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Column 1231worked upon simultaneously, householders were given insufficient time to prepare for the work and there was a lack of continuity of work by the builder.
The survey also showed that quality control was at the discretion of the householder. As no schedule of work was usually available, quality control generally proved difficult for householders to undertake. Quality control by British Coal has been more in evidence in recent years and I have no doubt that that has happened because of complaints that were sent to the Minister.
The survey showed that householders had little control over the quality of the finished work. I could quote many instances to the Minister of people who have said to the builder as he was about to walk through the door, "What about that?" The builder would reply, "That's got nothing to do with us. It's Friday afternoon, we'll be back on Monday morning. That's not in the schedule. Where's the schedule?" The builder simply has a sheet of paper telling him what work to do. In hundreds of cases, people have waited years for a contractor or someone from British Coal to turn up to repair the last piece of damage in the programme. Those people continue to live in unrepaired accommodation.
The survey showed that dissatisfied householders were concerned about what was and what was not claimable. The allowances given for decorating--for example the rate for wallpaper--were felt to be inadequate in some cases. If this was not so sad, it would be ludicrous. People have shown me an example of a certain quality of wallpaper on their walls. However, they complain that the amount of money allowed by British Coal for wall covering provides for only very basic coverings. If wallpaper or paint is required, it should be of an acceptable standard. British Coal should not have to indulge in piddling and peripheral negotiations.
The survey also showed that there were complaints about the general lack of care and protection of personal possessions and the use of householders' equipment and facilities without permission. The builders do not actually go in and cook sausages and chips on a householders cooker. However, once they have placed coverings on the furnishings, they sit down and lounge about the house. They usually, ruin the kitchen sink because they stick buckets, plaster and paint in it. The Minister may smile at this, but he knows that it is true. He would not have it in his home. Would he like that to happen to him? We are not talking about people who can nip off to the south of France. We are talking about people who want to go to work in the mornings.
There are also complaints about irregular attendance of builders. Some builders disappear for weeks, months or years. That is a bit of a bind, and people are worried because they never quite know when the builder will come back through the door. Sometimes it is so bad that, when the builder comes up the path, he is greeted like a Littlewoods or Vernons pools officer, his appearance is so rare.
There were complaints that householders did not receive formal notification of the completion of work. The builder, as he walks through the door, often says, "That has nothing to do with me." There seemed to be a disparity between amounts claimable within the same locality. That applied to Mr. Johnson's case. People in one house might be given wallpaper, while those in the neighbouring houses were not. Some houses would have their drains or footpaths
Column 1232repaired and others would not. In many instances, the state of the houses denied such services would be worse than that of those that received them.
There was a lack of information about what work would be undertaken, when and how. The impression gained was that householders who had been or were currently employed by British Coal expected preferential treatment. My colleagues and I hear that argument time and again. People tell us, "I gave my life to the coal industry. I did not miss a shift in God knows how many years." In Nottinghamshire, they say, "I stood four square with the present Government during the miners' strike. I went to work in opposition to my colleagues. It has caused rifts within my family. Yet I am being treated in this way." Some householders reported that the builders had a "don't care" attitude to the work. As I told the Minister earlier, I think that that attitude is connected with what builders are paid. They will be in and out as quickly as they can, because the job is probably a "fill-in" and they want to get it over with.
When householders were informed that there would be a delay in handling claims or undertaking work, they generally accepted that. Not knowing was the factor that caused them distress. Householders have come to me with stories of having spoken to the agent three years ago, having received a letter from British Coal and another from the agent a year ago, and having heard nothing since. Surely there is some way of letting people know that the matter is still being dealt with, even if it is only a standard letter with a second class stamp.
The administrative procedure used by British Coal appears to have been inconsistent. Some officers issued claim forms, whereas others relied on receiving letters or telephone calls from householders. In one village--I believe that it is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sherwood--a public meeting was organised by British Coal, and in another village British Coal undertook door-to-door inquiries.
I do not think that that is a bad idea. Public relations are important, particularly with people who work or worked in the industry or in its service sectors. It is part of the style of a caring employer and a caring industry. It might not be a bad idea either, given the traumas that the industry has been through in recent years, for British Coal to do that more often : it used to do it in the past, and it is good practice in any community. The public relations aspect of British Coal was perceived by householders to be rather poor. Householders assumed that schedules produced by agents would be the exact list of work to be undertaken when that was not the case. They have been presented with a dilemma. One or two agents will come into the house and look around. They will say, "Oh, yes, I will put that down on the list." Before an agent has left the back kitchen, there will be enough down on his list to make the householder think that he will have a fitted kitchen with quarry tiles and the whole works, and that each room will undergo similar improvements. People are conned into believing that they will get the whole world. By the time the agents are out of the front door, it seems that, if all that has been promised were to come to fruition, the accumulated cost would be such that it would be better to give the householder a house twice the value of the current one. There is also the problem of independent consultants. They give schedules for what needs to be done ; then people who expected to have their repairs done at a cost of
Column 1233£15,000 or £16,000 suddenly receive an offer of £2,200 through the letterbox. It frightens the living daylights out of them, because of all the problems that have been pointed out to them.
No written guidelines appear to have been prepared to assist in the process of deciding marginal cases, such decisions being made only by British Coal's surveyors. That is rather sad. Where is the independence there? Why could not a local authority send out an inspector? After all, many of the houses used to be owned by local authorities. The inspectors would not say, "Right, we think that you should have everything." They are qualified, understanding people, and they are not going to start abusing their position and indenting for new front doors and walls. If their budgets are controlled, they will respond appropriately.
Some householders were not made aware that significant changes to their homes would occur during and after building work. That, too, is an important point. Like other hon. Members, I have come across such cases. The building work is carried out, and it looks wonderful. It takes away the stress and strain and the householder looks forward to the future. Then he trips on the way into the living room, because the floor is as much as 4 in higher and there is a step there. The way may be in a slightly different position ; doors may have been moved. There seems to be no understanding of the effect that that will have on someone who has lived in the same property for years--in some cases, generations.
Each property had repairs which could be regarded as "cosmetic" : substantial damage has been repaired, but there was also a good deal of botching up and covering up. All the evidence from the surveyors points to that. The surveyors were not made aware by the householders of any guarantees for other repair work. Householders may believe that something has been repaired and that if there are any more problems they can get back on to British Coal, but, as I have told the Minister, that is not the case. If they do that, they will be told, "Hang on, in 1985 you signed a form and that ended our liability"--although British Coal must have known in its heart of hearts that, without the shadow of a doubt, the damage was more considerable than was being implied.
Many householders had found that claiming for damage and the execution of repairs was a process that caused them considerable distress. In some cases, the stress was the apparent result of genuine grievance about the inconvenience ; in others, it appeared to have been caused either by inability to understand the process of building work generally, or by a lack of knowledge of what might be regarded as genuine damage due to subsidence and what is an acceptable standard of repair.
The House is well aware of my concern about coal mining subsidence damage. According to a report that entirely supports the arguments that I have advanced since the last general election, my community has been and continues to be damaged by the effects of coal mining. Let me now discuss with the Minister what is to be done.
In response to a number of questions that I asked on 18 May this year, the Minister said :
"Administration of the subsidence compensation and repair system, including making the necessary provisions in the accounts, is a matter for British Coal."--[ Official Report, 23 May 1989 ; Vol. 153, c. 445. ]
Column 1234I do not think that that is a very helpful answer. Whatever the Minister may think about the responsibilities of British Coal or any other public sector industry, ultimately the responsibility is his : he is in charge of such matters in his Department. He is the person who has to take public responsibility for sorting out the matter, and I shall try to help him.
The Minister also answered a question that I tabled on 15 May 1989 asking him to give possible solutions to some of the dilemmas. He said :
"At the end of 1987-88 repair of and compensation for subsidence damage cost the corporation almost £50 million."--[ Official Report, 15 May 1989 ; Vol. 153, c. 102 .]
It would help him greatly if he could find out over how many years that sum was accrued, how much of it was spent in repair and compensation, how much on administration of staff, how much on outside advisory costs, how much on legal costs and how much was paid to the claimants' agents.
I do not expect an answer today, but I think the Minister will find that a low proportion of the money was spent on the purpose for which it was intended : repairing damaged property. If my analysis is wrong, I shall gladly apologise to the Minister either in the Chamber or publicly, but I doubt that I am. However, even if I am, it is still the case that more than £200 million is left in the account which could be used to settle this problem. Presumably, it accrued because it was added to the budget for coal production and was set aside to solve the problems of coal mining subsidence damage.
Some of the money could also be used to set up in the coalfield areas, particularly those which provided the evidence, some form of trust made up of senior figures from local authorities, the legal profession and the mining industry, which could review cases for damage when liability was denied. I am sure that all hon. Members would be grateful if that could be set up on a trial basis for two or three years. If that were done, it would help the Minister because he would no longer keep receiving letters from hon. Members as these could be referred to the regional coalfield trust. I should like to think that local authorities would be represented on the trust because, after all, they have to sort out the problems. Such a trust could look at the major problem of old damage.
New mining techniques have largely solved the major problems. The trust would be appreciated not only by the owners of damaged properties, but by British Coal, which needs help with a problem that is draining a considerable amount of its energy and placing an enormous financial burden on its production activities and pits. It would help to take the pressure off British Coal and the huge number of staff it employs, and help it to meet its advisory costs. The evidence given to me shows clearly that, before all hell broke loose at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, the size of the estates department in Nottinghamshire was modest. However, events since then now mean that, if there is any trimming and rethinking to be done on management and design to help solve this problem, that is where it must be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield has frequently pointed out to me that merely half a dozen people, with some secretarial support, were employed in that department in Nottinghamshire in the 1970s. That number is now close to 50, with fairly high numbers of outside consultants to back them up. The process has gone too far. There is an amazing
Column 1235administrative bottleneck in the coal industry. A coalfield area trust, with a legal department to help it, could look at the old damage problems and review cases.
I wish to thank the Minister for expressing his willingness to meet the chief officers of the district councils next Tuesday morning. I hope that he will reconsider the invitation sent to him to visit the north Nottinghamshire area. This November, the district councils, Coalfield Communities Campaign representatives and county councils are holding a one- day seminar. The Minister has already been asked whether he can come, and has said that he will consider the proposal sympathetically, but that the date is too far off and that it is highly unlikely that he could attend.
I understand that some members of the Department of Energy have since said that they would like to attend. Nottinghamshire is of special interest to Conservative Members, and if the Minister came along we could show him some of the properties. Alternatively, he could stick a pin in the report that I have shown him today, of which he will receive copies, to see which properties to visit. I would be willing to give him the pin with which to do so. Even if he will not stick in the pin and burst the balloon, perhaps he will attend the seminar to give the Government's view. The problems are harrowing, and we need some direction. I hope that this debate has helped the Minister to decide what action he must take.
My hon. Friends the shadow Secretary of State for Energy and his shadow junior Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), have agreed to attend the seminar, and it would be a shame if only one political voice was there to represent Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. I understand that, on such occasions, the Minister often asks a local Member to represent him. On this occasion, I would go along with that, provided that the Minister will assure us that he will accept whatever his representative says and carry out his findings.
Once the Minister has read the excellent report, which he could do on his holidays or before, he will appreciate the full scale of the damage. Perhaps he will also consider, with his Parliamentary Private Secretary, other Conservative Members present, and even the Whips, that at 2.30 pm when the private Members' Bills are considered, when my Coal Mining Subsidence (Damage, Arbitration, Prevention and Public Awareness) Bill, which has support from both sides of the Chamber, is announced, instead of shouting, "Object," to allow it to proceed. A few Conservative Members smile, but I am prepared to accept that, if my Bill were allowed to proceed to Committee, where the Minister has an inbuilt majority, he could change it. The Government have the built-in numbers to do exactly that and I ask the Minister and the Whips to do it. It would form the basis for a solution to the problem.
I have said that this solution would be wholly self-financing and that £200 million or more is in the accounts for this purpose. I have mentioned a couple of ways in which help could be given to home owners, to British Coal, to the Minister, to businesses and to hon. Members. They would be cost-effective ; the money has already been deducted. It exists precisely for this purpose and should be used for it.
We should also remember that the chairman of British Coal has just announced massive profits for this financial year, of £500 million. That money has been derived from the communities which are suffering damage and which will continue to suffer it in the future. Nottinghamshire
Column 1236contributed £65 million to this profit, of which only a tiny amount need be used to try to find a solution to this problem--
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Michael Spicer) : I had not meant to intervene, but it is important to set this point right for the record. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) is correct to say that there was a notional operating profit, as defined by British Coal, but that was before many other costs had been incorporated in the calculations--in particular, the cost of borrowing, which is a cost usually associated with any business, and the costs of restructuring and redundancies. When British Coal has included those costs, it has to return to Parliament the whole time to ask for more money. The hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House on that point, which is central to a balanced discussion of the subject.
These are areas which have been seriously damaged by the effects of a major industry. Elderly, infirm and unemployed people have, directly or indirectly, given their lives to that industry. They do not live in Bermuda or the south of France : they live in the backbone of Britain, in coal mining communities which produce wealth and energy for the nation. I ask all hon. Members and the Minister to help us begin some movement--not subsidence--towards a solution to the problem.
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : Having listened to the difficult constituency cases which the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) has detailed at some length, I can understand his anxiety and desire to raise all the problems related to coal mining subsidence this morning. I am relieved not to have such problems in my constituency, although I have troubles enough.
I take an abiding interest in compensation and environmental issues and I want to address the House on the broader aspects of the tribulations of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I have long held the view that when persons or communities are disadvantaged in the public interest they should be fully and adequately compensated for that disadvantage. It matters not whether it takes the form of the building of a motorway, new railway line, or nuclear power station beside their homes, or the digging of a mine underneath them. If people's homes are affected by public works in the national interest, their loss should be fully compensated in every case.
The ideas that I have propounded met with some success in the Land Compensation Act 1973, although it was a compromise in respect of the views that some hon. Members, myself included, proposed in those years. The Act provides for the purchase at full market price of homes directly affected by public works, and for grants for those indirectly affected by them.
For historical reasons the coal industry was isolated from the legislation. It has always enjoyed a privilegedposition vis-a -vis the communities which worked for it to provide cheap fuel for the rest of us. So I can understand the feelings of the hon. Member for Mansfield when he speaks on behalf of his constituents. On their behalf, he
Column 1237said that he would rather they had a right to sell to British Coal than that British Coal should repair the properties damaged by subsidence.
I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's remark that it is an insult to be offered, not the full market price, but a discounted price if the occupants happen to have bought under the right-to-buy provisions. That is offensive but typical of the cheese-paring attitude of the public sector whenever it deals with compensation matters. The private sector would never be allowed to get away with it. The individual would be entitled to claim through the courts and would often reach a settlement, before the case came to court, granting him full and proper compensation--but the public sector has never operated like that.
I have said before in the House that our railway system, which everyone values and wants to protect, would never have been built by private companies in the Victorian era if the owners of the properties in the way of the new lines had not been paid not merely the full market price but 110 per cent. of the value of their property.
Since nationalisation and the clawing in of so much to the public sector, a different attitude has arisen. In part it dictates that people who suffer for the public good must put up with it. I do not accept that philosophy. The person who gives something to the nation should receive full and adequate compensation for it.
Instead, in the public sector the first thing to happen is a public inquiry. Compulsory purchase procedures are followed when necessary. Protracted negotiations take place with district valuers. We go before the Lands Tribunal. All this is a long and wearisome process which is constructed as much as anything else to wear down the will of the individual so that in the end he will get only what the public sector is prepared to pay him. That is not just, and I see no reason why the Government, or Government bodies, should treat those to whom they have a duty any differently from how we would expect a private company or industry to treat them.
When I was in office, I often asked Ministers and civil servants whether anyone had ever worked out how much cheaper it would be to establish a more generous compensation system in place of the bureaucratic machine we had developed to discourage people from resisting the will of the state.
The hon. Member for Mansfield mentioned management and estate divisions of the coal board that do exactly that. If we did away with all the paraphernalia that supports the operations of the coal board and of Government departments, the savings might allow us to pay adequate compensation quickly. If people felt that they were being dealt with fairly, they would be much more ready and willing to co-operate with the public sector. I leave those thoughts with my hon. Friend the Minister and wish him more success with those ideas than I did when I had an opportunity to press them.
Sir Hugh Rossi : The Minister is currently responsible for legislation affecting the coal industry and the coal board. When it is next amended, it should not be beyond the ingenuity of parliamentary draftsmen to include clauses to give effect to the thoughts I have expressed.
Column 1238The coal industry developed in a climate in which there was very little regard, if any, for the environmental impact of industrial operations. We all know of the continuing debate about the mere burning of fossil fuel and its impact on the environment--the greenhouse effect and acid rain. Such matters have received attention only in recent years. Mines were dug and have been abandoned with little regard for the effect on the surface above them or on anything built there. Slag heaps disfigure our countryside, and Durham is appallingly polluted by mine residues that have been dumped along the coastline.
Members of the Environment Select Committee visited the north-east and saw for themselves the extent of that pollution, which has continued for many years under many Administrations, and were very disturbed by what they saw. From the evidence they heard, it was clear that the Coal Board wanted to do very little about that situation. The new energy industries are not allowed to get away with anything similar. Radioactive waste will be deposited deep underground, and the industry will have to find the right sites and then, with the benefit of the right scientific advice and proper engineering, construct the necessary safe depositories.
Under other Government measures, the industry will meet the large cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations at the end of their useful life. The coal industry has never been under an obligation to deal with the decommissioning of its mines or slag heaps, or to deal with the mounds that it has left littering the north-east coastline. The coal industry must be dragged kicking and screaming into this century of the environment and live up to its responsibilities. Although the hon. Member for Mansfield has made a plea on behalf of his constituents because of the direct consequences of subsidence for them, there is wider general interest in what should be done with abandoned coal mines. Should they be allowed to rot and collapse, or is there a way of backfilling and compacting them? Is it possible to use the railway tracks that brought the coal out to return the slag to the mines and ram it back into them to prevent future subsidence? Has the Department of Energy discussed with the Department of the Environment the possibility of using disused coal mines having the right geology and in the right locations to dispose of much of the waste created by our civilisation and for which apparently there is no home at present?
The Environment Select Committee's toxic waste and contaminated land inquiries address the problems of what can be done with such residues. They can be chemically treated or incinerated, but after the mass is made inert, heavy metals and other substances are left that must be disposed of somewhere. At present, the remedy is either to dump them at sea or to use them for landfill. I ask the two Departments jointly to undertake a survey of mines that are disused or are about to be closed to see whether they can be utilised for waste disposal and in such a way that future subsidence will be avoided.
I have thrown out a few thoughts, and have taken the opportunity provided by the hon. Gentleman's description of his constituents' tribulations to express the concern about the way in which we deal with compensation and fail to require the coal industry to live up to its responsibilities to the nation in respect of the impact of its operations on our environment.
Column 123911.37 am
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) on his good fortune in coming first in the ballot and on his choice of subject. I know of the frustrations of coming second in the ballot, because I did so on Monday, which denied me an opportunity to participate in the debate. If my hon. Friend did not exist to raise this debate and to present his Bill to the House later today, we would have to invent him, because there is need for such a person and for such a measure. Given the length of my hon. Friend's speech, it is difficult to imagine that there is anything more to be said, but I wish to raise one or two points in respect of my constituency. I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments about me, though he is wrong in thinking that Amber valley is part of my constituency. We have no imperialist ambitions to take it over. We believe that at the next general election Labour will be able to take it without the need for any imperialist actions.
The area of Chesterfield affected by mining subsidence is Staveley, which is a separate township. Staveley's southern half falls into the Chesterfield constituency, while its northern part is in mine. My comments and conclusions will relate to the experiences of north Staveley and of developments in south Staveley.
I am worried about what by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) said about backfilling pits. Backfilling is desirable, but to backfill pits with nuclear and toxic waste in areas such as Staveley would be counterproductive. To add to the problems that they face over coal mining subsidence the thought that they would be living on top of dumps of hazardous nuclear waste would be unacceptable. It would be a greater environmental danger than subsidence and would be on top of other hazardous activities, such as those carried on by Staveley Chemicals.
The people in my area are faced with two types of problem. The first is the consequence of mining subsidence in the Hartington road area of Staveley in 1984. Lessons for the future can be drawn from that experience, but they will be of no use to residents who are living there now. Action needs to be taken on their behalf so that their compensation problems can be resolved. I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade British Coal to provide more money in an attempt to resolve numerous outstanding problems, including those in the Hartington road area.
The second type of problem with which people in my constituency are faced is the prospect of coal mining during the next five years from thick seams elsewhere in the Staveley area, including the Lowgates area. In the unlikely event of a Conservative victory at the next general election, following yesterday's European results, there would be the added problem of coal extraction, leading to subsidence, by private coal companies. Subsidence claims would be dealt with first by British Coal and, later, by private firms. People making compensation claims might then have to negotiate with two bodies or companies, which would result in the inadequate funding of compensation claims.
I have received letters from constituents who live in the Hartington road and Hartington view area of Stavely. I shall not mention their names, but I want to refer to some of the problems that were highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield because they affect my area,
Column 1240too. I shall use the words of those who have been affected and will comment on what they say as I do so. Constituent A wrote to me and said :
"I vacated my house for a total of 17 weeks."
That is quite a short period. Some people have to move out of their homes for much longer. That fact needs to be taken into account when compensation claims are made. It causes disturbance to people's lives while their houses are being repaired. The compensation takes no account of that disturbance, but provision ought to be made for it. Constituent A then said :
"Since then the new sills, door frameworks, skirting and ceilings have all pulled away from the walls and have cracked. The Coal Board came to inspect the new damage and offered an inadequate amount to put this right there is also a problem regarding tilt, my neighbour has been informed that he has tilt and is being paid accordingly. Whilst I have been told I have none."
That highlights a number of points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield. The compensation that is paid for tilt varies greatly. That creates a feeling of injustice, because tilt can often be observed with the naked eye. The shoddy work that is done by contractors also causes problems. British Coal uses poor contractors. The role played by British Coal is inadequate. Its inspections are below par. British Coal does not insist on the application of correct standards before a person moves back into his home.
Constituent B wrote :
"We've had six inch nails knocked into door frames to straighten them, and then painted over. Twisted doors have been left on we've had carpets left uncovered during the repair work, yet neither British Coal, nor the building firm concerned, wish to compensate the damage. The out-buildings are in a terrible state brickwork is bulged and twisted, and being left in that condition, broken sewerage pipes have been left under the building we don't feel we are being fairly treated."
There are continuing problems over contractors, the role of British Coal and the difficulty about obtaining fair compensation. People feel that it is inadequate. British Coal's agents are also thought to be inadequate. People resent being bounced between British Coal and its agents. No adequate action is taken, and people end up by bringing their problems to hon. Members and others in an effort to obtain assistance.
Constituent C wrote :
"From my observations and talking to people, I would say that British Coal are exerting people to settle by keeping people waiting and not corresponding, also by their attitude of take-it or leave it. My own property has not yet been repaired."
There is the double problem of incompetence and manipulation. The two seem to go hand in hand. There may be another way of describing it, but incompetence leads to manipulation. If something is not done, an excuse will be found later to get round it.
Constituent D wrote :
"Our chief concern has been the outhouse building when the initial repairs began it was declared that the damaged side needed rebuilding, this did not materialize. Incidentally some three others to our knowledge were similarly neglected. We were out of our home for eleven and a half months, as you can appreciate an exacting time to us all, beyond all sense and reason."
Those people were out of their home for considerably longer than the 17 weeks that were mentioned by constituent A. That led to protracted problems and difficulties.
Constituent E complained about the inconvenience and discomfort that he suffered
Column 1241"when old and infirm by having to be out of his home for a considerable period."
Sometimes there is conflict because tilt is taken into account in some cases but not in others, but there is also a great deal of co-operation when people suffer the same inconvenience. They are concerned not just about their own well-being but about the well-being of their neighbours, and they push claims on their behalf.
Constituent F says :
"My main complaint is the decorating. There is no room in my house decorated as I asked I had the kitchen repainted myself paying someone to do it I cannot do much myself in the way of re-decorating (due to age and illness) and cannot afford to pay to have it done."
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield referred to wallpaper not having been put up correctly. My constituent refers here to other redecorating problems. These difficulties come on top of the many other burdens that people carry. They will soon have to pay the poll tax. That will cause great problems because of their limited resources. These burdens worry them and nag at them all the time. They create stress, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said. We are discussing issues relating to shelter and to people's homes. That is one of the three basic provisions--food, clothing and shelter--that bother people.
I sometimes wonder whether the Minister fully appreciates the difficulties. Although he receives plenty of literature, information and representation about issues that affect the coal industry, I believe that his personal experience is limited. I understand that he stood twice as the Conservative candidate for Easington, which may lead him to believe that he understands the problems. Of course, the pit at Easington goes out under the sea so that the subsidence problems are created for passing seamen rather than elsewhere, although there are problems nearby. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green talked about the dereliction of coastal areas, and I believe that the Committee visited Easington. I am interested in Easington as I come from that area and my parents still live there. Constituent G wrote :
"When I moved back into my home I discovered several repairs that I can only describe as shoddy' and several problems which were listed on the work schedule that had been completely overlooked. To top all this, my attic, which was insulated before the repairs' is no longer insulated Now I find new problems, windows leaving walls, new cracks everywhere."
Such issues are quite difficult to resolve. People could pursue various legal rights through litigation and other means, which is entirely inadequate. There should be provision for local consultation, adequate involvement by the board and some local arbitration to resolve matters through avenues similar to the small claims courts. Constituent H stated :
"I am completely dissatisfied with the general attitude and approach of both British Coal and the contractor's senior staff who are generally arrogant, belligerent and patronising in the extreme and the quality and manner of the work being done is of a very low standard work proceeded in fits and starts."
Contractors move into the Hartington road area, they move out into an entirely different area, and then they come back again, and people are very frustrated by what takes place. The letter continues :
Column 1242"The list of omissions etc. is too long to include here ; a list is attached."--
eleven detailed points were attached to the letter.
"It seems apparent that unless the contractors are continuously supervised one has little chance of satisfactory repairs being made."
That creates another problem because if people are moved out of their homes, in one case for eleven and a half months, they cannot supervise the work themselves and they feel that the board does not provide adequate supervision on their behalf. In some cases walls have been plastered and the occupants of the house do not believe that the repair work underneath has been done. When they challenge the contractors, they tell them that they will break open the wall but the owners will have to pay for replastering. People do not have the money and do not take the chance, although in some cases it would be advisable because the long-term problems might be considerable. Constituent I stated :
"The path was laid too high covering our damp course and there are no slants to the drains causing the conservatory to flood when it rains. When the path was laid, they disturbed the drains and ever since then the drains keep getting blocked up very little of the plastering was done, because when we moved in we did most of our own plastering."
People face practical difficulties that disrupt their homes and their lives.
I shall quote two more cases. Constituent J complained about the board sending a cheque for a settlement when none had been agreed. My constituent is paying for an independent survey showing 6 in when the agent was informed by the board that it would recognise only a 4 in tilt.
Finally, one constituent has been involved in putting pressure on the coal board by writing regularly-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Barnes : The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) and other Conservative Members involved in the discussion are probably discussing the Coal Mining Subsidence (Damage, Arbitration, Prevention and Public Awareness) Bill, which is sixth on the Order Paper, and trying to persuade the Minister not to shout "Object" to it.
Alternatively, I suspect that they are discussing the same activities that were being discussed on Monday, and that is to stop the second motion on the Order Paper, being discussed as it relates to the poll tax, which is fantastically embarrassing to Conservative Members.