[Sir WATSON RUTHERFORD in the Chair.]
(1) In any district where the Local Government Board are of opinion that damage to houses and buildings (including schools and other buildings belonging to or occupied by a local authority), and property therein as defined by this Act, or to highways, including tramways or other works thereon, or to reservoirs, drains, sewage or other public works, belonging to or under the control of a local authority (hereinafter called such property), has been caused, or is likely to be caused, by subsidence or disturbance of land occasioned directly or indirectly by mining or quarrying operations of any kind (both of which operations are hereinafter described as mining), the Local Government Board shall make an Order forming a compensation district and establishing a compensation board under this Act in such manner as they think necessary for the purposes of this Act having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
(2) The Local Government Board shall cause printed copies of the Order to be deposited with the clerk of the county council of the county or counties in which the district or any part of the district formed by the Order is situate, and with the district council or councils exercising jurisdiction in such district or any part thereof. The copies so deposited shall be open to inspection by any person concerned without fee.
Amendment proposed [23rd July]: In Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "Local Government Board" ["where the Local Government Board are of opinion"], and to insert instead thereof the words "Home Office."—[Mr. Leslie Scott.]346
Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
The CHAIRMAN: It will be in the recollection of Members that this Committee was adjourned in consequence of it being uncertain whether any facilities could be given for the Financial Resolution, and owing to the absence of any intimation from the Government, or the presence of any representative of the Government. I observe we have got a Minister (Dr. Addison) here to-day, although he is not on the Committee. It has been intimated to me, as Chairman, that the promoters of the Bill would be desirous of it standing over. I do not know whether that is so, but that is the intimation which has been conveyed to me. If so, perhaps one of those Members whose names are on the back of the Bill would move this Resolution: "That the proceedings on this Bill be adjourned to a future date to be named by the Chairman on the request of the Member in charge." It would be possible then to adjourn the proceedings on this Bill, so that this Committee might get on with other business that is urgently waiting for it. If that is not the general desire of the Committee, of course the next thing to be done is to proceed with the Bill at once, and to take the Amendments as they appear on the Paper. I am entirely in the bands of the Committee, and I desire to act strictly in accordance with the views of Members present. I am simply mentioning this fact in order that the Committee may have the exact position before them. I 347 think, perhaps, the Committee would like to hear what the Minister who is present has to say.
Mr. HODGE: I suppose it will be necessary that I should formally move to report Progress, as otherwise I would be out of order? My right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace), being a Chairman of Committees, cannot be a member of this Committee, although it is his Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson), unfortunately, is indisposed and cannot be here this morning. I understand the custom in the case of Private Bills is to go on with the Committee and report to the House, after which the Government make up their mind as to whether they are going to give facilities for the passing of the essential Financial Resolution. I would suggest, as the principle of the Bill has been accepted by the House of Commons, and is already on the Statute Book, we should go on with this Bill, notwithstanding the absence of my right hon. Friends. That is the opinion I hold. I do not believe that the principle of the Bill will be very strongly contested, judging from what took place at the last meeting of the Committee.
Major WHELER: May I ask whether this Committee can go on beyond Clause 4 without the sanction of the House for the Financial Resolution.
The CHAIRMAN: Yes; it can deal with all parts of the Bill, except the Clause that relates to money, and it can postpone that Clause when we come to it.
The MINISTER of HEALTH (Dr. Addison): I am not a member of the Committee, but if I may be allowed—
The CHAIRMAN: Is there any objection to having a few words from the Minister of Health?
Mr. HODGE: I think we are all delighted to see and hear him.
Dr. ADDISON: That being so, I must apologise on behalf of the Government for no representative having been present at the last meeting of the Committee. I am sure the Committee will take it from me that that was due to no lack of respect for the importance of the Bill or for the work of the Committee; it was a pure inadvertence and misunderstanding as to which Minister was to be here. As 348 has been pointed out, and as will be seen from the Amendments on the Order Paper this is a Bill which has somewhat confused the functions of different Government Departments. But we can put that on one side; it is a mere trifle which can easily be rectified. The Government have considered this Bill with great care, and I myself, interested as I am in the housing question, am of course greatly concerned. It is the fact that in many districts of the country, owing to the risks of subsidences, there is great difficulty in getting suitable land for houses, and we had previously decided that we must take some suitable steps for dealing with this question, at any rate from the point of view of housing. We propose to get on with that. But so far, however, as this particular Bill is concerned, the view of the Government is that they cannot support it, because it does not seem to them to be framed on altogether right lines. I will briefly tell the Committee why. There would be under the provisions of the Bill local assessments of varying amounts in accordance with the risk which was thought likely to be incurred in the particular district. It does not appear to me that that is the way in which we can effectively deal with a big national principle like this. We have clearly to secure that proper safeguards are taken in connection with housing—and this is applicable to other buildings as well—and I do not think it possible to devise a workable scheme which can be administered on sound financial lines which contains district compartments. I do not think it would be possible because it would involve heavy charges quite sporadic in their incidence and very unequal in their distribution as between dfferent districts. That is not the best way of dealing with the problem. While we all agree as to the end we want to arrive at, which is to secure compensation or at all events suitable treatment and safeguards against risks of subsidence, I think hon. Members will admit that the Bill does not provide the best way of achieving that aim. I do not think you can do it on purely local lines. You must consider the risk from the industry concerned. In the particular case quoted here—Brine pumping—that is purely a local thing; it is confined to one particular district and as hon. Members are aware in order to deal with that, I have got a Clause in the Housing Bill which has now passed both Houses of Parliament. The reason why we put 349 that Clause into that Bill was that it was a strictly local thing, which does not affect anybody else. Therefore we were bound to deal with it in that fashion. But this Bill affects the whole industry of mining, and, therefore, I do not think we would get administration, either fair or practical, on the lines proposed in it. We are taking this question up, and we propose, as soon as we can, to submit proposals to Parliament in connection with the general question, not on the lines of this Bill, which I do not think to be fair or workable. We have given this matter most careful consideration. I am very anxious it should be considered, because I am so interested in the question from the point of view of housing, and we must secure ourselves against this kind of risk quâ housing, otherwise our housing schemes may be held up. We came reluctantly to the conclusion, therefore, that we could not give our support to this Bill, and I have to say at once, although my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hodge) has pointed out that the Bill can be proceeded with notwithstanding, that the Government is not prepared, as the Bill stands, to give to it the time of the House, or to support the Financial Resolutions. That is all I have to say.
Mr. HODGE: I think the treatment by the Government of this Committee is shockingly bad, because they had plenty of time to make up their minds as to their policy on the Second Beading. That was the time when they ought to have decided the question, and they ought not to have wasted the time of busy men by bringing them here a second time to proceed with a Bill for which the Government are not going to give facilities. I think we are entitled to make that protest, and to make it strongly. With respect to the other point which the Minister of Health has put forward, about having an assessment for the whole country and not a local assessment, as in the Bill, I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend near me will agree with that, because when we discussed the matter last week his object was to exclude from the operation of the assessment people who were not guilty. But under the scheme of the Government the people who are innocent will suffer equally with the guilty. Then there is the other point which was mentioned on the last occasion, namely, that some coal-owners leave the workings in 350 such a way that subsidences are rather innocent in the damage that they do to anything that is on the surface, whereas in other cases they work carelessly, and there are great subsidences. I think local assessment is the best method, because it punishes the guilty and leaves the innocent unaffected. I do not know that it is necessary to say anything further than that, but in view of the attitude assumed by the Government I think it would be useless to proceed further with the Bill. I do not know what is the best method to report to the House, but I suppose it is essential I should withdraw my Motion to report Progress so that the proper course may be pursued in reporting the matter to the House.
The CHAIRMAN: I am advised that the correct Resolution to pass would be in these words: "That the proceedings on this Bill be adjourned till a future date to be named by the Chairman on the request of the Member in charge." The Member in charge is anybody whose name is on the back of the Bill commencing, of course, with the promoter, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace), and if that Resolution can be proposed from one side of the Committee and seconded from the other—for I take it the sympathies of both sides are with this Resolution under the circumstances that have arisen—it would help the matter. I hope, therefore, some Member whose name is on the back of the Bill (Mr. Brace, Mr. Adamson, Mr. James Brown, or Mr. Charles Edwards) will move.
Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS: I beg to move "That the proceedings on this Bill be adjourned till a future date to be named by the Chairman on the request of the Member in charge." I am rather surprised at the treatment of the Government. I am not very well used to Parliamentary business yet, but it seems to me that when this Bill was on the Second Reading they might have said that they would not proceed with it. Still, as a member of this Committee I do not want to spend my time here day after day if the Government, when it comes to a certain Clause, refuses to pass that Clause, though it involves the whole of the Bill. It is useless spending our time here. This is anything but good treatment on a very urgent matter. It seems to me that I have nothing to do 351 but move this Resolution. The Government have killed the Bill whoever moves the Resolution.
Brigadier-General HICKMAN: I beg to second, and to say to my Friends opposite that, however much all of us on this side would welcome the passage of the Bill, after we had amended it according to our own ideas, we perfectly see that it is quite impossible to carry on, because we must have the Financial Resolution, and that requires time given by the Government; and as I know the Government are very busy with more important Bills, and they want this Committee to carry on with other Bills, I think it is quite necessary that this Bill should stand over.
Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS: Before we agree to that I think we ought to have some more definite assurance from the Government as to when they are going to proceed with this matter, which affects certain districts very vitally. We have been told that the Government hope to go on with this matter as soon as possible. I do not feel that I want to agree with this Resolution unless the Government can give some assurance that they will introduce their Bill before the Vacation. At any rate, we ought to have some assurance as to when they are going to proceed with it, because it is exceedingly unsatisfactory if they are not going to pass anything into law this year.
Dr. ADDISON: If I may speak again with the permission of the Committee, I am only to sorry—although I cannot accept the responsibility which falls on every member of the Government—that the members of the Committee have reason to complain of the treatment which they feel they have received. I do not recollect the events which occurred on the Second Reading, and, therefore, I am not able to follow my hon. Friend opposite, but I am sincerely sorry that anything of the kind occurred. I may tell the Committee that I myself took up this subject quite independently of this Bill some three or four months ago, because we found that in some mining districts this danger from subsidence was a serious handicap in respect of the acquisition of land for housing, and it was from this point of view—and I say frankly as far as my Department is concerned from this point of view only—that we concerned ourselves with this exceedingly complicated subject. It involves a number of legal 352 questions on which I am a mere child, and I do not profess to be able to deal with them. I do not see any possibility of being able to introduce proposals on this subject, whether singly or as part of another body of proposals, before the Recess. It is really quite out of the question. I can only assure my hon. Friend opposite that I want to get on with housing and remove every obstacle that stands in its way, and to get this subject dealt with at the earliest possible moment, but I cannot give any pledge. I am sure it is out of the question before the Recess, but—
Mr. WILLIAMS: This year?
Dr. ADDISON: I propose to hurry it up and get proposals through as soon as we can. I do not want this to stand in the way of getting on with building houses. There is pressure of time—I recognise it—and we want therefore to get our proposals as simple as we can and unencumbered with controversial questions. This is one of the biggest difficulties with which we are confronted, but I will undertake that, as far as the proposals affect my Department, we shall push them forward at the earliest possible moment, though it cannot be before the Recess. Whether there will be time to deal with it in the Autumn Session I do not know. I sincerely hope there will, but there will be a struggle for time, and some other issues will have to be dealt with, and they will be big ones, I dare say. I am not giving any pledge now. That is for the Leader of the House. But I am going to do my best to get my side of the work done as soon as possible.
Mr. WILLIAMS: I do not consider that at all satisfactory, and I shall vote against the Motion before the Committee. If the Government cannot give an assurance that we are going to deal with the matter this year we ought to throw on them the responsibility before the country of wrecking this Bill.
The CHAIRMAN: A word from me is called for in putting this Resolution. Members will recollect that this Committee has been seriously embarrassed on each of the Bills that have been sent to it by the fact that no representative of the Government has appeared on the Bill or taken the trouble to be put on the Committee. This is, I think, the fourth Bill on which this has happened. Further, when it has been necessary to adjourn the Committee it has been pointed out almost on each 353 occasion that no arrangements could be made for officially reporting it, and, therefore, the Committee could not sit in the afternoons. It seems to me that where the House of Commons has passed the Second Reading of a Bill, and it is committed, it is the duty of the Government to state their policy and to give reasonable facilities for the will of the House to be carried out. But I think it will be obvious to every Member present that it is not the slightest use our wasting any further time this morning. If the Financial Resolution cannot be passed—and it could not be passed without the good will of the Government—then anything we may do in Committee on this Bill under these conditions is absolute waste of time. I think the Committee would be consulting its dignity as well as its convenience by passing the Resolution unanimously, if I may ask 354 them to do so, because this will enable me to make representations to Mr. Speaker. It has been proposed by one of the Members in charge, and seconded from the other side. I need hardly say that if any of the Members comes to me and asks for a day I will immediately put this Bill down in order that it may be dealt with again if a suitable opportunity should arise. I ask Members under the circumstances to support me in making my report to Mr. Speaker by unanimously passing this Resolution. Question, "That the proceedings on this Bill be adjourned till a future date to be named by the Chairman on the request of the Member in charge of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
Committee adjourned accordingly at Twenty minutes before Twelve o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE—
Rutherford, Sir Watson (Chairman)
Banner, Sir John Harmood-
Cory, Sir Clifford
Edwards, Major John
Edwards, Mr. Charles
McLaren, Mr. Robert
Philipps, General Sir Ivor
Walsh, Mr. Stephen
Williams, Mr. Aneurin