businesses within the four walls than we had before. It is, after all, the carrying on of a business which pushes up the rateable value, and if we have a building rated at £32 or less and a small part of it is used for business purposes and then we change that building into the category which we are now discussing, by using a bigger part for the purpose of business, we increase the rateable value and put the whole building out of the Act.

Therefore, one of the reasons behind this Amendment is that if £32 is a fair limit for a building which is nearly all dwelling-house, the same size building and, if we can look at it in this way, the same type of owner will find that he has a larger rateable value solely by reason of the fact that he uses more of the building for business. Therefore, whatever may be the position in regard to the earlier Amendments that referred to rateable limitations, we ask the Minister to see whether in this case he cannot make a concession. He is only dealing with less than half a building in this Clause which has a substantial amount of business premises included and is therefore rated highly, the repairs to which the National Coal Board may be called upon to do.

Obviously, this class of case includes a great deal of non-residential uses and we have to have some rateable value limit, otherwise we might bring in a vast factory with a caretaker's flat on the roof. It is difficult to find a rateable value limit for a whole building which will correspond to a figure of £32 or £40. We are advised, however, that if we take the whole building at a figure of £75 the repairs that will be necessary on that part which is a dwelling will probably be as near as we can get to £32 worth. I hope that the Minister will look kindly on this Amendment, which seeks to do justice to those who have more than half their premises used for business purposes.

There is one further point I should like to make clear. We have anticipated the difficulties which may arise by people trying to defeat the purposes of the Bill by seeking to turn a building into a private dwelling house. It is for that reason we have provided that not only must part of the building be used for dwelling purposes, but must also be constructed for such use. Our purpose is to protect the Coal Board, for whom we have a little affection sometimes, against those who try to take advantage of this Amendment. We hope the Minister will note that as evidence of a genuine effort on our part not to bring a vast new class of property into the Bill, but merely to deal with an anomaly. We hope by this Amendment to make the Bill a little more generous and also a little more workable.

Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary has been duly impressed by the admirable way in which this Amendment has been moved. The greatest problem the Parliamentary Secretary will have with this Bill is the number of anomalies which will arise, [...]sing bitterness and discontent between persons in the same category. The object of this Amendment is to remove one of those anomalies. The object is to enable a man who has had his house increased in rateable value, because if is used in part as a business premises, to get some sort of compensation, or the same compensation he would get had the house been used solely for dwelling purposes.

It cannot be argued that to accept this Amendment would put a heavy cost upon the Coal Board or the Exchequer, because these cases are comparatively few. We have done our utmost to see that this Amendment cannot be used by people trying to escape from their commitments. We have not had many concessions tonight, and I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that he is prepared to accept this small and important improvement.

Mr. Robens

I am very willing to speak, but I am unwilling to concede the point that has been made so pleasantly by the hon. Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes). I follow the argument quite clearly, but one important point has been overlooked, which is that this Amendment opens the way to getting a higher rateable value for a dwelling-house. Let us assume that a professional man has a dwelling-house which is rated at £75. That puts him out of the Bill, but if he turns a room into a surgery the house becomes partly a dwelling-house, which means it will be brought within the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Bracken

Why not?

Mr. Robens

I do not want to repeat the previous argument. We have been at pains to make it perfectly plain that we are trying to bring some measure of social justice to certain owners of dwelling-houses, and by taking this figure of £32 it gives us the type of house we want to cover. If we had wanted to cover larger houses the rateable value would have been more. I understand that my right hon. Friend has undertaken to look at this matter of the rateable value on a previous Amendment, and no doubt the same applies in this case, but the fact remains that we could not on this basis make this an obligation within the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Raikes

The Parliamentary Secretary has given us an example of the way in which a doctor might wangle his house into the Bill by having one or two rooms used for business purposes and living in the remainder. But surely that sort of case is covered by the Amendment, which refers to any hereditament which was constructed or has been structurally adapted for use in part as a private dwelling. It cannot be argued, therefore, that a doctor or anyone else could take action deliberately to bring himself within the scope of this Amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Colonel Clarke

I suggest that instead of directing our efforts to doing social justice to some and social injustice to the remainder, it would be better to do social justice to all.

Mr. Robens

This Bill is giving something away, not taking anything from anybody. All we have said in this Measure is that we propose to give social justice to those people who are hard hit by subsidence. We never said that we would cover mansions or large houses.

Colonel Clarke

To give one man something and not to give another the same is, in itself, creating a certain in- justice. I do not want to pursue that, nor do I want to detain the Committee very long. Unless all dwelling-houses are included, temptation will be put in the way of people, as was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary. What we suggest would remove all that, and I hope the Minister will agree to consider this question. It is the only way of doing it.

Mr. Bracken

Let me first of all congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on breaking his long silence. He has been a decorative addition to the Front Bench, but he might have helped his superior in the discharge of his duties. However, he has given us a promise to look into this, and we are keeping a very careful record of that. To save you, Mr. Bowles, the trouble of reading out the Amendment on the Paper, in view of the Minister's assurance perhaps we should withdraw it.

Sir H. Williams

Before the Amendment is withdrawn there is one observation I should like to make. The part of the country where this problem exists is the Black Country, with which I am most familiar. It is true that in certain parts coal pits are no longer worked, but there are a great many streets in small towns where there is the familiar thing known as a corner shop. Such a shop is generally inhabited by a miner and his wife, the latter being in charge of the shop during the day. The rateable value of such a place would be much above £32 a year, the line which this Bill draws between justice and injustice. The Amendment is drafted to cover the case of the corner shop. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes) who pointed out that a doctor's surgery would not represent the structural alterations which would be necessary to qualify under the terms of this Clause. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not repeat this nonsense about social justice. To suggest that social justice operates at £32 but stops at £32 5s. is intellectual nonsense.

Mr. Higgs

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I beg to move, in page 2, line 24, at the end, to insert: has been laid before Parliament and. This is merely a drafting Amendment. Without this Amendment the draft Order could not be laid in the ordinary way, but would have to be presented as a Command Paper. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will accept this Amendment as drafting.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I beg to move, in page 2, line 25, at the end, to insert: An order under this subsection shall not have the effect of excluding from the dwelling-houses to which this Act applies any dwelling-house which immediately before the date of the order was included therein. If you look at the Interpretation Clause of this Bill, Mr. Bowles, you will see that the rateable value with which we are dealing in this subsection is defined as the value shown in the valuation lists for the time being in force. It, therefore, follows that a house may come at one time within the provisions of this Bill and qualify for compensation, but at another time it may fall outside the provisions of the Bill. What applies to individual houses also applies to great numbers and classes of houses.

The Committee will be aware that under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1948, all valuations in the country are at present being revised, and in 1953 or possibly some later year we shall have a new list. No human being can at the present time predict how the values in that list will be related to present valuations. They may generally be higher or lower or they may be higher for certain types and lower for others. It is to meet the probability of a general alteration in rateable values that presumably the proviso was inserted in this subsection. Thus, if the Minister, upon examining the new valuation lists, finds there has been a general increase in the valuations, he might decide to make an increase in whatever figure is in the Bill—we hope eventually there will be no figure but must assume for the moment that there will be—proportionate to the general increase disclosed by the valuation lists.

On the other hand, should the valuations in the new lists prove to be on the whole lower, he takes power in this proviso to reduce the figure. I do not seek to impose any maximum upon the extent to which he can raise the figure, because it has been the contention of my hon. Friends throughout this Debate that there should be no upper limit; but we believe that the statute should state upon its face, what is the reason for lowering the figure, as it empowers to the Minister to do, and should make it quite clear that any such lowering as he thinks necessary will not have the effect of excluding a house which at this moment, when we are passing this Bill, falls within the terms for compensation.

If I may attach to that argument—which I hope in itself the Minister will be able to accept whether he is wedded to this form of words or not—another point, it is highly undesirable that any house in any circumstances should be transferred from the compensation category to the non-compensation category by new valuation lists coming into force. Think of the effect. Imagine a street of houses and subsidence damage occurring. On the day before the new valuation comes into operation, No. 1, which is a house valued at £31 on the old valuation, gets compensation. Next day the new valuation lists come into force and subsidence occurs to No. 3; but the people in it get no compensation, although it is an identical house with No. 1.

Mr. Bracken

That is social justice.

Mr. Powell

I would put this point to the Minister for consideration, because in order to be met it will require Amendments in other parts of the Bill as well as the Clause with which we are dealing at the moment. I suggest to the Government not only that they should limit by statute the extent to which the Minister can in any circumstances lower this figure, but they should introduce such Amendments as are necessary to insure that no house, which once falls within the scope of this Bill and qualifies for compensation in the event of subsidence damage, should ever, by reason of a change in rateable values, be excluded.

Mr. Pickthorn

I do not think it needs very many words to support the argument which has been so clearly put in favour of the Amendment. I hope that the Minister means to accept it. Perhaps I may add two or three sentences, if the Minister could attend to them. It is no use talking on these Amendments unless one is talking to the Minister. What we must all remember is, as the poet said— although I do not remember it exactly—that it is God only who can enjoy the vision of justice.

We must not assume the obligation and the practicability of some sort of absolute, leaving neglected a relative good that is within our grasp. The relative and contingent good that is within our grasp is that we should so legislate as not to create uncertainty and so that the effects of Bills should be patent on the face of them and permanent. It cannot surely be desirable, and I think it difficult to believe that Ministers really think it desirable, that doing justice should cease at a rateable value of £32. I quite follow the argument that if there is not enough money to do justice to everyone then, from the point of view of human hardship and happiness, they must take that line, but I cannot believe that they take the line because they want to take it.

It is still more difficult to believe that Ministers want the thing to fluctuate in time as well as by holding down the right to justice below a maximum rateable value. I hope that it will not be said that the administrative difficulty is so great that this is impossible. I hope that upon the face of it, the thing is seen to be just and that the Treasury Bench may not think that there is anything humiliating in accepting this suggestion.

Mr. Robens

I absolutely accept the argument that there must be a certain amount of illogicality about this matter in view of the disparity in rating values throughout the country. These will probably come more into line with one another as the new valuations take place.

Mr. Bracken

Which means that they will go up.

Mr. Robens

The right hon. Gentleman should know as much about this matter as anybody else. When the revaluation takes place the values should be much more on a line one with another. I agree right away that there is this illogical position because of the assessments of one area against another being very different. A large house in one area will come within the Bill, while a smaller house in another area will be without the Bill.

To meet that position we undertake to consult the local authority associations on this matter. Under Clause 2 the Minister has power to make an Order changing these amounts. I undertake that the Minister will consult the associations on this matter when ratable values are being made, before he makes his Order.

Mr. Bracken

The general undertaking just given by the Parliamentary Secretary may or may not commend itself to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. J. Enoch Powell), who made such an admirable speech, but as moderation is always my principle, I recommend it to my hon. Friend. As far as I understand the undertaking it is that the Minister will consult with the local authorities. That is good. It is one of the things which we had in mind when we put down the Amendment, because the local authorities have been grossly ignored in this wretched Bill.

Having brought the Government along a little way perhaps we should be able to get on with our business if my hon. Friend would now be prepared to withdraw his Amendment on the conditions mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary. At the same time, it strikes me as being a most remarkable development in this House of Commons, of which I have been a Member for more than 20 years, that the mining Members are now behaving like Trappist monks. They will not speak up for their own people.

6.45 p.m.

Sir H. Williams

One thing is not clear about the proposal made by the Parliamentary Secretary. If the Bill becomes law in its present form house No. 1 in such-and-such a street will come within its provisions, and also No. 3 in another street. If, as a result of the revaluation, which is just about to start, I think, it happens that No. 1 is raised in value far more than No. 3, we shall have the effect that a house which is now entitled to benefit by the Bill will lose the benefit. Consultation with the local authorities does not therefore seem to be the solution in the slightest degree. We ought to say that when revaluation takes place any house which exists at that time ought not to be deprived of the benefits of the Bill and that these provisions should apply only if there is a change in the £32 valuation and the house in question was constructed after the change. Other- wise, we shall do manifest injustice to a large number of people.

Many people will think that they benefit under the Bill. A busy gentleman known as the district valuer comes round and puts up those people's valuations. Many of those people will not realise that their valuation may affect their position under this Bill. All that they will realise is that when the rateable values in their town become much higher the town council, if it is sensible, will reduce the rate in the £. The people will think solely in terms of rates and not in terms of rateable value. Their problem will not be presented to them until they suffer damage as a result of mining operations. They will find that as a result of their rateable value, which is, after all, a rather arbitrary thing, they are taken outside the Bill.

Therefore, the Parliamentary Secretary must go much further in his inquiry than to consult with the local authorities, who are not the interested person at all. The interested persons are those who own the houses which may be damaged by mining operations. Primary consultation will be with the authorities, in their capacity as administrators of local rates, A large number of persons may be entirely deprived of benefit under the Bill, and then the local authorities will be deprived of rates because the present Government, in its wisdom or otherwise, has taken away valuation powers from the localities and has vested them in the State.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I am not quite certain that he has taken my hon. Friend's point. I appreciate that it might be possible to deal with the point by an Order made under the subsection, but I think it will be necessary to look at the wording of the subsection which only gives power to make an Order varying the amount. It is clear that to do what the Parliamentary Secretary suggested, there will have to be a great deal of incidental and supplementary matter put into the Order, which would require a further substantial amendment of the subsection. I will not labour that point now, but the Government should look into that matter between now and the Report stage.

It only goes to show the very great deal of difficulty, trouble and administrative expense to which the Government will be put to avoid the payment of a very small sum. I do not want to harp on that, but it is important. The Government must bear that point in mind in their general policy in regard to the Bill.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I cannot quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). I think the Parliamentary Secretary has missed the whole point of the Amendment. He spent some time answering on the position where there are differences in valuation which might mean that a big house in one locality is included and another cut out and a small house in another locality is included and another one cut out. That is not the point of the Amendment; it is that where a house has once been accepted as one subject to the terms of the Bill it should not be cut out by the subsequent Order. That is the one point which the hon. Gentleman did not answer. Perhaps he will do that now.

Mr. Robens

I thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) had really studied this and understood it thoroughly. The Amendment does not help in the direction about which he is talking. He wants every house which comes within the scope of the Bill as it now is to remain for all time within its scope. That is right, is it not?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

That is correct.

Mr. Robens

But if a local authority raises the rateable value of any of the houses they come out automatically and the Amendment does not bring them in. That is the point which I felt I thoroughly understood. I am certain that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) knew that thoroughly. I am sure that he understands the undertaking which I gave on behalf of my right hon. Friend that when we were dealing with this Order for the valuations we would consult the local authorities—and consulting with local authorities really means negotiations—and we would use all that they could give us on the matter and endeavour to carry out the spirit and will of Parliament.

The right hon. Gentleman was certainly joking when he talked about our not having consulted local authorities. The associations would tell him that we have consulted them at every stage. I am certain that after the consultation with the local authorities when the revaluations take place hon. Gentlemen opposite will be satisfied that we have carried out the will of Parliament and the spirit of the Act.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I am sorry, and I do not wish to labour the point, but I still do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary has quite got the terms of the Amendment. It is designed to see that any Order made under subsection (2) cannot, because it lowers the limit, take a house which is, at the passing of the Bill, covered by the Bill out of the provisions of the Bill. That is a very simple thing which does not need consultations with anybody. I admit that the consultations which he has adumbrated will be a good and useful thing. Why does he object to this provision?

A house may be damaged under the terms of the Bill as passed and then the Minister may make an Order under subsection (2) saying, "Instead of £32 we will have £30," and the house then falls outside the scope of the Bill. While the house suffered damage at the time of the passing of the Act, the Minister, if he cares to vary the valuation, can exclude it. We ask that any house which is covered by the provisions of the Bill at a time that it is passed shall not be taken out because the Minister may subsequently lower the limit. That is a simple request and one which so far, with respect, the Parliamentary Secretary has not answered.

Mr. Powell

This short Debate has at any rate shown that there are a number of thorny difficulties which arise from the tying of a right to compensation to a certain valuation figure. In particular, three separate and distinct points have been disclosed. The first is that to which the Amendment specifically draws attention. It seeks to ensure that the Minister shall not use the power which the proviso gives to him of reducing the ceiling in such a way as to exclude houses which at present fall within the scope of the Bill. That is in order that when considering the new valuation lists he will not have power to make a reduction which may exclude a whole category of houses

The second point, which I raised, was that it is really an intolerable situation that a house should qualify on one day and not on the next day, because a new valuation list has come into force in the interim. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that he cannot deal with that by amending the Clause because it is not a matter with which he can deal by Order. But it is a matter which the Government and Parliament ought to look at before the last is seen of this Bill.

The third point, which was raised by the Parliamentary Secretary, is that all sorts of anomalies will be created by the shifts in valuation as between one part of the country and another which will occur when the new lists come into force.

However, these three points have now been put on the record and I take it that, quite apart from the Amendment, the Government will consider them carefully and sympathetically. On that understanding, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, at the end, to insert: or of any person other than the person to whom the compensation is payable. This Amendment is rather similar in effect to the first of the new Clauses [Alteration in use of dwelling-house] in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth, and Christchurch and others, including myself. I do not wish to miss the opportunity of raising the point covered by the Amendment, but if the Government can give me an assurance that they will be prepared to deal with this point fully when we come to the new Clause, I would wish either to withdraw or not to press my Amendment.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Bowles)

That would be very unsatisfactory. The hon. Gentleman has moved his Amendment and the Minister may say what he wishes. If his assurance is not satisfactory, the hon. Gentleman can then develop his argument.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Bowles. If the Government can give me a short reply perhaps we can leave the full Debate on it till we reach the new Clause. The point raised by the Amendment is that under subsection (3) a house is prevented from being taken out of the benefit of the Bill merely by reason of the fact that a requisitioning authority uses the house in such a way as to make it ineligible for compensation. I do not want that to prejudice the position of the owner of a house who is kept out of occupation by a tenant or some other person who is legitimately there, and who may use the house in such a way as to destroy the owner's right to compensation.

For example, a tenant of a dwelling-house may use it as a shop or erect a garage in circumstances in which he is not committing any breach of the lease, if it is a lease, or in which he cannot have his tenancy determined. In such a case I think that the owner is entitled to be protected. I do not say that the words of the Amendment are very apt, but I am most anxious that we should not part from this point. It may be that the Government would prefer to deal with the matter on the new Clause. If that is their answer I shall be quite willing to withdraw the Amendment and discuss the matter later.

Mr. Robens

If it is desired to have a longer Debate on the new Clause, that will be all right with us, but with the single point that one does not want an owner to lose any rights by reason of an action by his tenant, there is a good deal of sympathy on this side of the Committee. Normally, however, as the hon. Gentleman knows so much better than I do, when a tenancy agreement is drawn up the owner gets his own protection in a legal manner. I take it that the hon. Member was dealing with, say, requisitioned property or property on a weekly basis where there was probably no tenancy agreement covering it and the tenant might put the landlord outside the provisions of the Bill. There is something in that point.

We could not accept these words—the hon. Gentleman will agree that they would be far too wide—but if he will leave the matter with us we should like to look at it, because we should not want the owner of property to be dispossessed of some right because of the action of a tenant and have no redress.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I find the Parliamentary Secretary's reply satisfactory, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.0 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in line 35, to leave out subsection (4), and to insert: (4) In the application of this section to Scotland—

  1. (a) for the words 'thirty-two pounds,' wherever they occur, there shall be substituted the words 'fifty-two pounds;'
  2. (b) in subsection (2) there shall be added at the end of paragraph (c) the following:'and
(d) in Scotland, any part (whether separately occupied or not) of a hereditament entered in the valuation roll as agricultural lands and heritages within the meaning of the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928, being a part which is occupied wholly or mainly as a private dwelling and which would if separately valued have a rateable value not exceeding fifty-two pounds;'
  1. (c) in the said subsection after the words 'paragraph (c)' there shall be added the words 'or paragraph (d);' and
  2. (d) any question arising under this section as to what would be the rateable value of any such part of a hereditament as is mentioned in paragraph (d) of subsection (2) of this section if it were separately valued shall be determined by the assessor appointed to act for the purposes of the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act, 1854, and the Acts amending that Act in the county or burgh in which the said part is situated, and his decision shall be final."
This Amendment replaces the original application of Clause 1 to Scotland, and perhaps I may explain the purpose of this enlarged Amendment. In the first instance, for the sum of £32 there is substituted a figure of £52. The reason for that is to be found in the different rating systems of the two countries. In England and Wales there are statutory deductions from the gross annual value under the Rating and Valuation Acts of 1925 and 1928 which are taken into account in getting the rateable value. These Acts do not apply to Scotland and, therefore, these deductions, to which reference has already been made today, do not apply to Scotland.

Secondly, in Scotland we have owner's rates as well as occupier's rates, and in these circumstances the tendency is to reflect in the rent sought from the tenant compensation for the owner's rates which have to be paid by the owner when he fulfils his statutory duty. For that reason rents tend to be higher in Scotland for comparable subjects. Taking these factors into account, we feel that the differential is justified, and the figure of £52 will embrace many local authority houses which have been built and are being built in mining areas and which may be susceptible to this type of damage. That explains the differential between these two countries.

There is one exception to the general rule of rating in Scotland, and that is in relation to agricultural subjects. So far as they are concerned, the dwelling-houses embraced in the agricultural subjects are not separately valued. They are contained in a comprehensive valuation of the agricultural subjects which, of course, get certain benefits under the various derating provisions We want to bring into the benefits of this Bill dwelling-houses on farms, and accordingly the second of the Amendments embraced in paragraph (b) is to the effect that any such houses will be separately valued and, if they have a rateable value not exceeding £52, they will be brought into the purview of the Act. I understand that is not necessary in England because in agricultural subjects the dwelling-houses are separately valued.

Should any dispute arise on this matter, under paragraph (d) provision is made for the local assessor appointed in terms of the Lands Valuation Acts to determine the question as an arbiter and his decision is made final. Obviously we want to get some finality to let the people know where they stand, and in Scotland we have sufficient confidence in these people appointed under the statutes to give a fair and reasonable decision.

Paragraph (c), which is the paragraph to which I referred at an earlier stage, is brought in in order, in the first instance, to bring in paragraph (b), which is part of the Amendment, into the top of page 2, where we have already referred on pages 1 and 2 to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). It brings in the new paragraph (d) and also gives effect to the grammatical Amendment to which I made reference, and which has created a certain amount of doubt as to its validity, in order to round the thing off grammatically. I trust that explanation will satisfy the Committee that this rather long Amendment is not too involved and not as complicated as it might seem in the first instance.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

May I express my thanks to the Lord Advocate for his explanation of this Amendment? I should also like to congratulate him on having been the sole representative of any of the legal officers on the bench throughout the Debate this afternoon. I take it, and I hope he will too, as a great compliment to the Scottish Bar that the legal affairs of both countries this afternoon have been completely safe in his hands.

At an earlier stage I heard my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), suggesting that as a good Scot, he felt some embarrassment lest Scotland might obtain much more than England and Wales under the provisions of this Bill. I wish my hon. and learned Friend had been here now because he would have all his hopes in that direction dashed. The Lord Advocate has made it abundantly clear, and I hope that my hon. Friends above the Gangway representing English constituencies will agree, that Scotland will obtain little if anything more than is to be given South of the Border.

I agree that this Bill only seeks to do rough justice as has been said from the Treasury Bench and by the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). Indeed, that is what we on this side of the Committee object to—that this Bill only seeks to do rough justice.

The Temporary Chairman

Will the hon. Gentleman confine his remarks to the Amendment?

Mr. McKie

I was only saying that in passing, Mr. Bowles, and I would not think of trespassing upon your Ruling. I was glad to hear the Lord Advocate explaining the somewhat complicated paragraphs in the latter part of this Amendment, and I was glad he made it quite plain that the farm houses in Scotland would benefit by the provisions of this Bill if paragraph (b) is agreed to. I could not help thinking at the same time that the learned Lord Advocate and the Members of the Government responsible for promoting this Bill might have saved themselves a good deal of trouble earlier if paragraph (b) had been inserted immediately after subsection (2), because that is the part of this Clause to which this paragraph directly relates.

With regard to the last paragraph, the Lord Advocate said he hoped that Scottish Members would feel that any difference of opinion which might arise could safely be left in the hands of the assessor. It is very far from my purpose to reflect on the capabilities, good intentions or good faith of these assessors because we know of the great deal of work they do and how fairly and evenly they discharge their high duties. I hope this will be no exception to the rule. Perhaps the Lord Advocate will tell me if there were consultations with the county and borough local authorities in Scotland before coming to this decision? Apart from that one small question, I express myself as agreeably surprised, if I may say so without offence, at the competent way in which the Lord Advocate explained this Amendment.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)

We are confronted once again with a manifestation of the constantly recurring mysteries of Scottish law from the Southerner's point of view. I think it must always be the case that the Southern Members of the Committee have to take matters of this kind largely on trust, and we do that with good grace on the assurances of the Lord Advocate. The mysteries of this matter are somewhat increased by a spelling error in the second line of paragraph (c), which makes that paragraph look even more formidable than it would otherwise appear. I take it that the Lord Advocate would be prepared to consider any further Amendments of this matter on the Report stage should there be any objections from Scotland.

The Lord Advocate

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain the mistake to which he refers.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Raikes

I confess that the more I look at the Clause the more glad I am that I am not a mining Member of Parliament. So long as we have the number of anomalies which must exist unless some alteration is made at a later stage concerning the date from which the Clause is to operate, and until some effort is made to embrace all dwelling houses, as may yet, indeed, be done, the Minister will be up against, perhaps, rather more than he anticipates.

The Minister indicated earlier this afternoon that it would be quite impos- sible to go back years and years in order to include all forms of damage from subsidence in the 1930's and the 1920's. I agree, but what I feel—and it is a point which I think should be made—is that a great deal of damage must have appeared in mining areas as a result of subsidence during the war years. After all, between 1939 and 1945 not only did a large number of skilled men leave the pits for the war, but, apart from that, coal had to be got out for war purposes under any sort of conditions; every effort had to be made.

Retrospection having been admitted, I should like to have seen it carried back to say, 1941 instead of to the date of the Turner Report—1947. This would have given an opportunity for all who had suffered as a result of the special incidence of the war from subsidence damage to have had their claims dealt with. But when the date is fixed at 1947 I can see difficulties arising concerning those who suffered from subsidence damage during the war, including of course, persons who delayed putting repairs in hand on account of the difficulty of getting repairs done and so on during the war, and who no doubt in many cases had been dissuaded by the companies from undertaking repairs until all damage was apparent.

I hope that even now—because, after all, this is not a party point—a number of mining Members will express their views upon this issue in what, I think, should be only a comparatively short Debate upon the Clause. Where people live in exactly the same kind of house, but one man is given compensation while his next door neighbour does not get it just because of the period between, as I have suggested, 1941 and 1947, there is bound to be a feeling of injustice amongst quite a number of people, and naturally so. That is the last thing that any of us would wish. I know it is the last thing which the Minister wishes. I disagree with him over many things, but I appreciate his sincerity in desiring to see that this industry, of which he has now been brought in charge, shall be happy, prosperous and contented. But I am afraid that in the Clause as it now stands there are sufficient anomalies to give a feeling of injustice from village to village, and from area to area, which, with a little further retrospective effect to earlier in the war period, could very largely be averted.

Mr. Hubbard (Kirkaldy Burghs)

Does the hon. Member not agree that if the Clause were made retrospective to 1941, people who had suffered damage in 1938, for instance, might feel equally disturbed that the date had not been settled at 1938?

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Raikes

Of course, wherever the line is drawn there are bound to be anomalies, but I have particularly stressed the sort of subsidence and so on which obtained during the war years. I am bound to say that had the date been taken at 1941, a good many of these anomalies, right, left and centre, would have been averted. That year would have been a much fairer date than the year of the Turner Report.

I do not want, however, at this stage to talk at any length upon this subject. But I feel that as a result of the Bill, which touches really such a small part of a great problem, the Minister will find himself compelled—at least, not him personally, because he will have been succeeded by someone from this side in the next year or so—to tackle the question on far wider lines and avoid the degree and number of anomalies which will sour the Measure which, I know, has been brought forward with a desire to assist and to do good for the men in the mining areas.

Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

I have listened to a fair number of speeches from the opposite side of the Committee on the Amendments to the Clause, and I am amazed at their consistent inconsistency. Hon. Members opposite are now seeking to make the Clause more retrospective. When, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduces a Measure which is retrospective, they howl and squeal about it like spoiled children; yet with this Bill they are asking the Minister to do the very thing which they object to the Chancellor doing in the Budget when he introduces legislation which, whatever may be their opinion will be retrospective.

I share the feeling of the hon. Member for the Garston Division of Liverpool (Mr. Raikes), that it would be very desirable if the Clause could have been made completely retrospective, but it would have been most unfair to place the whole of the burden upon the Coal Board. What I should have liked the Minister to do before introducing the Bill, particularly with reference to the Clause which we are discussing, was to have met the late coal owners and to have discussed with them how much of the £164 million, which they are getting as compensation for their mines, they were prepared to devote to meeting this moral obligation which fell upon them because they had the profits from the coal which has caused the subsidence.

If hon. Members opposite would be prepared to say that at a later stage a Clause might be introduced which will meet their point, but that the financial obligation, in part at least, should fall upon the late coal owners, there would be a large measure of sympathy with that point of view on this side, but frankly we cannot support them in the point they are now making.

It is very obvious that, no matter upon what date the Act becomes operative, it must appear, as all legislation appears, unfair to those who are outside its scope. That always applies whenever progressive legislation is introduced. Those who have suffered, or to whom it would have been beneficial had it been introduced earlier, naturally feel that they have a grievance. Exactly the same might be said regarding mining diseases, when the date was fixed from which compensation for industrial diseases should apply. How many hearts that have been broken would not have been broken had we made that legislation more retrospective. In those days hon. Members opposite were not very sympathetic; therefore they cannot expect us to run the risk of not getting this Bill in order to meet their wishes on this point.

Colonel Lancaster

I wish to try to put something right which seems to have crept into the discussion of this Clause and for which the Minister must accept some part of the onus. There is a suggestion that responsibility for subsidence was that of what is called the coal owners. Of course, it was nothing of the sort; it was the responsibility of the owners of the mineral property who, in the overwhelming number of cases, were quite different persons from those who obtained permission for the coal to be worked.

A short while ago the Minister said there were two milestones in this matter. One was the Turner Committee's report and the other the nationalisation of the coal mines. I suggest that the milestone of consequence was the day on which the nation became responsible for the mineral properties of this country, which was in 1937, and not 1947. From that moment onwards all this question of social justice, and so on, was a matter for the nation. For coal owners the Americans use a much more appropriate term, "coal operators"—those people, or companies, who work coal on lease from the owners of the mineral deposits. The leases were often so drawn that if support were required, a lesser royalty was paid by the colliery company and if no support was called for, the royalty was that much greater.

It is absolute nonsense to try to put responsibility where, in fact, it never belonged. If hon. Members like to draw attention to the shortcomings of royalty owners, by all means let them do so, but for heaven's sake let us get this right for the record. Responsibility from a social aspect and a national aspect dates from 1937, when the nation took over the mineral properties of the country and nationalisation of the coal mines was purely incidental. Who worked the coal, or how it was worked, had little or nothing to do with what we are discussing this evening. As the Minister himself fell into the same error as the hon. Member for I arrow (Mr. Fernyhough) I was anxious to make that point. It is the owners of the mineral properties who are responsible at this moment and for the last 13 years they have been the nation. In discussing this Clause we are not entitled to go beyond 1947, but if we were looking for social justice, we should write the whole Clause back to 1937.

Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)

I welcome the appeal of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster) for a short Debate. I know we have wasted a great deal of time——

Mr. Pickthorn


Mr. Pryde

Yes, wasted, absolutely wasted. As my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) said, hon. Members opposite are wholly consistent in their inconsistency. Yesterday, last week, last month and for years now they have preached to us that we should economise and should not spend money. Today, we are giving the Government a blank cheque to fling money about by the million. The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) told us that the people for whom he spoke were hard done by and the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) gave us the reason. He said there had been a war. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) complained that he and his party did not have justice. I have the greatest sympathy with that and I wish they had got justice, because then we would have got this Bill through more quickly tonight.

I think it true to say that the question at issue between us is money. In all fairness to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if we were to accept the contentions of hon. Members opposite, they ought to suggest to the Chancellor ways and means of accomplishing that end. Not long ago when an hon. Member told the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should tax his ingenuity, the Chancellor replied that he had over-taxed his ingenuity in an effort to get revenue. He told us there was still 4d. per pound in wages left for the profit takers of this country. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that if we are to accept their suggestions, that last 4d. will have to go the way of all the rest.

The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster) tries to exonerate the coal owners as we know them in this country from all blame. I can assure him that in Scotland mining subsidence is possibly worse than anywhere else in Britain. That is because we have more seams than in other places. In my county we have 45, and coal has been operated there for seven centuries. Today, if one takes a train from Edinburgh across Fife one is not sure whether one will get across or not, and in Lanarkshire it is the same. We know that it was not only the limited liability companies who were responsible, because they came in at a later stage. We find, in the economic structure of the coal industry in Scotland, that before the nationalisation of mineral royalties the estate owners were always involved financially with the limited liability companies——

The Temporary Chairman

The hon. Member is getting rather wide in going into that.

Mr. Pryde

I think I have said sufficient to explain that all that is at issue here is money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not the necessary financial resources at his disposal, unless he impinges further on the profit-taking element of the country. I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree that in this Bill we are making an attempt to do something which has never been recorded in the history of the Parliament of this country. I appeal to them to stop useless argument and to realise that if they appeal to the Government to get money the Government can only get it from the people who are benefiting to the extent of 4d. in the pound—their constituents. I appeal to them to give every assistance to us to get this Bill through so that we can help those in Scotland, who will suffer more than anyone else if the Bill is not passed. If, at the next election, they are returned to power we will co-operate in seeing that a more comprehensive measure is put on the Statute Book.

Mr. Pickthorn

I hope I shall be short, and should not have spoken if we had not been accused of wasting time up to this point. Before I go on to what I hope will be a very short argument, I hope I may appeal for indulgence if I do not wait long after I have spoken because I have had neither lunch or tea. I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I go away and that that will not be regarded as discourteous.

In reply to speeches from the other side of the Committee I want to say that it really will not do to say, "waste of time," because hardly an Amendment which has been moved this afternoon has not drawn from the Treasury Bench some kind of assurance of reconsideration at a later stage. I think hon. Members will bear me out that that has been the case. Therefore, it does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite, who would claim to be more candidly and honestly interested in this particular part of the population than most of us, to accuse us of waste of time.

7.30 p.m.

Secondly, it will not do to say, as was said by the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde), that this is purely a question of money. I should think that there is really very little question of money. It is a question of houses. There is a much greater loss to the nation, a much greater expenditure which will have to come out of the income of the nation, out of all its resources, if more houses are allowed to fall into ruin than if fewer houses are allowed to fall into ruin. The question of who is to pay the money to avoid that, or to avoid the worst part of that dilemma, is really not immensely important. If houses are not kept up because people are afraid that they would not get compensation if they suffered from subsidence, or if houses are not kept up because having suffered from subsidence they do not, by reason of the drafting of this Bill, get the money to be repaired with, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer is much worse hit than he is by the question of whether this Bill costs either him or the National Coal Board £100,000 more or £100,000 less. I really do not think that there is any doubt about that.

Hon. Members opposite really ought not to say that this is a mere question of money, and that what we are trying to do is to get so much money out of the National Coal Board that miners' wages will not be able to go up. I can, of course, understand their nostalgia for the days of private enterprise when miners' wages——

Miss Lee

Nostalgia for the days when miners' wages were so good!

Mr. Pickthorn

I can understand their nostalgia for the days when miners' wages represented 85 per cent. of the whole product of the coal.

Mr. Fernyhough

When they did not get 10s. a shift.

The Temporary Chairman

I do not think this argument is relevant on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Pickthorn

With respect, it is surely not irrelevant to the question which has been frequently canvassed from the other side of the Committee about putting a burden upon the National Coal Board. It really is not true to say that we on this side want to put a burden on the National Coal Board——

Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)


Mr. Pickthorn

Not in the least—or that we want to keep down miners' wages.

There is one other thing I should like to ask, and I apologise for the fact that I might not be here when it is answered. Can the Minister tell us now about indirect damage a little more clearly than he could on Second Reading? I do not say that in order to try to score off him, because these things are not easy, and nobody would blame him if he was not altogether clear; perhaps he could now be surer than I think he and everyone else was on Second Reading. He told us this afternoon that it really makes no difference whether we say "damage appearing" or "damage occurring"—whether the occurrence of damage is an occurrence of subsidence damage, if it is not quite directly attributable to the removal of the subsoil.

That is a matter about which we were none of us quite certain on Second Reading or on the Financial Resolution, and I do not know whether it will be competent for the Committee to discuss that matter later on an Amendment, because I do not know what the Chair may hold to be the effect of the Financial Resolution. However, I think it cannot be out of Order now to ask the Minister what he now understands about the Clause as it now is, and what, if any, intentions he has about meeting us on that point if the Clause as it now is does not do the the things which on Second Reading we thought out to be done.

I have one last question for the Minister. I certainly acquit him of any intention to mislead, but I think that in an earlier part of our Debate today he did mislead, and I should like him to think again about his argument when he used the phrase "ex hypothesi." That sticks in my head because it is the only Latin phrase that has been used—unless it is Greek and not Latin. He began by saying that if either of our first two Amendments had been passed the effect would be an additional burden of £500,000 a year, that nobody could tell how many years back it would be, and that if it were as much as 10 years back then, ex hypothesi, it would total a whole £5 million, and that he obviously could not accept such a burden. I think that anybody who has been here all day will agree that that is a fair representation of the argument he then used, and I do ask him whether, on reflection, he thinks that that argument was fair.

I will not elaborate the point, because it seems to me that that argument clearly reposes on a misunderstanding, and that it really is not so. Perhaps it does not very much affect anything practical now, but if he, as I think, no doubt unintentionally, misled the Committee in the use of that argument I am sure he would wish for an opportunity now to correct it.

Colonel Clarke

I want for a moment to bring the Committee back to the question of the operational date. Nineteen hundred and forty-one has been suggested as a date when circumstances changed at the beginning of the war, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster), suggested 1938, when the Royalties were nationalised. I think there is a lot to be said for the latter date, but if antedating takes place—and I believe it should take place, and that the date in the Bill, 1st January, 1947, is not far enough back—then I think that 1941 would be the date to choose. I base my argument on the fact that in that year the nation, in addition to having control of all the coal as a mineral also took over operational control of the mines as well. From that time private ownership in this country really ended.

It is very often said that private ownership went on until 1947, but that is not correct. From 1941 the State was in operational control of the mines; that was really the beginning of the decay and inefficiency, due not only to national control but to dual control coupled with the effects of the war. I believe that 1941 should be the date. Certainly it should be ante-dated before 1947. We on this side are all agreed, and I believe that a great many hon. Members opposite think the same.

This Bill should be made as simple as possible. It is for the benefit really of the poorer sections of the community, and we want it in a form as easily understood as possible. In the past there has been much hardship through the owners of small properties not being able to understand their leases, and not realising that they had no right to support. Perhaps they did not bother very much, but if the title deeds had been in a simpler form they might have taken the trouble to understand them. Apart from the convenience of those who will have to operate this Bill—the lawyers, and this House—everything should be done to make the Bill as simple as possible, and to put as few obstacles as possible in the way of those who must understand it if they are to get the fullest advantage from it.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Perhaps I might first deal with the two points made by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn). I think I am right in saying that on the Financial Resolution an Amendment to insert the words "directly or indirectly caused" was ruled out of order, and I had better not add to that now. On the second point, about the additional £500,000 for earlier years, I of course admit that it is all speculation, but what I think is certain is that there was not less damage by subsidence during the years before 1947 than there has been since.

Mr. Pickthorn

At least it would be provable.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Certainly. The damage would not be less, and would certainly be much harder to check when claims were made. If we were not to do injustice to some who had perfectly good claims—and it is one of the reasons I put the administrative difficulty forward in respect of our attitude—we might find ourselves admitting claims which would be unjustified. If we extended the date back to the war years I think that the sum per annum would not only be as much as the £500,000 which we caculate it now to be but, if that figure is right, it might be a good deal more in that period for the reasons I have stated.

The main discussion on the Motion now before us, initiated by the hon. Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes), has been on the retrospective effect of the Bill. I noted that he did not agree with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens). He did not want to go far back into history but he wanted to go back to a date before 1947. He made two suggestions. He said firstly that if we take January, 1947, as the date, there may be some extremely hard cases of people who had been persuaded by colliery companies not to ask for their repairs to be done because the movement had not finished.

Mr. Raikes

During the war.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Because the movement was continuing was what I understood the hon. Member to say.

Mr. Raikes

That is not what I intended.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Then I beg the hon. Member's pardon but the point has been made about the movement continuing. I think those claims would now be accepted by the Board where there was an obligation previously, because the Board inherited the obligations of the companies. Any other cases are covered by the arguments which I have used.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Where damage had occurred before the crucial date, 1st January, 1947, which was continuing, and further damage took place after the crucial date, would the total damage be payable or would there be payment only in respect of what actually occurred after 1st January, 1947?

Mr. Noel-Baker

As I understand the Bill, the amount payable would be in respect of the second part of the damage. I should like to look into the point before I offer a final and definite view on behalf of the Government. I concede that if a colliery company had, before 1947, asked someone not to have the repairs done because the movement was continuing then the Coal Board would include both parts of the damage. That is what I understand to be the position.

Other suggestions were made about going back further than 1947. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster) said that I had helped to mislead the House by saying that this was the proper job of the colliery company. I think my words were that it would be illogical to put responsibility on the Coal Board for what had not been done by their predecessors under the then existing law.

Colonel Lancaster

What I was trying to make clear to the Minister was that if we were discussing the question either of social justice or the milestones in this matter, the important milestone must surely be that of 1937, and that nationalisation of the coal industry had little or nothing to do with the question of whether or not the nation should accept responsibility for subsidence.

Mr. Noel-Baker

It may well be that the nationalisation of coal royalties and the national ownership of the coal was an important milestone. I believe that the date of the relevant Act was 1938.

If at that time the then Conservative Government had said to those to whom that money was being given, "We think that as a matter of social justice it would be right that people whose houses have been damaged by subsidence should have had them repaired, although the law has imposed no such obligation," and if they had then taken part of that £72 million paid in compensation and used it to compensate the people whose houses had been damaged by subsidence, I feel sure that our party would have given them warm support. If the Government of that time had said what the Opposition are today saying in effect, "As we have nationalised the coal it is now the duty of the nation to look after this business," and if they had passed an Act of Parliament laying it down that the nation would pay compensation and do repairs, we should have supported it. We asked for such a Bill and tried to get one through the House, but the Government of those days refused to do that.

7.45 p.m.

We have to deal with the situation so created, with the accumulated miseries of a century of neglect. We cannot do everything. We have to tackle the present day problem, and many of the past miseries, alas, cannot be put right. When the hon. Member for Garston says "Let us go back at all events to the beginning of the war, 1939," I repeat that that is yet one year more and I am convinced that the cost would be not less than £500,000 a year. That would mean another £4 million. Who is to pay that? The Coal Board? No. It was either the hon. Member or the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who suggested that we should put the date back to the beginning of the war.

Mr. Raikes

I took the year 1941 really on the ground that war-time conditions dated from 1940 and the serious effect of subsidence from that time leading to damage would not appear before 1941, when national control of the mines began. That would only be covering war-time conditions from 1940, and 1941, therefore, seemed a convenient date.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The argument as between the two earlier dates suggested concerns about £1 million. If we are on financial aspect, to take 1941 as the date would mean an additional £3 million, and 1939 would mean an additional £4 million. That would have to be paid either by the Coal Board or by the Exchequer. I do not believe hon. Members will say that; my hon. Friends certainly do not agree with either of those propositions. I am afraid that it cannot be done. As one of my hon. Friends has said, there are anomalies in any limit which is laid down. There are, of course, some people in the mining areas who will wish that their cases had been covered, but broadly speaking this Bill has been welcomed in the mining areas, and I hope it will be welcomed by the Committee, and that the Committee will agree to the Motion "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

We have appreciated the somewhat conciliatory attitude of the right hon. Gentleman to some of the Amendments that have been brought forward from this side of the Committee, an attitude in marked contrast to the observations made by the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde), about which I must say a word later. But because we appreciate the conciliatory attitude of the Minister to the attempts we have made on this side of the Committee to improve the Clause, we regret all the more that he should have introduced the polemical note he did in this Debate.

I can quite understand the right hon. Gentleman taking the line that he can censure the party on this side of the Committee for acts of omission in this matter in the past. I should, however, like to point out to him that when he resists the suggestions we have made for putting the date back, say, to 1941, when operational control by the Government began, which seemed a not unreasonable date to select for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes), I think the right hon. Gentleman is weakening his position. I say that because while he can argue that Conservative Governments ought to have done something about the past he ought to remember that from 1940 onwards his party shared with our party the responsibility for this and many other matters. It is not, after all, as though, during the war, all social legislation and all matters of improvement were permanently put on one side. Many matters were settled by agreement.

If we may be guilty with regard to the past; if we on this side of the Committee may be guilty of some act of omission during the war years, then that is very definitely shared by the party opposite. They ought not to ride upon their high horse and be so critical as they are inclined to be. I think we shall make more speedy progress with the Bill if we leave the more polemical matters to be dealt with at a grander stage of the Bill and concentrate more particularly on the Amendments which we are considering.

The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles is not being quite fair to hon. Members on this side of the Committee when he says that the discussion on this Clause has been a waste of time. With regard to at least three matters of some importance his own Front Bench have promised to review matters brought forward from this side of the Committee. Hon. Members may have their own views as to which is the most important matter, but from my point of view I regard the question of the subsequent rateable value taking the house outside the whole provisions of the Bill as a matter of some considerable importance, and that was agreed by the Parliamentary Secretary.

If, in regard to the discussions on this Clause we are to toss points back and forth about the Committee, I would point out that such improvements as have been made, due to the discussion upon the Amendments, have been made entirely as a result of the efforts of hon. Members on this side of the Committee. No constructive improvements whatsoever have come from the hon. Members on the other side of the Committee who represent mining constituencies.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.