§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Schedule to the Bill."
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs (Bromsgrove)
There is one question that I want to raise on the Schedule, which deals with the method of calculating and making payments. As one who, professionally, may have a little to do with the matter I am not altogether disinterested. In other Measures of this kind provision has been made for payment to claimants of some amount towards the professional costs which they incur In this case, as we have explained—and I do not propose to go into that now—considerable professional costs may be incurred in employing mining engineers and others who are quite expensive people to engage. The costs may amount to almost as much as the compensation for a small measure of damage in respect of which a claim is made. Is it the intention of the Government to provide for the payment of the costs of those who, through no fault or obstinacy of their own, have to incur considerable professional expenses in order to recover perhaps only £30—because those are the important claims of which there will be the greatest number?
§ Mr. Bracken
Surely the Government are going to answer this question. Mining engineers are amply rewarded and, as I know to my own cost, hard to obtain and very expensive when they send in bills; but they are a mild and generous section of the community by comparison with lawyers. Surely some Minister can get up and give an assurance to my hon. Friend. We are helping the Government in every way. Surely we can have an assurance that these legal costs, which may mean nothing to rich firms but mean a lot to persons of small means, will in some sensible way be covered. There seems to be a sort of Council of State going on on the Government Front Bench, so I hope that one Minister will rise and give us an answer.
§ The Solicitor-General
There would be no place in the Schedule for such a provision, because the Schedule is simply designed to determine the amount of depreciation and the recipients' payments. 2301 If the Committee look back to Clause 2, they will see that the Coal Board are under two alternative obligations. One is to carry out the repairs as soon as reasonably possible, and the other, if it thinks fit, to make a payment equal to the costs reasonably incurred by any other person in carrying out such repairs. I should have thought that the reasonable costs of obtaining expert advice would be included by those words. In other words, anyone who wanted to carry out the repairs would be entitled to claim the reasonable cost to which he is put in obtaining expert advice for the purpose of carrying out those repairs. As to the costs of any litigation in which an individual may be concerned, the county court would have power to order costs in the ordinary way if litigation ultimately has to decide the issue.
§ Sir H. Williams
I rise, not for the purpose of controversy, but for the purpose of obtaining information for myself. I have been trying to understand paragraph 7, but I must confess that I do not understand it. I do not know whether the Lord Advocate can explain it to me. It says "easement means servitude." I thought that in ordinary language it meant the exact opposite. Perhaps I could have legal advice as to what that does mean.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. John Wheatley)
The reason "easement" means servitude is because "servitude" is a Scottish term which corresponds to "easement" in English. I cannot think of a more satisfactory explanation.
§ Mr. Bracken
May I ask whether the Lord Advocate had joined the Buch-manite movement? He has now told us that under the Socialist Government Scotland is under servitude. I agree with him.
§ The Lord Advocate
If I may reply to that remark, I would say that this is a term which goes back for many years and that it grew up in the era when the right hon. Gentleman's party ruled the destinies of Scotland.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.2302
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
This is a pleasurable occasion for me. We have had some good times and some good humour in the Committee. There has been a little heat now and again. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) and I are old antagonists. One has got used to his method of attack and has developed as a result of it, a certain line of defence. The Bill is, I think, generally welcomed in the House and it certainly is very much welcomed in those areas of the country where a good deal of hardship has been caused for many years to individuals as a result of subsidence.
From time to time the right hon. Member has done his very utmost to push hon. Friends of mine into making speeches and lengthening our discussions. They have had to exercise an enormous amount of self-discipline, which is the best discipline in the world and is better than any discipline imposed from the top. We are particularly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) who, on this occasion. has really been the mouthpiece for the mining Members of the House. He has served them well. We have listened to the contributions which he has made with very great interest and respect, because of his wide knowledge and experience.
I should like to pay a compliment to the hon. Baronet who was a signatory to the Turner Committee's Report. During the discussions on the Bill he has made great contributions, based on the expert knowledge that he had as a member of that committee. We are grateful to him, too, for the ready way in which he has balanced the right hon. Gentleman and enabled us to get down to some serious discussion of the points at issue.
I said that the Bill is welcomed in the mining areas. My experience, and I suppose that of Members who go about mining areas, is that the miners who have produced the basic wealth of this nation usually live in the most dingy surroundings and shocking housing conditions. They go on working away, pulling at the very foundations of their own homes. They have done that, and it has brought 2303 hardship many limes. Therefore the Bull is of especial value to them. I am sure that they will appreciate what it means.
It may well be that the Bill does not do all that many people want, but it is a sort of limited Bill. We wanted it to cover those who occupy or own small dwelling-houses, and that is what we have done. The Bill requires the Coal Board to do for the owners and occupiers of all small dwelling-houses what they are already doing for other properties for which they must accept statutory responsibility.
I am certain that the Coal Board—in fact, I think I can give this assurance on behalf of the Coal Board—will discharge their obligations on the properties which come within the Bill and for which they will now be responsible, with the same sympathetic consideration as they have shown in dealing with those other properties for which they have had responsibility in the past and in respect of which my hon. Friend the Member for Ince has paid some small tribute. The Bill will remove the main cause of difficulty and dispute in connection with subsidence claims in the past, as to whether the Coal Board were responsible for the damage and were liable to pay compensation. From now on there will be no doubt at all. Doubt is removed. The position of small dwelling-houses is clearly defined and there will be no further dispute whether or not liability falls upon the National Coal Board.
That brings me to the point: What are the properties covered? We have agreed that they should be those of a rateable value of £32 in England and £52 in Scotland. I said on the Second Reading that we had thought of a number of ways to define a dwelling-house and the type of dwelling-house that we wanted to cover. We might have taken the number of rooms or the cubic capacity, or the floor space, but by and large and looking at it all round we decided that the best way would be to take the rateable value. It is true that assessments are unequal in the country and that rateable value may not be a perfect method at this stage, but when the reassessment which is going on is completed it should bring this type of dwelling-house on to equality.
2304 That means that in re-assessment there may be changes and that the type of house we want to cover might be put outside the scope of the Bill unless we raised that limit of £32 rateable value. We have therefore agreed to a provision in the Bill that will enable my right hon. Friend to make an order raising that limit if it is deemed desirable and right. I want again to give the assurance that I think I gave before on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that before he introduces any regulation dealing with this matter at all he will certainly consult local authorities, property owners' associations and the legal department of the National Union of Mineworkers, and indeed anybody who has an interest in this matter and who can give him advice.
§ Mr. Robens
It is difficult to interview all the miners themselves and I am sure that they would be satisfied if we consulted their organisation. I am bound to make it clear that, in making the regulations, my right hon. Friend may do so on the basis of experience arising from reassessment and on the advice of local authorities.
The Bill now passes to another place and we hope that it will speedily reach the Statute Book. When it does so the National Coal Board will set to work, discharging not only their current liabilities but discharging also the accumulated liabilities of the industry which they took over on behalf of the nation and which are placed upon them by the Bill. I thank hon. Members very much in all parts of the House for the kindness and courtesy that they have shown during our Debates, which have been carried on upon a very good-humoured basis.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Bracken
I must congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the friendly remarks he has made about the Opposition's attitude to the Bill. We set ourselves to improve it—we had no aid from the other side—and I think, on the whole, that we have done so. The Parliamentary Secretary has described the Bill as limited. Of course, it is a limited Bill. It might even be described as a mean and unfair Bill, because lots of people who have a right to claim compensation are excluded by the Bill. I have hopes 2305 that the Minister will one day be able to persuade those marble-hearted gentlemen who are responsible for Treasury policy to give him the opportunity he deserves, which is to offer adequate compensation to owners of houses suffering from subsidence—when we on this side will most heartily welcome the introduction of such a Bill. I know the right hon. Gentleman well—I worked with him in the war—and I am absolutely certain that if he had his way we should have a much more generous Bill, a Bill which would do justice to the many people affected by subsidence.
It has fallen to our lot to have to take the place of the mining Members. I am amazed by their silence and compliance. Above all, one of their most forcible advisers, the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), has sat here mute.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
I must permit myself the observation that if the right hon. Gentleman is going to give his cap and bells a shake, I hope he will give them a good shake.
§ Mr. Bracken
It is not my lot to shake anything. My lot is to protect the hon. Gentleman from Mr. Horner and others who feel that the mining Members have betrayed their trust, and I accept that view, too. As the Government have accepted most of our Amendments, it is quite ungracious of us to be too critical at this late stage of our discussions. The Minister assures us that in another place the many concessions made in the course of the Debate will be put into reasonably lucid English and later on will be returned to us, so that, as the lawyers say, there is a need for further and better opportunities and we have to see in cold print the fulfilment of the promises made to us by the right hon. Gentleman.
From the point of view of the Conservative Opposition, the Debate has in certain ways been a tragedy. Had we had the opportunity we should have offered fair compensation to the tens of thousands of persons who suffer from subsidence and are not referred to in the Bill. Obviously nobody from the other side of the House is going to pay us a tribute, so I myself propose to pay one to my hon. Friends. I think it will be generally agreed that we have greatly improved the Bill. We have helped the hon. Gentlemen opposite who sit for mining constituencies. I admire their 2306 loyalty to the Government. They have been absolutely dumb and obedient under the orders of the Chief Whip, but miners are the most loyal people in the world and I think that their electors will forgive them, more especially when they know that we of the Opposition have done the work that they were commissioned to do.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Brown
This is a very historic day for me inasmuch as it is now 31 years since I became an ardent advocate of compensation being paid for damage done by mining subsidence. It is historic in the sense that I have lived to see the day when our advocacy, propaganda and education have borne fruit and the fruit is being plucked from the tree by this Government.
A great deal of play has been made by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) about the dumbness of miners on this side of the House. It would be of interest to him if he took the trouble to ascertain the time, talent and energy devoted to the Bill by the National Union of Mineworkers. They gave evidence before the Turner Committee at considerable expense to themselves because they felt the time was coming when the things which they had advocated would be accomplished.
As I have said before, I welcome any assistance that we can get from the Opposition, but I should welcome it much more and with a more grateful heart if there were a little more sincerity about it. A great deal of play was made by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch—I like to see him in the Chamber because he creates a hilarious spirit although from time to time we take strong exception to what he says—with the suggestion that the Bill has not had a good reception in the coalfields. I propose to read a letter which has come voluntarily from an institution which is not very sympathetic towards the Labour Government. Those on whose behalf it is written realise however that in this Measure there is a ray of hope for the people who have been shockingly treated by Governments in the past. The letter is dated 19th May. The address is, "Estate Offices, Warrington Road, Ashton-in-Makerfield." This is what the letter says: 2307Dear Mr. Brown.—As the President of the Ashton-inMakerfield Property Owners' and Ratepayers' Association, I have been asked by the Committee to express to you our most sincere thanks for the trouble you have taken on behalf of the owners of property who have, and still are, suffering loss owing to damage by mining subsidence. Personally, I realise that a great deal of research and investigations have been made by you in connection with the Bill which is now before the House. As a member of the Mining Subsidence Sub-Committee of the National Federation of Property Owners, I am fully conversant with the work involved in this sort of thing. It is very often difficult to get correct facts and a great deal of trouble to compile them in such a way that they are always handy for reference purposes. We have always followed the reports of your speeches with great interest and I can assure you that this is not a formal letter of thanks but a truly grateful expression of our appreciation of your efforts, the result of which, though not all that we would have liked, has (bearing in mind the present economic position of the country) been very satisfactory. Believe me to be, yours very truly, James J. Walsh.There is an expression of appreciation from people who are not altogether sympathetic towards us. In that district which I tried to describe in my Second Reading speech, they realise that within this Measure there is a ray of hope which has been denied to them in years gone by.
The next letter is from the Abram Urban District Council. I will not read it, but it is as well that the right hon. Gentleman should understand that there is a great deal of interest being taken in the coalfields in this Measure.
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, because hitherto they have been denied the right of claiming compensation for damage done through mining subsidence. I dislike intensely the right hon. Gentleman interfering in the manner he has done, although he paid a tribute to me a few moments ago. If he had been sitting where I have been sitting for the last 31 years, his approach to this question would be entirely different from what it is this evening. We on this side of the House welcome this Measure, and I express the hope that at a subsequent date a Measure more comprehensive than the one now passing through the House——
§ Mr. Brown
That is what we are saying and doing and that is what we are expecting hon. Members opposite to support at 2308 a subsequent date. I believe that our people in the mining districts realise that we have attempted to do something which will help them in their financial difficulties, despite the economic circumstances of this country. I want to ask the Minister if, when he drafts the regulations which he is empowered to do under Clause 14 of this Bill, he will make them as simple as the English language can be made, because hitherto many regulations brought before this House have not been easily understood by the man in the street. I have fought for this for years and I am still an ardent advocate of the simplification of regulations.
In conclusion, as one who lives in one of these districts, effected by mining subsidence, I welcome the Bill and wish it Goodspeed in its passage through another place.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)
In this House we always like to hear the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) speaking on mining and although his "fan mail" which he read to us is a little on the lukewarm side, nevertheless it bears out that this Measure, whatever it may lack, is at any rate one which, after amendment, will probably do a great deal more good than harm in the areas it covers.
There is only one thing I regret in what the hon. Member for Ince said. He accused us rather lightly of insincerity. On this side of the House it is our duty, whenever any Measure is brought before the House, not only to scrutinise it but to try to improve it. I grant you, Mr. Speaker, that we always have a little bit of fun and games, when we are discussing a Measure of this character. It is not a bad thing, even when matters are of great import, that now and again we should have a little lightness brought into our discussions. Nevertheless, on this side of the House we have not only tried to improve this Bill but we have succeeded in doing so, and we have not done it through insincere motives. We have done it because we believe in making the Bill better. If we had wanted to be merely obstructive, we could have been, but that is not our policy.
If the right hon. Gentleman is still Minister of Fuel and Power, I think in a comparatively short time he will find 2309 it necessary to bring in further legislation to implement more completely the Turner Report. Perhaps it is more likely, as matters advance, that such legislation will be brought in by those who are now on this side of the House. If it is, we shall not accuse of insincerity those who have felt unable to bring in more far-reaching legislation today should they try to improve the legislation which we bring in.
Now that we are facing the new era of nationalisation for the coal industry, good or bad, I feel we have to look ahead, to build for the future, and in so far as this Measure carries us a stage further in fairness to a section of the community which is respected on all sides of the House, it is welcome. I regret, however, that the Minister has felt bound to adhere to the date 1947, because I believe he will find a considerable number of anomalies as between damage which arose during the war period and that seen before 1947. He has prevented any alteration of date backwards to 1941, which is the year I should have liked. However in regard to the wider question, he is not debarred at a later stage from bringing forward further legislation.
We willingly wish the Minister and the mining Members of Parliament good fortune in any advantage this Measure may bring to their constituents, and we are proud that we have had an opportunity, from which hon. Members sitting behind the Minister have been debarred——
§ Mr. Raikes
I will not get controversial on this Third Reading—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I could. We all know quite well that when the Government of the day produce a Bill, particularly when they feel a little pressed for time and the Chief Whip is not always smiling to the extent that he is smiling at the moment, hon. Members have not the same scope for moving Amendments to improve that Bill as have the Opposition. We have done our duty. We thank the Minister for meeting us when we have produced Amendments which helped. We are glad the Minister did not take the line, which is such a mistake, that if a thing comes from the other side it should not be touched. He has shown a certain generosity and we wish to show equal generosity in giving our blessing to this Bill tonight.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I have not yet taken part in the Debates on this Measure because I am in the happy position of having my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) as a constituent. He knows my constituency almost better than I do, having lived there for so long, and he certainly knows this subject. I welcome this Bill as a beginning, and I am wondering, if the Tory Party were in power, whether they would give us even this small beginning. I doubt it very much, and I have been here much longer than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken). Let me say one or two things in favour of this Measure——
§ Mr. Davies
Mr. Speaker, I get rather nervous when the right hon. Gentleman interjects in that way and I would like your assistance so that I may proceed with my speech. What I wanted to say was this: I know a little about the subsidence problem because I was born in a coalfield. Then, I must have actually worked a seam that made my own house metaphorically drunk overnight.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, not the householders, but the houses, becoming drunk with subsidence. I suppose that the right hon. Gentleman knows so little about mining that he has never heard that expression before. I welcome the Bill, therefore, as a beginning, because I am sure that it will be followed in the future by something more generous.
I represent one of the oldest coalmining areas in the Kingdom and I can assure the present Minister and any future Government that the Bill will be accepted only as a beginning. In my constituency we have the ugly situation of mining subsidence occurring under a stream, so that in time of heavy rains the whole neighbourhood is flooded; but that issue, of course, is not within the scope of the Bill.
I have been very interested by the solicitude of the Tory Opposition for the miners during these proceedings. How generous have been their words; but I have been here long enough to remember something quite different about the Tory Party, although I must not revert to that now.
2311 An hon. Member opposite raised the question of the repair of houses by the Coal Board. When I was a miner in the Rhondda—and I am sure that Members now representing that area will support me—I owned my own house and it suffered severely from subsidence. Some of the coalmining companies, however, were much more kindly disposed towards repairing property than others, but one thing was universal, namely, that when subsidence affected the homes of the managers and under-managers of the collieries, theirs were always repaired forthwith. In fact, I am sure now that the Coal Board will repair the houses of their officials before any others.
The Bill is a very simple Measure. It is not a very generous one, and I wish that it were more so. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has already been congratulated upon his work during its passage through the House. I am in the unique position of remembering my hon. Friend when he was a youngster, and I most certainly add my congratulations on his achievement in assisting the conduct of the Bill through its various stages.
The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), whom I see on the Front Bench opposite, knows a little about subsidence. He knows the little township of Aspull, and he must have seen the havoc which can be wrought by mining operations. I am sure that in his heart he will welcome a Bill of this kind, because it lays down the principle which removes the repair of property damaged by subsidence from the realm of charity to which it has in some cases been relegated. Hon. Members who represent constituencies in South Wales will bear me out when I say how deep a social problem this question of subsidence can become. I know miners who mortgaged their property in order to provide higher education for their children. In some cases however, subsidence damage arose and as a result the education of the children was marred.
I have seen small Measures which have begun in the House that have been expanded into much more important Acts of Parliament later. When I first came into the House there were not many of our social services in existence. I remember the time when I moved the very first Motion in favour of a widows' pension of 2312 10s. a week—that was in 1922. Incidentally, all the Tory Party except one voted against it, but we have made much progress since.
§ Mr. Speaker
We are discussing the Third Reading of a Bill. The hon. Member must confine his remarks to what is contained in the Bill.
§ Mr. Davies
I was about to return, Mr. Speaker, to subsidence. As I said, I congratulate the Government and the Tory Party on their support of the Bill. The generosity of hon. Members opposite has on this occasion known no bounds; and I would have been annoyed at their delaying performances had I not myself been guilty, whilst in opposition, of acting similarly many years ago.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde, South)
As one who, possibly, has been responsible for more subsidence than anyone else in the House, perhaps I may say a word in favour of the Bill. If it has done nothing else, it has cleared what for many years has been a very vexed problem. It is assumed by a good many hon. Members opposite that subsidence was the responsibility of the coal owners. Sometimes it was; in the great majority of cases, of course, it was the responsibility of the surface owner, the owner of the mineral property. It was very difficult for the House at any time before the minerals became the property of the nation to introduce a Bill of this kind which could in any way be comprehensive.
The Bill is a very small Measure. It has gone only a very little way to deal with this very considerable problem, but it has at any rate done that. I think that all hon. Members who have taken part in the progress of the Bill can congratulate themselves and in some small measure can congratulate the Government. As has been said by my hon. and right hon. Friends and also by hon. Members opposite, we must hope that at a later stage a more comprehensive Measure will be put before the House, for the present Bill touches only the fringe of the problem and undoubtedly we have a long way to go before the issue is finally settled. We have, however, made a start, which is all for the good, and I should like to add my small meed of praise of what has been done on this occasion.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
I should like to say a few words because during the Second Reading Debate I was perhaps severely critical of the Bill. I say with all sincerity that I am extremely glad that the Bill will soon be on the Statute Book as a recognition of the very serious social problem of subsidence.
The Opposition must forgive me if I find it difficult to regard anything which they have said during the passage of the Bill as expressing a profound or revolutionary change of heart. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) who reminded the House of something which was vividly implanted in my memory—the throwing out during the last 30 years of no fewer than eight Bills, four of which had been promoted by mining Members. When those Bills were placed before the House, we in the coalfields had hopes that some recognition of this great evil would be shown by the Governments of the day. No such recognition, however, was made—none whatever.
We must be forgiven, therefore, if at this time of our lives we of the Government and of our great movement feel that we have succeeded in snatching a single brand from the burning on the benches opposite. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christ-church (Mr. Bracken) has not taken advantage of the opportunity to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Ince on why the Tories threw out no fewer than eight Bills in the last 30 years. No answer has been given by any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite. I am very pleased, at any rate, that at long last recognition of the problem of subsidence has been made.
The Minister and other Members of the Government will know that we regard the Bill—we cannot do otherwise—as being a decent, honest, healthy beginning in grappling with the evil of subsidence. I have every confidence that as the Government obtain more information, and as a greater understanding is reached by everyone of the true extent of human misery which the problem entails, we shall in the not too remote future see a more comprehensive Measure presented. I shall be expecting the same cheering, cheery disposition on the part of the right hon. Member for 2314 Bournemouth when another comprehensive Bill is submitted to the House, or, should a miracle happen in this country and the present Opposition become the Government of the country, we shall be living in more doubtful anticipation than we have been for a good while.
§ Mr. Davies
We say "good luck" to this Bill, and I am certain that, as information comes to the Government, they will make the same response as they have done in bringing forward this Bill.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I always think it is an extremely satisfactory Parliamentary occasion when both sides of the House co-operate in placing a sound Measure on the Statute Book, and I want to take this opportunity, first, of welcoming the Bill, and, secondly, of paying a tribute to all those hon. Members who sit for mining constituencies for the work they have done in bringing this question to the notice of the country as a whole. I do this in a very whole-hearted fashion. I come from the county of Northumberland, which has a great history of mining. I have always felt, sitting for a constituency in Northumberland, that I could view the mining community from a quite impartial position. Sometimes I thought the coal owners were wrong, and I quite often said so, and sometimes I thought the miners were wrong, and I quite often said so.
I like in this great House of Commons, when opportunity arises, to say to those who have fought for what I think is a thoroughly good cause that I am glad that they are now to see the results of the battles that they have fought for so long. I am glad my party have had a chance of putting forward certain constructive Amendments, and I also thank the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for the spirit in which they accepted those Amendments. Like everyone else, I hope that when this Bill gets on the Statute Book it will do a great deal to help those who indeed need assistance from the House of Commons to achieve what, after all, are their legitimate rights.
There is no need on an occasion of this kind to make a long speech, but I 2315 know there will be many people in the country who will welcome this Bill and who will obtain benefit from it, and I also hope that in the future we shall have a more comprehensive Measure. It is a great pleasure to have been in the House of Commons when this Bill was introduced, and I am delighted that everyone is so pleased that it will be placed on the Statute Book.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Slater (Sedgefield)
During the progress of this Bill through the Committee stage and up to the present I have been wondering whether the Opposition, who sought to bring comparisons to bear upon the legislative approach of the Minister in this Bill, have ever lived in a mining community where subsidence has been a dominant factor. I listened most attentively during the Committee stage and I heard one hon. Member opposite make a statement to the effect that subsidence had presented itself immediately following the sinking of a shaft in the pit and had been in process for a period of six months. Anyone who has served in the mining industry knows that in a period of six months very little progress is made in any operation in a pit.
I think it would be as well, if those on the Opposition benches want to give themselves credit, if they now consider themselves as the miner's champions and want some information relative to subsidence that they should go into the mining areas. If they did that, they would see that the approach of past Governments, to which they have been attached and in which they were very insincere at the time when forms of nationalisation were sought to be introduced, was wrong and that they ought to have given those Measures their support. This Measure has had to come through nationalisation, which was introduced by a Labour Government.
A Measure has been introduced whereby people in the mining areas can be assisted when the houses in which they live are damaged by subsidence. In many instances, prior to nationalisation, those houses were owned by private companies. Mention has been made of the rateable value of £32, but in Durham a rateable value of £32 would be considered appropriate to a mansion and not a small dwelling-house. With other hon. 2316 Members who represent mining constituencies, I am very grateful for this Measure and we hope that in time a more comprehensive Measure will be introduced whereby people living in the mining areas may be given further consideration.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am not a coal owner and never have been, I am not a miner and not a property owner, but I am interested in this problem because for many years I was interested in a wide area in South Staffordshire where the problem was very serious. I have seen it in different forms. I remember streets on fire because the coal came near the surface. I have seen all these problems and I very much resented the tone of several hon. Members opposite who have spoken in this Debate. On the lips of every one of them has been the word "insincerity," I think it is very near the edge of an improper Parliamentary phrase to accuse hon. Members of being insincere when they have spoken in support of certain Amendments which, if the Government had accepted them, would have created the more extensive Measure about which hon. Members opposite talked.
The insincerity, surely, has not been with us, but with those who supported the Minister against the Amendments which would have given them a Measure they desired. That ought to be put quite plainly. We have had what I call "absent friends" speaking on the Third Reading. They took no part on the Committee Stage and did nothing to improve the Bill because, I presume, they were told to be quiet, but it ill becomes them on the Third Reading to accuse us of insincerity. I hope we shall not have that attitude again. It is cheap and nasty and shows a good deal of insincerity itself.
§ Sir H. Williams
It does not matter where it comes from. If I moved an Amendment which would improve the Bill and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) opposed it, who is insincere? Surely I would be sincere and he would be insincere because he did not support it, as he was afraid of disciplinary action which, in the Labour Party, is very rigid. In our party we are always free to express an opinion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, and free to vote.
§ Mr. R. Williams
On a point of order. Will you give me some guidance, Mr. Speaker, whether the disciplinary forces which may or may not come into operation in the Conservative Party can be related to any particular part of the Third Reading of this Bill?
§ Mr. Speaker
I was wondering when the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) was speaking about an Amendment and if it was an Amendment which was rejected, because if so it cannot be talked about on the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Sir H. Williams
I quite agree, Mr. Speaker, I know the rigid rules which apply to debate on the Third Reading. One can only talk about what is in the Bill and not about what ought to be in the Bill. But as every speech from the other side of the House has been about what hon. Members wish to be in the Bill, I thought it was not quite disorderly for me to comment on the fact. Apparently everyone who has spoken in that sense has been out of order, and I have been wondering for quite a time whether they would be pulled up.
This Bill will certainly improve the situation, and for that reason, like everyone else, I welcome it. It would not have been improved in the way it has been and in the way in which I understand it is likely to be improved, but for vigorous action taken by many Members on this side of the House who thought that those concerned should receive far more generous terms than they will receive as the Bill stands. I hope that when the Lords Amendments come back we shall be able to welcome some great improvements. I conclude by repeating that it is rather offensive and disgusting for people to talk of insincerity when they have taken no part in improving the Bill.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) referred with some pride to the freedom which exists inside the Conservative Party. May I remind him that that freedom no doubt extended to it being open either to his party or to himself at any time in the last 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, to have brought in even as modest a Measure as this Bill on behalf of the miners? So I do not think he should play that card too strongly.
2318 I was at a wedding earlier today and therefore arrived properly attuned to the slightly festive atmosphere of the House. In fact, a phrase which comes to mind on the Third Reading of a Bill of this kind as well as that other occasion is, "For better or for worse." We have now reached a stage where there is nothing much to be gained by quarrelling any more. No further Amendments can be made. We cannot get out of it whether we like it or not; it is just about to happen.
§ Miss Lee
I would say that even the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) looks quite attractive this afternoon. There have been other occasions in our earlier consideration of this Bill when I am afraid we could not have referred to him in those terms. One hon. Member opposite whom we ought to thank is the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). He not only did very great and hard work upon the Turner Committee itself with all the other members, but most of us who are deeply concerned about every word and comma of this Bill know that he has really worked terrifically hard and given his best and most serious services during our consideration of this Bill.
I know that neither you, Mr. Speaker, nor responsible people outside this House have the slightest misunderstanding about what my miner colleagues have been doing while this Bill has been before the House. We wanted the baby born, and we have been most anxious lest if we indulged ourselves or even did something we might conceive to be useful, the net result might have been no Bill. No one has claimed that the Bill is all we want. I feel so friendly today that I am willing to go in for a spot of coalition. I am willing to suggest that if by any dire misfortune to the country, we should have a Tory Government after the next election, both sides of the House might agree to get together and exert pressure on the Government to see that the Turner Report is fully implemented. If, as is much more likely, this side of the House continues to have the responsibility to govern, I am quite willing to invite hon. Members to unite with us in applying pressure, if that should be necessary, to 2319 make quite sure that we treat this Bill as a first stage and then proceed fully to implement the Report.
There is one party to this Bill outside this House which deserves a word of thanks. I refer to the Coal Board. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster) has, I notice, been deeply troubled in his conscience, which has several times led him to make the point that it was not really the mining operator but the mineral owner who was responsible for past wrongs that were left unrighted. We shall not quarrel with him about that, but I would at least say, now that we have the Coal Board, that one of the great blessings and advantages that flow from it is that we are able to bring forward Measures of this kind.
I do not know whether the practice of the Coal Board in dealing with housing repairs arising from subsidence in my Division is universal throughout Great Britain. I should like to know; it would be worth while to find out. So far as Cannock Chase is concerned the local councils are already feeling an immense advantage in the co-operation of the Coal Board, especially in that very often they act according to the spirit of fair play and not just in accordance with the strict measure of the law.
It is proper that we as a House of Commons should try to make this Bill as perfect as possible, but I am also optimistically looking forward to real cooperation with the Coal Board. I believe that it will do not only a competent job but a generous one. Those of us who have lived a great deal with this problem are modestly happy that we should have reached this stage. We know that in the last few years there has been less blood on the coal than there has ever been before. Because of a Bill of this nature we know that there are also to be fewer tears on the coal than before.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) has rather disarmed me. I had thought of saying some less kind things about the Government than it is now possible to say in view of what she has said. Perhaps I might be allowed to apologise for not being here when the new Clause dealing with onus of proof 2320 was moved. That has effected a great improvement and will go some way to meet the criticism which we on this side of the House have very fairly put forward. Perhaps I might be allowed to say also how sorry I am that the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) is not here. He has taken an immense interest in this matter, and I am quite sure that his enforced absence from these Debates will be a matter of great grievance to him. I know that, through his having been a colleague on the Turner Committee and in view of the terms of the Bill itself.
I do not wish to go into the details of the Bill again. We have criticised them and I am afraid there are still a large number of points on which it is deserving of criticism. I have still some faint hope that before the Bill leaves Parliament the Government may see the error of inserting the £32 limit. Perhaps I might say to the hon. Member for Cannock that this afternoon's proceedings are not altogether final. I do not suggest that another place has a resemblance to a divorce court, but it can at all events upset some decisions made here so far as this Parliament is concerned. I hope that the Government may see their way to give way on the £32 limit. I am sure they will be wise to do so.
This Bill does—I will not use the word "tend"—purport to do something which all of us think ought to be done to secure a measure of compensation for those who are working in the coalfields. In a way I think it much more important than a mere question of paying out cash. The amount of cash involved is not important. What is important is the psychological reaction—to use a rather pompous term—of those who are living with the damage which subsidence is causing all the time.
I am afraid that this Bill, when it is put into practice will be found to fall very far short of what is expected by those who are living in the coalfields, and I think it right even at this late stage to give that warning to the Government; but I am sure that now we have gone a little way along the path it will be impossible to draw back and that this Bill will necessarily be the precursor of further Bills; and that the time will come when this problem will be dealt with fully and in a way which will give satisfaction.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
May I join in the conviviality? I cannot be charged with not speaking on this Bill. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Irene Ward). She praised the miners and the miners' M.P.s. I am very pleased at her sudden conversion, because in the election she said of the miners:If the miners had done a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, we should not have required opencast coals.And she said:They don't want to do this, and so they take a day off. … The Socialists have cossetted the miners at the expense of the rest of the community.That was a speech made by the hon. Lady at a place called Bygate Lane School in her constituency.
§ Miss Ward
If the hon. Member will forgive me, I think I did say, in the few remarks which I addressed to the House this afternoon, that I was always perfectly outspoken both against the coal owners and against the miners, and for the coal owners and for the miners. I think that that is quite a reasonable approach to their many problems.
§ Mr. Blyton
I am very pleased at the conversion of the hon. Lady and I hope that the attacks on the miners will not be persisted in on these lines and that then the hon. Lady will congratulate them.
I also listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, East, and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken). I always enjoy listening to him in the House because he brings a happy atmosphere, although he says some very naughty things at times. I can assure him that he need not try to protect us from Arthur Horner and the miners' union because the National Union of Mineworkers are supporting this Bill, and therefore we have nothing to be afraid of in that direction. I also congratulate the right hon. Member on his gallant attempt to bait the miners' M.P.s in the Debate last week. Although he was not successful, he undoubtedly made a gallant attempt, and I hope it will be an object lesson to him in future Debates not to try that on a second time, for fear it redounds against him.
§ Mr. Bracken
May I interrupt the hon. Member? There has been grievous sub- 2322 sidence in the mining areas, but the biggest subsidence that I have ever known is among the mining Members in this present House of Commons.
§ Mr. Blyton
The right hon. Member can have his joke and rest assured that the miners' M.P.s are highly delighted about this Bill, because for the first time it is laid down by statute that the nation as a whole has some obligation to the mining community whose property is destroyed.
The £32 rateable value house mentioned in this Bill represents, in Northumberland and Durham, a good-sized mansion and I am satisfied that all the landlords in Durham who support the Tory Party are delighted that this Bill has been brought forward to protect them against mining subsidence. In the old days we had to face the problem that people did not pursue even their lawful rights because they could not employ lawyers and solicitors, valuers and surveyors. The colliery companies would not show them plans of where the coal had been extracted under houses, and many people suffered damage to their property because the onus was on them, and they got nothing. I should like hon. Members opposite to know that the Amendment on the Order Paper today has resulted from pressure from miners' M.P.s on this side of the House. It ought to be recognised that we have been pressing for this Amendment when the right hon. Gentleman opposite was baiting us. I welcome the Bull and hope that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth will be here next time when we implement fully the Turner Report.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I would ask the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) why, if the Amendment he referred to—which I think is the new Clause—was the work of miners behind the scenes, it was not put on the Order Paper before the Debate the other day? It seems to me very suspicious that it appears immediately above that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), and in almost exactly the same words as his.
2323 I feel that the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and other hon. Members have not been altogether fair to the Tory Party in saying that they have never done any constructive work to ameliorate the incidence of subsidence. I would take her mind back to the Private Members' Bill of 1939 on which I spoke. I would remind hon. Members if they have forgotten—and I should not have remembered had I not looked it up in the OFFICIAL REPORT—that I was the last Member of the Conservative National Government who spoke in that Debate. I said we were quite prepared to accept that Bill provided the part of it concerning local authorities was cut out.
That Bill did not only refer to the class of house included in this Bill but to local authority property as well; which this Bill does not, except as regards council houses. On that occasion I said on behalf of my colleagues that we were ready to accept the Bill if the second part regarding local authorities was cut out and that that part was contrary to the recommendations of the Blanesborough Report. That was the only Government Report we had to go on at that time. In this Bill we have had the excellent Turner Report which is much better than the Blanesborough Report.
Actually that was not accepted, but I did not vote on that Bill. At a later stage the promoters did withdraw the part of the Bill concerning local authority houses and it would have become law had it not been for the war. So it is not altogether fair to say that none of us on this side of the House did anything.
§ Mr. Oliver (Ilkeston)
Was not the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposed in principle to the Bill, and did not——
§ Colonel Clarke
I must not pursue that. I conclude by saying that I welcome the Bill, as far as it goes. I wish that it was wider, if only for the reason that it would then be easier to work. In its constricted form it will not be too easy. For that reason, I believe that it will have to be widened before very long.
Finally, I support what was said by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) 2324 about simplicity. We want people to understand this Bill. In the past many people have not understood what rights they have had. Lots of them had many rights which they did not use because they could not understand the position. I make a final appeal to the Minister that if any other alterations are made in this Bill they shall be designed to help towards simplicity, and that in any orders he makes the utmost simplicity should be attempted and attained.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
I rise at this stage for two reasons. The first is to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on having made a start. This is the first time in the history of this country that an effort has been made to deal with this vitally important subject. I heartily congratulate them and I add to that congratulation the fact that every miners' representative in this House equally enthusiastically congratulates them upon the work which they have done in bringing forward this Bill.
Having said that, I proceed to my second point, which is to ask a favour of the Minister. I ask him to be kind to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) and those on the benches behind him, because I have it in my heart to commiserate with them in the terrible circumstances in which they find themselves in relation to this Bill. It is a fact that we in this House who enjoy the observations of the right hon. Gentleman so much can react to his chiding without losing our tempers and without being in the least concerned, because we know that he is only acting the part of a buffoon.
But in the country it may be rather different, because we cannot always be present in our constituencies to explain in detail to our constituents that really the attitude of the Conservative Party towards this Bill, and towards the events which preceded it, can, with care, be explained away. We cannot always be there to do that. In our absence our constituents might very well think that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to the effect that they are the friends of the miners in relation to this Bill, should be treated with derision. Since it is clear that that 2325 will be so in the country, I beg my right hon. Friend, in his observations, to take those facts into account. I put it to the Minister that it is not necessary for him to hit the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends as hard as they deserve.
Throughout the proceedings leading to this stage of the Bill, it is true that we who are proud to represent the mining areas have adopted certain tactics. We have behaved in a certain way. Again, I would say, as I am feeling very friendly to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch this evening, that we are responsible to our own constituents. We are not responsible to those to whom the right hon. Gentleman is answerable. Consequently, when we meet the miners and talk to them about subsidence, they remember the great work which has been done over many years by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). In smaller measure, they occasionally in their kindness of heart refer to the work for which I am proud to say that I have been responsible. I say that in all modesty. They will not judge our contributions to this Bill by the observations put forward by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
In fact, all that it is necessary for us to do in our constituencies is to say what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said on the Third Reading of this Bill. I can assure him that we need merely quote the words which he has used and perhaps the hoots of derision will be heard even among the coal pits and slag heaps of the constituency which he represents so brilliantly. I am really and sincerely proud to add my few comments in support of this Measure, which is the beginning of great things in dealing with the problem of subsidence. I hold the right hon. Gentleman opposite to this: nobody has stated more clearly than he has, that he wants more than this Bill gives.
§ Mr. Williams
It is important that he should remember that at the right time. It is a matter to which we shall refer at a later stage. I hope that if my right hon. Friend forgets everything else I have said, he will remember that I beg him to be kind to the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Coming as I do from a mining area in North Staffordshire which has some 24,000 miners, and knowing that the Government were most anxious to help in this problem which has largely affected working class dwellings, it would be ungracious of me not to say a word of thanks. For this purpose, I also represent my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). For many years this has been a difficult human problem in the lives of ordinary working men and women. We all think that it is a very good idea that a great number of houses should be built. Some of us think that it is good that the local authorities should provide houses for rent; but there is nothing in the philosophy of hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House against the idea that a man and his family should own their own house if at all possible.
As a working man, I have seen great good come from the thrifty endeavours of men who have got together little homes with gardens where they have some security. But much heartburning has been caused when men and women, having worked hard for many years to acquire a little property, have been called upon a few weeks later to pay £100 or £150 to make good what they thought was a perfectly sound house. We often hear on other occasions about the widow and the small shareholder in companies. Many people of limited means have suffered many anxious hours and loss of sleep because of the difficulty of establishing their rights.
For example, in the old coal fields from which some of us come, there might have been differing conditions arising from the separate ownership of contiguous collieries. The question whose responsibility it was to repair a certain house was a matter of high technical difficulty. Some people living in the margin of one colliery, and possibly with some kind of interest in or association with a neighbouring colliery, where totally different conditions obtained, having acquired then-houses without much technical knowledge of what was being done, suddenly found themselves in this jam. It is a matter of 2327 great advantage to these people to realise that, even within the limited terms of this Bill, something is now being done for them.
We recognise that the National Coal Board, which is trying to put the industry upon a sound working basis, obviously could not saddle themselves with all the large-scale responsibilities which some people would have liked to put upon them. In mining areas, such as that which I represent, there is widespread damage, and even town halls and public buildings of every sort have had to be patched up at great public expense. If anything can be done by preventive means in the construction of houses to avoid, at a later stage in their life, that development of damage and inconvenience from subsidence, I think it should be a matter for research, and that the Coal Board and the Government should work together with the local authorities to make the best information and advice available to those people who, perforce, because there is no other land available, have to build upon this land.
I welcome the Bill, and I hope that it will be the forerunner of another when, in happier times, the National Coal Board will be able to meet this problem—and not the National Coal Board alone, for I think that there is a Governmental and State responsibility in this matter—so that something shall be done in co-operation to provide justice for so many people and local authorities.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), who spoke a short while ago, referred to the festive atmosphere which had prevailed this afternoon, and she helped to make it still more festive by her own speech. May I now express my own appreciation of today's Debate. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) has played a large part in our discussions, both in the Committee stage and since, and he has paid so handsome a tribute to himself for his spendid work that I really do not think I should say any more about him. I confess that sometimes during the Committee stage, I thought our great objective of compensation for subsidence was being obscured a little, and I confess that, if anyone could have found a way of making the right 2328 hon. Gentleman subside, he would have deserved generous compensation. The right hon. Gentleman has helped us very much, and I am grateful to him. The atmosphere we have had this afternoon shows that everybody wants this Bill to go through.
The right hon. Gentleman said it was a mean and unfair Bill, dictated by the marble-hearted tyrants of the Treasury, and he was good enough to say that, if I had been left to myself, I should have brought in a much better Bill. This is the best Bill we could hope to get in present circumstances, and this is the most generous way in which we can deal with this problem in our present national economic situation. Many of my hon. Friends and some hon. Members opposite have expressed the hope that there will soon be another Bill. Speaking personally, so do I. The subject needs a lot more study, and I am going to start the study. It will not be possible to bring in another Bill until the general economic position of the country improves. It is improving, and, therefore, I harbour a certain hope that another Bill will in due course come along.
In the meantime, we have this Bill, and what has been said by my hon. Friends behind me has shown that I was correct in what I said about the Bill on Second Reading. While it is a limited Bill, it is an important Bill, and it has received in the mining areas the response for which I had hoped. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes) for what he said about the Government's attitude to the Bill, and we are also grateful for all the suggestions which have been made from all quarters. I wish we had done even more.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), spoke of the £32 limit. I should like to raise it, but to do so would really change the character of the Bill. We did consult the local authority associations, the national property associations and everybody we could find, on the point whether there were classes of property which ought to be brought within the scope of what we are trying to do. We could get no evidence except the evidence brought by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), and, in regard to the cases he mentioned, I have already explained why I am afraid that we could not deal with 2329 them in this Bill. It would only have created anomalies elsewhere, and I am afraid that that matter will have to be dealt with in the next Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), spoke of preventive work being done by the National Coal Board. I think that that is very important, and I hope that the National Coal Board will work closely with local authorities, with building contractors and town planning authorities in doing all the preventive work that can be done. I think there is a great future in it. As the Turner Committee said, prevention is better than cure, and if they can be given some financial inducement, we shall certainly get results. It was thought in 1927 by the Royal Commission which sat at that time that we were on the eve of an epoch of progress of real prevention, but it was not true then, though, after all the technical work carried out at that time, we may be said today to be on the eve of an epoch in which results may be seen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who has helped us very much all the way through, and especially with the new Clause which has been added today, asked us to make the regulations as simple as they could be and to frame them in plain English. We will try to make them in plain English, but, of course, regulations must be documents that will stand up to legal interpretation. However, I make this pledge. Whether the English in the regulations be plain or not, we will try to produce some explanatory leaflets which will help the people in the mining areas really to understand what the regulations mean and what they themselves have to do. I hope my hon. Friend will accept that pledge.
As the Bill has been about to be read for the Third time, a few bouquets have been thrown in all directions, and, even at the risk of repeating what some hon. Members have said, holding the office which I do hold, I must say a few additional words. I must first pay tribute to the pioneers of the Bill between the two wars, to the National Union of Mine-workers for the work they have done for many years on this subject, to my pre- 2330 decessors who appointed the Turner Committee, to the Turner Committee itself and all its members, to the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South, who has always shown such a great interest and has done a great deal of work, to my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Dagger), who is regrettably absent owing to illness, from which we all hope he will soon recover. There is also my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman), who has also done a great deal of work on this subject.
I should also like, if I may, and I do not know if it is permitted or not, to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has done an extraordinary amount of preparatory work for this Bill. I think his work has had a great deal to do in helping to get this Bill through the House. I must also join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock in her tribute to the National Coal Board. Under this Bill, they are obliged to accept new and heavy obligations, and they are under statute obliged to pay their way. This new obligation is an open-ended obligation, because they may have a much larger problem than they have estimated it to be. Throughout our discussions, they have taken up an enlightened and generous attitude in dealing with local authorities and property owners to whom they have obligations, and we can rely on them in future.
I would also join with the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) in the generous words which she used about my hon. Friends on this side of the House. They have lived with this situation for many years, but they have had the wisdom to accept a limited Bill when they wanted something more. They have shown great patience and resolution. As hon. Members on all sides have said, this Bill has been easier to bring in because the National Coal Board was set up three years ago. The Bill is, in truth, a by-product of nationalisation. It is one more step in social justice to the miners and their wives—one more step, an important step but not the last.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time; and passed.