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Clause 2

Volume 889: debated on Thursday 10 April 1975

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New Right Of Board To Withdraw Support To Enable Coal To Be Worked

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 20, leave out "publishing' and insert

"the expiry of the period of 3 months beginning on the relevant date of publication of."

With this it will be convenient to take Government Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, and Amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 42, at end insert

'(iii) by sending a copy to local authorities, being the councils of counties and districts in which the land referred to in subsection (2)(a) above is situate'.
We may also take Government Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 11, and Amendment No. 12, in Clause 3, page 5, line 6, at end insert
(c) by sending a copy to local authorities being the councils of counties and districts in which the land referred to in subsection (2)(a) above is situate'.

These amendments are designed to meet the criticisms expressed in Committee that some period needs to elapse between the publication of a notice by the NCB and implementing its intention. They carry out the intention of Amendment No. 5, which was tabled by the Opposition but withdrawn after assurances had been given. They prevent the NCB from exercising its rights to withdraw support under Clause 2 (1) until three months after publishing its notice of intent.

Amendments 6 and 7 preserve the present position where the NCB has secured rights under earlier legislation—principally the 1938 Coal Act—and, under Clause 2(4) and (5), is deemed to have published a notice for the purposes of the Bill.

11.15 p.m.

This group of amendments is about communications, especially between the National Coal Board and the people affected. The Government are trying to improve these communications and we welcome that. In Committee, all of us, at one time or another, paid tribute to the NCB for its work in this direction in the Selby coalfield. I reported that in my constituency the chief engineer, Mr. Forrester, had been round on many occasions explaining what was to happen in the area. I also reported that officials of the NCB had met Conservative Members of Parliament affected and, with the aid of slides, and so on, had told them all that they could.

My constituents, therefore, were surprised, shocked and, indeed, outraged when, last Friday, in the course of the inquiry at Selby—almost at the end of the day—a small and very unpleasant announcement was made of news affecting my constituents which must have been known many months before.

According to the account of the inquiry published in the Yorkshire Post,
"Mr. Roy Vandermeer, for British Rail, told the inquiry that if the mine went ahead, the main East Coast London-Scotland line would be diverted away from Selby. He said that because of subsidence. British Rail would stop using the London-Scotland main line between Selby and York … Mr. Vandermeer said British Rail appreciated there were certain implications for Selby, in particular in that the town would seem to be on the direct high-speed East Coast main route."
The phrase "certain implications" is something of an understatement. For the town of Selby, the fact that it is on the main line from Scotland through Newcastle and York to London is one of its main assets. Everyone living within 15 miles of Selby and the industry in the area has the advantage of one of the best railway services in the country. If this decision comes into effect, they will be deprived of that line. If they want to go to London, they will have to take a slow train to Doncaster. If they want to go north, they will have to take a slow train to York. At the same time, Selby will cease to be the junction of the main East Coast and the Humber-Liverpool lines.

It is not surprising that Mr. Gilbert Gray, the QC appearing for the Selby District Council, said that it was "a bombshell" and that the council would declare war on the issue. I shall help in every way that I can to assist that campaign against this decision. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and I are about to give notice to the Minister of Transport that we should like an interview next week to see what can be done to stop this.

In terms of communications, I can only accuse the NCB of three offences. First, clearly it is guilty of practising deception. It must have known for months that this would happen. It must have discussed it with British Rail.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether the comments being made by the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan)—although quite proper and valid constituency points—are relevant to the amendments that we are considering. I should be grateful for your advice on the matter.

I shall allow the hon. Gentleman to continue with the trend of his argument.

The trend of my argument is that we are talking about communications between the NCB and the people affected. The NCB has done very well so far. The amendments will help in this direction, but the board is not putting them into force. Therefore, my constituents are failing to get the communication which should be available to them. An immensely important piece of news has been deliberately kept from them. I repeat that this is clearly an outrage.

Has this matter been discussed with Members of Parliament who are vitally affected? Many of us use the station. There has not been a word about it. Has it been discussed with the Selby District Council? Not at all. The news letter had no word about the matter. The NCB is not only deceptive; it is shirking the issue; it is leaving it to British Rail. That is not good enough. We go to the NCB in good faith, because that has been the service of our information so far.

My third accusation is one of stupidity. Now that this has happened, clearly everybody will be suspicious of the NCB's new service. People will say, "What else will come out in the inquiry?".

I urge the Minister to tell the NCB to return to the path of frankness and tell the people the truth. The truth is that, for the benefit of the rest of the country, my constituents are to have an unpleasant time. On the one hand, they will lose their rail service and, on the other, thousands of heavy lorries will be crowding unsuitable roads for the next few years. They should be told exactly how many heavy lorries will go on these roads each day, and which roads will be affected. Frankness of that kind in the course of the inquiry can win back some of the confidence which has rightly been forfeited.

I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were generous in allowing the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) to make his points. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise a complaint, grievance or fear on the part of his constituents on any possible occasion that he can, whether he is within or without the terms of order. However, I think that he was a little unfair to the National Coal Board. It would have been a strange situation if the NCB had made an announcement which should have been made by British Rail.

Clearly people in an area like mine, which has had no experience of coalfields, will go to the NCB for their information. Surely, after all these months of consultations, the NCB cannot feel happy that nobody knew about this serious development.

If the hon. Gentleman will wait a few moments, he may find that we have more in common than he thinks at this time. My point is that any announcement about the running of trains should be made by British Rail and any announcement about the coal industry should be made by the NCB or the Department of Energy.

The hon. Gentleman may take some comfort from the fact that there will not be a permanent cancellation of services. There is a possibility of cancellation of services between Selby and York. That will come out—yea or nay, and for how long—during the course of the inquiry. Certainly the main line from London to Glasgow and London to Carlisle runs over the Lancashire coalfield, which has some fairly shallow mines. There has never been a suggestion that there should be a permanent cancellation. I hope that there will be no talk of a permanent nonuse of the rail.

The point is that any information or experience regarding planning inquiries over the past years is hopelessly inadequate in the Selby development. I say "the Selby development" meaning the whole of the area.

A development of this kind needs a new kind of inquiry but we have only the present inadequate procedures. Many things will be revealed in the inquiry; that is the reason for it. It has to be a rolling programme, and we shall know only at the end what information is fully available. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise the concern of his constituents, but he was a little hard on the National Coal Board on the question of who makes the announcements.

Ever since I detained you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, four months ago, on a Bill, you may have been reluctant to call my amendments, but I had assumed that Mr. Speaker's provisional selection included my Amendments Nos. 5 and 12, so, with permission, I shall speak to them.

I am delighted with the Government amendment clarifying the position about Press notices and notice to local authorities. My amendments would provide for copies of Press notices to be sent to local authorities under both Clause 2 and Clause 3. The Government have gone a substantial way to meet the request in Committee to make broader provision in this respect. Having made this provision in respect of Clause 2, they have made my Amendment No. 5 no longer necessary. If this amendment is carried, as no doubt it will be, Amendment No. 12 will, similarly, no longer be appropriate.

However, when the Government are dealing with Clause 3 I hope that they will give local authorities the same consideration as under Clause 2. When the Bill goes to another place, perhaps they will consider the following amendment to Clause 3: in page 5, line 6, at end insert:
  • (c) by serving a copy on every local planning authority in whose area or, in Scotland in whose district any part of the land to which the notice relates,
and the reference in this subsection to a local planning authority shall be construed, in re- lation to England and Wales as if this subsection were included in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971."
I thank the Government very much for the extent to which they have gone already. I shall not detain the House any longer, because I see the Deputy Chief Whip is anxious—

May I add to the hon. Gentleman's point about Clause 3? Not only is there not included provision for communicating and publicising the notices to the copy holders; there are not included the provisions introduced by the Government in their amendments to Clause 2 in regard to notice boards, which are just as important.

I think that the Deputy Chief Whip would want me to be brief, as the hour is late. I think that the answer is "Yes, the Government should obviously give the same care to Clause 3 as they have given to Clause 2, to broaden the effect."

I am grateful for these amendments, which are entirely in line with the Under-Secretary's assurances in Committee about the three-months' interval before the notice to withdraw support, the fact that every local planning authority should get a copy, the fact that they should be in conspicuous places, and the fact that the size of the newspaper announcements should be rather larger than was originally provided.

However, the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) is valid because it relates entirely to the question of notifying people what work in the coalfield will mean. No one wants to see this work held up, but it is important to ensure that the public relations aspects are taken care of. I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree with that.

The Under-Secretary has been at great pains to assist us in this matter, but there are still one or two questions outstanding, particularly that put before the Committee by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, on which the hon. Gentleman has written to me. For the purposes of the record, I should like to set this down, because it will be helpful to everyone.

11.30 p.m.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors put it thus:
"It is not clear, in our view, whether a notice under this Section will apply to all seams or merely to the particular seam which is to be worked. This uncertainty can be particularly important where a notice is taken to apply to all seams since a considerable time can elapse between the working of each seam. We consider therefore that notices should apply to the working specified at the date of publication of the notice."
The Under-Secretary has been very helpful in writing to me on a number of points. Yesterday he wrote me a letter which I received today, and I should like to set it on record for our deliberations tonight. He points out:
"In my letter of 20th March I said we were looking into the possibility of limiting the currency of the notices the NCB would be publishing so as to cut out 'blanket' notices etc. I am afraid all our investigations have convinced us that this would not be practicable to cover statutorily."
He also says:
"However, Sir Derek Ezra has given an undertaking that where (to work a new seam for example) workings were planned under land in respect of which a Clause 2 notice had been published more than ten years previously, then they would give informal notice of their intentions exactly as would be required under Clause 2."
He concludes:
"Moreover, the Board are always ready to answer—in detail if necessary—inquiries from members of the public about their plans for working particular areas."
That is an extremely helpful comment, although it is not here in the form of an amendment. I thank the Under-Secretary for taking the trouble to look into this point, because it will relieve a number of people of the concern which they have been expressing—particularly that in the letter from which I quoted.

In the matter of notices, Clauses 2 and 3 are now much improved. Although there will continue to be worry about subsidences, there is a public inquiry taking place in Yorkshire at present, which will last for the next three months or so, and many aspects of this problem will be aired publicly. I should like to put on record the appreciation which my hon. Friends and I have for the way that the NCB is explaining in great detail at that inquiry exactly what it intends to do.

It is perfectly right that my hon. Friend the Member for Howden should mention the question of the important railway line which is affected. Let us get this matter entirely into the open, so that people understand that this field, which is the largest of its type in the world, has to be developed, but in a way which will take account of the worries and concerns which have been expressed.

I thank the Under-Secretary for the amendments, which meet the case we have put forward.

I deal first with the points made by the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan). I am sure that he did not expect a Minister to comment on a public inquiry. Therefore, although he made what I would consider to be constituency points, I do not think that, on reflection, he will accuse the NCB of deception. Indeed, to some extent, if that charge were to stick it would be in contradiction to what his hon. Friend has said from the Opposition Front Bench.

During the whole passage of the Bill the NCB has been most helpful and cooperative. In Committee, the hon. Member for Howden was full of praise for the NCB. It had given him all co-operation and information. If my memory serves me well, he told the Committee that he had either met the NCB or was meeting the NCB the following day. I think, on reflection, that the hon. Gentleman was rather hard on the NCB, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said.

Nevertheless, it would be completely inappropriate—as the hon. Member for Howden will know, as a former Minister—for a Minister to comment on a public inquiry that is being held in a particular area.

My point was exactly on the lines the Minister has just indicated. I was contrasting this recent development with what has gone before and saying why this comes as such a shock.

I have nothing to add to what I have said. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the words and reflect on them. I cannot comment on a public inquiry.

My hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) asked whether I would give some consideration to Amendment No. 12. I shall certainly consider it, but I make no firm promise. I hope that hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee will acknowledge that they found me willing to consider any new points which were raised. We are grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing this matter to our attention.

The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) raised a point which to some extent tied in with something which the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said. The hon. Member for New Forest, in reading out the correspondence which passed between us, acknowledged the serious endeavour the Government had made to meet the point.

Why are different rules to be applied under Clause 3? Why are not the same requirements about notices to be applied under Clause 3 as are to apply under Clause 2? We were assured in Committee that the same requirement would apply as regards notice boards and local authorities.

I said that I would consider the point. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept what I have said.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made:

No. 3, in page 2, leave out lines 36 and 37 and insert:

'and (c) shall be published'.

No. 4, in page 2, leave out lines 41 and 42 and insert—

  • '(ii) on two successive weeks in such news papers circulating in the locality concerned as appear to the Board to be desirable for giving adequate publicity to the notice;

and any reference in this section to the relevant date of publication of a notice is a reference to the date on which the notice is published in accordance with sub-paragraph (i) or, if it is later, is first published in accordance with sub-paragraph (ii) of paragraph ( c) above.

(2A) Not later than the relevant date of publication of a notice under this section, the Board shall—

  • (a) serve a copy of the notice on every local planning authority in whose area or, in Scotland, on every planning authority in whose district lies any part of the land to which the notice relates, and
  • (b) post a copy or copies of the notice in some conspicuous place or places on the land to which the notice relates, and the reference in this subsection to a local planning authority shall be construed, in relation to England and Wales, as if this subsection were included in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971'.
  • No. 6, in page 3, line 24, at end insert:

    'and, in relation to the withdrawal of support from that land, subsection (1) above shall have effect with the substitution for the words "the expiry of the period of three months beginning on the relevant date of publication of" of the word "publishing" and, accordingly, subsections (2)(c) and (2A) above shall not apply'.

    No. 7, in page 3, line 33, at end insert:

    'and, in relation to the withdrawal of support from that land, subsection (1) above shall have effect with the substitution for the words "the expiry of the period of three months beginning on the relevant date of publication of" of the word "publishing" and, accordingly, subsections (2)(c) and (2A) above shall not apply'.—[Mr. Eadie.]

    I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 4, line 10, leave out 'either' and insert '(i)'.

    With this amendment we may discuss Government Amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

    These amendments will straighten out some legal technicalities connected with the preservation of restrictions on the new right of the board to withdraw support.

    Amendment No. 8 differentiates between restrictions arising from agreements and those arising from orders made under Section 7 of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966. It provides that only restrictions arising from agreements made before the coming into force of the Bill shall not be affected by it. This is all that is necessary, since agreements made in the future may include such provisions as the parties may agree. However, it is necessary to make it clear that there will be no such limitations on orders made under the 1966 Act, and the amendment specifics that such orders shall not be affected by the clause whether they were made before the Bill came into force or after.

    Amendment No. 9 makes it clear that the new right to withdraw support is, as was the old right, subject to the limitations imposed by Section 33 of the Coal Act 1938 in respect of land owned by statutory undertakers—that is, railway, gas, electricity and water undertakings, and so on.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 9, in page 4, line 12, leave out 'or by virtue of an order made' and insert:

    'and before the commencement of this Act, or
    • (ii) by virtue of an order made, whether before or after the commencement of this Act'.

    No. 10, in page 4, line 14, at end insert—

    '(iii) by virtue of, or of any consent in relation to a restriction imposed by, section 33 of the Coal Act 1938'.—[Mr. Eadie.]