Coal Industry Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.This is the first Coal Industry Bill we have had since 1972. The purpose of that Bill was to clear up the mess after the first of the two coal strikes which marred the last period of office of the Conservative Party. This is a much smaller Bill. But let no one doubt its significance. It ushers in what we look forward to as a new future of harmony, security and prosperity in the coal industry after these recent turbulent and unhappy years. The past 12 months have seen a determination by Government, unions and the National Coal Board to co-operate in ensuring that the coal industry shall be able to live up to its new opportunities and its new place in the energy scene. This is the first major debate in the House on coal since the Conservative Party left office. There has been no need for one before. There has been no crisis, no drama, and only intermittent excitement. We ended the coal strike in our first few days of office. Then I moved speedily to set up the tripartite examination by Government, unions and the National Coal Board into the future of the industry, which we promised in our February election manifesto. That tripartite examination reported well within the three month timetable we had allotted, and I was able to present the interim report to Parliament last June and to enlarge upon it at the NUM Conference in Llandudno in July. The relations between this Government and the unions have been warm and cordial. The interim report signified agreement to an extra £600 million investment in the coal industry over the next 10 years. It also endorsed the foreshadowed compensation scheme for sufferers from pneumoconiosis and their widows. We had been faced with the squalid and degrading prospect of scarred and battered men having to fight their way through the courts for compensation which it might have taken them years to win, years which many simply did not have ahead of them. We were not prepared to suffer such a sorry spectacle and, therefore, readily backed the compensation scheme, to the tune of £100 million. Clause 1 of this Bill will empower me to make the necessary grant to the National Coal Board for that purpose. I think it is one of the noblest clauses ever to be embodied in a parliamentary Bill. The scheme is well under way. More than 55,000 claims have already been received. More than 20,000 claims have been checked and offers of settlement made. Benefit has already been paid in more than 12,000 cases. Assuming that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, I intend to commence making grants to the National Coal Board in accordance with Clause 1. I am sure the House will agree that it is right that the Government should start to honour their commitment to contribute £100 million just as soon as practicable. The Winter Supplementary Estimates provided for grants of up to £55 million to be made during this financial year. The final report of the tripartite examination was published last November and set the seal on a period in which we also decided to go ahead with the exploitation of the massive new coal find at Selby, subject to the necessary planning approval. During these months I was also able to announce that the first coaifired power station for many years would be built at Drax. Since then we have had the prolonged negotiations on the miners' pay claim that ended successfully last week. Before anybody indulges in any destructive comments about that pay settlement and its cost, it is necessary to point out that it is not as costly as the £1,100 million provided by the Coal Industry Bill 1972 for, among other purposes, setting right the National Coal Board's finances after the pit strike of the previous winter. Anyone who is critical of this settlement should also tell us whether it is more costly than the hundreds of millions of pounds which last winter's strike cost, not only in lost production for the country but in the great damage it did to the industry. We all know that it left the Conservative Party with an incomes policy that was shattered beyond repair. And before anybody starts to decry the social contract he had better tell us what he would put in its place. The hon. Member who is to speak for the Opposition—the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—will doubtless have had his attention drawn to recent statements by his right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), both of whom over the last few days have publicly accepted the settlement. As the right hon. Member for Lowestoft put it on the radio last Friday,
—that is, the Opposition—"I don't think that we"
Nor do we make any bones about the necessary price increases. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have during the past year repeatedly told the House how essential it is to get realistic pricing of energy both in the interests of the proper financing of the nationalised industries and in the cause of energy conservation."could have done anything other than what has happened."
The right hon. Gentleman is making some fascinating, rather challenging and coat-trailing remarks about the social contract. I am not quite clear about whether the settlement to which he has referred is or is not within the social contract. Is it clearly and explicitly within the guidelines?
I thought that that question would be asked. I strongly support the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment yesterday
"that the miners' settlement was a good one for the miners, the industry and, above all, for the country.—[Official Report, 18th Feb., 1975; Vol. 886, c. 1087.]
That is no answer. It is not within the guidelines.
I hope that before Conservative Members get too excited they will pay tribute to the fact that restructuring has taken place in the industry and that there is now a greater differential between those underground and those on the surface. It is still necessary that we get men to go on to the coalface and probably spend 40 years of their life there. It is therefore right that there should have been an element of restructuring.I was saying that we make no bones and offer no excuses about the necessary price increases. Over the last 11½ months we have constantly made it clear that we must have proper and realistic pricing within the nationalised industries in the interests of the industries themselves and in the cause of energy conservation. As the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, (Mr. Jenkin) so aptly put it in the House last March, quoting a previous utterance by Lord Barber, as he now is:
We can hope, therefore, that the atmosphere of conflict in the coal industry is being replaced by a determination to achieve genuine co-operation. This has been publicly accepted and demonstrated by the joint efforts of Sir Derek Ezra and the miners' leaders to boost coal, its market and its output. The after-effects of the overtime ban and the strike have almost gone. Since October there have been only two weeks—Christmas and the New Year—when the national average output per manshift was below 45 cwt. In the six months from April to September it exceeded 45 cwt on only four occasions. After years of decline, the industry's manpower is rising again. For the first time in more than 10 years recruitment is more than replacing the number of men leaving the industry. It is likely that for the year ending next month the manpower in the pits will be about 4,600 up. Last year recruitment was little more than half what the NCB needed if targets were to be met. This year recruitment is running at a rate well above the required average. The rest of the Bill after Clause 1 is designed to remove certain impediments to achieving further increased output. It is concerned with various measures to ease the way for the deep-mined and opencast coal developments which are urgently necessary. I want to stress that the Government have no wish to override the rights of the individual and environmental interests. Following publication of the final report on the coal industry examination, my Department has had informal consultations with local authority, land-owning and environmental interests. The views they expressed have been most helpful to us, and I think we have been able to set at rest a good many of the fears aroused by some misconceptions of the proposals. If I might deal first with deep-mined coal, Clauses 2 and 3 are intended to remedy what might be termed legal technicalities that could put obstacles in the way of much needed developments. I take first Clause 2. The present rights of the NCB—and those enjoyed by its predecessors—to withdraw support and let down the surface when extracting coal are contained for the most part in Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938. As the House well knows, when coal is extracted the land directly above it often subsides. But the adjacent land beyond the vertical limits of the coal which is being worked may also be affected. The board has always believed that those rights permitted it to withdraw that "lateral" support from adjacent land. Recently, however, doubts have been cast on this interpretation and it seemed wise to resolve them. Clause 2 seeks to do this, and to put the matter straight by giving the Board a new general right to withdraw support from any land whether the coal concerned lies under that land or under adjacent land."at a time of the most acute energy shortage .. it is anomalous … that we are subsidising coal and electricity prices at a mounting rate." [Official Report, 13th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 325.]
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is negotiating with the industry about a revised compensation code? What stage has the negotiation reached?
I am coming to that matter. I shall mention it in remarks that I have to make in explaining other clauses.The purpose is simply to protect the boundaries of the Board's operations, which are changing from day to day, from threats of legal action arising from uncertainty about its powers under the 1938 Act. In practice, the effect of the clause will be minimal. Where the Board has not already done so, the clause requires it to publish, in newspapers circulating in the district, advance notice of its intention to withdraw support, giving full details of the areas likely to be affected. And it must pay proper compensation or rectify any damage done.
The right hon. Gentleman is probably referring to Schedule 1 when he talks about paying compensation or rectifying any damage done. There seems to be uncertainty in the schedule about whether the Board intends and will insist that plans for new buildings should be submitted to it in advance so that it can prescribe special provisions in the structural details of the building and compensate the constructors for the extra input required. Is it the Board's purpose that that should occur, or does it intend to let the building settle and then pay compensation for the damage?
It could be done either way. Those who have it in mind to erect buildings can ask the Board about its future developments and receive from or discuss with the Board suggestions about reinforcing the structure. If the Board agrees that it would be wise that there should be some reinforcing, it could pay for the cost of the extra reinforcement. If it says that it is not necessary and subsequently damage occurs, compensation will be paid in the normal way. I know that the hon. Gentleman has an interest in this matter because he represents an area in which Selby will be developed and I dare say that he will deal with it in Committee.
Is there any advance under the Bill in the compensation payable under the 1957 Act?
There are some amendments in that respect and I shall deal with them when I reach the question of land as it affects opencast workings.Clause 3 of the Bill deals with an exceedingly complex matter—retained copyhold interests. Copyhold was a form of feudal land tenure granted by the lord of the manor. Under this, the lord retained ownership of any minerals while the copyhold tenant had possession of them. This meant that the coal could not be worked without the tenant's consent. That situation was continued when the ownership of the coal was vested in the National Coal Board by the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946. Therefore, although the Board owns the coal under land subject to these retained interests, it cannot work it without the consent of the owner of the interests or alternatively securing an order from the courts under the Mines (Working Facilities) Act 1966. This is an anomalous situation compared with the generality of land, where the Board has full rights to work the coal—subject to conditions laid down in any inherited leases and so on. The Board is able to overcome the copyhold obstacle in its old-established coalfields where most of the retained interests were registered in 1938, when coal reserves were first nationalised. But in areas remote from the then known coal reserves they are difficult, if not impossible, to track down and identify with any certainty. If the Board had to pursue the matter through the courts this could cause delays which are quite unacceptable, for example, when the development of so important a project as Selby could be at risk. Clause 3 therefore gives the Board the right to work coal under land subject to retained copyhold interests. It applies in England and Wales but not to Scotland, where this system of tenure was not used. The NCB must publish notice of its intention to exercise this new right and pay compensation for it. In the event of dispute, the amount is to be settled by the Lands Tribunal. Nothing in either Clause 2 or 3 interferes with established planning procedures. The development at Selby is subject to normal planning procedure. I now come to Clauses 4 to 6. In the coal industry examination the mining unions joined fully with the Government in endorsing the Board's plan to increase opencast output by 50 per cent. from 10 million to 15 million tons a year over the next three years. But this necessary expansion cannot be assured under present arrangements because of difficulty and uncertainty in securing access to sites. In most cases the Board is able to buy the land or negotiate the necessary rights with the owners. But perhaps one of the landowners concerned will seek a quite unreasonable price or try to impose unreasonable conditions, and this can frustrate the whole scheme. This uncertainty makes nonsense of the sensible planning of a production programme, and the Board requires the backing of additional powers which, subject to appropriate safeguards, it can use in the last resort. Clause 4 therefore stores the power originally provided by the Opencast Coal Act 1958 to make compulsory rights orders. Such orders will continue to be subject to the confirmation of the Secretary of State which, I assure the House, would not be lightly given, and, just as important, the provisions of the 1958 Act relating to compensation will continue. Clause 4 provides for the maximum duration of compulsory rights orders to be increased to 20 years. I would emphasise that this is maximum duration. It does not mean that all sites will be occupied for this length of time. But some sites are now much larger than was the case in 1958 and can be worked to greater depths. Then we must allow five years for the full process of restoration and return to full productive fertility. Enough time must therefore be allowed for all these factors in the exceptional case. The average time of occupation will be very much shorter, and even on a large site I know it would be the Board's aim where possible to operate so that parts of the site could be restored and released propressively as the work proceeded. Another problem in connection with site authorisation is dealt with by Clause 5. In many cases a site needed for opencast working is traversed by footpaths which need to be temporarily suspended or—in effect—diverted since, where there is a need, the Board must provide an alternative way. Then the original route is reinstituted when the works are finished and the site restored to normal use. That is what happens where footpaths have to be suspended or diverted. The procedure for these temporary suspensions is separate and different from that for authorisation to work an opencast site or, indeed, from that used for the permanent suspension of a footpath for other purposes. The aim of Clause 5 is to provide a straightforward procedure which minimises unnecessary delay in deciding an application while preserving full opportunity for those concerned to make their views known and have them taken properly into account. The new procedure is similar to and is designed to operate alongside, and in combination with, the existing procedure for dealing with applications for authorisation to work opencast sites. Clause 6 will improve the compensation available to the farmers against whom a compulsory rights order for the temporary use of their land may be made. After the site has been worked, the restoration process takes five years; a new drainage system is installed and the land is fertilised and cultivated. When handed back to the farmer, it is virtually new land. The new compensation proposed in Clause 6 is designed to help the farmer through the period while he is getting to know the new characteristics of the land and learning how to get the best out of it. The remaining clauses and the schedules are consequential and spell out the details of these proposals.
In effect, what my right hon. Friend has said in relation to the very important proposals about opencasting is that local authority planning procedures and planning permission processes are to be bypassed. Will he comment on that matter?
They will certainly be shortened—I want to make that absolutely plain—because there have been experiences in the past of unnecessary delays in the NCB getting access to sites. The new era of coal means that we must have a proper working programme for increasing opencast production, as I have said, from 10 million to 15 million tons a year. That is widely accepted by those working in the industry. As I thought I had indicated, there is provision for appeal to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can exercise his powers and order a public inquiry if he deems it necessary. I hope that that answers the point raised by my hon. Friend.Some of these matters, although I know that they are very large issues in some areas of the country, may be regarded as minor proposals—"minor" in the sense of bringing them before the House. But they concern an industry which has been through such very great drama so often and so recently. For myself, I believe that it is healthy that the coal industry should now get down to a workaday routine. The Government's aim is to keep it out of the headlines and in full production. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
The Secretary of State need have no fears about my indulging in any attacks upon the wage award made to the mining industry. I am content, for the time being, to leave it to the Government and the National Coal Board to resolve that matter. But the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he says that the Bill appears against the background of an industry which has emerged from real difficulties in the recent past.Of course, the Bill embodies many of the recommendations which were set out in the tri-partite report on the industry—namely, it seeks to deal with the problem of the hazards to health and the rest, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and to provide better access to resources for the industry. We have to regard this debate against the background of a continuing energy crisis. It is a crisis which is as much, perhaps more, economic than it is volumetric. The coal industry's fortunes have fluctuated very considerably ever since certainly I have been concerned with this subject in the House. Those who have studied the industry remember very well how the desire to flood the markets of the Western world with cheap oil began to eat into the fortunes of the coal industry. It certainly appeared to all Governments at that time, that oil provided the answer to many of our economic ills. The coal industry, for reasons which are now old history, was allowed to contract and to become dangerously small. As a result, markets for that industry were lost—some of which will never ever come back again. Indeed, it is fair to say that without the electricity generating market, the industry's fortunes would have been even more gloomy than they are already. I remember very well winding up a debate for the Opposition side of the House on the Coal Act 1965, which was the Act which closed down so many areas of coal mining in this country. It was, of course, legislation brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors. It was then that we moved away from the target figure, which was almost sacrosanct to many, of 200 million tons down to the now hard-to-believe 120 million tons. I am advised that we shall be lucky if we miss that by no more than 5 million tons this March. But that hard-to-achieve figure is very much lower than the target figure of the past. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House warned in those days about the danger of putting all the eggs in the one basket and about the danger of the effect on the security of this country of letting this industry sink. Therefore, I regard this piece of legislation and, indeed, the new feeling of confidence which I detect in the industry, as putting the coal industry back where it was 30 years ago—back where it was, perhaps, at the end of the war. Once again the cry now is for production and more production. That is something which I, certainly, have not previously heard since I have been debating this subject in the House. It is not at all surprising to me that those who are engaged in the industry, those spending their lives in one of the most hazardous occupations in this country, should be demanding better bay and better general conditions. All that I am concerned about is that when we do manage to create an industry with high morale, we also manage to meet the essential production which this industry must provide for Britain's economic survival. I want to see the real strength of machines added to the strength of the muscle of the miner. Admittedly, there have been false dawns in this respect in the past. We have all heard of various devices which were to rip coal out of the seams of this country and to provide the answer. We shall not go into the history of Bevercotes. Those familiar with the industry will perhaps know the over-ambitious plans put forward there, and the Colins robot miner that was going to get down to those narrow seams. I understand that another robot miner is now being considered. My right hon. Friends and, indeed, the Secretary of State, were among the first to see the ROLF remotely operated long-wall face when we came to the House in 1964. Now we hear of less sophisticated but even more important automated ways of raising coal. I am absolutely convinced that the experience of all these various pieces of technology will bear fruit and is, indeed, bearing fruit, and that a new mechanical age of coal cutting is at hand, every bit as important as the remote radio-controlled conveyor and the self-advancing roof supports. This is absolutely right. Capital investment is dramatically increasing, with about £1,400 million being spent over the next 10 years. A new era is dawning, which I welcome, because coal and oil still carry the base load of our energy requirements. The Bill aims to accomplish a number of objects. It aims to make provision for those who, through no fault of their own, have had their health damaged or ruined by working in this industry. The Bill also provides opportunities for us to exploit what will be the biggest mine in this country, namely the Selby coalfield, which has a potential of about 2,000 million tons in resources under the ground. In the early stages we are talking about the Barnsley scheme, which has 500 million to 800 million tons in all. With a production of 10 million tons a year, that area is as significant as some of the major liquid hydrocarbon finds in the North Sea. This legislation will enable the NCB to recover that coal. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Clause 1, which deals with the compensation scheme. Although that is a major step forward, the Opposition have misgivings that not every sufferer or sufferer's widow will benefit as much as they should because of various time barriers which exist. We are now talking about three distinct groups of beneficiaries under the pneumoconiosis scheme. There are 39,500 pneumoconiotics. There are two groups of widows—those whose husbands died between January 1970 and October 1974, and those whose husbands died before 1970. The distinction between the two groups exists for a simple and real reason. Records covering many of those individuals no longer exist because, after a five-year lapse, they were destroyed. We must look again at that problem in Committee. There is a serious gap in the provisions of the Bill for the 8,000 to 10,000 people who commuted their rights before 1948 for what may in many cases have been little more than a few hundred pounds and who are now totally excluded from the new scheme since their rights have been removed. The Opposition wish to look at that matter seriously. The Secretary of State explained that the £100 million writen into the Bill would perhaps not be sufficient. The NCB will make a contribution. However, we must realise that we have a moral responsibility—I put it no higher—to make up the difference to those who have commuted their rights. The Minister will be able to ascertain that figure. Those people form a hardship group which should receive additional support. The Secretary of State will be aware of the report in The Guardian on 17th February in an article headed,
The article said:"Cancer and arthritis, the price the miners pay".
"Two new published surveys have highlighted the high price of coal in human terms. A study in The Lancet says that Lancashire miners with pneumoconiosis show an incidence of lung cancer much higher than that of the general population. And an Arthritis and Rheumatism Council booklet puts miners high in the back-pain league table.
The Lancashire figures contradict a long-held belief based on surveys carried out by the National Coal Board and independent authorities largely in Welsh mines, which showed no apparent, additional cancer risk for miners.
The new survey carried out by Doctor Francis Mooney at St. Helens Hospital, Lancashire, says that of 300 miners who had pneumoconiosis and have died since 1967, 14 per cent. had lung cancer compared with an average for the whole of the area's population of around 9 per cent."
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I should like his comments on the two surveys which were made in the mid-1950s in relation to the incidence of bronchitis amongst mine workers. I put a political point straight to him. If he now appears to be sympathetic to the higher incidence of cancer in miners who suffered from pneumoconiosis, why did not the Conservative Government take action on the 1956 Report which showed a higher incidence of bronchitis amongst miners suffering from pneumoconiosis? Why did not the Conservative Government, who were in power longer than this Government have been, take that into account and put bronchitis on the schedule industrial diseases?
I respect the views of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). I know that he is an expert on the subject. I take his point. All Governments must take an element of blame. However, we must look forward and recognise that new research will throw up worrying situations and that it is for Parliament to alleviate them.The right hon. Gentleman described Clause 2 in some detail. I have always thought that the best description of coal mining was trying to get the jam out of the sponge cake. It is not easy because the two sides, the roof and the floor, come together. Since the support referred to in the Bill is the coal in the seam, and since the rock tends to fall into the open space, there is subsidence. The right hon. Gentleman referred to lateral support. He will also know that the phenomenon which causes subsidence is the result of lateral draw—the filling up of this gap and the pulling in of the land on either side. I understand that the geological concept indicates that one should regard 35 degrees as an angle arising from the coal working out to the surface which provides the limits at which lateral draw will take place. That depends to a considerable extent on the depths at which mining is taking place. If the depth is different, the angle can also be different. In Committee, we shall wish to be certain that the effects of lateral draw do not create situations in which the Bill will not provide the necessary compensation and other requirements which should be present. The right hon. Gentleman will know that there has been considerable concern in Yorkshire about the work that will take place in this coalfield, not because people in Yorkshire are strangers to coal mining but because sewers and other public works might be severely damaged. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen many Press reports of that concern. For instance, he will have seen that worry was expressed by many members of the Yorkshire Water Authority that the damage to sewers and drainage would be considerable. He has probably seen the report in the Yorkshire Post on 31st January which, referring to the situation, also referred to a meeting which had taken place about Selby coalfield. It said:
"As reported in the Yorkshire Post on Tuesday, sewers could collapse as a result of the mining, but the meeting agreed that measures must be taken by the NCB to prevent any damage.
I am delighted to see that the NCB will provide information to the water authority. It is also desperately important that the maximum amount of information should be supplied to the people in the area, rather than that no notice period be given between the decision to start working and the time that it might begin, as provided in the Bill. I also feel that, information being so desperately important in this situation, we must ensure that the widest coverage exists in all the local Press and not, as I think it says in Clause 2, just in one or two local newspapers. I do not wish to make too much of this point, but it is extremely relevant. Recently, there was a report by some students from Aberdeen University pointing out that there are some 33,000 old working in the country which are totally uncharted. We may well hear of examples—and I have no doubt that we shall in Committee—where, as a result of old workings, real subsidence has occurred. For many years I worked in South Wales, in the Swansea Valley, and I am very familiar with the situation. Clause 3, dealing with copyhold rights, again is very important to this coalfield. About 8¼ per cent. of Selby is in a situation where these rights could apply. The rights themselves are no longer being granted. As the Secretary of State said, they stopped in 1926. But the Bill describes the situation whereby a copyholder will relinquish his rights on the basis of a willing grantor and a willing grantee. Those words are imprecise. The alternative is compensation based on 1p—i.e. one new penny—per ton of estimated coal. When we consider the clause in Committee, we shall want to look at that definition in rather more detail. The opencast argument is well known to us all. As the Secretary of State said, there is a need for increased production. We want it up by 5 million tons. That means that about another 20 sites—from 50 to 70—will be needed to produce this figure. When opencast coal is worked, it produces necessarily a great scar on the land. There are environmentalists who put amenity ahead of energy. This is a balance which has to be struck. It is a balance which also applies to the use of land for agricultural purposes, and the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the National Farmers' Union, especially the Morpeth Branch in Northumberland, is concerned about this problem and has registered unhappiness about existing plans there. There are examples of animals suffering from scouring, which is dust in the intestines, which can have a serious effect on herds. The effect upon farming land of opencast mining is a matter that we must look at carefully when we consider this clause in Committee. The future for the coal industry is brighter than it has been for a very long time. The export possibilities for the industry long term are very good. There will be a great market for power station coal in the EEC. Provided that we can get production to the right level, I believe that the industry will show itself to be every bit as important as anything which is happening today in the North Sea. It was the Prime Minister who said that Britain was made of coal. He is not the first politician to make that comment, of course. What is more, that in itself is not the complete answer. But I believe that, if this legislation is able somehow to alleviate the hardship and suffering of those who have had to give their health in the interests of everyone in the country, be they domestic consumers or industry, my right hon. Friends and I will welcome it. Equally, if the legislation can assist Britain in the urgent quest to make the country independent of imported energy, subject to the proper scrutiny, the Opposition will support it.Under the agreement the NCB must supply information on its mining operations to the water authority in order to see any deterioration on land drainage because of mining."
First, may I ask the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to ponder at least one question? We all hope that this Bill will help the coal industry and help Britain. However, when we talk about more mechanisation in the mines, we have also to consider one other factor. I have said this often in the House, and hundreds of hon. Members representing mining constituencies have said it before me. We cannot get coal without the miners and, when we consider the extra incidence of mechanisation in the pits, we have also to look at the resulting dust hazards. This, for me, is the main part of the Bill.Dust hazards used to be considered reasonably safe if the content was 850 particles per cubic centimetre. Today, with different types of mechanisation, we are producing between 2,000 and 2,500 particles per cubic centimetre. That is not a state of affairs in the mining industry which any hon. Member will want to see continue. We must ask the Government to look very seriously again at the health of the miner, not merely waiting and then having to plead and fight for compensation after a man has contracted what is considered to be an incurable disease. For more than 20 years, I have been working for miners who have contracted pneumoconiosis, and I have had to fight for justice for their widows and dependants all that time. If ever I was proud of having a Labour Government, it is today when they introduce this Bill providing the basis for giving justice to men who should have had justice many years ago. I have seen young men dying a slow painful death from silicosis, especially in South Wales, with no compensation other than two or three measly bob a week. I have seen wives housebound because their men were literally bedridden, with oxygen cylinders at their bedsides, gasping for every breath, fighting a losing battle against pneumoconiosis and knowing that at the end of the day poverty would come, not to speak of the deaths of their husbands. Although I welcome the Bill, it contains two distinct anomalies. The hon. Member for New Forest referred to one of them when he spoke about the commuted cases under the old Workmen's Compensation Act—the pre-1948 cases. The Government should extend the scope of the Bill. Already we know that the £100 million allotted to the pneumoconiosis benefit scheme will not be sufficient for the estimated number who will benefit under the scheme already drawn up by the National Coal Board and the NUM and accepted by the Government. Those persons who were forced to commute their measly two or three shillings a week were offered £200 or perhaps £300. I estimate—and I am open to correction because I do not want to overstate the case—that there are still betweeen 8,000 and 10,000 such people in this country. By coercion or by pressure they relinquished their legal right to compensation. I believe that a Labour Government have a moral duty, if not a legal duty, to do something about the extension of the financial provisions contained in the Bill to take care of the pre-1948 commuted cases.
Besides the people who commuted their claims under the old workmen's compensation legislation, there were two cases of which I am aware—I had something to do with one of them—in which common law damages were awarded out of court. The case for which I had a responsibility was settled for a meagre sum, bearing in mind the substantial degree of disablement. That sum was accepted because of the almost impossible legal tangle in which the man found himself and the difficulties that would have ensued if he had tried to establish his claim in court. I hope that people who were in a similar position will not be prevented from obtaining an award under the scheme to which my hon. Friend is referring.
My hon. Friend has probably had more experience in the industry than myself and perhaps greater experience of fighting for those in the industry. I accept his proposition and I hope that the Government accept it as well.Apart from the activities of the famous or infamous indemnity societies in coercing or badgering people to accept a commutation of their compensation after men were certified as unfit, the men concerned were, in fact, suspended from the industry. The moment that they were certified they were suspended. That carried with it not just the meagre sum offered by the indemnity societies but, in most cases, almost immediate homelessness. That was because they were living in colliery houses. There was no nationalisation then. When a miner could not work, the coal owners had no hesitation in putting him out of the industry and out of his home. We must look back in order that we may go forward. Even if those who were turned out of the industry were able to continue in other work because they did not suffer the most serious effects of pneumoconiosis, jobs were so scarce in the mining areas that they were virtually at the door of the poorhouse whenever they contracted the disease. I am not putting it too strongly when I say that they were faced with uncertainty about their housing because of the conditions which were laid down in relation to employment in the coal industry. Continuity was the issue that was thrown at the men and women in the industry in those days. There had to be continuity of employment. The disease that they contracted by virtue of their work for the owners was the reason for which they lost their homes. They could not possibly get another job in the mining areas. In The Guardian of Tuesday of this week there is the example of a Mr. Griffiths, who is now 67 years of age. He worked in the pits for 25 years. On being diagnosed as pneumoconiotic, he lost his job in 1948. After being out of work for a year he commuted his weekly pension of 32 shillings for a lump sum of £375. If he had not commuted his pension and if he were allowed to participate in the Government's scheme I estimate that he would receive £6,000. The question that the Government must ask themselves is why a man in Mr. Griffiths' position should not get that sort of money. Let the Government take into account the circumstances which governed his life at that time. All the commuted cases were faced with uncertainty. The lump sums given by the indemnity societies were very small and reflected only in a small part the loss of earnings as a result of the certification of pneumoconiosis. They did not include and could not include—and the money that is allowed now could not include—compensation for the pain and suffering and the loss of amenities that those concerned had to suffer because of the contraction of pneumoconiosis. I ask the Government to consider seriously the position as I have tried to explain it. I believe that I have dealt with a serious anomaly in the Bill. I hope sincerely that we shall be able to do something about it in Committee if my right hon. Friend is not prepared to make a concession at this stage.
Would it not be fair to say that it is not just an anomaly in the Bill but an anomaly in the agreement made between the NUM and the NCB on 13th September 1974? As well as blaming the Government, I believe that we should direct a fair degree of criticism to the other two parts of the tripartite agreement.
No matter what percentage of blame is apportioned to each party, my job—and I believe that I am doing it—is to get extra money for those who are suffering. The blame can be divided among any of the parties concerned, but all I want is justice for every one of the commuted cases not included in the Bill.I adopt the phrase used by the hon. Member for New Forest, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. Let us look forward and let us ask the Government to commit themselves to giving justice to the commuted cases. As I have said, I estimate that there are about 8,000 to 10,000 such cases. Next, I deal with the pre-1970 widows. I think that the sum being offered to them is even worse than that which was offered under the old indemnity society rules. It is a disgrace and it cannot be justified morally by the Government. It can be justified only in the sense that red tape is responsible. It seems that the National Coal Board and the Department of Health and Social Security do not have the necessary records previous to 1970. In my opinion, that is the only thing that is holding up justice for the widows and dependants. When the scheme was devised by the three parties, the political situation was uncertain. It was not uncertain in my eyes because I knew that a Labour Government would be elected.
What the hon. Gentleman was not sure about was when that would take place.
The fact is that we are back. That proves that I was right. The political situation was uncertain, hence the hasty drawing up of the agreement and the implementation of the scheme. It was agreed that there should be a lump sum payment to pre-1970 widows of £300 provided that it could be proved that their husbands had died from pneumoconiosis. In other cases, the sum was £150. I want the payments to these widows considerably increased.The Minister has ample scope under the Bill to double the £100 million. I hope that I shall not be told that we cannot afford it in present economic circumstances. He could get the other £100 million by clearing Holy Loch of Polaris submarines. The Explanatory Memorandum says that Clause 1
There is nothing there to prevent my right hon. Friend from making the two concessions for which I have asked. The mining industry and the unions need this compensation. The men and women to whom I pay homage have waited too long for this measure. This essential financial support will provide a base for the expansion of the industry. This has been forced upon the House now that it has accepted that coal is and will remain for a long time our main fuel. The Bill gives a large measure of justice to miners and their families. This is one of the truly Socialist Bills presented to the House. On behalf of the Miners' Group I welcome it, but I hope to amend it in Committee."gives power to the Secretary of State to make grants to the National Coal Board (not exceeding £100 million) … (or any variation of that scheme approved by the Secretary of State with Treasury consent).
I, too, generally welcome the Bill. If all Socialist measures were like this, they might get through the House much more quickly. I hope and believe that, unlike some coal Bills, this one will not create antipathy between the two sides of the House. We respect the experience and feelings of Labour Members, who have much more practical knowledge of this subject than all or most of us can ever hope to have, but I hope that they will accept our genuine interest in the future of a profitable industry and a prosperous work force.This is a relatively small but nevertheless important measure to ease the future mining of coal and to compensate for some of the harmful effects of accelerated production in future and for the most harmful consequence of working in the pits—namely, pneumoconiosis. I will not be drawn into any discussion of wage settlements, except to reiterate the point that I have made frequently before, about the need for some meaningful and effective productivity scheme, based either on a single pit or on a group of pits, as the best way of boosting production and improving wages still further. It is perhaps easier for an outsider, particularly someone with experience of a variety of factories and plants, to look objectively at mining as a job. Face working and roadway development are undoubtedly hard work. Conditions can be tough and unpleasant, but so can those at some other places of work. What distinguishes mining from almost any other occupation is the continual hazard to health, to the lungs of men working week after week underground. I am glad that recruitment figures are good, that the increase in wages is having the effect that one would hope. However, I would say without any shame that, although I have worked in many different conditions, some less pleasant than others, I would not work down a pit, because of pneumoconiosis. I have said that before and have pressed many times, here and elsewhere, for generous compensation for the victims of that disease. I therefore very much welcome the scheme for past sufferers. I would add my weight to that of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), and of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) in asking that the question of those who commuted their rights should be looked at again as generously as possible. It would be fair to say that this payment and the sums to be paid under the new compensation scheme should be seen as part of the industry's "social wage". I think that it is correct to say that, in wage negotiations, the present Government see the social wage element as one factor in the social contract. No one will begrudge the payment of compensation to the minority who suffer from pneumoconiosis and I hope that no one will begrudge the miners a high wage, part of which is to compensate for the risks that underground workers run. On the other hand, those taxpayers who contribute to the sums authorised in the Bill would not be human if they did not look for some practical gratitude. It must be right to develop ways of minimising the risks of this disease in future. I was impressed the last time that I went down one of my local pits to learn that they were experimenting with steam rather than water at the cutting face in an attempt to suppress dust better than at present. One must work, where practicable, towards such technological advances as the radio-controlled shearers which have been mentioned. Turning to compensation of a different kind, I welcome the additional compensation for farmers for the effects of opencast mining. I would, however, warn that the Board is likely to stir up hornets' nests in trying to divert or close footpaths. Local residents and parish councils will inevitably put up some resistance. There is one important omission in regard to compensation. I have already tried to press the Minister on this matter. One effect of, in the slightly quaint expression, "withdrawing support from land" is subsidence, the worst effect being that of drag. I am concerned here mainly with the effect on private dwellings. The 1957 Act, even if interpreted with leniency, as it generally is nowadays, provides adequate but not generous compensation but it does not cater, for example, for consequential loss. Where is the review? The Conservative Government set in train a review, and whenever I have asked about it I have been told that it is just around the next corner but one. Perhaps it got lost when the Department of Energy was set up. One of the effects of accelerating mining operations must be an increase in subsidence damage. Those who mine coal must not have 100 per cent. of the attention, since there are many people who suffer from the effects of subsidence. Will the Minister dig out the review to which I referred and come forward with proposals to improve compensation? The Secretary of State commended the Bill to the House. I welcome it as a valuable contribution to the long list of coal legislation. It is designed to assist the production of coal and to ease the troubles of those who suffer, and who have suffered, through no fault of their own, from the effects of the coal production which is so necessary for our nation.
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) for his helpful and kind remarks on the Bill.As an ex-miner of 40 years service to the industry, and representing a constituency in which 70 per cent. of the electorate are miners or are connected with mining, I claim to be able to convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, the feelings of those directly affected by the provisions in the Bill, especially those in Clause 1. Although I can tell my right hon. Friend that there is wide acceptance of the broad issues of the Bill and of Clause 1, I wish to draw his attention to the wide concern at the drafting of the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme. My right hon. Friend may reply that the drafting of the scheme was left to the National Coal Board and to the unions concerned and that they drew up the scheme without interference from the Department. I accept that, but I still wish to draw his attention to a serious anomaly which has been brought to my attention, mainly by beneficiaries—that is to say, by widows of former pneumoconiosis sufferers. I am referring to the fixing of the date of 20th January 1970 for a variation in the benefit due to widows under the provisions of the scheme, commendable though those provisions are. I repeat that the broad outlines have been widely accepted, and indeed applauded by those directly and indirectly concerned. However, there is still widespread unease about this anomaly which I can best explain by outlining a particular case. Let me refer to the situation of a widow of a man who died from this terrible disease before 20th January 1970. The man in question died on 19th January 1970 and his widow could receive under the scheme only £300. Yet the widow of a man who died after 20th January 1970, probably on 21st January, would receive—depending upon the husband's age and degree of certified incapacity—a sum of several thousand pounds. Although there were only two days difference between the dates of those deaths, there was that great difference in the amounts of compensation due to the respective widows. As I have stated, I have received—as I am sure have many of my right hon. Friends and colleagues who represent miners—many representations about this anomaly. Protestations have been made to me by widows who benefit the most—namely, those widows whose husbands died since 20th January 1970. Their view is, "Why not call in the money and share it out again equally?" They say—and they should know—that there is little difference between a man coughing his life away and dying fighting for breath, certified at 50 per cent., and a man who is certified at 100 per cent. In other words, they say that there is no difference between men who died before 20th January 1970 and men who died after that date. The widows' view is that the men are dead anyway and the widow in one case is just as much a widow as the other. I appreciate that when new schemes such as the present scheme, laudable though they may me, are introduced and dates are set, lines have to be drawn. Consequently somebody is left out in the cold. However, I should like to deal with a specific case in my constituency. I refer to a Mrs. Dobinson of Brierley, the widow of George Dobinson—as fine a man as one could wish to meet. George was severely injured at Frickley colliery in July 1947 when the new Industrial Injuries Act was being brought in. Had George died then, or shortly afterwards, Mrs. Dobinson would have received the princely sum of £300 under the Workmen's Compensation Act. In fact, due to her loving care, devotion and attention to his daily needs, George lived—if one could call it that—until 30th November 1973. On that day George died in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, and was certified to have died from spinal cord degeneration and quadreplegia—in other words, from the injuries which he had received 26 years earlier. However, due to the date fixed in the new National Industrial Injuries Scheme in 1947 Mrs. Dobinson was awarded £300 payable under the old Act. As far as I am aware, the sum of £300 is still being held by the court because Mrs. Dobinson refuses to accept it. She looks upon that sum as an insult to her husband who suffered so much over a period of 26 years. Furthermore, due to the date fixed in the 1947 Act, Mrs. Dobinson cannot be accepted as an industrial widow and thereby loses a sum of 55p per week payable to industrial widows. I have submitted these facts to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health and Social Security, but they regret that nothing can be done in Mrs. Dobinson's case. In the opinion of many—and this is one of the heartbreaks which union secretaries and Members of Parliament have to face—nothing can be done and they have to say, "Sorry". These are the pitfalls, to use a mining metaphor, in fixing dates in schemes such as these, commendable though this scheme undoubtedly it. There are always anomalies. I would ask whether the Minister, even at this late stage, could amend Clause 1 (4)(b) of the Bill relating to this very much-needed and desired scheme. Finally, I wish to underline to those who say harsh things about miners that mining is a hard, dangerous, monotonous and unrewarding job which must be done by somebody. I would remind them of the heartbreaks that mining often leaves behind in some mining families. The House should be aware that by Clause 1 the Government are providing £100 million to recompense pneumoconiotics. There are 35,000 known sufferers and 10,000 widows of former sufferers. These are in addition to all those who are killed and maimed daily in the coal mining industry. I should like at this point to ask the Minister a question, and I echo the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). Is £100 million enough to cover all past known cases? Fortunately, the figures for those killed and injured in the industry during 1974 are the lowest on record. I agree that these figures are probably helped by the strike that took place earlier in 1974. However, I trust and hope that this favourable trend continues, but all those who are critical of the miners should ask themselves several questions. What is the true price of coal in terms of human suffering? Is the coal that we burn as expensive as it at first appears? We must have miners, and the only way in which we can retain and recruit them is by offering better pay and better working conditions. Pneumoconiosis is one of the great scourges of mining. It behoves us to look after the pneumoconiotics. When they pass on, often after many years of suffering and disability, their dependants should be properly provided for. On behalf of all miners, and especially pneumoconiotics and their dependants, I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what he has provided in the Bill. I hope and trust that we have the support not only of the hon. Member for Bosworth but of all his right hon. and hon. Friends. I hope that the Bill will have an unopposed Second Reading.
I welcome the Bill not only because of the beneficial effect it will have on the sufferers from pneumoconiosis, whose fate is so well understood by Labour Members who have worked in the industry, but personally because it will give me an opportunity over the weeks in Committee of putting many questions which are of deep concern to my constituents.The Bill is entitled the "Coal Industry Bill". In my eyes, perhaps understandably, it is more aptly to be entitled the "Selby Coalfield Bill", because half of this coalfield, destined to be the largest in Europe, is in my constituency. This half of the coalfield is under a completely rural area. The people who live there live in small villages, and the majority of them work in agriculture or commute to Selby or York. The community there is unfamiliar with coal mining. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that Yorkshiremen are not strangers to coal mining. I can assure him that they may not be strangers to it in South Yorkshire or West Yorkshire, but they certainly are in villages such as Naburn, Riccall and Escrick. The community is naturally apprehensive of the effect the coalfield will have on the farms, on their livelihoods and on the environment of their villages. This does not mean that they take a negative or hostile view of the project. The coalfield committee of the Selby District Council has done a superb job in gathering information and expressions of opinion from relevant bodies and individuals for the benefit of the county council and in preparation for the coming public inquiry. Such ad hoc bodies as the Escrick and Deighton Residents' Association have approached, with professional advice, this possible threat to the environment of the area in a positive and constructive way. The county council planning department has already invited the views of the public on five alternative plans for accommodating the influx of people expected to move into the area over the next 15 years. As this influx will consist of some 3,000 miners, paid at a much higher rate than the average wage in the area, I hope that they will be given opportunities to buy their houses rather than have to depend on subsidised housing supplied by the local authority. The National Coal Board has done its best to inform the public about its plans, but now the public relations exercise is over. The time has come to answer detailed questions, many of which will be put during the public inquiry in April. It will save time and worry if some of them can be answered in advance during the Committee stage of the Bill. This Second Reading debate is short, and it behoves us to make short speeches. I shall use my ration of time to give notice of a few of the subjects I shall wish to raise, and the amendments we shall want to put down, in Committee. I start with the question of compensation. A constituent writes to me from the village of Stillingfleet, where one of the satellite pits is to be sited. He complains that his house, for which he had received a number of offers, suddenly became unsaleable on the news that the satellite pit was to be there. He asked the National Coal Board what compensation was available for the loss he had suffered in the value of the house. He received the following reply:
I would value the Secretary of State's comment on that ruling, because it will set a precedent for a thousand similar cases which are bound to arise during this period. If he confirms it, many of my constituents will want to know why it is that compensation is available for those who suffer from the proximity of a new motorway but not for those who suffer from the proximity of a satellite mine shaft."The Board cannot accept liability for the effects of their proposals on local property values. The carrying-out of any new industrial or commercial development in any area inevitably causes some fluctuation in the value of residential property there but this is so what- ever the nature of the development and is not peculiar to coalmining."
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that because the National Coal Board is to develop the Selby coalfield, a thousand of his inhabitants will leave the area?
I am not saying anything of the sort. I am trying to put forward, in a reasonable way, the thoughts that people will have in an area which is unfamiliar with coal mining. I do not think that what my constituent put to me was unreasonable from his point of view, although it might have shown his lack of knowledge of what happens in coal mining areas.Clause 2 deals with the right of the Board to withdraw support to enable coal to be worked. In other words, it deals with subsidence. Subsection (2) deals with the notice to be given, which seems inadequate in two respects. First, the actual notice of the land to which it relates does not seem sufficiently precise. Secondly, the publishing of the notice does not appear to be sufficiently widespread. My objection to subsection (3), in which we are told that the Board will
is more serious. It is at the heart of the general worry in the area. With so high a water table and so complicated a system of drainage as exists in that agricultural area, even the National Coal Board acknowledges that subsistence is likely to cause widespread damage, either temporary or permanent, to much farmland. Yet in the Bill "proper compensation" is promised, in language which, according to my legal advisers has no precedent in any other Act. Because of the vital importance of that one sentence, we shall introduce an amendment to clarify its meaning, to spell it out in greater detail. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill" says:"pay proper compensation for damage"
Will the Minister explain that figure? What is it supposed to cover? From what we have heard already, it seems hardly an amount sufficient to cover the pneumoconiosis claims. It is surely not possible at this stage to have the slightest idea of the liabilities incurred in compensation, apart from the National Coal Board's pneumoconiosis compensation scheme. Clause 3 which deals with the right of the Board to work coal in former copy-hold land, is complex. We shall be well advised to leave the main discussion of this clause to the Committee stage, but there is one point I would like to raise now. I understand that under the present law some former copyholders of land still have retained interest in coal for which the clause now requires the Board to pay compensation. However, it is difficult for some of the owners of these retained interests to establish their rights. No mention of the rights occurs in many title deeds. They are ancient manorial rights, recorded in manorial records, many of which are hard to locate. I have been advised that the Board has a large number of these records in its possession, the Church Commissioners having handed over 800 such records to the Coal Commission in 1938. The Bill puts on the owner the onus of establishing a right to retained interest. I hope that the Board will help potential applicants by giving access to its records. In a way, it has a particular moral obligation to do so in that all previous legislation required the Board to identify and compensate the holders of coal rights before that coal could be worked. The fact that no fewer than 12 years is allowed for copyholders to establish their rights is an acknowledgment of the complications and difficulties of so doing. When answering, I should be interested to hear the Minister's estimate of the total sums likely to be paid in compensation under the clause. Is it a matter of thousands or millions of pounds. It is difficult to know. Finally, I should like some guidance on the general policy of the NCB in working the coal. For instance, when one considers the proposed siting of the satellite shafts, one cannot help suspecting that technical convenience below the ground will take precedence over environmental considerations above the ground, especially as no compensation will be payable for any of the ill-effects of the 70 ft. shaft, and so on. I should like some expression of policy on this aspect of the problem."The financial limit will be £100 million."
Twenty-five years ago tomorrow I had the great honour of being elected the Member of Parliament for the Ogmore constituency which was then, as now, a major centre of the South Wales coalfield. Throughout those 25 years my knowledge of the mining community has deepened and my appreciation of its great qualities has grown. I therefore give a wholehearted welcome to the first part of the Bill which, at last, provides the measure of justice to the victims of that dreaded disease pneumoconiosis for which many generations have campaigned.At the same time, while recognising that the Government have underwritten the agreement between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board, I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), speaking on behalf of the official Miners' Group, in urging the Secretary of State and his colleagues to look again at the anomalies that will arise with the commuted cases and the pre-1970 widows. In my area, which includes the Llynfi, Garw and Ogmore Valleys there is a sense of gratitude for this giant measure of social reform, but there is still a feeling that the whole problem could be solved at not too great an additional cost. On this occasion we are fortunate in having a Secretary of State and an Under-Secretary who know the mining industry and have personal experience of the problem in all its aspects. I turn now to open-cast mining. My constituency comprises not only three beautiful mining valleys, but six or seven miles of beautiful coastline and the Vale of Glamorgan. That means that, for the whole period that I have represented the area, it has been not only a major producer of deep-mined coal but a major site for open-cast mining. So far open-cast mining operations have not caused much civil disturbance. I can recall only one scheme at Aberkenfig 20 years ago when public outcry was so great that it was stopped before planning permission was granted. But other schemes have gone ahead. Last May, when it emerged that the NCB proposed to take over 850 acres to be worked for 20 years, there was a sense of outrage in the mining community of the Ogmore constituency. The chairman of the protest committee is a NUM officer of long standing who has served for 20 years as a lodge secretary. The Ogwr Borough Council and the Mid-Glamorgan County Council have intimated their objection to the scheme. From that it will be appreciated that this mining community fully appreciates all the environmental arguments, though it is also concerned with the economic arguments—for example, the need for coking coal to feed the great Abbey steelworks at nearby Port Talbot. Typical of the 200 to 300 letters that I have received is one from a lady who says:
When this project was first announced, I attended a mass meeting and had consultations with the local officers. I got in touch with the Under-Secretary of State, via the Secretary of State, and he detailed the procedures that would have to be gone through before the NCB could proceed with what is called the Fernbank Site scheme at Pencoed near Bridgend. When it was announced that the Bill would reintroduce and strengthen compulsory powers, there was natural concern whether the previous information that I had received about the legal processes to be gone through would still apply. From my reading of the Bill it is still necessary for an advertisement to appear in the London Gazette and one local paper and for notices to be served on the borough council and the county council as well as on persons immediately affected. If either of the councils or any of those affected object, I understand that the Secretary of State must hold an inquiry. Apart from that, he can institute an inquiry at his discretion. I have had assurances that the Bill, in restoring the compulsory powers under the 1958 Act which lapsed in 1968, will not interfere with that machinery. I ask the Under-Secretary, when he replies to the debate, to reiterate that assurance. There is a need to balance the economic requirements of the country with the environment of a great mining community which thrives on its deep-mined coal. Opencast mining is an addition to an already great contribution which this mining community is making not only to Wales but to the whole of Britain. I am sure that the Under-Secretary, with his distinguished record in the Scottish NUM, will be sympathetic to the argument that I have put forward and will give the assurances for which I ask."I am 79 years old and a widow. I was born and lived all my life on the side of our mountain. We were 11 children—three sisters and eight brothers. My husband and my eight brothers all died from dust. When I look through the window of my home, about 200 yards down the alley is the little chapel where my husband and my eight brothers are at rest. Now the Coal Board wants to take our lovely valley from us for opencast mining. Don't you think, sir, that we have suffered enough?"
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), like the hon. Members for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) and Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), spent most of the time discussing Clause 1. I hope they will not regard it as an insensitivity to dust disease on my part if I do not deal with that aspect on which they spoke so graphically and about which they know so much more than I. I say only that I hope that the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State will listen carefully to the specific requests by the hon. Members for Hamilton and Hemsworth, because if they do not do so they may find some curious happenings in Standing Committee. There may be some unholy alliances across the benches—and I am sure that the Minister knows what I am referring to. The more articulate and the more convincing hon. Members opposite have been about dust disease, the greater the likelihood of bipartisan support for them.I wish to deal with the main part of the Bill in Clause 2 and the clauses which follow. The Secretary of State spent a little time on a wide-ranging appraisal of the coal industry. Taking my cue from him, I wish to make a few general comments about Selby coalfield. I have the privilege to represent the town of Selby and the surrounding countryside in a very large constituency. I want the Secretary of State to make sure that one principle is followed in development of the Selby coal find. The folk at Selby and my other constituents recognise that this find is good for Britain. For that reason the overwhelming majority of them understand the necessity for exploiting it, but we do not want the principle invoked that what is to be good for Britain is bad for the local folk. That may have been an acceptable approach in bygone generations in the exploitation of coal. It will not do in the twentieth century. What is to be good for Britain must be at least as good for the people of Selby. That means that if hundreds of millions of pounds are to be spent in exploiting this coal find, at least a fair and reasonable proportion of the capital outlay must be applied to maintaining and improving the environmental features of this part of the world. There must be better schools, better roads and better recreational facilities. There must be better health facilities and better facilities generally for the local environment. I am certain that the Under-Secretary, who has visited this part of the world, will agree that it would be the most ludicrous anomaly if the most modern coalfield in Europe, which it will be by the time it is in operation in the 1980s, has to co-exist with the Selby toll bridge, an eighteenth century wooden construction which spans the River Ouse on the main trunk road. There is no provision for a replacement at present. There must be a Selby northern route bypass if the coal development is to go ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) mentioned the possibility of incoming miners buying their own houses. I, too, would like to draw this matter to the Under-Secretary's attention. NUM branch members whom I met and talked with at Ledston Luck colliery not many months ago asked me to make representations to the National Coal Board that if miners are to move into the area—and many of them would prefer not to but to travel to work—they should not be put into pit villages. They want help from the National Coal Board to buy their own homes. That practice would be very much in keeping with the locality where the community lives in small villages, some of them recently expanded. These are mixed communities but they are compact, and that is how we want to keep it.
Is my hon. Friend aware that under European Coal and Steel Community plans miners can obtain a loan for 25 years at a 1 per cent. rate of interest?
I hope that between them Sir Derek Ezra and Mr. Ortoli will be able to arrange decent mortages for miners to buy their own houses in this part of the world.I wish to turn to the question of coal pillars. The Selby field will occupy an enormous area of open agricultural land with villages and towns dotted around the perimeter. It is essential that the maximum number of coal pillars should be left beneath the residential areas. At present the only localities which can be certain of having coal pillars beneath them are the pit service shafts where they appear—some in my constituency and some in the neighbouring constituency—and Selby Abbey. These are the only places which will qualify automatically. It is ludicrous that ancient monuments and inanimate machinery should qualify for coal pillars but that human beings living in houses with the possibility of cracks running down the walls and slates falling off the roofs should not qualify. This is a reversal of correct human priorities. I am certain that Labour Members will support my view that the needs of human beings, many of whom have bought their homes with their savings, should enjoy priority as high as that of the service shafts.
There is a school of thought which maintains that with the rapid rates of advance and extraction of coal it is wrong to leave in pillars to preserve the surface. It is argued that it is better to allow the surface to descend over an entire area rather than to prop up with one pillar and allow the line to draw back out at the surface at some point far removed from where it was intended. That might affect residential property in the area far more than if the surface were allowed to descend.
I am obliged for that expert intervention. However, it merely enables me to underline my main point that the National Coal Board must have in mind first and foremost the needs of human beings and not the efficiency of the industry. After all, the object of coal production is to make life better for human being; it is not simply to stack up coal. The Board must be guided by what will maximise the advantages and benefits for human beings.One or two specific aspects of the Bill cause me some misgivings. The first is in relation to the provision for compensation for this weird category of land ownership called a copyhold interest. Is the true intention of the Bill to compensate the landowner or the copyholder at the time at which the land surface is lowered? Normally, there is not likely to be much of a time lapse between the issuing of an order under Clause 3 and the subsequent lowering of the surface. However, the Board might decide to issue a blanket notice because of the great number of copyhold interests in the Selby area. That would be the most rapid and administratively efficient way of working. But in that case the land surface might be lowered many years after the blanket notice had been given. The compensation is tied to the time at which the notice is issued. With inflation running at 15 to 20 per cent. there would be, with a three-year lapse, a 60 per cent. loss in the value of the compensation. This will not do. Some other matters arise in the context of the progress of inflation. Disputes are provided for in the Bill. If a dispute continues after the surface has been lowered, there is no great pressure upon the Board to bring negotiations to a conclusion. After all, it has got what it wanted, the land has been lowered. The longer the negotiations drag on, the more a disputant is disadvantaged because of inflation. There should be an arbitration machinery if disputes look like continuing too long. My hon. Friend the Member for Howden made some important points about compensation. There is apparently no firm basis for fixing compensation. Clause 3 makes a vague reference to it. In this context, the land owner has no inviolable right of possession. He is in an analogous position to someone in a local authority area who is not negotiating with the local authority over an agreed sale but is subject to a compulsory purchase order. The land owner has no inviolable power or right of possession to any copyhold. As a result he is treated in the context of compulsory purchase. We must know the basis of compensation if this is the case. The Chief Executive of the Selby District Council, Mr. Jack Wakefield, took the trouble to motor down from Yorkshire last night to brief me on the Bill. He returned the same night—such is his devotion to the interests of the locality and his good will. He advised me that the copyhold compensation, for which he was able to find some precedents, might be at a rate of £50 per foot acre—£50 for each foot thickness of a seam per acre of land. It will be interesting to see whether this is the level of compensation being considered. If it is, it implies a large outlay for the Government. There must be fair compensation in the context of acquisition which looks like being more or less compulsory. I turn to the 12-year duration of the period of notice, during which time claims can be made by copyhold interests. That period is not sufficient. It is easy to overlook the London Gazette, the Edinburgh Gazette and the Belfast Gazette. It is not nearly so easy to overlook the Selby Times, the Selby Gazette & Herald, the Skyrack Express and the Boston Spa News. Even then, notices go amiss. The Statute of Limitations prescribes a period of 30 years for notice of claims of adverse possession. There should be a comparable period in this Bill. The 20 years' period, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Howden referred, which is the period for which land has to be held by the Board after open-cast work is too long. Consider the farmer who starts farming at the age of 30, and is then deprived of a chunk of land for 20 years. That would bring him to the age of 50 before he could use that land. That is too long. Ten years may be too short and 20 too long. Fifteen years is a fair compromise. I hope that the Minister, in advance of the Committee stage, will consider cutting the 20-year period by at least five years. I am unhappy about the provision in Schedule 1 about new structures. By failing to stipulate the kind of construction the Board will put the owner or the builder of a new structure in a dilemma. Should he build it intelligently, using the most modern techniques, material and concrete so that it stands firm? If he does this without a stipulation from the Board, he will get no compensation for the extra cost involved. Because the Board has not stipulated that he must build it in a certain way, should he build it in a cheap way, knowing that it will come tumbling down? Only then will he get compensation. It is necessary for the Board to be required to make a specific stipulation. I hope that the Secretary of State will give some thought to that. There is an absence of any provision, except in Clause 6, for consequential or continuing loss of crops and quality of crops. This is a gap in the Bill. The Secretary of State, reasonably and fairly, for open-cast operations has set the precedent of following through in the first 12 months after the land has been returned to the farmer when loss may occur. This is very good. Why cannot we have this provision for deep-cast mining, too? All sorts of problems arise for farmers when land is brought back into use for farming. I quote from a letter I have received from the NFU. It says that a farmer
This can happen in open-cast as well as deep-cast operations. There should be compensation for this kind of loss. The Secretary of State has provided for it in Clause 6 and I hope he will consider providing for it in other parts of the Bill. Apart from these critical and inquiring points on behalf of my constituents, I warmly welcome the Bill."may well suffer considerable loss due to the decline in the inherent fertility of the land due to loss of organic matter, loss of soil structure, compaction, loss of essential nutrients from the topsoil and a number of other causes."
The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) spoke as someone who represents a constituency which is not familiar with coal mining but which is about to become familiar with it in the not-very-distant future. I speak by contrast as one who represents a constituency which has been familiar with coal mining for a very long time. Many of the towns and villages in my area came into existence simply because pits were sunk in those localities.Clause 1 of the Bill deals with compensation for victims of pneumoconiosis. When my right hon. Friend moved the Second Reading he rightly described this as one of the noblest clauses which had ever been included in any Coal Industry Bill, with its proposals to give powers enabling grants of up to £100 million to be made for the compensation of pneumoconiosis victims. Money can never replace the health of victims nor can it bring back those who have been killed before their time as a result of that disease. The clause embodies the principle of national responsibility for those who have suffered in winning the coal from which the entire nation has benefitted and will continue to benefit. The nation may have to bear in mind, as several hon. Members have pointed out, that the figure of £100 million may have to be increased. My constituency has only one coal mine whereas it once had 15 or more. It still has a not inconsiderable number of miners. It always had, and still has, a large proportion of pneumoconiosis victims. One of the most distressing features of my work during the nine years I have been privileged to represent the constituency concerns my interview sessions with constituents—the sad procession of sufferers and widows of those who have been killed by this disease. The proposals in Clause 1 of the Bill will be warmly welcomed in my constituency and everywhere else that this scourge of the coalfields prevails. The proposals in regard to opencasting will not be so welcome in my constituency and elsewhere as are the proposals contained in Clause 1. Clauses 4 and 5 in particular give the National Coal Board very strong powers of compulsory purchase for opencast mining operations. The powers are much stronger than the lapsed powers of the 1958 Act. Clause 4 refers to temporary rights of occupation and use. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, those temporary rights can extend for a period of up to 20 years—twice as long as was permitted under the powers contained in the 1958 Act. I praise the National Coal Board's restoration of land after opencast operations have taken place. Without exception, remarkable land restoration takes place, but if the operations continue for up to 20 years and then restoration takes, say, five years, it is stretching the definition of "temporary" to extraordinary lengths. What I find disturbing also is that to some extent the National Coal Board can be virtually judge and jury in its own cause. I am aware that the Bill gives the Secretary of State the final word in all applications, but what worries me and many people in my constituency and in the North-East is that local planning procedures are bypassed and the whole Bill is weighted in favour of the National Coal Board and against everybody else's right to object. The Secretary of State's determination of all applications will inevitably be weighted in the same direction. In the late 1960s the NCB sought opencasting powers in the valley of the River Derwent in my constituency. The operation was proposed to be carried out in an area of considerable amenity—woodlands. To use the term employed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), there was an immediate sense of outrage in that historic mining community. The district council and the county council both expressed very strong objections to the proposal. As a result, in the event in 1970 the NCB applied to opencast in a much smaller area than had been originally intended. There was an immediate public outcry and almost unanimous opposition among large numbers of my constituents living in villages in the area where the operations were to take place. In the event, after a public inquiry the application was rejected by the then Secretary of State. Under the powers in the Bill, all that volume of objection could be swept away. There are no proposals for local planning powers to be exercised by elected local authorities. I come rapidly to the conclusion of my remarks.
The hon. Gentleman promised to speak for only five minutes.
I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will quickly conclude my remarks. I recognise that we are on the horns of a dilemma in having to reconcile the demand for coking coal, which is available in large quantities by opencast methods, with defending the rights of people to object. My final word to my right hon. Friend is that I think that the Bill is weak in that regard and that it needs strengthening in Committee.
Mindful of your warnings, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall give my welcome to the Bill quickly, subject only to some reservations similar to those expressed by hon. Members opposite about pneumoconiosis victims from the earlier period, to the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) about local authorities' planning powers, and to some further points that I will mention. I will not add to what has been said on the first two points.That Clause 1 should be in the Bill at all is a vivid illustration of the background against which something like the miners' pay settlement should be judged, because mining as a career exacts a heavy price in death, suffering, pain and discomfort which no compensation, however calculated, can ever make up for. No compensation can restore health or make up for making a man a physical wreck. At least in the case of pneumoconiosis we have a defined and identifiable scourge and the Bill makes possible substantial improvements in the compensation paid. In addition to this, there are the very limited specific forms of compensation for other hazards of mining available under the industrial injuries legislation and its predecessors. None of these provisions, in my view, takes away the mining industry's reasonable claim to be a high-wage and highly rewarded industry, because a high financial reward is the least that we can offer when we ask a man to live with the dangers and the discomforts, of which penumoconiosis is only one. In my area—the northern part of the Northumberland coalfield—it is, perhaps, some of the other scourges which are as apparent as pneumoconiosis, because we are by no means the worst area as regards the incidence of pneumoconiosis. It is injuries—accidents to the spine and such happenings—which must also be seen as part of the general background of risk and danger that every miner faces. When talking about the pay settlement and thinking, for example, of surface workers, where comparisons are often drawn with other industries, one cannot but be reminded of how many surface workers in the coal industry are themselves the casualties of working at the face and are the people in whom these injuries have been found. Anybody who represents a mining constituency and who has to deal with constituency cases of people who have suffered these injuries and these diseases looks upon any mining pay settlement in a slightly different light from anyone who has not had such experience. Anyone who goes underground regularly would recognise that perhaps in the past the NCB overdid its propaganda and the public were led to believe that were now in a world of whitewashed roadways and ample working spaces. However, the era of the 20-inch seam has not gone in the kind of collieries, such as Shilbottle, that I represent. If we say that mining is special and that it is distinct, it is wrong and immoral to try to use pay settlements in the mining industry as any sort of guideline for other industries. We must, in what we pay for our coal, pay what we think our miners are entitled to. I turn from the deep-mining aspect of the Bill to the substantial part which is concerned with opencasting. This is a very important source of energy of which we have seen a considerable amount in my constituency and of which we expect to see more. Opencast mining has been accepted in my area and the appearance on the landscape of massive cranes has begun to be regarded almost with affection. One of these cranes is know affectionately as "Big Geordie". When my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) came on a visit to the area, some confusion arose whether the name applied to the machinery or to the visitor. That crane has become part of the landscape and is accepted. At the end of the day, as the hon. Member for Consett said, the landscape may well be the better and not in any way the worse after restoration has taken place. It is in the interim that the difficulties arise. It is not without considerable upheaval for agriculture and for the local communities that opencast mining proceeds. In one case in my constituency the opencast mining development led to the complete removal and replacement of a village. There is one Member of the House who was born there. If the hon. Member for Kingston-upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) were to go back to his birthplace he would find little trace of it, because the whole village of Radcliffe has been removed. Most people would agree that that was a success story. A whole village was transplanted to the edge of the nearby town of Amble. New homes were provided there. The community was kept together. Help was given to to the Methodist Church and a new workingmen's club was built. This was all in an effort to keep the community together. The difficulties are, perhaps, greater for communities that remain on the edge of opencast development. It is not much consolation to the older people in such communities that the area in which they live will be transformed into a beauty spot in five, 10, 15 or 20 years' time, because they must live out their days with the present difficulties. They have the problems of the ugliness which may surround them, and perhaps more pressing to them than the dirt and dust which comes into their homes, which makes keeping the houses clean very difficult. They have problems resulting from the dislocation of rights of way. One village in my constituency, Hauxley, experienced this problem from opencast development which took place between the village and Amble. The rights of way provisions in the Bill are not simply matters of recreational needs. One would suppose that the recreational interest in some of the footpaths affected by opencast sites would fall off sharply while opencast mining was taking place. After all, not many of us would choose to spend our Saturday afternoons walking in areas of opencast mining. It is the local community's use of short-cuts and other routes which is most seriously affected. I am therefore anxious that we should be clear about the implications of Clause 5 and Schedule 3. It seems to me that a parish council, as the sole objector, would have the right to an inquiry. I hope that my reading of the Bill is correct and that the Minister will confirm that if a parish council were to be the sole objector on behalf of a village to the stopping up of a right of way by an opencast operation an inquiry would ensue. That is potentially a matter of considerable importance to the communities affected. Perhaps equally important is that the National Coal Board and the contractors involved in opencast operations should recognise the needs of the communities near whom they work and maintain good communications with the local people while opencast mining continues. To summarise, the Bill is welcome as long as there is recognition of the high rewards which are due to the men who work underground; these benefits must be at the expense of the benefits which some of the rest of us might have in our wages and the price at which we buy coal. It is welcome as long as it is recognised by the National Coal Board and the opencast contractors that there are special problems in the communities affected which should be considered with great care. If there is such recognition, I shall have no difficulty in supporting the Bill.
I am delighted with the pneumoconiosis provisions in the Bill, but I ask the Government first to make it absolutely clear that the responsibility for compensation lies with the National Coal Board as an employer and not with the Government. I say that because pottery workers suffering from pneumoconiosis who live side by side with miners in my constituency are aggrieved that the miners are to get a lump sum and they are not. We have to tell the pottery workers that their payments should and must come from the profits of the pottery manufacturers and not from the State.Secondly, the Government must take note that the vast army of miners crippled by emphysema will not benefit. Many of them suffer far more than people with pneumoconiosis. This injustice must be tackled before long. Thirdly, the Government must note that there is concern about the anomalies in the scheme which have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), and these should be dealt with if possible. I turn to the rest of the Bill. Obviously the country needs coal, and Staffordshire can provide about 12½ million tons a year if it has the miners, the capital investment and the planning permissions to develop the rich new sources which the NCB has discovered—spending, incidentally, about £400,000 a year on geological exploration in Staffordshire. If the men are paid well enough, recruits to the mines will come forward, despite the hazards of the job. The productivity scheme in the new wage settlement is to be particularly welcomed, but even without it productivity in Staffordshire increased last year by 7 per cent. There would be no economic crisis if half the critics of the miners had done as well last year. But the miners need to be backed by investment. Local pits in my constituency, such as Silverdale and Holditch, are ripe for further development, but there are sources which have yet to be tapped, such as the 100 million workable tons at Stafford, as well as a large amount on the edge of the Westlands housing estate in my constituency. To mine the coal more easily, the National Coal Board needs this Bill. It must have it. In return, however, it must do all it can to reduce the hardship which opencast and other mining can bring to local residents. It must be generous with subsidence claims. It must continue to be, as it is now, the most dedicated clearer of derelict land. The Board has made a considerable contribution to land reclamation in North Staffordshire. We look to it to continue the work. I wish the Bill well because it will be good for Staffordshire, good for the environment and good for the economy. I hope that it will be passed very quickly.
As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have indicated that there is a strict limitation on time, I shall not refer to any of the technicalities relating to the Bill which can be safely left for the Committee stage. I should, however, like to make two comments about the generalities of the coal industry.First, I am disturbed that the target to be achieved by the Bill may fall behind, and I should like to mention one possible reason for that—planning. The Secretary of State wishes a drift mine to be created at Gascoigne Wood, South Milford, in Selby. He indicated in reply to a Question asked some time ago that it will be subject to normal planning procedures. The North Yorkshire County Council is to hold a public inquiry, starting on 2nd April 1975, and it is hoped that coal to the extent of about 2 million tons will be derived from the mine by 1978. However, I do not think that it is practicable to extract the coal at this stage. In other words, I think that the date may fall behind. There is a drift mine nearby at Royston which is subject to the planning consent of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council for which the sequence of dates is as follows. On 28th August 1974 planning permission was granted subject to detailed condtions. On 5th November of the same year a modifications order was made covering the system of working the coal and the rate of extraction because people feared the amount of subsidence which might take place. On 4th February 1975 a local objection was lodged and now, apparently, a date for the holding of a local inquiry is awaited. The Secretary of State's confirmation order will be required after the date has been fixed. There is, therefore, room for substantial slippage in the programme. The Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. If he is to allow environmental considerations to emerge and the local population to have a say in these matters, which is perfectly understandable, it may not be possible to reach the figure of 10 million tons by 1985. The other matter concerns the question of price. Labour Members, in their telling speeches, have said that there is a true price of coal. Do we expect the miners to mine it for an unrewarding sum? The new wage rates should be understood by the public. The basic rate for an underground face worker is £61. I worked it out that his gross earnings are likely to be £85 for a 42-hour week and if he works on night shift it will be £93 a week. Bearing in mind concessionary coal and additions for such matters as housing, the miner will be well placed, and we wish him well. Let me make two observations on the question of concessionary coal. The annual consumption of coal-using families in the United Kingdom is 2½ tons. Serving miners receive betwen 6 and 11 tons per annum. In lieu, they receive £117·14 if they live in smokeless fuel areas. The total cost to the National Coal Board of supplying coal or smokeless fuels to the people eligible is £28 million. Valued at retail prices and not pithead prices, concessionary coal costs the NCB no less than £50 million. I happened to indicate, of course, that one must add in loans from the ECSC for miners' housing for which a 17 per cent. interest rate is charged over a term of 25 years. This is very gratifying. I do not begrudge the miners all these advantages but I say to them that they are now amongst the peers of industry. They are receiving more than Members of this House under the new deal and I wish them well. But there is a price beyond which the public will not go. If I may cite a Question of mine which the Secretary of State answered the other day, the cost of coal for industrial users worked out at between 5·5p and 6·4p per therm in England at the end of 1974, compared with 9·5p to 10·5p for fuel oil. If this sort of thing goes on, and if further claims go in, the revised coal figures will be well beyond 5p to 8p per therm. Thus the position between coal and fuel oil will continue to narrow. At the present pace of wage settlements, parity between the two fuels will become significant. The gap will be growing narrower and the era of cheap coal will be over for ever. If the target of 150 million tons is to be achieved, it means that we may have to sustain a lot of production for the United Kingdom which may be at an uneconomic and unsustainable rate. I mention to the Secretary of State that the price of coking coal has gone up between 1973 and 1975 by 144 per cent. On this a major industry depends. In 1970–71 the total cost of coal for electricity generation, to the CEGB, was £368 million. Today, under the new arrangements, it is close on £1,000 million—that is, up 166 per cent. I could give more figures but I do not think there is any great point in doing that. What I am saying is that for every wage claim that goes in, particularly with this one of the miners, the costs will be handed on to the consumers of electricity, to the consumers of coal and to the people who will promote manufactures and equipment in the factories of this country. In relation to the plan which the Bill is seeking to procure by building up opencast coal—subsequent clauses deal with this—from 10 million tons to 15 million tons, which will increase the number of sites from 54 to as many as 70, environmental considerations would come into that. But I fully back the Secretary of State in what he is doing as opencast coal is the cheapest to produce in the United Kingdom. If he is to be able to achieve a respectable price for electricity in the United Kingdom comparable to that in Western Germany, where they have brown coal, he must have the aid of opencast coal. I cannot agree with the TUC that the analysis of 150 million tons will be achieved by 1985. With the extension of pits and major schemes at existing pits, it seems that something like 120 million tons may be achieved by the time the Secretary of State wants it. Will he look at the figures once again if we are to give him the powers he requires in the Bill to let down the surface, difficulties retained by the copyholder and secure additional rights in opencast mining. These powers should never have lapsed in the earlier Act. Will the Secretary of State ensure that his calculations are such that he will be able to achieve the changes he has in mind and produce coal at economic prices?
Like the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) I, too, am not going to discuss Clause 1 and, like him, I hope that I shall not be thought insensitive. I shall set myself a deadline of five minutes, and will try my very best to meet it.I want to talk about the second part of the Bill. This seems clearly to be in response to the increasing energy demand. I want to give a small table to illustrate how absolutely fantastic this increase in demand is. The figures are so important that I risk boring the House with them, but, because of their importance, I am sure that the House will forgive me. In 1800, 175 years ago, it is estimated that the world energy consumption, in terms of coal equivalent, was 12 million tons. In 1860, 60 years later, that 12 million tons had become 160 million tons. In 1920, 60 years later on again, the 160 million tons had become 1,500 million tons. By 1965 the figure had reached 5,000 million tons. It is estimated that in 1980 it will have reached 12,000 million tons. So the figures are: 12 million, 160 million, 1,500 million, 5,000 million, and in the last 15 year jump, 12,000 million. In effect what I am saying is that more energy will be consumed in this world during the 20 years between 1965 and 1985 than was consumed during the whole existence of the world previously. That is a measure of the fantastic increase in demand. The obvious question that arises from this set of figures, the question that dwarfs all others, is "where is it to come from?" It is because it does dwarf all other questions that I feel fully entitled to criticise previous Governments and energy departments and to accuse them of having been culpably complacent. Coming now to the immediate position of the Bill and the coal industry, the immediate position of the coal industry is far from happy. It faces a Herculean task but there are no signs that it is girding itself, like Hercules, to measure up to the task. For example, the Secretary of State gave figures towards the end of November about wage costs. I should explain that I am not talking about wages. I, too, like the hon. Member for Berwick upon Tweed (Mr. Beith) believe in a high wage industry. But the fact is that in real terms the wages costs for coal—and they comprise roughly two-thirds of the total cost—have gone up during the last three years by 30 per cent. The gravity of this trend can easily escape us. Energy is a primary resource, the demand for which is rising. We are in a so-called quaternary economy with services to services and so on. It is not as if the costs of the services to the services were rising. With the cost of primary resources going up in real terms within a quaternary economy, then this is a very serious and grave situation. Indeed, I do not think that anyone can over-emphasise the seriousness of the trend. I know that oil, which started off the immediate decline in the coal industry, has quintupled in price. But there is a world of difference between flexibility in the price of a key product of one country and the pressure of costs on a key product of another country. I welcome this Bill to the extent that it helps, in that it does something to increase total demand. I think that it is in this regard, this unit cost regard, that the key word is "output". Productivity and capacity are both important, but the key word is "output". Every colliery manager knows that a large output covers a multitude of sins. Unfortunately trends are rather against us because improvement in output and productivity this financial year, ending next month, has been only marginal. We now have to look elsewhere than mechanisation, because we are already fairly well mechanised. We now have to look towards getting a substantial increase in output. There are only two places to look for it. One is a qualitative improvement in the operations themselves—operational efficiency—and, of course, increased capacity, with which this Bill is most closely concerned. Within the industry itself we are beginning to realise things that we should have realised a long time ago. For example, we have considered that a third of the manshifts worked in the industry were true coal-getting shifts. We now find that is not correct. It is more like one quarter of the shifts. The men replaced by the final mechanisation at the face ends have not got on to the true coal-getting process. To that extent, I think that the industry has a great deal to worry about. One of the problems of the industry has been what I call the question of the balance of the industry. For far too long the industry has gone from one extreme to the other—from being overenthusiastic about first one particular bandwagon and then another. For example, we had the great drive to get the 15,000-tons-a-week face. What is needed is not the maximisation of output from one face but the optimisation of output from each face to maximum colliery capacity. It is to those objectives that the coal industry should devote its whole energies with a view to meeting this great extra demand for energy. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have met my five-minute deadline.
Dead on time.
I, too, shall try to be brief. I want to welcome warmly the provisions of Clause 1 to introduce the compensation scheme. There are few of us from the coal mining or slate quarrying areas of Wales who have not seen the terrible price paid in physical suffering by members of our families in those communities and people there who have contracted this vicious industrial disease, pneumoconiosis. They have had to depend in the past on the very low level of industrial injuries and national insurance benefit for pneumoconiosis sufferers.That benefit is inadequate and has long been recognised as being so by anyone who has had direct experience of individual cases of the disease. The levels of the basic disablement pension and the special hardship allowance and unemployability supplement have been totally unrelated to the real suffering. With the introduction of this new scheme we are moving, at least concerning the coal industry, to a position in which there will be some relationship between the degree of compensation and the extent of the suffering. However, there are basic issues about the administration of pneumoconiosis medical panels which remain to be analysed. I find, for example, that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council's study, published in Command 5443, is totally inadequate in its analysis of the injustices which I have found in the operation of pneumoconiosis medical panels. I hope that the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury will recommend a comprehensive industrial injuries scheme for all industries to cover cases in which a sympathetic medical board is satisfied that an illness arises out of and in the course of a particular job. What I am particularly concerned about in relation to pneumoconiosis medical panels is the inadequacy of the radio-graphical evidence when diagnosing the percentage of pneumoconiosis disability. The status of related chest and heart conditions, such as tuberculosis, in relation to qualifying for benefit should be totally reappraised by the Royal Commission, as should all these issues. I hope that this will happen when the Royal Commission comes to report. Equally we are concerned about the paltry level of death benefits so far available when a sufferer dies. I have seen recent cases of widows of sufferers who were in receipt of 100 per cent. disability pension when alive having been subjected to the final cruelty and indignity of postmortem examinations of their husbands to obtain an abysmally small widow's benefit. In many cases the cause of death is described as cardiac failure, or something else, and although this cardiac failure can be a direct consequence of pneumoconiosis, no widow's benefit is paid. I am determined that this practice should cease and that all widows of pneumoconiosis sufferers should receive death benefit as of right whenever pneumoconiosis has been diagnosed. The payment of percentage disability must also be called into question. In too many cases pneumoconiosis sufferers who are diagnosed at 10 per cent. disability know full well that this progressive disease will increase their disability and that total disability is only a matter of time. There are many men in my constituency, particularly in the 50–60 age group, who are on a low level of income because they have been diagnosed at only 10 per cent. disability despite their being unable to work at any full-time job. The whole structure of percentage disability must be reviewed. I want to mention quickly a detail of the coal industry scheme. One major group of people in my constituency are excluded from any compensation. I do not want to criticise the NUM's decision—recorded at paragraph 8 of Appendix A of the Coal Industry Examination Final Report—not to support claims at common law, but I am concerned that the current levels of lump sum compensation in the majority of cases are only 30 per cent. of what the more severe cases could get through common law litigation. I have taken advice on this matter and I understand that in current claims, which will now be withdrawn, the less severe cases are now getting more by way of lump sum compensation than they might have got at common law, but the more severely disabled cases are getting substantially less. I should like the Minister to comment on that matter. I am also concerned about the arbitrary time scale of the scheme, which has already been mentioned, and the question of the benefits for people who have commuted their benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act. I should like finally to draw the attention of the House to a substantial group of pneumoconiosis sufferers who will not be compensated. They are employed in an extractive industry which was not taken into public ownership in 1947, as ought to have happened. Most of my experience of pneumoconiosis sufferers is derived from the hundreds of men in the slate industry in North Wales who have suffered throughout their working lives, with disgustingly low wages as compared with wages in the coal industry. This is an extractive industry. They are now denied access to the compensation scheme, to the type and level of compensation which will be payable to their brothers in the coal industry. I have raised this issue with the Department in correspondence, and I have not been satisfied with the replies I have received to date. I do not accept the reasoning that the public and social responsibility to workers who are suffering from the same disease in a private industry does not lie with the Government. I believe that the public responsibility to workers who are suffering the same diseases cannot be set aside because the particular industry in which they are working is not in public ownership. This point was made very forcibly in a letter from Gwynedd County Council to the Secretary of State for Energy on 17th February, which no doubt he received, the contents of which I shall not quote. According to the Digest of Pneumoconiosis Statistics, 815 people in other mining and quarrying activities were paid benefit at 31st December 1971, but I have not been able to get detailed figures for the slate industry in North Wales. In my estimate, however, the cost of either extending the NCB scheme to these men or their dependants or of setting up a parallel scheme financed, as this scheme is, mainly from Government sources would be minimal as compared with the total cost of the coal industry scheme. These men have suffered and still suffer from the same disease. Are the Government going to say that men who have suffered exploitation by private enterprise are less entitled to compensation than those who are now in publicly-owned industries? That is an argument which I cannot and will not accept. The people in my constituency who are suffering from this vicious disease will not accept it, and neither will the Transport and General Workers' Union. I look for a positive statement from the Minister that the Government will discharge their responsibilities towards the slate quarry men who suffer from pneumoconiosis.
I shall also maintain the timing which previous speakers have set and keep within five minutes.I welcome the Bill. It will have great advantages for my constituents. I shall not develop the very good work that has been done by some of my hon. Friends in covering Clause 1, but I have hundreds, if not thousands, of constituents who are affected by the clause. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to look again at the pre-1948 commuted cases. I have had several representations on this subject. There being, I understand, no more than about 8,000 people involved, I am sure that the cost factor for the inclusion of this would certainly not be prohibitive. I want also to comment on the other clauses and to stress what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has pointed out—that is, that there are other important development areas, in Staffordshire in particular, apart from Selby. In my constituency we have already seen some developments under the present Government, but we are looking forward to other developments taking place, and fairly quickly. I do not wish to cast any doubts or to take a bitter attitude. My right hon. Friend will know that the mining situation has changed over the past few years. We know from the history of mining that if people become drunk on North Sea oil, or if there is a startling breakthrough in nuclear energy, the situation of the mining industry will again change. It is vital that these developments should go forward as quickly as possible. It is all-important that mining development should form an integral part of the development of the community. Mining and housing developments are proposed in south Staffordshire, and should be tied together. If the mining community is to make progress the environment, in terms of housing, other facilities, and mining, must be developed as a whole. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will look carefully at that point. I welcome the Bill, which represents a major step forward for the mining industry.
Although the provisions of the Bill are largely non-controversial, and although we have only a limited amount of time at our disposal, I nevertheless submit that this is an important measure in human terms and is one of the most important measures debated during this parliamentary Session.Over the years many hon. Members have tried to persuade the National Coal Board that there is a need for compensation for the widows of those who have died from the industrial disease of pneumoconiosis. If they could all assemble spiritually together here—if they are not present now—and express their profound feeling, they would say that at last justice will be done in many cases. Many of us who over the years have had long conversations with the widows concerned and have made appeals and attempts and have failed, will know exactly what I have in mind. I wish to speak about the position of those widows who are treated differently from other widows. It is essential that everyone who knows of such cases should bear witness and support the appeal made so movingly and convincingly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). In supporting what he said I wish to quote one case of a widow of a miner from the South Yorkshire coalfield who wrote to me from an address in Hoyland Common. This morning I received a second letter. When she first wrote telling me that she would receive only £150 in compensation I advised her to see a senior area officer of the National Union of Mineworkers. I said that I was sure that she would receive a sympathetic reception. She has sent me a copy of the reply from that senior officer of the NUM, Yorkshire area. It says:
I ask my right hon. Friend, who has such profound experience of the industry, to take up this case as expressed by one of the senior officers of the union in our region, and to make it his business to put the matter right before the Bill is enacted after Third Reading. This is not the occasion for a general far-reaching debate on the future of the coal industry. However, when we have such large plans for the future of the industry this matter should be dealt with straight away so that the surviving widows may feel that, while many millions of pounds will be spent in future on the industry, their cases will be put right immediately. I know that no one has more profound feelings on the subject than the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary. Sometimes it is useful and necessary for Ministers to know the strength of feeling amongst those directly concerned and to know that we shall not rest till the matter has been put right."The widows of men who died after 26th January 1970 in many cases were given considerable sums, and rightly so, whilst the widows of men who died before 26th January 1970 were given a pittance of £300 or £150, as in your case. You can rest assured that this union in Yorkshire will continue to press for changes in the agreement which will bring to you, if we are successful, an increase in the measly allowance you have been awarded under the terms of the pneumoconiosis scheme."
Since my arrival in the House nearly five years ago—sometimes it seems a much longer period—I have attended most of the debates on the coal industry. I have always been deeply impressed by the depth of knowledge and the understanding shown by hon. Members on both sides.Although many Government supporters who represent coal mining constituencies speak with deep authority about the coal industry—as this short but excellent debate has shown—the House has a deep understanding of the nature of this vital industry. The speeches from both sides have contributed valuable objectivity to a debate on a Bill which is essentially non-controversial and which at first sight is of a technical rather than of an emotional nature. The speeches pointing out the horrors of the dreaded dust disease, from which some miners suffer, have introduced an element of emotion, which has just added stark reality to what on the face of it appears to be just another piece of Government legislation. Despite the uncontentious nature of the Bill, the House has seized the opportunity to hold a worthwhile discussion about our coal industry, especially in the light of the recent pay award and its effect on coal prices. Some very important questions have been raised relating to coal supplies in different parts of the country following the new types of development which will take place. Questions have been raised about our general energy problems. Many specific queries have been raised about the effect of the various clauses of the Bill, with which I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to deal. I am sure that he will be able to remove some of the doubts and worries that would otherwise have been raised in Committee. We welcome the general objectives of the Bill, although in Committee we shall wish to examine in detail the implications of the new powers which are accorded to the National Coal Board by the clauses dealing with the withdrawal of support, copyhold rights and opencast mining. My hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (Mr. Butler), Howden (Sir P. Bryan) and Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) have raised important points about their constituents' fears and worries about the effects of some aspects of the Bill. Regarding the proposals for compensating pneumoconiosis victims, from a personal point of view, as an officer of our all-party disablement group, and as someone who has endeavoured to help ex-miners suffering from this dreadful affliction. I wholeheartedly welcome the Government's intention to provide £100 million in grants to enable compensation to be paid without the need for long legal processes to establish liability. Wearing another hat, I can only wish that the same expediency could be applied in other cases such as vaccine-damaged children. However, that is another issue for another day. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and many others referred to those original pneumoconiotics who commuted their pensions before 1948 under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The figure ranges between 8,000 and 10,000 who did this and who lost their common law rights to further compensation. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson) illustrated so graphically, there is a moral obligation to give some further assistance to those mainly over 70-year-olds, and I want to press the Under-Secretary about this. Can he say how much would be required to meet this moral obligation? He knows that the whole House would like to press for this further assistance, and the inclusion of the pre-1970 widows is another extension of the grant which this House would want to see examined fully in Committee. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) spoke of the effect of just a two day's difference in timing and of the hundreds, indeed thousands, of pounds which could be involved in compensation. It may prove to be necessary to increase the grant figure, and we have heard suggestions of an increase from £100 million to £150 million. At some stage in the tripartite discussions, obviously it was considered that a larger amount would be required to consider these cases. Apart from those reservations, we welcome the agreement which has been reached between the National Coal Board and the unions concerned. It is a great step forward. Clause 2 deals with a matter which was not foreshadowed by the tripartite agreement—the "withdrawal of support" to enable coal to be worked. Here we enter an area which needs careful study and understanding if the wrong conclusions are not to be drawn by the general public. The fear of subsidence—the caving in of roads and the collapse of buildings and homes—is a real one for residents in mining areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash referred to the need for pillar support to be created under living communities. I consider this to be of vital importance, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with the point. It is vital that every possible action be taken by the National Coal Board to avoid subsidence. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest used the analogy of the sponge cake. He illustrated graphically the effect of taking out the middle layer, causing a downward movement of the upper layer. I remember being extremely partial when I was a child to the jam in the middle of a sponge cake. I soon learned the trick of squeezing the two parts together in order to get at it before anyone else. However, the jam here is that vital commodity, coal. As a nation, we have to have coal. The new fields being prospected and developed are needed to produce the extra 10 million to 20 million tons of coal a year for which the country hopes. But the existing rights to mine coal and thereby withdraw its natural support at 500 or 1,000 yards below the surface date back to the 1938 Act and do not cover all the new areas now being prospected. They are now before us for up-dating and alteration. From my observation of the NCB's modern procedures and planning, I know that a great deal is done to avoid subsidence in these new areas. I have been impressed by the consultations taking place with the inhabitants of the Selby area. Local residents are being somewhat reassured by the details given to them of the environmental protection plans instituted by the NCB. Nevertheless, there are aspects of drainage and other geological factors which we shall need to examine carefully in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Howden and my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash raised the important matter of advance warning notices. The present rules will need to be extended. Perhaps the Minister can say what length of advance notice will be given under present agreements. A notice in the London Gazette and others in one or two local newspapers are not enough. Will the hon. Gentleman consider putting notices in all local newspapers plus, possibly, a national daily newspaper circulating in the area, and the posting of public notices covering the whole area? It is vitally important in environmental matters to ensure that people are given the fullest possible notice of proposed changes. The interesting feature about the copyhold clause is that most people to whom I have spoken who live in mining areas have never heard of copyhold rights. They date back to feudal times, so probably that is understandable. But, after some of these discussions, the people to whom I have talked have rushed off to check their own deeds in order to see whether they have been missing out on 1p per ton on the coal extracted beneath them. I hope that the Board will not be submerged in copyhold claims as a result of this debate. The speeding up of the legal processes to enable the working of coal to take place in our new coalfields, with a compensation period of 12 years, seems a reasonable improvement. But there are technical points which we shall have to discuss in Committee, especially with regard to the length of time and whether it should not be extended to 30 years rather than just a period of 12 years. Clauses 4 and 5 result from the tripartite report and relate to open-cast sites. Here we move into the difficult area of environmental factors. It is only in the context of our energy crisis and the national need for 15 million tons of open-cast coal by 1985 that the compulsory powers proposed are acceptable. It is a question of need versus amenity, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised their constituency problems. The area in which the major Selby development will take place is mainly a rural area, and the development represents a tremendous change in the environment. The previous 10-year provisions of the Act will be superseded by a 20-year compulsory acquisition period. This includes a five-year period for the agricultural use of land. As a result of the matters raised in this debate, the Committee will obviously consider the possibility of reducing the period from 20 to 15 years. Of all the forecasts and targets being set by the Secretary of State, the one which is attainable is the open-cast coal target of 15 million tons by 1985. But the environmental implications and the effect on agriculture of a total of 14,000 acres of land being used on the 70 sites proposed are of great significance and need to be considered carefully. The closure of footpaths and bridle ways has always caused many problems. It will have to be handled carefully by the NCB. It has a great deal of experience in these matters already, but I hope that it will ensure that the acquisition of routes, bridle paths and footpaths during the process of mining will not result in the loss of any which may not have been proved and registered by constant usage. Clause 6 and those preceding it will no doubt be examined carefully by all the responsible national organisations, and I trust that any representations which they wish to make will be received by the Minister. The Bill represents a continuing process of rehabilitation of the coal industry. It started well before the oil crisis of 1973. When I served on the Standing Committee which considered the last Coal Industry Bill in February 1973, I recall the then Minister for Industry, Mr. Tom Boardman, introducing his £1,100 million aid for the coal industry which was welcomed by the industry and by all the members of the Committee. He provided for a doubling of the existing pensions, for redundancy payments, for increased stocks, and for £210 million to keep open uneconomic pits. Long years of decline had ended. The decline had been caused by a basic un-competitiveness of coal during the 1950s and 1960s when cheap oil was the order of the day. A Conservative Government halted that decline and began the process of revitalising the coal industry. Since then the industry has rarely been out of the headlines. It is relevant to the Bill to consider the situation now facing coal and to project a little way into the future. All hon. Members have shown that they have the interests of the coal industry at heart. I am sure that they will agree that all the tripartite plans in the world, all the production targets and all the investment programmes involving thousands of millions of pounds will be to no avail if the industry prices itself out of the market. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth stressed the importance of linking productivity with wage increases. We all regretted the failure last November to agree on the productivity scheme put forward by the Board. It was a blow to the Government as well. We ask now for a link to be established between wage increases and productivity. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), in his usual detailed and excellent speech, dealt in detail with the likely production figures and the shortfall on the targets laid down by the Government. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give us some idea of the latest coal production figures for the current year and confirm what the shortfall will be below the original target of £120 million tons. Sir Derek Ezra the Chairman of the National Coal Board, in one of his appraisals of the coal industry given at the NUM Conference last year, said:
The Secretary of State in his interim report to Parliament on the tripartite examination said:"If we are to remain competitive and go on providing real improvements in earnings, we must do so out of increased productivity."
He later said:"It is now quite clear that there is a secure and indeed prosperous future for coal, providing it can retain its new-found competitive position."
I asked the right hon. Gentleman then for an assurance that any investment in future would be related to increased productivity and output. I now ask whether the coal industry itself can survive the pressure which is building up as a result of large wage increases. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell the House what the price per therm of coal-generated power will be as compared with oil after current increases in costs are included. The gap widened considerably last year to approximately 30 per cent. It is now narrowing again. With oil prices remaining fairly stable—and there is a possibility that they could even marginally drop—the crossover point when coal becomes more costly than oil becomes ever nearer as one wage claim follows another. By the end of the year there will possiby be a difference of only a penny or so per therm."However, we recognise and accept—as I am sure does everybody in the industry—that the future prospects of the industry should be determined by its long-term competitiveness."—[Official Report, 18th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 226.]
In weighing up the competitiveness or otherwise of the mining industry, why does the hon. Gentleman do so on the basis of pounds shillings and pence? Why does he not put a price on the suffering of the men who are working in the industry? Why does he not put that into the scales against the cost of coal?
On that basis I am sure that we would not wish to continue with an industry which caused such suffering. It is clear that that would be the attitude of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am only substantiating the comments of the Secretary of State and the comments of the Chairman of the Coal Board—namely, that coal must remain competitive. We want as much coal as possible from our pits. We want our miners to be rewarded for the dangerous and difficult job that they undertake. Surely Labour hon. Members, and especially Ministers in the Department of Energy, with their wide knowledge and background within the National Union of Mineworkers, will agree that in a balanced four-part energy system that we are lucky enough to have, with oil, gas, coal and nuclear power, it is vital that the coal industry remains as competitive as possible with its vast indigenous resources.The Secretary of State has recognised the four-part economic structure and the rôle that coal has to play as a competitive fuel, but even he must be deeply and inwardly concerned by the attitude being adopted in the wage negotiations which have taken place. I emphasise that in supporting the Bill and others before it we are endeavouring to provide a better working life for our miners and better assistance to the National Coal Board in its efforts to secure coal supplies. Those efforts will be to no avail if we have a continuing and uncontrolled spiral of wage inflation. Already there is evidence of private and industrial consumers cancelling their plans to switch over to solid fuels. The CEGB would like to have a great deal more coal available at the right price. It is having to continue the construction of oil-fired generating plants. We support the Bill all the way. We support it in principle and we support many of the details within it, especially the provisions for the pneumonconiosis sufferers and their families. Some queries have been raised on some technicalities and I hope that we shall have a few of the answers when the Under-Secretary of State replies. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will accept the pressure on both sides of the House to extend the grant aid being given to the pneumoconiosis victims and their families. Further, I hope that he will recognise the fear expressed by hon. Members that is felt by people outside the House that this great industry, which appeared to be in decline but now has all our support in expanding and modernising again with new plant and new research projects, will allow itself to lose its competitiveness and, therefore, to lose its long-term prosperity. The Bill is much welcomed on this side of the House and with some amendments in Committee it will constitute a marked and welcome step forward in improving a great industry. I hope that we shall enable it to pass into Committee at the end of its Second Reading.
This has been a wide-ranging debate going well beyond the somewhat narrow issues of the Bill itself. I am glad that has been the case. The main aim of the Bill has been to facilitate the enormous task of getting the coal the nation needs—surely one of the most important tasks before the country.After the trials and vicissitudes of the past, it is a great personal privilege for one who has spent a lifetime in the industry to be associated with the resurgence of coal as a basic rather than a residual factor in our energy situation. Over the past 18 months the complete reversal in the structure of energy prices following the fivefold increase in oil prices has dramatically transformed the future outlook for the coal industry. Last year was distorted because of the strike, but in 1973 coal supplied some 38 per cent. of our total energy needs and we had difficulty in exporting less than 3 million tons. It is true that ours was still far and away the largest coal industry in Western Europe. But does anyone now believe that we would not be in a very much more favourable position if the industry had not been allowed to run down? The neglect of the past years cannot be redeemed overnight, and we have many other things to do. The way is now open to further development of nuclear power. We have to secure the speedy development of North Sea resources in the interests of the community as a whole. We are building a comprehensive programme of measures on energy conservation which reflects the need both for immediate savings on the balance of payments and for longer-term change in attitudes on the part of consumers. We are playing a full part in international co-operation on energy matters. But a central strand of our new energy policy is the commitment to the long-term future of the coal industry that has emerged from the coal industry examination which we conducted with the unions and the National Coal Board. We have halted the rundown, and a modest increase of output is in prospect. I only wish it could be more, and I am sure that that goes for everybody in the industry. Wherever I have gone in my travels—I have visited every coalfield in the industry—I have said to the miners that more coal for the country means better schools, houses and pensions provision. I believe that there is a new spirit of expansion in the industry. Now that the wages issue has been settled and a productivity scheme agreed, I believe that the coal will be forthcoming.
Will the Minister give way?
No. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not come in until the middle of the debate.Coal has an unparelleled opportunity to win for itself a viable, secure, competitive future with the assurance that short-term fluctuations in the price of other fuels will not be allowed to interfere with its development. The substantial reserves of gas and oil now under development are in no way a threat to the opportunities facing the industry. Our reserves of coal are even greater and we shall certainly not be so rich in other fuels as to be able to afford to undervalue coal. It has been said that not only is there a Selby coalfield: there are other rich new finds as well. As my hon. Friends have said, there are new exciting coalfields all over Britain. We are boring more for coal than for oil—in Oxfordshire, Eastern Nottinghamshire, Seafield off the Scottish coast and the area in Staffordshire that my hon. Friends have mentioned.
I will not give way.It is because of this new importance of coal in our national economy that we make no excuse for the proposals in the Bill, which are designed to iron out some of the practical and procedural snags which could so easily hold up coal production and deny the country the valuable contribution that the industry would otherwise be able to offer. At the same time, with all the emphasis that must rightly be given to the paramount need to solve our economic problems and to allow coal to help fully in that task, we must never forget the human aspects—the need to respect the dignity and rights of the individual and to have regard for our environmental heritage. We believe that the Bill holds a fair balance. Indeed, the Bill starts off in Clause 1 with a matter which must concern every Member of this House—the relief of suffering. In this case I am talking about pneumoconiosis, for many years recognised as one of the greatest evils attendant on the coal industry. Great efforts have been made by all concerned over the years to deal with the airborne dust problem, unfortunately accentuated by the mechanisation which in other ways has made the miner's life less arduous. Nobody is more pleased than my right hon. Friend and myself, as coming from the mining industry, with the considerable advances that have been made. The figures tell the story. The number of new cases in 1950 was over 4,000. By 1960 it had almost come down to 3,000. Last year there were only just over 500 new cases. This progress has been achieved by the fullest co-operation of all concerned—management, unions, the Mines Inspectorate, the mining equipment manufacturers, the research institutes and so on—and I should like to pay tribute to them all. The main effort must be directed to tackling the problem at source, where the dust is produced, but standards have been improved all round. New methods of sampling have been put into operation, and stricter dust controls have recently been introduced by the NCB in anticipation, I understand, of new statutory regulations which are expected later this year. All this is contributing to lowering the incidence of the disease. The effort must go on. At present there is a tragic legacy of the past of nearly 40,000 registered sufferers. A good many cases would have to be taken through the courts. Legal expenses would be heavy and it would take a long time. Some of the sufferers would be unable to provide the necessary evidence of things that may have happened many years ago. Some may not survive to hear the results of their case. That is the answer to the hon. Member who raised this issue and to any criticism of the agreement negotiated by the NUM and the NCB. We want to give people financial provision when they are alive, rather than when they are dead, and to avoid long-drawn-out legal processes. For this reason the whole House must welcome the scheme that the National Coal Board and the unions have worked out together. It is with pride that I refer to the provision in Clause 1 of £100 million to help the Board meet the costs of compensating the existing sufferers. This is the finest possible example of the regard for the individual which the present Government have and always will have. But though other examples may not have gained the same appeal in human terms, there are individual rights which we have not forgotten in drawing up the provisions of the Bill. It has been necessary, as my right hon. Friend and I have sought to show, to strengthen the powers of the National Coal Board in the daunting task it has in front of it. This simply cannot be done without some erosion of the rights of the individual. The provisions in the Bill permit the NCB to withdraw support from some land owners at the margins of coal workings where their rights are now in doubt. They permit the Board to mine coal from under land where there is the retained interest of a former copyhold tenancy without the delays involved in seeking permission from owners who in many cases might be difficult to identify. The Bill resurrects compulsory powers for the temporary occupation and use of land for opencast coal working and a new procedure for the temporary closure or diversion of footpaths. But full provision is made for the individuals who object to be able to make their case and to have it fully taken into account, if necessary by a public inquiry. The Board and the Department care about the environment—quite apart from the fact that the Countryside Act constrains them to do so. No application to work an opencast site is made before the Board has gone fully into the local situation and tried its best to meet the wishes of local opinion in regard to the area to be used and the methods of working and so on. I can assure the House that in considering such applications the Secretary of State gives every consideration to the need to minimise the impact on the environment and on the people living in the locality. Conditions are imposed with regard to methods of working and the way the site is to be restored, and in drawing them up we invariably consult the Ministry of Agriculture where farming is concerned and the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office or Scottish Office as the case may be. The expansion of the opencast coal programme from 10 million tons to 15 million tons a year which was announced in the reports of the coal industry examination is absolutely essential to the future economic well-being of this country. This will mean correspondingly more sites, but in the ways I have outlined I give a pledge to those concerned that everything possible will be done to minimise the nuisance and the damage to the local amenity, to complete operations as speedily as can be and to restore the land as attractively and beneficially as it is possible to do. Several hon. Members have mentioned the wives who were widowed before or after 1970 and the men who had commuted their pension rights. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. This is not a scheme put forward by the Government. What the Bill provides is the grant of £100 million that the Government decided on as an act of compassion and concern for those who worked in the industry. The scheme has been drawn up between the NCB and the NUM and any amendment of it would require to be negotiated between those two parties. The Government are proud to make their con- tribution, but I emphasise that it is a scheme which will be drawn up between the two parties. As for the points which were made about how people will be affected depending on whether their cases were dealt with before or after 1970 and the matter of commutation, I am sure that this debate will be read by many outside the House. Therefore I hope that my hon. Friends who raised these points will feel that amendment of the Bill will not solve the problems they raise. I repeat that this debate will be read widely and those points will be borne in mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) was right to say that the scheme had been drawn up between the National Coal Board and the unions. If there is any argument or dispute in the area which he represents, it is a matter for the employers to consider. If the pottery employers want to introduce a scheme, they are at liberty to do so. It is a matter for them. I believe that great credit should be given to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy for the fact that we have managed to make a contribution of £100 million. My right hon. Friend managed to achieve that sum under great difficulties. Therefore, I hope that the House will not be unmindful of that important consideration. I have already exhausted the time at my disposal and I hope that the House will not consider it discourteous if I do not reply to a number of the points which have been made. Many of them are important, but I hope that we shall be able to discuss them further in Committee. In conclusion, I should like to stress the mutual nature of our strategy for the coal industry. It is up to management and unions alike to grasp the great prize of a stable, expanding and competitive picture which now lies before it. It is up to the Government and the community as a whole to substantiate their commitment to such a future for the industry. I do not think any Government could have done more to demonstrate our commitment than have the present Labour Government—who, after all, have had only 11 months in office. I am proud to be associated with this administration. Furthermore, the Bill gives evidence of the continuing nature of that commitment. It shows compassion and understanding for those in the industry who are affected by the legislative procedures. Accordingly, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).
Coal Industry Money
Queen's Recommendation having been signified—
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for grants to the National Coal Board to meet expenditure under a scheme providing for compensation for pneumoconiosis, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of grants to the National Coal Board towards expenditure incurred by the Board under or for the purposes of the industry's pneumoconiosis compensation scheme, as defined in the said Act.—[ Mr. Thomas Cox.]
Local Government (Scotland) Bill
As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.
New Clause 1
Publication Of Accounts
'(1) For the purpose of securing an economic distribution of resources, an authority shall, for each trading activity, including new construction work and/or repair and maintenance work carried out by its own direct labour organisation, keep separate accounts and publish annually a report and accounts which shall show—
(2) The Secretary of State may provide by order for any additional information to be included in the accounts when these are necessary to establish the value for money obtained from any trading or building activity'.—[ Mr. Teddy Taylor.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.This is an important clause which I hope the House will accept. It concerns direct labour departments in Scottish local authorities. A number of hon. Members will be surprised to hear that direct labour departments are not defined as municipal trading organisations, although they carry out a great deal of building work and involve the spending of an enormous amount of ratepayers' money. I am sure that in some cases the work is carried out profitably but in other cases the work is undertaken unprofitably and without a great deal of efficiency. We propose in the clause not to restrict the work of the direct labour departments but to ensure that the truth is told about the amount of money which those departments spend and the extent to which they are competitive and efficient by comparison with private industry. We want the facts to be told about the performance of direct labour departments. We put forward these proposals for a number of reasons. We believe that it is in the interests of all Scottish ratepayers that the details of the accounts of direct labour departments should be known. This does not happen at present. I am sure you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you were Lord Provost of Glasgow, that in that city trading organisations, such as the transport department, published separate accounts and gave all relevant details. In that way the ratepayers and the council could come to a decision about the effectiveness of a trading organisation. But direct labour departments which spend a great deal of money are not under such an obligation. In the new clause we are trying to remedy that situation. There is a further consideration to be borne in mind. This is a period when the building industry in Scotland faces short-time working because of cuts in public building and in some areas a decline in house-building. Therefore, it is wrong that direct labour departments should expand at the expense of private industry and private contracting organisations. In many cases we have not the slightest idea whether those departments are efficient, effective or in a position to compete fairly with private industry.
The hon. Gentleman has made an assertion that direct labour departments have no idea of what the work is all about. I remind him that they are specialists in this type of work and give ratepayers the best value for money. I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman can make such a statement.
I was pointing out that in some councils the ratepayers are not aware of the performance of these departments. If the hon. Gentleman is correct and the departments are efficient and effective and can compete fairly with private industry, it is in the community's interest that the accounts should be published and all the facts displayed. That is all we are proposing in the clause. We are saying that direct labour departments should publish separate accounts giving full details of their profitability and the work they undertake. The Minister should have no objection to the clause since it is aimed at ensuring that all the financial facts are published.The third reason why the clause is relevant in present circumstances is that in Glasgow we have had a number of reports about grave concern on the part of the elected council in respect of the efficiency and effectiveness of the city's direct labour organisation. Glasgow has a Labour-controlled council and the convener of the housing Department is concerned about the direct labour department. There have been complaints about the lack of proper supervision, outdated procedures and many other factors. Furthermore, the building performance in the city of Glasgow is regarded as deplorable. These are not my opinions but are opinions expressed publicly by the Labour chairman of the housing committee. Therefore, we feel that the time has come for the financial facts to be revealed. It might be argued that some checks already exist. However, the only effective financial check, apart from the work of the various council committees, is the district audit. That is not a comprehensive service and operates only after pro- jects have been completed. This is a matter of concern to Scottish ratepayers. I should like to give one example—and there are not many since it is difficult to get at the accounts. In Glasgow five years ago there was concern about the amount of money spent by the direct labour department on certain jobs. An independent inquiry was commissioned by the housing committee to look into losses of £3 million flowing from a direct labour department project. The inquiry concluded that the procedures in the department
7.30 p.m. Some people argue—I know that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), who took a personal interest in establishing such a department in his own authority, takes this view—that the direct labour departments are efficient and effective and can stand fair competition with any private industry. If that is so, it is only fair and just that the departments should publish accounts in exactly the same way as any other trading department. Many trading departments in local authorities publish separate accounts. That is precisely what we are asking for in the clause: that the direct labour departments should be the same as the old transport departments in this respect. In the clause we first specify that there should be separate accounts for new work and for maintenance and repair work. We do so because it would be possible, and there have been indications that it has happened, for a direct labour department to quote an unreasonably low figure for a new building project and recover the money because it has a monopoly of maintenance work given by the local authority. Therefore, it is fair and reasonable that the accounts for new work and maintenance should be separate. Our second requirement is that the financial outcome of the year should be published in the accounts. The third is that for major projects separate accounts of the outcome should be published. Fourthly, we propose that there should be a statement of savings and losses made by comparison with what would have been paid if the job had been given to private industry. Under the Companies Acts firms must publish a great deal of information about all their activities. The clause does not conform strictly to the requirements of those Acts. In some respects we are little tighter. The reason is that whereas firms might regard some information as commercially confidential, the local authority's own department is in a special position of having, in most cases, a monopoly of maintenance work within the major authorities. Therefore, it is only fair and reasonable that they should publish this additional information. People in Scotland are worried about how the rates will go this year. There have been clear indications from some authorities—we had such an indication from the Grampians region only a few days ago—that rates might rise substantially. The House therefore has a duty to ensure that where savings can be made, they are made. I and some other Glasgow Members have our own views about the Glasgow direct labour department. But the clause is not directed against Glasgow in particular. I have had doubts and concern about the maintenance aspect of Glasgow Corporation, and the council itself has expressed doubts about the new work. We simply propose that detailed accounts of a direct labour department should be published so that the ratepayers may know, those who compete with the department may know and the council will have a full picture of the extent to which the department is saving the authority money or losing it. I approach the matter with suspicion and a certain degree of prejudice. I believe that in the long term direct labour is bad business for local authorities. Some Labour Members will take a contrary view, and they are entitled to do so. But, whether we take one point of view or another, there could be nothing wrong, and it could only be helpful and constructive, in a direct labour department publishing separate accounts for its new work and its repair work, and in revealing all. It would be helpful to local authorities and would help direct labour departments to become more efficient than might otherwise be the case. It might be a means of saving a great deal of money for local authorities, and it might help to control the rates burden. The Minister of State and other Scottish Ministers have recently expressed the view that local authorities must carefully watch their expenditure. If we are to take that view seriously, the first step should be to ensure that the ratepayers know the full facts about direct labour departments, some of which spend a great deal of money and some of which, in the instances I have quoted, overspend by a great deal."virtually deprived the council of control over its own finances."
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) said that I agreed with him about certain matters. That was a slightly misleading statement. What I told the hon. Gentleman was that when I was on the Dundee Corporation we started a direct labour department, the first result of which was that it cut the prices of new houses being built for the corporation. The second result was even more interesting. The private firms which had been tendering for those contracts reduced their prices for further contracts by no less than £300 a house. We had the remarkable situation that at a time when prices were rising, they could cut their prices by that amount.The first drawback of the clause is that the direct labour department is to be asked to carry out expensive accounting that would not otherwise be necessary. It has to show not only its own financial results but how they would compare if the contract had gone to unsuccessful tenderers. It is a bit much to expect a direct labour department to have to pay money to work out what would have happened if the contract had gone elsewhere. No other contractor has to do it. Why should a corporation direct labour department have to do it? It would mean unnecessary expense. If other people want to incur that expense, perhaps an independent body such as the Economic League, Aims of Industry or even the Conservative Party, there is nothing to stop them, but why should the ratepayers have to pay for an academic exercise?
Let us suppose that there is a fixed-price tender for a new building project, such as a new school, and the direct labour department puts in a tender for £900,000 and a private contractor puts in a tender for £1 million, and the department ends up with a cost of £1½ million. It is only fair and reasonable that the figures should be published, but there is no way of establishing that without the requirement in the clause.
The hon. Gentleman must be fully aware that at the end of every financial year the corporation publishes accounts, and if the direct labour department makes a loss over the year it cannot be hidden. It is published in the official reports. Therefore, there is no question of hiding anything.The hon. Gentleman is asking for direct labour departments to incur unnecessary expenditure that would cripple them. No large firm with its own maintenance squads would ever dream of going to the expense that the hon. Gentleman suggests, because it would increase the costs of running those squads, and there would be no point in doing it. It would be equally bad for a local authority which carries out repairs with its own repair squads to incur that expense. A second important point is that when they have a lean time private contractors can cut their prices a bit, to keep their labour force and to keep everything ticking over. They can also increase their prices in good times. It is noticeable to anyone else who has had to deal with such matters that there are much higher estimates for house building which will be carried out over the winter period than for house building to be carried out over the summer period. If direct labour departments were forced to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests it might be difficult to justify the exercise. I am sure that if he were a member of any council he would be the first to say "Why is the price much higher now than it was a couple of months ago?" There might be a reasonable explanation. The usual explanation is that it is more expensive to build in the winter in what is termed bad building weather. Local authorities, in carrying out maintenance and repair work, have no incentive to skimp the work because they are not out to make excessive profits. Their only concern is to keep their houses in good repair. A private firm may knock a few pounds off the cost of a repair job, but the council may find that repairs are required two years earlier than if the maintenance had been carried out properly in the first place. Admittedly, an efficient repair might be more expensive in the first place, but many corporations—I do not know about Glasgow, but I know about Dundee—often find that in the long term it is cheaper. Indeed, at the end of the day it is not only cheaper but more satisfactory for tenants. The hon. Gentleman suggested that direct labour departments should not only keep records of all the new work that is undertaken but individually price every major project. The hon. Gentleman is being unreasonable, and is attempting to increase the overhead expenditure of direct labour departments to the point where they are no longer able to compete economically with private firms. When the Dundee Corporation started its direct labour department it guaranteed regular employment all the year round to its workers. Private firms do not guarantee work all the year round. At least, they may do so now, but they did not at that time. Naturally, guaranteed and better conditions for workers must be paid for. We must consider whether it is worth paying extra and giving men guaranteed jobs all the year round, which is what most people get nowadays, or to employ them in the good weather period and to pay them off during the winter as many private building firms do.
The hon. Gentleman said that it would add greatly to expenditure if direct labour departments had to give details of the cost of each major project. Is he seriously suggesting that any direct labour department which completes a major school project or something like that does not know the cost?
Of course it does.
Then why not tell us?
Why do not the private firms tell? Why do they not publish the profits or losses that are made on jobs that they do? Because that information would be valuable to their competitors. If a direct labour department has to divulge information which could be useful to its competitors—we must bear in mind that it is restricted in the contracts for which it can compete—it would be tying a rope round its own neck.Many years ago I suggested that the Dundee Corporation should not tender for certain jobs because it would have to employ more men who would have to be employed all the year round. The reasonable thing was to allocate jobs which would keep them in work. That is better than the method that the hon. Gentleman attempts to justify of cut-throat competition which means that men are paid off in the winter and are left to scrounge for whatever jobs they can find. Men who are out of work in the winter have to be paid unemployment or other benefit. Therefore, at the end of the day it is a good thing for the ratepayers and taxpayers to have these men employed all the year round. In case the hon. Gentleman is in doubt, I am opposed to the new clause.
The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) put his finger on the difficulty about the employment of direct labour when he said that the direct labour departments guarantee regular work all the year round. If we lived in equitable conditions and local authorities were able to budget on both new work and maintenance for almost the same amount year by year, that would possibly be something to aim for and to feel could be achieved, but, rightly or wrongly, the Government of the day have said that we need to reduce expenditure—on, for example, education building in Scotland—by a very large amount. Is it practical for direct labour departments in Glasgow, Dundee, Fife county or anywhere else to guarantee full employment to their men when the money currently being made available is likely to be drastically reduced?It is much easier to run on a more equitable basis when it comes to maintenance because it is possible to plan programmes forward year by year and to control the amount that is spent on houses, schools, and so on. However, when it comes to the provision of new capital building, I wonder whether it is practical to adopt the thesis developed by the hon. Member for Dundee, West. I think that it would be in the interests of ratepayers for the maximum amount of information on this subject to be published so that they could weigh the pros and cons. It might be that on some occasions they would say "We are happier to pay £x more because we guarantee regular employment", but there must come a time when people will get past the point of no return and will say "This is getting beyond a joke. We cannot go on doing that." If the maximum amount of information is published councillors and ratepayers can make up their minds on the facts before them rather than on the basis that something looks as if it ought to be all right. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friends are right to commend the keeping of accounts and the publishing of information.
For a number of reasons I cannot recommend the House to accept the new clause.I do not wish to get involved in any great discussion about the merits of direct labour departments. Of course, they have considerable advantages, as a number of local authorities have found. Some of those advantages have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). When a direct labour department is established it is important that the local authority ensures that it works in an efficient way. I certainly support that proposition. However, it is not only misleading, but inaccurate to pretend, as hon. Gentlemen opposite have done, that direct labour departments are inefficient and that competitive free enterprise gives better value for money. There has been criticism recently about the performance of Glasgow's direct labour department. There has been equal criticism about one well-known building contractor who was employed on the Knightswood modernisation scheme. That contractor's performance was so poor in every respect that the contract had to be terminated by the corporation before it was completed. There are many other instances of private builders producing extremely costly results on particular contracts. That is one of the difficulties about accepting the proposition that direct labour departments should not only have separate accounts, but that those accounts should somehow or other produce figures representing the savings or losses compared with the sums which would have been payable to private contractors to carry out the work. Unfortunately this is unlikely to be a practicable proposition. Unhappily, it is rare these days for the final sum paid to any contractor, whether a direct labour department or a private enterprise contractor, to bear much relationship to the original tender price. Because of variations in the contract, increased costs and the rest, quite considerable extra payments are made. Therefore to compare the eventual expenditure of the direct labour department with the original tender by a private enterprise competitor in an attempt to find some meaningful comparison of the performance of the department is unrealistic. There are two main considerations in this matter. The first is whether at the time the contract is let there is a proper comparison between the quotation by the direct labour department and any outside competitors. This is already provided for in existing legislation, because Section 81 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires local authorities to make standing orders about contracts of this kind and to include in the standing orders provision for securing competition for such contracts. That provision applies to direct labour departments and private enterprise contractors equally. There is therefore nothing in the present situation which allows the local authority to give contracts to a direct labour department regardless of cost and without taking account of what could be available in the private enterprise market. Therefore, the arrangements for when the contract is let are provided for. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) now takes the view that he apparently takes about direct labour departments, that is odd, because his Government did not put a provision similar to the new clause in the 1973 Act. That would have been perfectly appropriate. They took the view which I take now that the provision in the 1973 Act was satisfactory and adequate. My second point concerns the proper accounts of the direct labour department, or any other department of the local authority. For the reasons I have given it is not practicable to produce accounts in the terms provided for in the clause. Of course, I accept that it is desirable that proper accounts should be kept and published. I cannot recommend that we accept the clause as being satisfactory, but I fully accept the general principle of keeping proper books and accounts. As for accounting requirements, a report is to be received from the professional organisation concerned, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which will deal with the matters covered by the clause. When we have the report we shall consider the views of that body, and since the Secretary of State has the power to provide by regulation for what should be contained in the accounts of local authorities, we shall take account of anything said here which would produce the desired result. It therefore seems sensible to wait for the report of that body. Section 97 of the 1973 Act provided for the setting-up of a commission for local authority accounts, and the controller of audit is appointed under the same section. If the commission or the controller of audit make representations about this or any other matter concerning local authority accounts we shall naturally take them fully into consideration in any regulations we might wish to make. However, we cannot do it by means of the new clause. To sum up, I confirm that where there is a direct labour department, a system in which we see many advantages, we are anxious that it should work efficiently. Secondly, we are interested in keeping local authority expenditure down in the current year. We are also interested in seeing that local authority expenditure is properly controlled and value for money is obtained. A circular will soon go out to local authorities concerning the problems of 1975–76. However, part of what the clause is designed to achieve is already provided for in existing legislation which the Conservatives thought adequate when they were in Government and which we still consider to be adequate. Other parts of the clause are completely impracticable. Other parts may be practicable in view of what is said by the report from the professional body concerned. In so far as those parts are practicable, there is already provision for the Secretary of State to make the necessary alterations by regulation. For all those reasons I hope that the House will reject the clause.
With due respect to the Minister, his arguments are unconvincing. He said that public expenditure should be kept down. One way to do that is to accept the new clause. Surely it is impossible to know whether an authority is getting value for money from a direct labour department unless it knows exactly how much each job costs and whether the department is making a loss. If the department is making a loss, obviously the ratepayers will have to pay more. We wish to safeguard the position of ratepayers as well as to do everything possible to stop costs escalating. We wish to secure economy and efficiency in the general interests of the ratepayers.We believe that direct labour departments could be established as separate trading departments of local authorities and that they should have their own accounts showing the profits and losses. Also implicit in the clause is that new building work should be subject to competitive tender. Such competition would be fair and would mean that the best organisation would get the work. I was interested to hear what was said by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). I do not regard the direct labour department as a social service, although in some ways he does. Why
Division No. 98.]
|Beith, A. J.||Farr, John||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Bell, Ronald||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Fookes, Miss Janet||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Freud, Clement||Lane, David|
|Biffen, John||Fry, Peter||Latham, Michael (Melton)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Brittan, Leon||Goodhew, Victor||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Grieve, Percy||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Lloyd, Ian|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Budgen, Nick||Hannam, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Mather, Carol|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hawkins, Paul||Mawby, Ray|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hayhoe, Barney||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Carson, John||Hicks, Robert||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hooson, Emlyn||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Moate, Roger|
|Corrie, John||Hunt, John||Monro, Hector|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Hurd, Douglas||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Mudd, David|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Neave, Airey|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||James, David||Neubert, Michael|
should persons who work for a direct labour department be guaranteed work when those who work for private firms do not have that guarantee? We believe it is necessary to look at the whole picture.
I am interested in direct building departments. Let me assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) that if I were a building worker I would prefer to be employed by the direct works department of a corporation not because I would be guaranteed full employment but because the work would be regular and the direct building department can put men on inside work during the winter months. That is the difference. The men earn their money.
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. It shows why direct labour departments are constantly expanding. These departments should not be allowed constantly to expand, when they may be working inefficiently and at a tremendous cost to ratepayers. We must look at the whole picture and not just take into account the interests of those who work for direct labour departments. This clause will make for greater economy and efficiency and will be in the interests of local authorities and the ratepayers.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 103, Noes 141.
|Page, John (Harrow West)||Sims, Roger||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Skeet, T. H. H.||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Spence, John||Viggers, Peter|
|Rathbone, Tim||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Stainton, Keith||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Stanbrook, Ivor||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Stokes, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)||Stradling Thomas, J.||Mr. Hamish Gray and|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)||Mr. Richard Luce.|
|Shepherd, Colin||Tebbit, Norman|
|Allaun, Frank||Gould, Bryan||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Gourlay, Harry||Noble, Mike|
|Atkinson, Norman||Graham, Ted||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Grocott, Bruce||Ovenden, John|
|Bates, Alf||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bean, R. E.||Hamling, William||Parry, Robert|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Hardy, Peter||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Harper, Joseph||Perry, Ernest|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Boardman, H.||Henderson, Douglas||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Booth, Albert||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Radice, Giles|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Huckfield, Les||Reid, George|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hunter, Adam||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Cartwright, John||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Janner, Greville||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rose, Paul B.|
|Coleman, Donald||John, Brynmor||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Selby, Harry|
|Corbett, Robin||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sillars, James|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Kaufman, Gerald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Kerr, Russell||Small, William|
|Crawford, Douglas||Kinnock, Neil||Snape, Peter|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Lambie, David||Spearing, Nigel|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Lamond, James||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Cryer, Bob||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Lomas, Kenneth||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Loyden, Eddie||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Dempsey, James||Luard, Evan||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Doig, Peter||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Tierney, Sydney|
|Dormand, J. D.||McCartney, Hugh||Tinn, James|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||McElhone, Frank||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Dunn, James A||Mackenzie, Gregor||Watt, Hamish|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Mackintosh, John P.||Wellbeloved, James|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Maclennan, Robert||Welsh, Andrew|
|Evans, John (Newton)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McNamara, Kevin||White, James (Pollok)|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Madden, Max||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Magee, Bryan||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Flannery, Martin||Marks, Kenneth||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Ford, Ben||Meacher, Michael||Woof, Robert|
|Forrester, John||Mendelson, John||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mikardo, Ian|
|George, Bruce||Millan, Bruce||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Ginsburg, David||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Golding, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Mr. David Stoddart.|
Question accordingly negatived.
The Valuation Roll And Revaluation
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 13, leave out 'and section 2' and insert ', section 2 and section 5'.This is a drafting amendment. Alterations can be made to the valuation roll under Clause 5 as well as under Clause 2. This amendment makes that clear.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 7, at end insert:
This, again, is a drafting amendment. It is necessary to qualify this paragraph, which at present is in terms which are too absolute."in accordance with the Valuation Acts".
Amendment agreed to.
Alterations To Valuation Roll Which Is In Force
I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 42, leave out "may" and insert "shall".The amendment deals with a point which was raised in Committee. As the Bill is drafted, in both Clause 1 and Clause 2 the changes that may be made in the valuation roll by the assessor are expressed in terms that the assessor may make changes. We wish to retain "may" in Clause 1 because it seems to be necessary there, where one is dealing with a situation before the roll is finalised, that any amendment shall be made in as flexible a way as is possible by the assessor. When we come to Clause 2 and deal with the circumstances in which an amendment may be made after the roll is drawn up and we prescribe the various circumstances in the clause it seems right, on consideration, that we should place an obligation on the assessor—for example, if he discovers an error—to make the alteration in the roll. I said in Committee that I was rather worried about placing an absolute obligation on the assessor for all the matters in these paragraphs because I felt that might impose an unfair or impossible burden on him. I said that I would consider whether we could not discriminate between the various provisions in the clause and make some of them mandatory, and in others use "may". Having considered the matter again it seems to us that we can safely replace "may" by "shall" without imposing unnecessary disabilities. That is the purpose of the amendment. I am grateful to those who raised the matter in Committee. I am glad that I have been able to meet the point.
I am grateful to the Minister for this concession. I hope that he will appreciate the worth of the other suggestions we made in Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 3, at end insert—
The amendment relates to what may appear to be an omission in the provisions requiring the correction of the valuation roll at the hand of the assessor. Under subsection (2)(a) an obligation is now placed upon the assessor to correct the roll where an error has been made. I believe that in times past the assessor's power to make this change was limited to where a mathematical error had been discovered in the course of the calculation of the various factors which made up the gross annual value, whereas if the error had occurred at the instance of the assessor through a fault in survey, for instance, the assessor was unable to make the change. That seems to have been changed by subsection (2)(a), and subsection (2)(b) deals with any other changes which might have occurred"(aa) to give effect to any alteration in the rateable value of any lands and heritages to make allowance for any alterations carried out thereto prior to the time when the roll was made up and which had not been declared to the assessor."
The amendment takes in another instance, one which arose frequently during the time of the last revaluation when I acted as the secretary of a valuation appeal committee. That was where it was discovered, in the course of the proceedings during that revaluation year, that an error had been made, not through the fault of the assessor, but once the roll had been made up, and could not be corrected. It occurred in some disturbing circumstances, because in valuation affairs, in proving that a valuation may be incorrect, it is customary for the appellant to produce evidence of comparison with other properties. He looks at the valuation roll and sees that the house opposite, which he thinks to be the same as his own, has a lower valuation than his, and he therefore says to the appeal committee that his valuation is too high. 8.15 p.m. Frequently, when reference is made to the analysis of the other property, it is found that there is some feature about it which is not similar to the house under appeal. The reason for that is that in the annual return which is made by a householder no reference is made to a change such as an extension—a bathroom, new toilet facilities, or a garage. Ratepayers and appellants cannot understand why those who have failed to make their returns should get off scot free. One of the unfortunate rules was that no change could be made in the valuation until the next period of revaluation which could be five years hence or, in the case of reorganisation of local government, in this instance, seven years. The effect of the amendment would be to allow the assessor, on obtaining information of that sort, to correct the roll. The amendment seems to fit what has been proposed by the Government in an effort to correct some of the disadvantages that have arisen in the past. I assure the House that appellants cannot understand that somebody who has not made a return should profit from his failure to make a return, whereas somebody who has made a return has his valuation increased because of information he has disclosed. It may be argued on behalf of the Minister that the phrase "owing to error" in subsection (2)(a) could take care of the circumstances I have outlined. In view of the law on the subject there may be doubt about whether that construction would be put upon the use of the phrase. The specific circumstances outlined in the amendment could take care of the problem, which frequently arises in practice."since the roll was made up".
I am not absolutely sure that I followed everything that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said. Some of the points he made and the wording of the amendment would suggest that he is dealing with a situation more closely allied to what happens under Clause 1 rather than under Clause 2. I am not sure why he has chosen to table the amendment to Clause 2 rather than to Clause 1. The amendment speaks of
That brings the matter rather more into Clause 1 than into Clause 2. The assessor has power, which we are strengthening, to obtain information bearing on valuations. We are amending the appropriate provision in the 1854 Act by the provision in paragraph 1 of Part II of Schedule 6, under which it will be possible for the assessor to call for information bearing on valuations which is likely to result in changes in the valuation. The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that there should be an arrangement whereby every alteration that is made should be volunteered and declared to the assessor. I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. This point of unfairness was raised on a number of occasions on Clause 2. I have sympathy with the view that omissions which arise from a deliberate intent by the ratepayer to avoid giving information are very troublesome and unfair to other ratepayers. But the trouble about imposing an obligation to give information on every alteration is that it is difficult for the layman to define a material change of circumstances. If we were to impose such an obligation, assuming that the ratepayers adhered to it, which must be a matter of doubt, a considerable number of additional pieces of information might be given to the assessor which would not be relevant because they would not represent a material change of circumstances. Therefore, he would be bogged down by a great deal of unnecessary information. If we cannot make the obligation which the hon. Gentleman has in mind stick, we cannot accept the amendment, which turns on whether a declaration had been made to the assessor. If a declaration had been made, one provision about the timing of a change would apply and if a declaration had not been made another provision would apply. That could deal not only with an increase but with a reduction in value. It is not therefore simple to get the matter right. We cannot achieve a fool-proof system by writing everything into the legislation. We must give the assessor powers and responsibilities to correct errors and to make changes. We cannot place absolute obligations on the assessor or the ratepayer."alterations carried out thereto prior to the time when the roll was made up".
Does the assessor have powers to incorporate valuations for rateable values during the interval between revaluations?
Yes, he does.We are setting out the powers in the clause in a much more comprehensive way. We provide in Schedule 6 increased powers for the assessors to obtain the necessary information. Therefore, we have gone as far as we can reasonably go to get the matter right and to maintain fairness and equity between ratepayers. I cannot recommend the House to accept the amendment, though I recognise what the hon. Gentleman is attempting to do and I have sympathy with it as a matter of equity. However, he wishes to write into the Bill an equity which is not identifiable.
I am surprised at the Minister's reply. The effect of the amendment is that there should be power to rectify the situation if an alteration is carried out before the property is valued and it is subsequently discovered that it has not been declared. That power does not exist. There is only power to make an alteration if the additions have been made after the property has been valued.It is well known that the assessor annually sends a notice to everyone with a request to state whether any change has been made since the property was last valued. If someone makes a change which clearly involves the property in carrying a higher rateable value but does not declare it on the form, the assessor values it not knowing the situation. It may be a garage, which normally would carry an extra valuation of £8 a year. If the person falsely failed to declare it and subsequently the assessor discovered what the situation was, perhaps because somebody had complained, it is wrong that the assessor should not have the power to do what he would have done had he known about the garage. I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment, and the Minister should think again about this matter.
I thank the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) for completing the partnership on the amendment. He has put his finger on the point. Inequity results from a false declaration. The person who has made the false declaration benefits, not for one year but for five years. The law is that if the lands or heritages are in existence before the date of revaluation they should be incorporated in the valuation. If any material change occurs thereafter, it can result in the roll being changed. But if no such change occurs the assessor cannot change the roll until five years have elapsed.One can imagine what would happen if a person, having gone to an appeal tribunal, has his case turned down because the assessor points to five similar houses but a mistake had occurred in relation to the example which the appellant chose. The assessor is right, but it is wrong that the person who enjoys that benefit should get away with it. The amendment would take care of that situation. The assessor does not rely simply on the information which comes through the annual return. He obtains information from the dean of guild courts and building regulations about applications which have been granted. But from time to time changes occur in properties which are not notified to the local authorities since the work may have been done privately. Even when the form is filled in, it may be a question not of a false declaration but of inaccurate reading of the form when the householder may be unaware that the bathroom, toilet or whatever it is should be treated as a new subject and be included in the assessor's records and valued. I am prepared to accept that perhaps the phrasing of the amendment is not right, although the Minister did not say anything about that matter. If he does not agree to consider the matter more closely before the Bill is dealt with in the House of Lords, I shall have to force a Division. However, I hope that he will have sympathy with what I am trying to achieve.
With permission, I should like to say a few words in reply.The amendment is directed to the date on which the alteration can be made. In the amendment the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is proposing a different date from that which would be applied in terms of the clause generally. I thought that the purpose of his amendment was specifically directed towards the date on which the change should apply rather than to the circumstances of the change itself. I hope I have made that clear. I was directing my argument to some extent to the point the hon. Gentleman was making, which has been clarified by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), who takes a very close interest in these matters—as Ministers know to their cost from time to time. I think that the point that is being made is already covered by Clause 2(1)(f). If it is not covered there, I think that it is covered by subsection (1)(a), which refers to
but which were not included because of error. The point made by the hon. Member is, as it were, that unless the error is taken up before the roll is complete, the assessor will not have a chance to make an alteration at all, if there is an omission, until the next valuation. I am almost certain that that is not so and that the wording in paragraphs (a) and (f) covers the point. If the hon. Member will agree to withdraw the amendment—in any event it is not properly drafted; I think that it is directed to a slightly different point from the one he wishes to pursue—I shall look at the wording of Clause 1 and see whether the point he makes is covered. If it is not covered, I agree that there is a deficiency in the clause and I shall try to put it right at a later stage of the Bill. My advice at present, however, is that it is covered. If the amendment is withdrawn, I shall be very glad to write to the hon. Member and to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor)."lands and heritages which were in existence … when the roll was made up"
With regard to the Minister's suggestion about the clause, I am a little worried that we might not find a solution here. On page 4 subsection (2)(d), there is reference to the timing arrangements for subsection (1)(f). It says that the change should have effect as from the date of the erroneous entry or the beginning of the year, whichever is later. Therefore, is it the date of the entry and not the date of the event?While we are grateful to the Minister for his assurances, I do not think that we shall find a solution there, but as he has given an undertaking to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that a change will be made, this is a satisfactory solution.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, Amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 23, at end insert—
This amendment relates to another problem which has arisen in relation to valuation court procedings. I confess at this stage that the particular district for which I was secretary to the appeal committee was that of Renfrewshire, which has a very substantial reputation for obtaining large numbers of appeals every time there is revaluation. I think that the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson), who is in the Chamber at present, would rush to confirm this. What happened in the 1971 revaluation was that there were a certain number of appeals taken against the basic level of valuation. The basic level is the notional rental which a particular property might fetch according to a scale relating to the type and class of property, its age and its environment—in fact, in relation to any given property which the assessor might fix. Basic level is one of these things which, if overturned, could affect the valuation of premises throughout the area of valuation authority. This happened in Renfrewshire in 1970–71. There was an appeal taken against basic level in Dunbartonshire as well, although, eventually, that did not lead to any change in valuations. To give an idea of the problem, there were about 29,000 individual appeals in Renfrewshire, and large numbers of local authority houses were also affected. Indeed, it was the local authorities in Renfrewshire which took two out of the four test cases which resulted on basic level. The local authorities were successful on basic level in overturning the valuations which had been made by the assessor, so that there was a general reduction. But, in terms of this amendment, I want to point to one of the practical consequences of such a large number of appeals that were lodged. People in the county knew that there was to be this general appeal against basic level. Because of that, encouragement was given by various organisations, as well as by the Press, to people to mark appeals. The intention was not to mark an appeal affecting an individual house in relation to the amenities that that house had, the area in which it was located or any lack of amenities which might affect it, but more to gain the benefit of a local authority test case. Many people tied their cases to the local authority test case, but there were others who, for reasons of their own, perhaps, did not get around to appealing, and who were, perhaps, satisfied that in relation to the area in which their house was situated or its capacity, it was fairly valued. They did not mark an appeal. As a result, they did not get their benefit for the following year, after the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, in the fullness of time, got around to making a decision on proof taken before the appeal committee. If there had been some sort of arrangement whereby basic level could have been automatically adjusted in the event of a major change taking place as a result of the decision of the valuation appeals committee of the area, or of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, that would have saved a tremendous amount of trouble in organisation and administration in relation to unnecessary appeals—unnecessary in a sense—which were lodged. But the assessor had to regard all such appeals, and two things resulted. First, there was a waste of effort because of the need to appeal. Second, those who did not go to the trouble of appealing did not get the benefit of a valuation. It was only later, in the next subsequent year, that that lower value was passed on to those who had neglected, probably for very good reasons, to appeal in the first instance. Therefore, in terms of the amendment, power should be given to provide for some holding of the position empowering the assessor to give effect to any alteration in the rateable value of any lands and heritages, whether or not an appeal is pending. This gives a degree of flexibility. It means that those who have not marked an appeal are not necessarily disallowed what their neighbours are obtaining. This was probably a very special case. Certainly it did not occur anywhere else in Scotland. But it could have occurred, particularly in Dunbartonshire. If basic level cases can be taken in the future, the same problem may arise in any area. We should take advantage of this Bill to make sure that this gap is covered.'(ee) to give effect to any alteration in the rateable value of any lands and heritages whether or not an appeal under the Valuations Act is pending with respect thereto, in order to achieve uniformity of valuation with any other lands and heritages in the same valuation area with respect to which an appeal to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court has been determined'.
I hope that I can convince the hon. Gentleman the amendment is not necessary, because the point that he makes is already covered by the Bill. As Clause 2 stands at present, an alteration is to be made where that is due to any material change of circumstances. Under the amendment that I have already made to make that a mandatory responsibility of the assessor, there is no discretion allowed to him. He has to make a change now due to a material change of circumstances which comes to his notice.If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the definition in Clause 35 of "material change of circumstances" he will see that that includes any relevant decision not only of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court but of the valuation appeal committee as well. Therefore, in any case in which a decision was made, as it were, on a test case, where the particular valuation concerned raised considerations which were absolutely analogous to all the other houses and properties concerned, the case having been decided, that would be a material change of circumstance and the assessor would then be under an obligation, under the provisions of the clause, to make the corresponding changes elsewhere. Therefore, there would be no need for the various matters to be covered by individual appeals and no discrimination between those who appealed and those who did not appeal.
The Minister has misunderstood the situation which I described. A material change of circumstances is usually a case which can be presented in the year following that in which the change has taken place. I shall paint the picture of an appeal marked at the beginning of September. That is taken before the valuation appeal committee at any time within the following six months. Perhaps it is not then decided for eight to ten months by the Lands Valuation Appeal Court in Edinburgh.Anyone who has failed to mark an appeal in 1970–71 will not receive the benefit of the material change which has occurred until 1971–72. That was the exact circumstance in Renfrewshire where the committee took a decision to reduce the valuation of local authority houses for which an appeal had been marked by local authorities, and those of many thousands of other properties which had had appeals marked in relation to the local authority test case. The appellants in respect of the other houses, for which no appeal had been marked for 1970–71, had to come back in 1971–72 and show that there was a material change of circumstance. There was an appeal in relation to certain houses in the Williamwood test case, which substantiated, through the action of the Land Valuation Appeal Court, that there was a spread of benefit which would extend to other houses in the country. Even if it is not necessary to go to the length of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, under the Williamwood case, it is necessary for us to try to cut out the unnecessary holding appeals in the year of the revaluation. If we do not do so, people must put in a holding appeal for revaluation, otherwise they lose one year's reduction, which can be unfair to them and cause a tremendous amount of trouble to the assessor and to the valuation appeals committees, which are flooded out with appeals.
I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman. My main answer is still correct. The appeal decision is based on a material change of circumstances, which then attracts the mandatory provisions of Clause 2. The hon. Gentleman may agree that that is so. However, in the case of persons who make the appeal, the reduction in the valuation will commence from a date which may be earlier than that which will apply in the other cases which are affected by the definition of material change of circumstances, including the decision of the appeal committee or the Scottish Lands Valuation Appeal Court.However, I do not think that that is the circumstance. The intention is that we should make the date of the change the same for all the properties concerned. If we have not achieved that, I shall look again at the matter. But I believe that that is what we have achieved with the Bill as at present drafted. If I am wrong, I will inform the hon. Gentleman and consider whether we should put down an amendment in the other place. The hon. Gentleman's amendment is defective and will therefore not do the job which he has in mind.
I had not intended to press this amendment because I realised that this was a special case. However, I am happy that we have now broached the question with the Minister and that he has agreed to look at the matter again. When he does so he will find that there are good grounds for action, although it is a specialised case.I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 29, leave out:
This point was raised in Committee and it shows that the time spent in Committee was not wasted by the Opposition, which felt that the provision regarding the deletion from the rule gave too much discretion to the assessor and that the scope went wider than necessary. This amendment deletes the words'the assessor considers to be' and insert 'are'.
and inserts the word "are" which makes the provision more definite, since it makes it clear that the assessor is not a free agent in a matter of this kind but is bound by the general law on valuation, which was always the intention."the assessor considers to be"
We are grateful for this further indication of the Minister's flexibility. I am glad that he has accepted the Opposition's point.
Amendment agreed to.
Valuation Of Public Undertakings
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 6, leave out lines 36 to 43 and insert—
'(c) value any lands and heritages which—
(i) were in existence on 16th May 1975 and which, owing to error, were not included in the roll made up by the Assessor for the year 1975–76 and which he is required under any enactment to value, (ii) have come into existence at any time between 16th May 1975 and the beginning of the first year of revaluation thereafter and which he is required under any enactment to value, (iii) were in existence on 16th May 1975 but which by or under an enactment have first fallen to be valued by the Assessor at any time between that date and the beginning of the first year of revaluation thereafter.
(2) The Assessor shall direct the assessor for any valuation area ("the local assessor") containing any lands and heritages which the Assessor has valued or revalued under subsection (1) above to enter those lands and heritages in the valuation roll.'.
With this, we are to consider Government Amendment No. 8.
I am sorry that these amendments are so lengthy. They are intended to achieve a comparatively simple objective, and they are mainly of technical significance.We provide in Clause 5 that, in cases where valuations are made by the Assessor of Public Undertakings, the valuations so arrived at shall not be provided for on a separate roll but shall be entered into the local valuation rolls. We have to provide for the period between the last valuation and circumstances which may arise before the next one. Basically, therefore, we are making provision for this interim period. Amendment No. 7 makes provision for the assessor to continue to make his valuations after 16th May 1975 until the next revaluation—for example, for new properties coming into existence—and the timings of all these are the same as in the other circumstances of the ordinary rolls that we provide for in Clause 2. The effect of Amendment No. 8 is to introduce five new subsections. Subsec- tion (4) attracts the same dates as those attracted by the other changes in Clause 2. Subsection (5) limits the right of appeal of the proprietor, tenant or occupier of the subjects valued by the assessor. Once the period for appealing against directions is over, appeals will be competent only upon a material change of circumstance. Subsection (6) deals with the machinery for appeals. Since the normal machinery for appeals and complaints to the local valuation committee does not apply in the case of valuations made by the Assessor of Public Undertakings, the subsection disapplies the normal appeals procedure. Appeals in these cases go straight to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. Subsection (7) empowers the making of regulations so as to facilitate the modernisation of the office of the APU and his staff and the financing of his unit. The Assessor of Public Undertakings is in an odd position. He is not quite a civil servant; he is a quasi-civil servant. His salary and expenses are paid by the local authorities. It is a rather unsatisfactory situation. Here we are providing that he shall be absorbed into the Civil Service. I have just said that his expenses are defrayed by the local authorities. I should have said that they are defrayed by the undertakings in respect of which he carries out valuations. We are getting rid of that provision and bringing him basically within the Civil Service. Some of this procedure will be done by regulations. Subsection (8) provides that the regulations under subsection (7) will be subject to negative resolution. I hope that that is a reasonably clear explanation of what appears to be a complicated amendment.
I have one brief question on Amendment No. 8. Subsection (6) reads:
There is the possibility that a private trader or resident may take the view that something has been included in such a direction which should be not be included. We discussed the question of the gas and electricity boards having houses which would not be included in general valuation. Why should this provision be written into legislation? We can understand that if an appeal is not competent, the valuation appeal committee will say so, but why should this provision be written into the Bill? It seems that the subsection is unnecessary and it could, if it had any effect at all, be rather unjust. It is more than likely that no person would have any valid complaint or appeal to a valuation appeal committee against a direction under this clause, but why do we have to insert this provision in the clause? I am genuinely puzzled. If it means anything I think that its meaning is rather unjust. I fancy that it will have little effect and, therefore, it should not be included."Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, no person may complain or appeal to a valuation appeal committee against an entry in the valuation roll made in consequence of a direction under this section."
I am sorry that this is a complicated amendment. We are dealing with the valuation of statutory undertakings—for example, nationalised industries—rather than individual persons. Therefore, the circumstance would not arise that an individual householder, for example, would be likely to be appealing against the valuation made by the Assessor of Public Undertakings even if his particular house were included in the valuation. The valuation would relate to the nationalised industry or the statutory undertaker concerned. As these are special valuations, the provisions have never allowed appeals to the local valuation appeal committee.Valuation appeals are dealt with by the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, and that is preserved. There is no question of taking away the right of appeal in any way or of changing the right of appeal. We are making it clear that there is no appeal in these cases to the local valuation appeal committee, but the appeal remains open to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. We have to make this provision explicit because the valuations are not to be kept on a separate roll kept by the Assessor of Public Undertakings. The valuations are now to go on the local valuation roll. Because they go there they do not attract the normal appeal procedure as that is not relevant or appropriate to the matters which are involved in formulating valuations. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no reduction in the right of appeal and that the right remains as it is at present.
With the leave of the House, I wish to ask a question. The kind of situation that I am envisaging is when a private householder wishes to give comparisons before the valuation appeals committee. Suppose that he looks at one house which he thinks is an appropriate comparison and then finds, either because of policy or because of an error, that this house, which may be owned by the gas or electricity board, has been included in the gross figure of the undertaking valuation. Is he not therefore entitled to complain to the valuation appeal committee? If not, to whom can he complain?This is an unlikely situation, but the subsection covers an unlikely situation. Perhaps the Assessor of Public Undertakings has said that an office of the electricity board, which is included in the building or headquarters in a local authority area, should be included in the total and not valued separately. This might apply to a showroom, for example. Suppose I wanted to quote the valuation of that office but was told by the assessor that it was included in the global figure. This is something about which a ratepayer is entitled to complain to someone. To whom does he complain, and would not this subsection remove that right to complain? The Minister has said that the undertaking can appeal only to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court, but what about the individual who wishes to quote such an instance? Is it not fair and reasonable that he should be able to complain to someone or some committee?
Houses will not be included in the formula valuation at all and will therefore be valued in the normal way by the local assessor. Whether they are owned by the gas board, the water undertaking or any other undertaking will not make the slightest difference. They will be on the normal roll and can be appealed or quoted in evidence in the normal way. The same applies to showrooms and other commercial premises. They will not be included in the formula valuation, so the normal procedures will apply, whether at the instance of the nationalised undertaking or of any person. We are dealing only with matters which are included in a formula valuation.Of course, a formula valuation which may relate to gas works or power stations or water undertakings is a total valuation. I am not absolutely clear whether anyone other than the undertaking itself has a right to appeal, but, whether it does or not, the appeal will be on the basis of the valuation of the whole undertaking with the necessary exclusions that I have mentioned. Unless there are individuals in Scotland running their own massive power stations which are being valued by the local assessor, it is highly unlikely that they will want to complain or to quote in aid the formula valuation for another power station which is dealt with by the Assessor of Public Undertakings. If that were the situation, which is highly unlikely, the appeal procedure would still apply, but the appeal is not to the local committee—which is all that I said in the first place.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 8, in page 7, line 16, at end insert—
'(4) Any entry made in the valuation roll—
(a) where the valuation has been made under subsection (1)(b)(i) or (c)(i) above, shall have effect only as from the beginning of the year in which the entry is made; (b) where the valuation has been made under subsection (1)(b)(ii) or (c)(ii) above, shall have effect only as from the date when the lands and heritages to which the entry relates came into existence or as from the beginning of the year in which the entry is made, whichever is the later; (c) where the valuation has been made under subsection (1)(b)(iii) or (c)(iii) above, shall have effect only as from the coming into effect of the enactment by or under which the Assessor is required to value the lands and heritages, or as from the beginning of the year in which the entry is made, whichever is the later; (d) in pursuance of a further direction given under the proviso to subsection (2) above, shall have effect only as from the date of the event by reason of which the further direction is given or as from the beginning of the year in which such direction is given, whichever is the later.
(5) Without prejudice to section 24 of the Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act 1854 (appeal against entry in roll in consequence of direction) and subject to section 26 of that Act (right of appeal to be forfeited where refusal to answer call by Assessor for books and writings, etc.), the proprietor, tenant or occupier of lands and heritages which are included in the valuation roll in consequence of a direction under this section may at any time while the roll is in force appeal to the Lands Valuation Appeal Court against the entry in the roll but only on the ground that there has been a material change of circumstances affecting the value of the lands and heritages since the entry was made:
Provided that appeal under this subsection shall be competent only where the proprietor, tenant or occupier has given notice in writing to the Assessor before lodging the appeal of the material change of circumstances.
(6) Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, no person may complain or appeal to a valuation appeal committee against an entry in the valuation roll made in consequence of a direction under this section.
(7) The Secretary of State may make regulations providing for—
(a) the payment of remuneration, pensions, allowances, gratuities to, or transfer values in respect of, the Assessor and his clerks and other officers, and the manner in which such payment is to be financed; (b) the terms and conditions of employment of the Assessor and his clerks and other officers; (c) the amendment or repeal, with or without savings, of any enactment which is inconsistent with or superseded by the regulations.
(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (7) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'—[Mr. Millan.]
Levying Of Rates
I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 8, line 11, at beginning insert:
This is basically a drafting amendment. The general rule is laid down in Clause 7(1) that rates are to be levied according to the rateable value in the valuation roll, but there are certain properties which have been entered on the rolls but for which rates are not levied—for example, churches, church halls and a number of others. This provision relates to rating relief for charities and the rest. The amendment is needed to make it clear that what we are saying does not override the other enactments which provide for these various exceptions or exclusions.'Subject to the provisions of any other enactment'.
Amendment agreed to.
Collection Of Rates By Housing Body On Behalf Of Rating Authority
I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 10, line 36, at end insert:
The purpose of the amendment is to provide for arrangements to be made by a housing body for the payment of rates. The amendment seeks to make the matter much more explicit since the provision as drafted is not as clear as it might be. The amendment makes two changes. First, it makes it clear that when such an arrangement is made the ratepayer is bound to pay his rates not to the rating authority but to the housing body concerned. Secondly, the amendment provides for rates to be subject to the same instalment arrangements as those which apply to rents. In normal circumstances, under Clause 8 ratepayers will be able to pay their rates by 10 instalments. The provision seeks to make clear that where an arrangement is made a tenant will not be asked to pay rates in one lump sum. The amendment will meet the convenience of tenants who wish to make one payment in respect of rent and rates and not separate payments at different times.'on the occupiers of lands and heritages let by the housing body, and where such arrangements are made the rates shall be payable to the housing body by instalments along with payments of rent.'
We cannot understand why the Secretary of State should take it upon himself to decide how and when rent and rates should be paid. Surely this should be a matter for local authorities. If the Government are giving complete power to local authorities to decide rent levels, why cannot the Government be consistent and give local authorities power to say when and how rent and rates should be paid? Surely local authorities are the best people to take into account the wishes of local people. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will look at the matter again.
In regard to rents, arrangements can be made by local authorities to meet the convenience of those concerned. On the subject of rates, we are providing in Clause 8 for the pay- ment of instalments. We are not leaving the matter to the local authority but we are providing that rates shall be paid in instalments. It would be inconsistent if, to reduce ratepayers' burdens, we were to introduce provisions for payment of rates by instalments and were not at the same time to safeguard a number of other people who are tenants of housing bodies. If we did not give the right to pay rates by instalment to the general body of ratepayers, we could not under the clause safeguard a large number of people who will be tenants of housing bodies, either the local authorities or the other bodies defined in the clause.What we are doing is utterly consistent with what we are doing in Clause 8. It is a protection for tenants in case the local authority does not wish to give them the benefit of the payment of rates by instalments.
The Minister has not understood the point my hon. Friend made. The clause says that if there is no agreement between the Secretary of State and the rating authority as to how the job should be done, the Secretary of State should determine how it should be done. The Minister is now adding to the clause the provision that in every case rent and rates shall be paid together.What happens if a local authority takes the view, which obviously the Minister does not share, that it is more for the convenience of tenants that they should pay their rent in a particular way and their rates in exactly the same way as other people are required to do under Clause 8, namely in 10 monthly instalments, and not with the rent? Will the Secretary of State prevent them from so doing under the clause? The Minister must be aware that some local authorities are concerned that if people pay rent and rates together they are often not aware of what is the rent part and what is the rate part. Many people will say "I pay a rent of £30 a month" whereas on inspection one finds that the rent is £15 a month and the rates are £15 a month. It is inconsistent that the Government are using as their main argument in the Bill that they want to give freedom to responsible local authorities, whereas they are not prepared to give this freedom. A local authority may well take the view that it is in the best interests of its tenants that they should pay their rent monthly, weekly or yearly, and pay their rates in exactly the same way as other people under Clause 8, namely, in 10 payments direct to the city collector. The Minister has said that the provision will be for the convenience of tenants. Who is he to say what is convenient? The local authorities are in a far better position to decide. What is the position of a local authority that comes to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of everyone in its area, is a matter of convenience and economy, and benefits its tenants, that tenants should not pay their rent and rates together? Does the amendment mean that it will be prevented from implementing that decision?
Will my hon. Friend clarify one or two points? First, will he make it absolutely clear that the provision applies to all dwelling houses, to all occupiable houses? Secondly, is he aware that we have been having difficulty with the Scottish Special Housing Association over the payment of rates and rents? A group of tenants in Airdrie who were unable to pay rates in large instalments asked to be allowed to pay by the addition of several instalments a year. We received a reply to the effect that where tenants have difficulty in paying rates they may negotiate with the representatives of the Association as to how rates should be paid, and over what period of time.It is obvious to me that those in the lower income groups must find it difficult to pay rates in large instalments, and would prefer to pay them fortnightly or monthly. Will the provisions in the Bill be obligatory on the Association, as well as other housing authorities and house owners, to ensure that rates and rents are paid regularly on a reasonable basis, to avoid the burdens and economic difficulties that large instalments cause to those in the lower income groups? Will my hon. Friend also clarify the position of the local authorities, because we are confused? We received a letter from the going-out or standing-down authority, the Lanarkshire County Council, saying that rates would no longer be payable through bankers' orders. When I refer to rates, I include rents. This is a convenient way of paying rents and rates for working people. It prevents them from having to stay in and lose work when the rent collector comes or having to travel late at night after work or on a Saturday morning if the office is open to pay rents and rates fortnightly or monthly. Yet the Lanarkshire County Council has issued this notice which has been signed by the Lanarkshire County Council factor. Will the provisions allow some discretion or understanding whereby local authorities and tenants can arrange the best and most convenient means the payment of rents and rates?
Order. The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) is going far beyond the purpose of the amendment by raising a matter which would arise on the debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." I must rule him out of order on the matter that he is developing.
We are discussing how rates should be paid.
Order. We are not discussing the Bill at this stage. We are discussing a particular amendment.
The amendment raises the whole question of the payment of rates. I think that I am entitled to ask my hon. Friend to clarify the position. I shall not need to make a speech in the debate on the clause if my hon. Friend replies to this point when he answers other hon. Members.
I should like to speak briefly in support of the amendment.The Government appear to be strangely and surprisingly inconsistent in their approach to this amendment compared with their attitude on the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Bill to an amendment tabled by the Opposition which suggested that a tenant in receipt of supplementary benefit should, if he wished, be allowed to pay his rent direct. That proposal, which most of us thought to be reasonable as it depended on the wishes of the tenant, was bitterly attacked by the Government as an abuse of the freedom of the individual and a restriction on his right and responsibility to determine his own payments and obligations to the local authority. Here, however, irrespective of the wishes of either the tenant or the local authority, the Government are directing an arrangement to take place between the tenant and the housing body or local authority which neither might wish or which might be inconvenient to them. Will the Minister indicate why a completely different approach is justified by the Government on two Bills which they have brought forward, both of which affect the freedom of the individual tenant?
I think that I have quite enough to deal with on this Bill without going back over the arguments on supplementary benefit regarding the previous Bill to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has referred.My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) asked what we are trying to do. In Clause 8 we are providing for the payment of rates by instalments, not at the discretion of the local authority. We are making it mandatory that rates should be paid by 10 equal instalments. It seems extraordinary that, because that might be inconvenient for housing bodies and, therefore, they should be allowed to make arrangements other than the general provision in Clause 8, we should nevertheless leave these other arrangements and deny to local authority and SSHA tenants the right to pay rates by instalments at all. That would be an extraordinary situation. It would mean that we were singling out one class of ratepayer and denying him rights that are available to other ratepayers under Clause 8. 9.15 p.m. Therefore if we are to allow the arrangements under Clause 10 to override those made under Clause 8, we have to make the necessary safeguard that the right of the ratepayer to pay rates by instalments shall not be overridden. That is the purpose of the amendment. It provides that where those arrangements are made rates can be paid along with rent. That will be mandatory but not in the sense of the Secretary of State intervening or approving any agreement. It will be mandatory because if the amendment is accepted it will be written into the Bill, just as we have written in the earlier provisions in Clause 8. I was asked what would happen if the local authority and the tenant both wanted the tenant to pay his rates by 10 instalments under Clause 8. The answer is that the arrangement would not come under this clause. But we must not allow the local authorities to override the general principle that ratepayers should be able to pay their rates by instalments. I do not believe that a local authority would want to do that. If the Opposition do not like Clause 8 they have had ample opportunity to do something about it in Committee and now on Report. If they support the clause, it is extraordinary that they should be proposing that its advantages should be denied to council tenants. I cannot accept that.
The Minister has not even begun to understand our point. I hope that between now and the next stage of the Bill he will endeavour to do so. Clause 8 provides that every ratepayer can pay his rates in 10 instalments a year. Arrangements can be made for a local authority or housing body to make different arrangements, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State where there is a failure to agree. Now, however, the Minister is seeking to bring in the further qualification that where such arrangements are made rates should be paid with rent.I cannot understand why the Government want to do that. Many tenants simply do not know how much rates they are paying, because they think that what they are paying is all rent. Perhaps a local authority might take the view that it would be in the interest of its tenants that they should be fully aware of the amount of rates they pay by paying them separately to the city collector and paying the rent directly to the housing manager. The Minister is unwilling to make a concession on this point, and he has not justified the requirement to have rent and rates paid together. He has not even begun to understand that argument. I therefore hope that he will study what we have said before the Bill goes to the other place.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment Of Section 201 Of Act Of 1947
I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 14, line 19, at end insert—
This is a rather narrow amendment dealing with a major point considered in Committee. It relates to Clause 19, the most controversial clause in the Bill. That clause gives the Secretary of State powers, if he so desires, retrospectively to wipe out any surcharges to which a housing authority or its councillors may be liable. In Committee we had a long discussion about the merits of this clause. We took the view that it was an affront to democracy, particularly in the circumstances, when Scottish local authorities had defied the law. They had done this knowingly and with the support of elements of the Labour Party. We suggested that in the circumstances, particularly in places such as Glasgow and Clydebank, the actions of the Labour Party had led to the undermining of law and authority. This is an action which the Labour Party will live to regret. We tried to discover the financial effect of the measures taken by some local authorities. We were astonished to find that, because of the delay in the implementation of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1972, which was the basis of the illegal action, the tenants in Glasgow and Clydebank were paying a higher monthly rate than they would have paid if the councils had obeyed the law. That was a strange situation, bearing in mind that some local councils had opposed the Act on the basis that the level of rents charged under the Act would impose severe hardship. On the other hand in an answer given to me by the Minister on 7th February he appeared to disclose that, despite the fact that tenants in Clydebank and Glasgow were paying more in rent, the total amount of money they had paid since the introduction of the Act was less than would have been the case if the Act had been strictly complied with. These figures appeared to show the amount which ratepayers in those areas had lost in consequence. In Glasgow it seems that the sum involved up to the end of the freeze on 15th May was about £1·1 million and in Clydebank £100,000. Can the Minister clarify, once and for all, what amounts have been lost by these ratepayers as a result of the illegal action? The amendment relates only to fines. We say that while we cannot accept some of the monstrous arguments put forward by the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) and Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) on the question whether the Secretary of State should have these powers, even if we were to accept those arguments—and I doubt whether we could—we see no justification why the ratepayers in any community should be called upon to pay the fines imposed on local councils because of their evasion and defiance of the law. This is the situation which could arise unless this amendment is approved. Under the 1972 Act Clydebank could have increased the rents in October 1972. It did not do so. There was a great demonstration and defiance of the law. In February 1973 it was fined £5,000. At the time there was a great campaign conducted by certain elements in the West of Scotland. I understand that a substantial sum was donated from the fighting fund of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. I am sure that would not have pleased many people who gave money to this fund thinking that they were saving the shipyard and the jobs there. Instead some of the money was used to support rebel councillors in Clydebank. There were donations from trade unions such as the NUM which at the time was explaining that its members did not have enough to live on. It seems that this £5,000 was largely covered by voluntary donations from these worthy bodies. On 8th November a default order was imposed with respect to the second phase of the rent increase. Once again Clydebank defied the law. A fine of £20,000 was imposed on 14th December 1973. By this time the effects of the Act were becoming clearer. Three out of every 10 tenants were getting rent rebates, the average rebate amounting to £75 per annum. At this stage even the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Fighting Fund and the National Union of Mineworkers had rather lost sympathy with the silly councillors of Clydebank who were making asses of themselves. So no voluntary donations were forthcoming. The sum of £20,000 had to be paid one way or the other. In January 1974 the council decided to pay, and there were no voluntary donations. It would be the final insult to the ratepayers of Clydebank and of Scotland as a whole if there were to be any question of the fine imposed on the authority because of law breaking by 11 out of 21 of its councillors being paid from the rates. I therefore hope that the Minister will accept that this is a reasonable amendment. We are moving into rather troubled times in which there will be a substantial increase in unemployment. We could argue about the reasons for this. There will be some civil disturbances as a consequence. We are moving into a very testing time for Scotland as a whole. In these circumstances, when there will be many temptations to break the law on the part of ratepayers who feel aggrieved and on the part of unemployed people who feel aggrieved, the obligation on the Government is to ensure that we have respect for the law. However, the Labour Party has done the very opposite. It has encouraged defiance of the law, and in opposition not only did it encourage defiance of the law but it promised to sort it out—'This subsection shall not apply in cases where reports relate to fines imposed by the courts on authorities'.
No, we did not.
I wish the Minister of State had served on the Standing Committee and had heard the speeches made there by some members of the party of which he is a member. He would be just as ashamed as I am of some of the scandalous remarks made by some of his colleagues. If the hon. Member had heard the outrageous speech made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire I am sure that he would have wanted to dissociate himself from it, as did hon. Members on this side.We want the Government to uphold the law and to promote a respect for it. Instead of that, elements within the Labour Party and some of their extremist allies encouraged defiance of the law and promised to sort everything out when the election—in which they hoped to be successful—was over. There is this provision in Clause 19. In Committee the Government succeeded after a furious battle in which we were grateful for the moral support of the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not here tonight. He made an outstanding speech in Committee. His speech had the support of every one of us on this side. Not only was his speech outstanding, but he had become convinced by the arguments which we advanced on Second Reading. Unfortunately, on Second Reading the Scottish National Party supported the Government. Between Second Reading and the Committee stage a change of mind occurred. This was a triumph for democracy. In Committee the hon. Gentleman pointed out that the Scottish National Party regarded it as shameful for the Labour Party and the Government to carry on in this scandalous way. I am glad that tonight we have not one but no fewer than five members of the Scottish National Party who will stand up with the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party for democracy and for upholding the law of the land and not stand for those who are undermining the law, who are making an ass of the law, and who are bringing the law into disrepute. I want publicly to say how greatly I appreciate the fact that a party which I have criticised in the House in the past has the guts to change its mind on an issue like this. Its members have the guts to see that they have made an error of judgment and principle. They changed their minds between Second Reading and Report and they now say "We were wrong. We are now prepared to stand for support of the law and for authority." At a time when everything is going wrong with the country—
With the Tory Party.
Not with the Tory Party. If the hon. Gentleman insists on making such narrow political points we shall not make any progress.At a time when so many things are going wrong with the nation, it is encouraging to me as a democrat that the Scottish National Party, which has emerged as one of the leading Scottish political parties, is prepared to change its mind, to admit that it is wrong, and to stand firmly for authority. I thank it for so doing. I appreciate the fact that the Scottish National Party Members have turned out in strength to support this change of policy. This is a very serious matter which goes to the root of the parliamentary process and respect for the law. Would it not be utterly shameful if there were any question of the ratepayers of Clydebank having to pay a £20,000 fine because of the scandalous and outrageous defiance of the law by 11 out of 21 councillors? There has been a change of heart by the Scottish National Party. I hope that there will be a similar change of heart by members of the Labour Party, most of whom have respect for law and democracy as being the basis of their political convictions. Let us see a similar transformation and let us insert the amendment in the Bill. Then the people of Scotland, and indeed Britain, will look to the future with more hope and more optimism.
I speak against the amendment. It is a bad amendment, and it was tabled with a bad intention. It is plain from the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that its purpose is to sabotage, at least in part, Clause 19 of this excellent Bill. Throughout the passage of the Bill, hon. Members opposite have picked on Clause 19 and made it a class battleground. They opposed it with extremist language on Second Reading. They opposed it in Committee. Now they propose this squalid little amendment to get a bit more publicity for their type of class warfare.I thought at first that the hon. Member for Cathcart was merely trying to ingratiate himself with his new leader so that he could get a wee bit of promotion over the head of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). But this ploy appears to have been unsuccessful. He scurried around trying to obtain statistics from all over the place. He accused the Minister of State of possibly misleading the House. Despite his juggled statistics and arithmetic acrobatics, it is clear that if anyone was mis- leading the House it was the hon. Member for Cathcart. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Cathcart stated:
It is clear from the reply to the hon. Gentleman's Question on 7th February that that is not the case. The amount of additional rent payable from 1st October 1972 to 27th January 1975 by tenants in Glasgow would have been £125·25 and in Clydebank £125·25 if the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act had been implemented in 1972. In fact, the additional rent payable was £111·52 and £104·92 respectively. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cathcart would explain who was misleading the House with statistics. It is obvious that the hon. Member is merely attempting to resurrect the skeleton of the 1972 Act. I wonder whether he and his hon. Friends will ever learn the hard lesson. That battle has been fought and won. It is past. Yet, despite the fact that the Opposition lost it and we won it, they do not appear to have accepted the hard facts of life. They show no feeling of repentance. They are displaying their usual intransigence and conducting this warlike confrontation. The whole purpose of the amendment is to try to force certain councillors to end up in gaol. They are not content with having the Shrewsbury pickets in gaol. They would like people such as Clydebank councillors to be in gaol, too. That is the sort of confrontation policies they are after by the amendment. Although Conservative Members have been foolish and intransigent over this matter, at least they have been reasonably consistent—which is more than can be said of hon. Members of the Scottish National Party. The whole behaviour of the Scottish National Party over the Bill has been distinctly schizophrenic. That is one point on which the hon. Member for Cathcart might agree. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) supported Clause 19 and appeared to support it in its entirety. He said that in general he accepted it, when referring to the powers to be given to the Secretary of State. Yet in Committee, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) used words such as "obnoxious", "dishonest", and "an outrage", when referring to the same clause. It would appear that, as usual—just as on education, defence and many other issues—the Scottish National Party has a different policy in different constituencies. If the constituency represented by a particular Member of that party was traditionally a Labour constituency, the party has a policy to suit the former Labour voters. If the particular constituency that a Scottish National Party Member represents was formerly a Tory constituency, that Member adopts a different policy to suit his electorate. Scottish National Party Members remind me of that character from classical mythology called Janus, who is often depicted by classical artists as having two or possibly four faces, facing in as many different directions. I am sure, however, that the Scottish people will soon see through this two-faced or multi-faced attitude and be able to discern the differences between a party with consistent policies and a party which seems to consist of a tartan rag-bag of pseudo-politicians with pseudo-policies which contradict each other. The truth is that Clause 19 as it stands can bring to a successful and welcome conclusion one of the sorriest chapters of the whole history of local government in Scotland. Hon. Members should welcome the clause as it stands and resist the amendment. Those who are opposing the clause are merely reminding the electorate of the strong-arm, jackboot tactics which were used as a result of the Tories' Rent Act of 1972, when they attempted to force Scottish councillors, against their will and against the wishes of the Scottish people, to implement a bad Act. I commend the clause as it stands and I ask hon. Members to resist this horrible amendment."because of the defiance of the law by the rebel councillors in Clydebank and Glasgow, and no doubt in Denny and other places, the tenants in them have paid and are paying more rent than they would have paid if they had conformed to the Conservative Act".—[Official Report, 20th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 1170.]
I am grateful for the amount of attention which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for West Stirling- shire (Mr. Canavan) have devoted to my party. The only trouble is that tonight both of them could have spent more time looking at the essential issue, which is the Clydebank issue. On Second Reading I said that Clause 19 was a realistic assessment of the situation. That is still my view.
It is still the view of my party.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Speaker! This is intolerable, and—
Order. I had to ask an hon. Member last night whether she felt quite well. I hope that I do not have to do the same again tonight.
Is the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) now saying that the Scottish National Party supported this on Second Reading and opposed it in Committee, and that he is now supporting it again? How can we treat the SNP seriously? After this, no one could take the SNP seriously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) made a characteristic speech which does not represent the views of the Scottish National Party. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) accorded to others the degree of freedom he claims for himself, he would have contributed more to our debate.The controversy over this clause has led to some hon. Members taking extreme positions. Some hon. Members are interested only in getting their pound of flesh out of the situation at Clydebank. This is not a black-and-white political issue. It is one of the grey areas which have to be examined carefully. The Clydebank situation is a mess. It has arisen because of the intransigence of the Clydebank councillors. The situation was brought about by the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1972, which was deeply resented by the people of Scotland and which was pushed through by an English Tory majority which had little consideration for the traditional housing practices north of the border. If there had been a Scottish Assembly in 1972, no piece of legislation such as that would ever have been enacted in Scotland. Against that background, it is not surprising that memories should run deep. I do not say that that is any justification for defying the law. Feelings were strong, and the attitude of the Conservative Government contributed to that situation. I do not wish to go too deeply into the question of political realignments. I am a social democrat. I hope some day to sit on the same benches as members of the Labour Party in a sovereign Scots Parliament. Some hon. Members have voted in favour of a surcharge of £20,000 being placed on councillors. That would weaken local government and make people think twice about entering local government. The situation in Cumbernauld is more interesting, because that issue has been put to local opinion. The local council held a referendum and asked the people whether they wished the council to go further or to stop, and it obeyed the decision of the people of Cumbernauld. It is a pity that that procedure was not followed in Clydebank.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that of a total of 10,000 potential voters only 516 people voted?
I agree that the number was small. However, the council agreed to abide by the results of that referendum.I do not accept the Conservative amendment. An attempt has been made to squeeze the last ounce of cheap political advantage out of the situation. I can see nothing in the clause which does not allow the final decision to be made by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, and it seems reasonable that he should look at the means of the persons involved in deciding whether the surcharge should be imposed in full or in part—in other words, to review the situation properly at the local, grass roots level. We have heard a lot of humbug from Conservative Members. Their 1973 Act used virtually the same words and for virtually the same reasons because, in terms of surcharging, the 1947 Act imposed a straitjacket on any Secretary of State and there had to be some loosening of the bonds and restraints. There has to be some regard for the individual in a corporate charge of £20,000. Above all there has to be some consideration of the ability of the individual to pay. At the end of the day, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Cathcart would go so far as to say that people's possessions should be sold in order to satisfy what is pure dogma on his part.
What about the ratepayers?
I am sorry that the previous amendment was not selected. When the Secretary of State is having due regard to the situation, they should be regarded too. However we cannot punish people; we cannot squeeze money out of them that they do not have. The right of individual councillors is the same as that of any criminal brought before a Scottish court. The court has regard to the means of the individual to pay. It is rotten justice if a Scottish councillor does not have the same right.The Minister has conducted Clause 19 through this House in a quiet and responsible way. With the exception of my hon. and maverick Friend the Member for Argyll, he has the support of my party.
I want to take up the arguments of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), urging the Government to resist the amendment. I want also to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on getting a better deal for his defaulting councillors than the Secretary of State for the Environment got for his in England and Wales.In view of recent events in the Tory Party, I am surprised to hear Conservative Members criticising people who disobey the law. Both on the Floor of the House and in Committee I have been challenged to say publicly whether I thought at some stage that people should be willing to stand up and be counted on this issue. In my view, on a matter of principle which does not affect me as an individual but which affects groups of people collectively, I am prepared to stand up to oppose the law if I believe it to be a vicious law aimed at the people whom I represent and which was imposed on those people by a minority party and a minority Government in their own country. As I say, in view of the recent history of the Conservative Party, I am surprised that the Conservatives have not changed their policy and decided to support the arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire and I have been putting forward continually during this debate. After all, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) would not have been elected leader of her party if it had not been for the fact that in the early part of the century women were prepared to stand up, to be counted and to break the law. They were prepared to oppose the Government. They were prepared to oppose the male chauvinist pigs who superimposed the law of the country upon them. They were prepared to come to the Central Lobby to take part in riots. They were prepared to go to Downing Street to take part in riots. They were prepared to go to prison. In certain conditions they were prepared even to die for what they believed. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) must recognise that a woman is now leader of his party because others were prepared to break the law. It may be that he does not recognise that fact because he has not got a job. But I am surprised that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has allowed himself to be led up the garden path. He has received a job, as a result of a democratic process in which people are prepared to stand up and be counted and are willing to break the law. I put it to the Conservative Opposition that they should do the same as the Scottish National Party. They should say that the hon. Member for Cathcart no longer represents the view of the Conservative Party in Scotland, despite the fact that he still wears two hats when he goes canvassing. He wears his bowler hat in the Tory areas and his Keir Hardie cloth cap when he goes into the Castle-milk estate. In spite of that, he still does not have a seat in the Shadow Cabinet. This is a matter of principle. The position is that 51 Scottish Members out of 71 support the clause. We cannot say that 52 Members support it because the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) defected from the policy of the Scottish National Party. I believe that I am to blame for that. I taunted him and called him a Tory. He could not stand it any longer, so he had to make a speech to show that he really was a Tory. I am glad that the rest of the Tories in the SNP are supporting the Government on this issue. As I have said, 51 Scottish Members representing Scottish constituencies out of a total of 71 support the clause. This is the majority opinion of the people of Scotland. It was just unfortunate that in 1972 the United Kingdom was ruled by an English majority. Scotland was ruled by a minority of English Tory Members who enforced their will and policies on the Scottish people. In the circumstances it is right that we should place the name of the SNP councillors involved in Clydebank and Cumbernauld upon the roll of honour along with Labour colleagues and people from all parties who resisted the attacks of the Tory Party. I hope that the Government will resist the amendment and that we shall continue go forward sweeping the decks in Scotland.
I had not intended to speak tonight because this is the third occasion on which this matter has been debated during the passage of the Bill. I, for one, had sympathy with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in his fit of apoplexy tonight. I was rendered speechless, and then in the next moment I was moved to speak, due to the remarks of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) on behalf of the Scottish National Party.Like other Members who served on the Committee we listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). The hon. Gentleman represented the SNP in Committee. I draw the attention of the House to what the hon. Gentleman said in Committee on 4th February 1975—namely:
Apparently the hon. Gentleman knows his Scottish history better than some other hon. Members. He continued:"The clause gives the Secretary of State for Scotland the almost unheard of discretion of casting aside what has been the law. He can change the law as it applies to certain people. We all know our Scottish history. I suggest that the sort of powers that the Secretary of State will be given are similar to the disgraceful powers once wielded by the Lords of the Articles in the old Scottish Parliament."
The hon. Gentleman said that it was not just a question of policy or grey areas, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire suggested, but a question of policy. He the said:"It is not just a question of the discretionary powers that are to be given to the Secretary of State. There are other broad matters of principle involved."
He ended quite simply by saying:"Before moving on to those matters I am saying that it is particularly obnoxious that such discretionary powers should be given to a Secretary of State for a purely political purpose."
I and my colleagues have always stood firm on the question of retrospective legislation. We, too, opposed the Tory Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, but we accept that the law passed by Parliament is the law of the land. Once Governments start changing the law in retrospect, we are on a slippery slope. I am sorry that the speech of high principle by the hon. Member for Argyll has been cast so lightly aside by the speech of his hon. Friend that we have heard tonight."This is a dishonest clause, and, further, it is an outrage. It is anathema to anyone who has any feeling of natural justice. I strongly recommend all hon. Members who have decided to support this clause to reconsider and, to use the parody of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie), to remember that we are Scotsmen and that Scotland has always had, more than most countries, a high regard for the rule of law. Let us not destroy that high regard by destroying the whole basis on which laws are founded."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 6th February 1975, c. 108–10.]
I do not want to follow too closely the speech of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie). I heard that speech in Committee, I did not particularly like it then and I liked it even less tonight. He said that 51 Scottish MPs supported this proposal. That does not mean they are right. I would not mind if 70 were in favour of it. I still could not accept it.I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) that we should always stand for the rule of law. If we do not stand for upholding the law, how can we expect people outside to do so?
What about the suffragettes?
The hon. Member may give give that example, but the point is that this law was passed, under a Conservative Government. Whether it was a good law or not is not relevant. It was passed by the House of Commons. It was wilfully disobeyed in England by the notorious Clay Cross Council and in Scotland by the equally notorious Clydebank Council. That was wrong. They broke the law. We must at all times be seen to uphold the law.I was therefore bitterly disappointed in the speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid). Although I disagree with the Scottish National Party on many issues, until now I had always thought that it believed in upholding the law. I was shattered to hear the hon. Member proclaim on behalf of his party—some of his hon. Friends would wish, I am sure, to dissociate themselves from him—that it was in favour of the action taken by the Clydebank councillors and others. The people of Scotland will not easily overlook that kind of statement. No longer should the SNP move around Tory constituencies in the guise of Tories and Socialist seats in the guise of Socialists. As long as they uphold that sort of view, there is no mistaking the side of the House on which they should be sitting. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire should have dissociated himself from his hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) because I, too, admired the latter's speech in Committee. It was a brave speech, against the party line which had been given on Second Reading.
As a member of the Committee, the hon. Member should recall that the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) at no time said that he was speaking against the party line. We understood that he was speaking for his party.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. We did assume that, but the SNP seems to have variable opinions on this matter. We are not sure which is the party line. We shall see in the Lobbies tonight. The people of Scotland will no doubt note on which side they vote or whether they abstain.In any event, I support the amendment and I hope that the House will seriously consider what it is doing. Let us from now on make it a rule to support the rule of law. If we do not like the law, we should try to change it by democratic methods.
I was fascinated by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) that, because there had not been a majority for the Conservative Party in Scotland, in some way this made the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act much less important than they would otherwise have been. On the same basis, no doubt he will have compassion for the people of England who, but for the Labour majorities in Wales and Scotland, would not have to suffer the iniquities of the present Labour Government. No doubt they will have the same sort of problems and our hearts go out to them.It was perhaps appropriate that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire spoke with a single voice—[Interruption.]
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That the Local Government (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. James Hamilton.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
I was saying that it was appropriate that those two hon. Gentlemen should speak with a single voice. Both the Labour Party and the SNP seek to uphold the breaking of the law, disrespect for the law and support for those who would flout its observance. However, it shows that there is a difference of view among the members of the SNP. Indeed, the initials could stand for the phrase "Sorry No Policy".I was impressed to see eight members of the SNP present this evening—[An HON. MEMBER: "They are Tories".] I thought that we were about to have a personal testament from each hon. Member in that party saying whether they agreed with the common party view or dissociated themselves from it. It was unfortunate that there should be criticism of one of their colleagues who was not present, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). It is clear that in Committee the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), as his party's Whip, was seeking to establish that the representatives of his party would support the policy of the SNP. However, no doubt the members of that party want to be all things to all people. The SNP has acted disgracefully in this matter and they will not be allowed to forget their behaviour. The important point which is involved in this amendment is the question of principle. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire mentioned suffragettes. It is unfortunate that he should lower the glorious reputation of the suffragettes and try to bring them to the same base level as the people with whom we are dealing in this debate. There is one important and fundamental distinction between the action taken by the suffragettes and what was done by the councillors at Clydebank and Clay Cross. The suffragettes not only broke the law for a principle but were prepared to pay the consequences of that disregard of the law. They were prepared to pay the consequences and, furthermore, they did not expect to ask ratepayers and taxpayers to bear those consequences for them. The basic objection to this provision and the purpose of the amendment is that those who sought to break the law should now be made to suffer as a result of their action. However, they are not prepared to take the consequences. There is a clear option open to the gentlemen in question. We are not talking simply of defiance of the law, they eventually came before the court. It was made clear to them that, having taken the view that it was a matter of principle, it was then open to them to obey the law and if that happened no further action would be taken. Having made that declaration of principle, they refused to implement the law and were fined. They did not consult the ratepayers whom they represented, nor did they resign and submit themselves to re-election in order to discover whether they had the support of the ratepayers. Instead, they were prepared to go ahead in that situation for many months, and at the end of the day when they found that they were in difficulties they came to Labour Members and asked them to assist. They now expect ratepayers to get them out of the mess. We cannot be expected to have any respect for people who act like that. It is wrong and improper for the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire to bring the suffragettes into disrepute by suggesting that there is a comparison. We are concerned not with the initial breaking of the law, however bad, but with whether people who break it are prepared to take the consequences. If they are, that at least proves their integrity and consistency. It proves that they are people of honour, prepared to suffer for a principle in which they believe. The essential difference is that the people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers are prepared to shout about principles but prefer to see other people suffering for them. We hope, therefore, that the House will favourably consider this worthwhile and honourable amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who is a member of the legal profession, will contribute to the debate. It will be interesting to learn how one who seeks to uphold the law explains his position. Perhaps, like his hon. Friend the Member for Argyll, he is prepared to take an honourable course. If not, I shall be fascinated to hear his justification for an alternative course.
I had not intended to speak in the debate until I saw the clownish behaviour of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) at the Dispatch Box. It was regrettable and beneath the dignity of the House that someone who would like to be a member of the Shadow Cabinet should behave so absurdly.There has been a great deal of exaggeration in the debate. We are discussing an amendment, but we seem to have gone through the whole Second Reading stage of excitement, exaggeration and loud speaking. I should like to direct attention to the terms of the amendment and the clause. First, I wish to deal with references to my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). I do not agree with my hon. Friend's view on this matter although I agree with him on many other matters. But he made a substantial contribution to the debate in Committee, and I am glad that many hon. Members have paid tribute to it. In a sense, we in the Scottish National Party are being condemned out of a position of weakness in the House. On the basis of the vote at the last election, we should be entitled to five or six members of the Committee which discussed the Bill. [Interruption.] Certainly we should be entitled to three. We are perhaps prepared to concede one more to the Conservatives, not on the basis of vote but because of the number of Scottish Members they have in the House. We are allowed only one Member in Scottish Standing Committees. It is as if the Government had been represented on the Committee considering the District Courts Bill by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan). By voting against the Government's district courts proposals, he might have been thought to turn round the whole of the Government's policy. We are seeing the right of individual back benchers to indicate their views and stand by them in Committee even if on occasion they go against their own party. It is admirable that any hon. Member should do that. He should not be subjected to cat-calls from other Opposition Members.
If, as is the case, the Scottish National Party had only one representative on the Committee, why did it choose the one member of its party who disagreed with its policy?
The hon. Gentleman is being a bit simplistic. The Committee was dealing with a number of aspects of local government. It may be said that there is only one controversial part, but the Bill stands as a whole and it is a substantial document of 63 pages.Why, if the Opposition are standing so tightly and strongly by their own principles, have they abandoned an amendment which related to the general surcharge? They have made no attempt to follow the point which they made on Second Reading and in Committee. Yet they are prepared, when it comes to the question of a fine, that there should be a different standard from that which might apply to the general surcharge, although they took a different attitude when the matter first came up in debate. They cannot have it both ways, yet that is what they are trying to do by moving an amendment narrowed down to the question of any fine which may have been levied on a corporate body—the corporation of a local authority. In doing that they have conceded that it may be fair and proper for the Secretary of State for Scotland to be given some discretion over the size of the penalty or surcharge which might be made on councillors. The Scottish National Party would not assent to the proposition that there should be no penalty or surcharge on councillors who stood by their beliefs. Councillors who do that should expect to find some surcharge levied against them. Coming to the standard here and going back to the 1973 legislation, the general principle is, should that penalty be related to the circumstances of the offending councillors? I did not practise in the high court, like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), but my experience is that the sheriffs, magistrates or lower courts always pay attention to the means of persons brought before them. I am sure that had the Clydebank councillors, to take one pertinent example, been brought before the Court of Session, any fine levied upon them as a result of their non-observance of the legislation would have been related to their means as individuals. Instead, because it was a corporate decision, the court had no alternative but to insist upon the execution of the law and to impose a penalty which would force a substantial body such as a local authority to move on the issue, and eventually it succeeded in doing so. But the penalty suitable for a local authority—I believe that the figure of £20,000 has been quoted—would not necessarily have been the penalty visited upon such councillors had they appeared individually before the tribunal concerned. That is the basis of the points which have been made by my hon. Friends in the debate. Clause 19 provides that the Secretary of State
That might include the circumstances of ratepayers in a locality and the need to dissuade people from breaking the law. That is one factor which should weigh strongly with the Secretary of State for Scotland when he makes his decision as a Member of the executive. The clause goes on,"shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case".
That the penalty should be suited to the means of any person is an important principle. I should not like to see the lack of a discretion which would permit people to be hounded, perhaps to have their wages arrested over a long period, to have their furniture seized or to be made bankrupt. One result of the sequestration of assets is that a person cannot hold a tenancy. Therefore, it could mean the splitting up of families. The clause provides that the Secretary of State for Scotland should have discretion to fit the penalty to the means of the offender as well as to the circumstances of the offence and that both situations should be weighed. The ratepayers have it in their hands, as electors, to deal with councillors whom they think are reckless and irresponsible. The clause provides that the Secretary of State is still empowered to make a surcharge in whole or in part, having taken account of the circumstances. I hope that he will take account of the circumstances and will decide to relate the penalty to the circumstances of the offence and the means of those councillors who took the wrong viewpoint. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands that there is a strong degree of retrospection in this legislation. As I said on Second Reading, an attempt has been made to vary the regulations. No decision is being specifically recalled and had the Secretary of State or any other Minister attempted by legislation to recall a decision already made by a predecessor, be he of the same party or another party, I would unhesitatingly have asked my hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby to vote against such a proposal. We are dealing here with a variation of criteria. The Opposition conceded in their 1973 Act that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to have some discretion. If they conceded that, then I ask them to concede it now and not waste the time of Parliament in a lot of political mud slinging about the Bill which they would do well to accept if they wish to be reestablished in Scotland as a credible political organisation."including such information as may be available to him as to the means of any person against whom a surcharge might be made".
The amendment is fairly narrow but it has caused the whole question of Clause 19 to be reopened. I said a great deal on Second Reading and in Committee about the clause and there is not a lot that I can add to that. As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said, the provision in Clause 19 is substantially the same as that which the previous Conservative Government put into their 1973 Act. That Act specifically changed the then existing 1947 legislation, and the change will be applicable from 16th May 1975 when the new authorities begin to operate.In spite of all the fire and fury from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on Second Reading, in Committee and again this evening, we have heard no explanation from the Conservatives why the 1947 provision was replaced by the 1973 Act. The provision in that Act was considered so unexceptionable and was in such generally agreeable terms that it was not even debated. We must assume that the Conservative Government found that the 1947 provisions were too narrow and that they did not allow the Secretary of State sufficient flexibility to deal with surcharge reports which might be submitted to him. I made clear on Second Reading that the intention of Clause 19 was to import a degree of flexibility into the present situation. That will be available after 16th May this year for the new authorities and it will enable us to deal with the housing default orders which are before the Secretary of State. There was no distinction drawn in the 1973 Act, and there will be none after 16th May 1975, between default orders generally and default orders in respect of fines. They are dealt with in exactly the same way. In the 1973 Act the then Tory Government did not see fit to make the sort of distinction about surcharges which Conservative Members now attempt to make. The 1973 Act went through the House at a time when there was considerable controversy and the possibility that certain authorities would refuse to carry out the duties being placed on them by the 1972 Act. Local authorities held dear the right to fix their own rents. Nevertheless the 1973 measure went through without any steps being taken to make the distinction between default orders that are being argued now. There is an element of inconsistency—I use that word rather than the harsher words of "humbug" and "hypocrisy"—in what the hon. Member for Cathcart was saying. If he is so anxious to expose what he sees to be inconsistencies in the Scottish National Party, he might care at some time to explain the inconsistency between what the Tory Government did in 1973 and what his party is attempting to do now. I am grateful for the support of the Scottish National Party, which voted in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill. There was a slight contretemps in Committee. I am glad to see that the SNP has now returned to the fold. The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) has been mentioned. I suppose that there are black sheep in every family. However, he seems to have strayed away somewhere else this evening, fortunately for all of us. I do not object to what the hon. Member said in Committee, because this is a matter on which hon. Members might well hold strong views. The fact remains that we are doing here what the Tory Government did in 1973. I shall not rehearse all the arguments about the 1973 Act, except to say that it represented an attempt by the then Government to dictate to local authorities in a way which they found thoroughly unacceptable. I will not say what the Secretary of State may do with regard to any of these default reports if the clause goes through unamended. This will be strictly for him to decide in the light of the circumstances, as the clause puts it. He will be able to take into account the fact that the law was defied and the circumstances of the case, including the means of the persons concerned. This is obviously an important consideration. We must have regard to the realities of the situation. To pretend that some of the surcharges could be met, with the figures involved—not only in Clydebank but elsewhere—would be to fly in the face of the facts. The councillors could not be surcharged in any realistic sense for the figures that are involved. That would not have happened under the previous Government any more than it would happen under this Government. I have bad news for the hon. Member for Cathcart. The amendment is, unfortunately, erroneously drafted. I am sorry to add to the hon. Gentleman's burdens, because I know that it has not been a good week for him. He attempted to show that the effect of the councillors disobeying the law was that the unfortunate tenants concerned had to pay more rent than they would have done if the councillors had obeyed the law. The hon. Gentleman had about six attempts at tabling the right Question to produce that remarkable result. Unfortunately, when he eventually got the right Question he got, from his point of view, the wrong answer, because the answer demonstrated that he was completely wrong. Tonight the hon. Gentleman was anxious to skate over that aspect of the matter and not to go into it in the great detail which attracted him at an earlier stage. Having made an error about that, it is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman should have made an error about the amendment. It would not have the effect that hon. Members have in mind. The amendment, with its reference to the subsection not applying, would have the effect of disapplying the whole subsection of the 1947 Act which imposes the possibility of surcharges. In other words, if the amendment were to be carried it would not be open to the Secretary of State to impose any surcharges where a fine is at issue. That is what the distinguished lawyers on the Conservative side of the House who have no doubt drafted the amendment will be writing into the Bill if they push the amendment to a Division and succeed. Hon. Members may wish to reconsider the matter. It is a pity that our rules do not allow for a brief adjournment at this stage. Perhaps the hon. Member will wish to reconsider the amendment, which was misconceived in intent from the beginning, is misconceived in principle and is also, I am sorry to say, misconceived in drafting.
The Minister is perfectly correct in saying that our wording may be defective. However, I can assure him that that could be easily put right by the next stage of the Bill.The Minister informed my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), whose excellent speech I have pleasure in supporting, that he was incorrect in suggesting that those tenants who paid rent in Clydebank were paying more as a result of the defiance of the law. The reply given by the Secretary of State confirms that every year the council house tenants of Clydebank are paying more than £17 extra as a result of the defiance of the law, because the rents had to be made up and they were put up much higher than they would otherwise have been. I mention this fact so that those paying rent in Clydebank know what the true position is. I am glad that the members of the Scottish National Party made their position clear. It was somewhat discreditable of the Scottish Nationalist Members that they attacked their colleague the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) in his absence. This means now that every time a Member of the Scottish National Party appears on a Committee he will have to say in advance whether his views represent those of his party. It is clear that we believed that the hon. Member was putting forward the policy of the Scottish National Party. He was not. 10.30 p.m. We strongly disagree with the principle in the clause that councillors who defy the law should be indemnified retrospectively. The essence of the clause is retrospective legislation. The Minister should accept that this let-off provision should not apply to the £20,000 fine imposed by the High Court of Justiciary on the Clydebank councillors for contempt of court. If the clause is accepted unamended, it will be the ratepayers of Clydebank who will contribute to the payment of the fine. It is unfair and
Division No. 99.]
|Beith, A. J.||Hawkins, Paul||Mudd, David|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Hayhoe, Barney||Neave, Airey|
|Biffen, John||Hicks, Robert||Neubert, Michael|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hooson, Emlyn||Rathbone, Tim|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Brittan, Leon||Hunt, John||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hurd, Douglas||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Budgen, Nick||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Carlisle, Mark||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||James, David||Sims, Roger|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Kershaw, Anthony||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Corrie, John||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Lane, David||Stainton, Keith|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lawrence, Ivan||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Farr, John||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stokes, John|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Luce, Richard||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Macfarlane, Neil||Tebbit, Norman|
|Freud, Clement||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mather, Carol||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Mawby, Ray||Viggers, Peter|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)|
|Gray, Hamish||Mayhew, Patrick||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Grieve, Percy||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Moate, Roger|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Monro, Hector||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hannam, John||Montgomery, Fergus||Mr. John Stradling Thomas and|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Mr. Adam Butler.|
|Allaun, Frank||Dalyell, Tam||Harper, Joseph|
|Ashton, Joe||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Dempsey, James||Henderson, Douglas|
|Atkinson, Norman||Doig, Peter||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Dormand, J. D.||Huckfield, Les|
|Bates, Alf||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)|
|Bean, R. E.||Duffy, A. E. P.||Hunter, Adam|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Dunn, James A.||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Boardman, H.||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Janner, Greville|
|Booth, Albert||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||John, Brynmor|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Evans, John (Newton)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Cartwright, John||Flannery, Martin||Kerr, Russell|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Ford, Ben||Kinnock, Neil|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Forrester, John||Lambie, David|
|Coleman, Donald||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Lamond, James|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||George, Bruce||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Corbett, Robin||Golding, John||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Gould, Bryan||Loyden, Eddie|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Gourlay, Harry||Luard, Evan|
|Crawford, Douglas||Graham, Ted||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Cryer, Bob||Grocott, Bruce||McCartney, Hugh|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Hamling, William||McElhone, Frank|
unjust to penalise ratepayers because certain councillors have defied the law.
I gather from the equivocal speech of the hon Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) that the Opposition intend to press the amendment. I do not know why I should be so charitable as to save them from themselves, but, in view of the nonsense that it would make of the clause, I must recommend my hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 68, Noes 129.
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Parry, Robert||Stoddart, David|
|Mackenzie, Gregor||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Perry, Ernest||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Price, William (Rugby)||Thompson, George|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Radice, Giles||Tinn, James|
|McNamara, Kevin||Reid, George||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Madden, Max||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Magee, Bryan||Roderick, Caerwyn||Watt, Hamish|
|Marks, Kenneth||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Rooker, J. W.||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Meacher, Michael||Rose, Paul B.||White, James (Pollok)|
|Mendelson, John||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Millan, Bruce||Selby, Harry||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Sillars, James||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Skinner, Dennis||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Small, William||Woof, Robert|
|Noble, Mike||Snape, Peter||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Spearing, Nigel||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Ovenden, John||Spriggs, Leslie||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Parker, John||Stallard, A. W.||Mr. Laurie Pavitt.|
Question accordingly negatived.
Interpretation Of Part Ii
I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 25, line 40, leave out subsection (2).
With this we are to consider Government Amendments Nos. 16 and 17.
The effect of the three amendments is to put the new definition, which is now in Clause 32, into the place where it properly belongs, which is Clause 35. That means that some of the specific definitions in Clause 35 are no longer necessary, which is the effect of Amendment No. 16. These are basically tidying up, drafting amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 16, in page 26, leave out lines 28 to 31.
No. 17, in page 27, line 10, at end insert—
'(2) Expressions used in this Act and in the Act of 1973 shall have the same meanings in this Act as in that Act.'.—[Mr. Millan.]
Lands And Heritages To Which Section 6 Applies
I beg to move Amendment No. 18, in page 28, line 5, at end insert
This amendment picks up the point made in Committee by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) concerning dwelling houses in relation to water undertakings. As I explained then, and in a recent letter to the hon. Gentleman, it is not intended that dwelling houses shall in any circumstances come within the special provisions of Schedule 1 under the assessor of public undertakings valuations. The way in which Schedule 1 is drafted has the effect of specifically excluding dwellinghouses at every point except in the drafting of paragraph 1. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that anomaly in Committee. I am grateful to him for that. I have put the matter right by means of Amendment No. 18.'other than excepted premises as defined in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to that Act'.
I am grateful to the Minister for his action and for his explanation.To remove any doubt, will he say whether this provision applies to caretakers' and watchmen's houses within the confines of a water undertaking?
I think that it will apply to dwellinghouses generally, yes.
Amendment agreed to.
Borrowing And Lending By Local Authorities And Certain Of Their Funds
I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 35, line 47, leave out 'period of account' and insert 'year'.We come now to a series of Government amendments up to and including Amendment No. 41 which are all directed towards a redrafting of Schedule 3. If I were to make a general explanation of what we are attempting here, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House to consider them together. None of these raises any point of principle. I have already circulated to those hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee a revised version of Schedule 3, so that they will have been able to judge whether we are making any proposals to which they are opposed.
We are grateful to the Minister for sending us an explanation of this complicated schedule. We are quite happy to consider these amendments together.
In that event, perhaps I might explain that Schedule 3 deals with borrowing and lending by local authorities and with certain of their funds. As drafted, it is basically a consolidation and restatement of the existing law. But many of the provisions are now out of date and, since Second Reading, we have discussed these matters with the local authority financial officers. They agree with us that it would be more satisfactory to take some of the detailed provisions out of the schedule and to provide for them by way of regulations.There is also a restatement and tidying up of a number of parts of the Schedule where we had not got the wording quite right. We have also made some rearrangement of the provisions. If any hon. Member feels unhappy about any part of the Schedule and lets me know about it between now and consideration of the Bill in the other place, I shall be happy to consider it and to see whether we can deal with it or explain what we are doing.
Amendment agreed to.
No. 20, in page 36, line 42, leave out 'derived'.
No. 21, in line 46, leave out 'derived'.
No. 22, in line 49, leave out 'derived from rates' and insert 'as aforesaid'.
No. 23, in page 37, line 10, leave out paragraphs 8 to 10.
No. 24, in page 38, line 37, after 'and', insert:
'all money borrowed by a local authority by whatever method shall be deemed to have the same charge and security and shall rank pari passu'
No. 25, in page 39, line 38, after 'thereon', insert:
'and shall be part of the general fund of the authority'.
No. 26, in line 39, leave out '16 to 36' and insert '15A to 35A'.
No. 27, in line 42, at end insert—
'15A.—(1) All capital assets and liabilities which are transferred to a local authority from an authority which ceases to exist on 16th May 1975, other than property which is subject to section 128 of the Act of 1973 or which is referred to in section 222(2) or 223 of that Act, shall be paid into or transferred to the loans fund of the local authority.
(2) All investments transferred to the loans fund as from 16th May 1975 shall be entered in the accounts of the loans fund at the value shown on the account from which they are transferred.'.
No. 28, in page 40, line 10, leave out paragraphs 17 to 32 and insert—
'17.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) below, all sums advanced to a borrowing account of a local authority or to a relevant authority shall be repaid within the fixed period by equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal, or, where repayment is on the annuity system, by equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal and interest combined; and the authority shall in each year debit the borrowing account or charge to the relevant authority the sums required in that year for the repayment of the advance.
(2) In any case where—
(a) a local authority make an advance to any person and the expenditure incurred in making the advance is defrayed by borrowing; and (b) the terms of that advance are such that repayment is to be made otherwise than by equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal or of principal and interest combined; and (c) apart from this sub-paragraph, the local authority would have no power, with respect to the expenditure referred to in paragraph (a) above, to vary the sums which would otherwise be debited or charged under sub-paragraph (1) above or to suspend their obligation under that sub-paragraph,the local authority may, under sub-paragraph (1) above, debit to the borrowing account from which, or charge to the relevant authority by whom, the expenditure referred to in paragraph (a) above would otherwise fall to be defrayed, sums of different amounts (whether or not including instalments of principal) in respect of different years in order to take account of the terms on which their advance falls to be repaid.
(3) Subject to paragraph 18 below, the first payment to the loans fund shall be made within twelve months, or where the money is repayable by half-yearly instalments within six months, from the date of the advance.
18.—(1) Where a sum is advanced from the loans fund in accordance with paragraph 16 above for any of the following purposes—
(a) meeting expenditure on the construction of new, or the extension or alteration of existing works forming or to form part of an undertaking of a revenue-producing character; (b) carrying out on land any other operations, being operations of a prescribed kind or operations specified in relation to that land by direction of the Secretary of State; (c) acquiring land for the purpose of the construction thereon of new, or the extension or alteration of existing, works forming or to form part of an undertaking of a revenue-producing character, or for the purpose of carrying out thereon of operations of a kind prescribed by virtue of paragraph (b) above, or operations specified in relation to that land by direction of the Secretary of State; (d) acquiring land specified by direction of the Secretary of State;the authority may, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, suspend in whole or in part any annual provision required under paragraph 17 above for the repayment from the borrowing account or by the relevant authority of the sum so advanced for such period (not being a period longer than the period during which the expenditure remains unremunerative or the period of five years from the commencement of the year next after that in which the expenditure commences to be incurred, whichever is the shorter) and subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may determine.
(2) Where any annual provision required to be made for the repayment of any sum has been suspended under sub-paragraph (1) above, a local authority may borrow for the purpose of payment, during the period of the suspension, of interest on that sum.
(3) Where by virtue of paragraph 17 above a local authority are required to debit a sum to the borrowing account or charge a sum to a relevant authority and they suspend, in whole or in part, any annual provision for the repayment of the principal, they may refrain from debiting to that account or charging to the relevant authority an amount equal to the amount of the annual provision so suspended.
(4) In this paragraph "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.
19.—(1) The authority shall at the time an advance is made under paragraph 16 above determine—
(a) the period within which the advance is to be repaid to the loans fund, being a period not exceeding the fixed period; and (b) the amount of each of the periodical payments required to repay the advance within the period so determined, and the date on which the first of the said payments is to be made.
(2) The periodical payments shall be either equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal or, where the advance is to be repaid on the annuity system, equal yearly or half-yearly instalments of principal and interest combined, the amount of principal included in each instalment being separately stated.
(3)The periodical payments shall so far as practicable be so adjusted as to be expressed in complete pounds.
(4) This paragraph shall apply with the necessary modifications in the case of advances from the loans fund to a relevant authority.'.
No. 29, in page 46, line 23, after 'Schedule', insert:
'or any regulations made thereunder'.
No. 30, in line 26, at end insert:
'or such regulations'.
No. 31, in line 33, leave out paragraph 35 and insert—
'35.—(1) If at any time any sums due by way of principal or interest on any security created by a local authority remain unpaid for a period of two months after demand in writing, the person entitled thereto, being the holder of such a security to the amount of not less than £1,000, or the persons entitled thereto, being the holders of such securities amounting together to not less than £2,000, may present a petition to the Court of Session for the appointment of a judicial factor, and the Court may, if they think fit, appoint a judicial factor.
(2) Subject to the directions of the Court, the judicial factor shall have all the powers of the local authority or their proper officer of levying rates, making requisitions on rating authorities and collecting and recovering sums due to the authority in respect of rates or requisitions and any other sums whatsoever due to the authority and such other powers and duties as the Court think fit, and shall apply all moneys received by him, after payment of expenses including a proper remuneration for his trouble, as the Court direct for the purposes of this Schedule.
(3) The judicial factor shall have such access to and use of the books and documents of the local authority as he may require.
(4) The powers conferred by this paragraph shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any other powers competent to the holder of a security for enforcing payment of the sums due under the security.
35A.—(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Schedule, the Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as appears to him necessary or expedient with respect to the operation of the loans fund of a local authority and such regulations may apply generally or in the case of any particular authority or class of authority.
(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this paragraph shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
No. 32, in page 47, line 9, at beginning insert:
'Notwithstanding anything in any enactment.'.
No. 33, in line 12, after 'be', insert:
'advanced to the loans fund or'.
No. 34, in page 48, line 32, after 'of', insert 'paragraphs 1 to 12 of'.
No. 35, in line 35, leave out 'that section' and insert 'any enactment'.
No. 36, in line 40, leave out from 'borrowed' to end of line 41 and insert
'before the commencement of this Act by a local authority under a local enactment'.
No. 37, in page 49, line 10, leave out 'money borrowed' and insert
'sum advanced to a borrowing account or to a relevant authority'.
No. 38, in line 11, leave out 'borrowing' and insert 'the advance'.
No. 39, to leave out lines 15 and 16.
No. 40, to leave out lines 19 and 20.
No. 41, to leave out 'cash credit'.—[ Mr. Millan.]
Adaptation And Amendment Of Enactments
I beg to move Amendment No. 42, in page 53, line 12, at end insert
The amendment deals with the definition of lands and heritages, that being the basic definition contained in the Valuation Acts. Despite the fact that it arises at a fairly late stage in dealing with this legislation, this is a matter of particular importance. When the Secretary of State for Energy made his statement on energy conservation on 9th December 1974 a question was raised about the disincentives which might be found in valuation for rating. If a person improves his house that can give rise to an increased valuation. That is the whole basis on which the valuation of domestic premises proceeds. Valuation is based upon a notional rent. Therefore, if a person adds a new bathroom, WC or garage, or installs central heating to improve his house, the assessor can increase the valuation. The matters that I have mentioned all give rise to an increased valuation. If central heating is installed there will be a 10 per cent. increase in valuation. If partial central heating is installed the increase could be 7½ per cent. or 5 per cent. In one local authority valuation area that principle also applies to double glazing. This has caused a considerable amount of concern to many people and it should be a matter of concern for the Government. There is a new policy—indeed, it is a sensible one—that energy should be con- served. That means that if a person sets out to have better standards of insulation—for example, double glazing or central heating which, despite many theories to the contrary, I am told is a much better and more efficient use of energy than many other forms of heating—he can face the absurd situation of an increased valuation. This will act as a disincentive to improvement leading to a reduced consumption of energy. In a sense an important part of the Government's policy on energy conservation hangs on this amendment. If we take the viewpoint that there is a need for an improvement in housing standards and a need to improve insulation—that is the background set by the document which has been issued by the Department of the Environment entitled "Warmth Kept In Keeps Heating Costs Down"—the Government must make some form of adjustment to valuation and rating law. It is proposed that there should be a doubling of insulation standards. By proving that there has been an improvement in a house leading to the saving of energy, and thus fuel costs, an assessor could, bring before a valuation appeal committee the argument that the improvement could bring in an increase in rent and, therefore, give rise to an increased valuation. To my knowledge no assessor has attempted to take that course, but that approach is built into the whole system of valuation. Houses are valued according to size, the amenities which might be in them, the environment and, to some extent, upon the design and the quality of construction. A post-war house, be it local authority or private, can be classed in a lower level of valuation merely because it was built to a more utilitarian standard and with poorer materials in the post-war years. It is possible to argue that insulation or improvements in housing could lead to increases in valuation. That runs counter to the Government's energy conservation policy. Another point that aggravates some people in Scotland is that, because of the system of yearly changes, such improvements as are carried out to houses, almost immediately—within a year—are added to the gross annual value, that is the rateable value, whereas in England, because of a system of Treasury valuers who are overworked and carry out valuations less frequently, five or six years or more may elapse before an improvement finds it way into the valuation of a house. The amendment would restrict this provision to domestic properties. With industrial premises, Government consideration should be given to the different types of space heating, so I have left it to them in time to work out their own proposals. When it comes to energy conservation, with district heating, because of the system of pipes, insulation, ducting and fixed apertures and cabling, there is a strong argument for any assessor to say the system should be considered rateable. This might also be at odds with Government policy. Although I would not be inclined to press this matter to a Division because it is a new idea which the Government might wish to consider, I hope that they will bear it in mind, because their whole energy conservation policy might be helped by their acceptance of this new principle. It would be undesirable, in a Bill of this sort, which is not attempting to do that, to make that kind of change.'and for the purposes of the valuation roll for the year 1975–76 or any subsequent years, the definition of "lands and heritages" in the said section shall not include appliances for space heating, double glazing and wall and ceiling insulation which are situated or fitted in a building other than one occupied for any trade, business or manufacturing process'.
I understand why the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has put down the amendment. The Government are interested in energy conservation and are trying to encourage people to have regard to it in all they do, including what they do with their houses. The trouble is, as he said, that any improvement is liable, under the normal valuation procedure, to lead to increased valuations. Therefore, there seems to be an inconsistency between different arms of Government policy.However, that apparent inconsistency applies in other circumstances too. It is, for example, a general part of Government housing policy, as it was with the previous Government, to encourage improvements in houses generally. There are special provisions in legislation for Government and local authority assistance to produce that desirable result. Yet, at the end of the day, in that case also, rateable values can be and often are increased. In that kind of situation, one has to accept that the general encourage- ment of a particular desirable piece of public policy may have for the occupiers of the houses concerned some disabilities as well as advantages. I say that not to devalue the particular importance of energy conservation but to make the general point that if we accepted the amendment or something similar we should be acting against a basic principle of valuation law.
I should like to bring to the Minister's attention the fact that a substantial change of valuation law is proposed in the Schedule, insofar as it refers to electric motors and the change made in valuation law some years ago, to take out electric storage heaters which had previously been considered to be rateable, so the valuation law was then breached in favour of that form of heating.
Different considerations are involved on electric motors. That came from the recommendations of the McNairn Committee. We mentioned this briefly during the Committee stage. It does not raise the wider questions which this amendment would raise.In the matter of electric storage heaters one was dealing with the rather anomalous position that something which was, from the point of view of the householder analogous to an ordinary heating appliance, was being treated as a fixture. That was giving rise to anomalies, but here we are not dealing with anomalies but with breaching the principles where matters of public money should be the overriding factor. This is much more important. I cannot accept the amendment nor can I give hope that an amendment in similar terms would be acceptable in this Bill, but this sort of thing is relevant to the Layfield Committee. It is not sufficiently appreciated, outside at least, that although the Layfield Committee will be looking at alternative sources of local authority finance and the rest of the wide issues, it will be concerned very much with valuation and other matters inside the rating system, so it may have something to say to the Government and all of us on these matters. It would be a pity to accept this amendment or a modification which would have similar consequences. It may be that following Layfield, we shall want to make a number of different changes in the context of local authority finance structure in a wider sense. I cannot accept this, although I do not devalue the point made, but one would breach a principle here which has wide ranging consequences. The time is not appropriate to do it. We should have to do it in a much wider context.
I am prepared to have the amendment negatived.
I beg to move Amendment No. 43, in page 55, line 30, at end insert:
This amendment arises out of experience I had as secretary to a valuation appeal committee during a period of revaluation, contrasted almost immediately after by service in a non-revaluation year when it was apparent to me and to a number of appellants that the rules had changed and rather sadly, against appellants who wished to bring appeals. The normal rule for revaluation years is that one start afresh on an appropriate basis on the condition of the premises at the time of revaluation, and therefore there is little to weigh between the evidence produced on each side by the assessor and the appellant. When matters are completely even, there is a slight onus in favour of the assessor. But the rule has many limitations, because in revaluation years it is not always easy for appellants to produce evidence which can satisfy not only the commonsense approach of the tribunal but the directives of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. Often the committee is well aware that both sides are using it as an instrument for appeal to the higher court. There are certain opportunities for a committee during revaluation to take decisions on environmental matters which can result in reductions, albeit small at times, for the benefit of appellants. There are limits, and if a committee oversteps them it can find its decision recalled by the superior court. But in a non-revaluation year there are new criteria. The first, which is not unreasonable, is that there should be a material change of circumstances. If a valuation has been settled the previous year, it is necessary for there to have been a change giving grounds for an appeal. Assessors use that provision to bring altered subjects on to the roll. Appellants can also appeal. For example, if a sewage works opens immediately opposite someone's house he may be able to tell the appeal committee that the situation has changed entirely since he appeared the previous year. Many people appear from year to year. But there is an inhibiting factor, with which the amendment tries to deal. It is not merely a material change of circumstances that can allow a committee to upset the previous valuation. There must be a material change of circumstances which has an effect on value. In a sense this goes to the bedrock of the valuation system. If it has no effect on value, the material change, whether good or ill, can lead to no change in the valuation of the subject under review. There is an interpretation by the courts of this time-honoured phrase which has made it almost impossible for the small appellant to approach the appeal committee with any hope of success. The following quotation from page 16 of the fourth edition of Armour on Valuation for Rating may make the matter relatively clear:'20. The rules applicable to ascertainment and proof of value of lands and heritages in appeals taken in revaluation years shall be extended to appeals taken in non-revaluation years on the ground of a material change of circumstances affecting value, and sections 9(7) and 10 shall be construed accordingly'.
that is true in a revaluation year as well—"The onus is on the party claiming that a material change of circumstances has occurred and this must be discharged by proper evidence. An ex parte statement and the knowledge of some members of the Committee is not sufficient"—
That also applies in a revalution year."nor may the Committee rely on their own local knowledge alone".
Here we come to the rub:"The Committee are not entitled to decide whether or not there is a material change of circumstances on argument without hearing evidence."
There are one or two ways in which appellants can skip round that, by relying on the practice of an assessor which may have changed since the last valuation, or on another case which has been decided and has altered the circumstances. Nevertheless, in connection with a house, where what is at stake is perhaps a £5 or £10 a year reduction in gross annual value, and a smaller figure when it comes to ascertainment of rateable value, one must employ a skilled valuer to give an opinion on value. That is the difference between a revaluation and a non-revaluation year. Although there are restrictions upon an appellant in the presentation and acceptance of evidence in a revaluation year, he need not produce the skilled valuer who can produce evidence of a reduction in value following a material change. The amendment seeks to apply to the situation the same rules on evidence as apply in a revalution year. Hon. Members may think that this is a small matter. However, an appellant who makes an appeal because of something that affects his amenity or the rental value of his house and therefore its valuation and comes within what has been described in Armour on Valuation for Rating as perhaps a justifiable case, may find that because of the technical rules he is unable to succeed before the committee which in turn has to look over its shoulder at the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. I suggest that the rules contain a sufficient weight in favour of the assessor through the rule involving proof of material change of circumstances along with the other inhibitions on the committee's ability to take discretionary decisions to allow acceptance of the amendment. I think that it gives greater flexibility in dealing with appeals against domestic valuations. I strongly urge the House to accept the amendment."The evidence required in most cases will include evidence of the effect on value given by someone qualified to express a view on the matter. Without skilled assistance a justifiable appeal may well fail."
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has explained the amendment clearly and expertly. I do not disagree with his description of the present system. I accept what he is attempting to do in the amendment and have considerable sympathy with its object, but in a non-revaluation year the burden of proof on the appellant is extremely high. In fact, unless he is able to demonstrate through rental evidence that there has been a material change of circumstances affecting the value of his house, he is unlikely to succeed. Indeed, in many circumstances it is very difficult for an appellant to produce the necessary information.I agree that many worthy cases fail because the system does not allow a burden of proof which appellants are reasonably able to discharge. The situation has been criticised by the Scottish Valuation Advisory Committee which takes the view that in many circumstances it is unreasonable to expect an appellant to discharge the burden of proof that is placed upon him. I accept that we ought to do something, but it is not a matter which is easily drafted. The amendment, apart from technical difficulties, would go too far. It would mean that, even if the matter concerned were comparatively trivial, the whole question of the valuation could be considered de novo, which might be a burdensome procedure. I accept that we ought to make an appeal in a non-revaluation year easier. I do not mean that we want to produce an unfair result, but that, where there is a material change of circumstances, the burden of proof relating to value should somehow or other be lessened compared with what it is now. We are considering this matter, but it presents considerable drafting difficulties. We have a formula in mind but I do not wish to describe it to the House in case it proves ultimately to be defective. If it is acceptable we would hope to move the appropriate amendment in another place. If the hon. Member will therefore withdraw the amendment I promise him that I shall do everything possible to get the basic substance of his amendment into the Bill. If I find that that is not possible I will write to him and let him know. If it is possible I shall write to him when we have tabled the amendment to tell him we have done so. I cannot give the hon. Member a guarantee on a matter of this complexity. However if I can meet the basic point behind his amendment I shall do everything possible to do so in another place.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for his acceptance of the spirit of the amendment. I hope that something will appear in the other place which will give a fairer deal to the appellant in this circumstance of a non revaluation year. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move Amendment No. 44, in page 56, line 2, at end insert:
It relates to the fixing of a date for assessors to furnish estimates of rateable values for a revaluation year. Because of the change in the date of the financial year we need to change the date which at present stands at 15th March. Instead of putting in a new date it seems better to provide that the date should be prescribed by order. That is what the amendment does.'22A. In section 7(4) (apportionment), for the words "the fifteenth day of March" there shall be substituted the words "the date prescribed by order under section 13 of the Act of 1956.'.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 45 in page 56, line 39, after 'it)', insert '( a)'.
No. 46, in page 56, line 43, at end insert:
'(b) in subsection (3), for the words "Part XII of the said Act of 1947" there shall be substituted the words "Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975";
(c) in subsection (5), for the words "section 261 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947" there shall be substituted the words "paragraph 11 of Schedule 3 to the said Act of 1975".'.—[Mr. Millan.]
I beg to move Amendment No. 47, in page 59, line 37, at end insert:
I spoke on this matter on Second Reading and we debated it again in Committee. The only reason I am raising the matter again is that for technical reasons I was unable to test the feeling of the Committee in a Division. I hope that the Government may have given the matter further thought. The amendment seeks to change the wording of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and to provide for the Lothians Region and the Borders Region each to have its own police force instead of the proposal by the Government to have a joint police board. It is significant that the amendment has multi-party support. Apart from the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) whose constituency is also affected, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) lives, and has served on local authorities, in my constituency. He is, therefore, familiar with the issues at stake. I took down the words of the Minister when he was replying to an earlier amendment because I thought that they were important. He referred to the Tory Government's Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act and described this as an attempt to dictate to local authorities in a way which they found totally unacceptable. The Minister criticised the Amendment on that basis and I trust that he will stick to that principle in considering this amendment and accept, whatever else may be said in defence of the proposal, that this is a case of St. Andrew's House over-ruling the wishes of the elected regional councils. Parliament could not have known at the time when this matter was peremptorily examined during the passage of the 1973 Act what was in the mind of the regional councils because they had not then come into existence. There is an obligation on this House to take note of what the local authorities, now they are in existence, think on this subject. I will not go back over the whole argument. I will merely quote two parts of the submission of the Borders Regional Council when it pointed out that:'45A. In section 146 (police), in subsection (7), in the Table in the new subsection 21A(2) inserted in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, the words "South Eastern … Borders and Lothian" shall be omitted'.
The council says that if this joint committee were constituted the members would have complete power of decision in implementing the police function. The scheme provides that the joint committee would requisition both constituent authorities for an annual sum to meet the cost of the combined police force. Neither council, therefore, would have any opportunity to vary the requisition or would have any control over the allocation of resources to the joint committee. That is a reason why the House should always hesitate in the creation of joint boards. The cost in this case is quite considerable. Since the Committee stage I have had representations from the South of Scotland Chamber of Commerce querying the cost of this proposal. The submission from the Borders Regional Council points out that it has been estimated that the annual revenue expenditure of such a joint committee would be of the order of £10 million. It says that this represents a fairly substantial proportion of the total estimated revenue expenditure of both councils and that if the proposals in the Act of 1973 were implemented in accordance with the scheme drafted by the Scottish Home and Health Department the effect would be that a substantial proportion of the members of the councils who did not happen to be members of the joint committee would have no opportunity of exercising any control over the allocation of resources to the joint committee. Moreover, it is the assessment of the Borders Regional Council that the effect of the Government's proposed joint committee would be to cost the regions about £100,000 more than would be the cost of having separate police forces. If it is wondered why it is that a centralised force should be more expensive I am bound to say that since the Committee stage I have received the first evidence of exactly the sort of thing to which I think people in the Border area will rightly object. I understand from one of the social work departments that under the proposed reorganisation complaints against persons under the age of 16, which at present go straight from the local police force to the local children's reporter, would in future go through the central machine in Edinburgh and then back down to the Border authority. It is this sort of nonsense against which we ought to guard. I have re-read what the Minister said in Committee when he argued in favour of the joint committee. I see that he laid some stress on the specialised facilities that would be avail- able to a joint police force. I have looked at the specialist services required by the present Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk Constabulary. The existing force is smaller than would be the enlarged force under the Borders Region. I could go through each facility. Let me take one or two examples. Dog handlers are not available to the present police force. During the past five years the services of a dog handler have been required on an average of only two occasions a year and on only one occasion in that time did the presence of the handler play a significant part in the police search. I could mention fingerprinting, investigation of serious crime, underwater search teams. The services of Glasgow City Police underwater search team were recently obtained for a search of the River Teviot. Such a team is not available in Edinburgh City Police or the Lothians and Peebles Constabulary. It is unjustified for the Government to base their case for a joint police board on the very few and rare occasions when specialist services are required. The conclusion of the memorandum I have received from the police is that the experience indicates that there is no reason why the Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk Constabulary could not continue to operate as a separate entity, assuming responsibility for the Peebles area from 15th May. Then the point is made that it has been the practice to extend facilities without reservation to neighbouring forces and there is no doubt that such an arrangement would continue in future. I hope that tonight we shall not have the argument about the specialist services that we had in Committee. This comes down to the basic question whether the Government will be obstinate and stick by the view that St. Andrew's House knows best. It is an attitude which they should rid themselves of. I believe that, if they maintain their attitude, they will succeed only in getting the reorganisation of local government in those areas off to a poor start. One of the reasons for going through the trauma of reorganisation of local government was, wherever possible, to establish a meaningful democratic content of local government and to abolish joint boards of this kind."the draft scheme, which was sent to the Councils on 3rd June 1974, makes provision for the appointment by each of the authorities of an unspecified number of members who would form a Joint Committee with executive powers to administer the combined police force."