§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ The Minister of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Dalton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill makes financial arrangements in connection with the announcement which I made on 4th July last year and the Special Development Order which has been in operation since 25th July last year. As from that date there has been a legal obligation to restore all land devastated by opencast iron ore workings in the Midland Counties. This Bill covers both present and future workings and also areas worked in the past and now left derelict and hideous.
These places, which I have visited, resemble the deserts of the moon. They are horrible to behold and are bound to have a most depressing effect upon the morale of all those living near them. The Parliamentary Secretary and I visited this area soon after I became Minister of Town and Country Planning and when he became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, nearly a year ago. We were very deeply shocked by what we saw. Northamptonshire is the worst part of this area, the most severely devastated, but the devastation is now spreading into parts of Lincolnshire, Rutland and Leicestershire and into Oxfordshire, and all these counties are scheduled in the First Schedule to the Bill.
My hon. Friend and I spent several days in this area, visiting a number of workings and making inquiries of the experts who are handling the arrangements there for the restoration of the devastated land. In addition, we met representatives of the local authorities, local farmers and local landowners and many others who had an important point of view. I think my hon. Friend will agree when I say that it was a very useful visit from the point of view of informing ourselves on this matter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was in the neighbourhood and also the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls), and it was a very useful two or three days' research study.
665 I came away deeply shocked. In addition to the present workings, and in addition to the past workings which have more or less been restored, there are some 2,500 acres of past workings where no attempt whatever has been made to restore the land after damage. This is a most shocking state of affairs. The land has been robbed of its mineral wealth, it has been robbed of its agricultural fertility, it has been robbed of its natural beauty, and the robbers having made their profits have mostly gone away. It is a shocking spectacle. It is no good hon. Members opposite shaking their heads. Shame may not overcome them, but truth will overcome them in another sense. I was horrified to meet directors of companies who have made a profit out of this land and bunked off.
§ Mr. Dalton
The Bill is designed to cure this evil. But for the action taken in July and the action proposed under this Bill, this area of devastation might have spread wider and wider as mineral operations go forward. But that will now be stopped, partly as a result of the Order and partly as a result of this Bill. I am also glad to say that under the Iron and Steel Act, which nationalised a substantial part of these undertakings, it is laid down that the Iron and Steel Corporation have the duty to make sure that all the nationalised companies comply with the planning conditions requiring the restoration of ironstone land after the ironstone has been removed. The Order of last July and this Bill will help the Corporation to discharge that duty.
In order to recall the main points to the House, I will summarise the policy governing the matter which, as the House will remember, was announced by me on 4th July. It provides, in the first place, for complete restoration of present and future workings for iron ore, with the replacement of the topsoil. Exceptions are made for special conditions. In the first place, where the length of face being worked is so great that the cost of replacement would be very high; in the second place, where the content of the overburden makes it impracticable to restore the land to agricultural use—the chief case here is where the over-burden contains large lumps of hard and unfriable limestone which would be difficult to 666 assimulate into the soil in a way whereby it would be likely to be useful for agricultural production; in the third place, where in the interest of agriculture tree planting would be desirable whether for shelter belts or to furnish pit props, etc.
The policy provides in the second place that where complete restoration is not practicable there shall be levelling without replacement of topsoil followed by careful cultivation, manuring and the use of special fertilisers; and that where restoration to agriculture is quite impracticable the land shall be afforested. Further, it was provided in the statement of policy which I made on behalf of the Government that the Treasury shall pay 25 per cent. of the cost, the rest being divided equally between the industrialists and the royalty owners.
We are not requiring in this Bill that the local authorities shall make any contribution. I think that is fair. Earlier schemes, including the proposals of the Kennet Committee, which were brought before me when I took over my present office, proposed to charge the local authority with part of the cost of restoration. I have rejected that. I see no reason why local authorities should contribute at all. They have neither perpetrated nor profited by this damage. Therefore, they will not contribute. The Treasury contribution will be 25 per cent. and the remainder will be contributed in equal proportions by the industrial companies and the landowners.
Land left derelict through past workings is to be restored by the landowners or the local, authorities, whichever may be more convenient, and the cost of such restoration will be met by grants from the Ironstone Restoration Fund, which is established by the Bill. The first 13 Clauses of the Bill deal with the Ironstone Restoration Fund, with the payments to be made into it and out of it; and the next 12 Clauses—Clauses 14 to 25—deal with the question of restoration or, as it is called in the Bill, reclamation, which is to be carried out with the aid of the Fund.
In regard to payments into the Fund, we propose in the Bill that there should be a charge of 3d. per ton on ironstone worked in the Midland fields, and that this should be divided into contributions of 1⅛d. from the industrialist, 1⅛d. from the royalty owner or landowner, and ¾d. 667 from the Exchequer—percentages of 37½, 37½, and 25. On the current rate of production this will mean that the Exchequer will pay about £45,000 a year into the Fund, industrialists will pay about £67,500, and the landowners an equal amount, making the income of the Fund about £180,000 a year.
The annual contribution of the landowners will decline after the first few years as the mining operations extend beyond the present area, which is called the near-ripe area. I shall deal with this in more detail when I come to Clause 26. As the mining operations extend ever further afield the landowners' annual contribution to the Fund will diminish. On the other hand the Fund will receive a capital sum representing an appropriate share of the landowners payments from the £300 million Fund set up under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Payments into the Fund, therefore, are expected to amount for some time to come to approximately £180,000 a year.
Payments out of the Fund will be governed by the following consideration. Clause 7 of the Bill gives to the Minister the power to settle in any particular case how much per acre shall be drawn from the Fund for restoration by any industrialist or, as he is called in the Bill, "operator." I have set up an Advisory Committee, about whose personnel I shall say a few words in a moment, and which I think is generally regarded as being expert and well balanced, to advise me on any difficult or disputed cases. The operator can claim from the Fund for all work done since 25th July last, when the Order to which I have referred became operative. There will, as a rule, be no payment if the over-burden is less than 35 feet. The over-burden is of course, the soil lying above the ironstone. When workings are deeper than 35 feet there will be payment out of the Fund for excess cost over the cost at the 35 feet line, which is defined in Clause 7 (3). If the over-burden is less than 35 feet full restoration can normally be carried out simultaneously with the getting of the ore. It is a single operation and does not involve much additional cost where the workings are relatively shallow.
668 Where they are deeper the other provisions for payment apply, and the general effect of these provisions and the whole purpose of the Fund which we are now setting up is to spread the cost of restoration over the industry as a whole rather than to allow the cost to lie where it falls, in which case it would fall more heavily upon certain undertakings than upon others. We think it better and more equitable to spread the cost over the industry as a whole, and not to concentrate the burden on the points where restoration, for geological reasons, is more costly. So much for the outgoings of the Fund.
The past workings—the dereliction to which I referred—which are now "the mountains of the moon," are dealt with in Clauses 14 to 17 of the Bill, and restoration in these cases will be carried out either by the landowner or the local authority, with assistance from the Fund. The full cost may be met from the Fund, and generally speaking will be. The local authority will have power to purchase compulsorily any land within this field of past working and present dereliction. This can be done where it seems desirable to do so, and the Minister may take default action, under Clause 25, though I hope that will not be necessary, if neither the landowner nor the local authority play their proper part in this matter, in order to ensure the restoration of this derelict land.
Turning to agriculture and forestry, Clauses 18 to 22 make certain provisions to the effect that once the initial work of restoration has been done, whether by the operator, by the landowner or by the local authority, the Minister of Agriculture, if the land is being restored to ordinary agricultural use, or the Forestry Commission, if the land is being afforested, will be responsible for nursing that land back into full agricultural production on the one hand or, if it is afforested, the supervising of its planting and the care of the trees planted on it.
The Minister of Agriculture or the Forestry Commission have this responsibility, and they must either undertake it direct, or alternatively they may do so through the farmer, landowner or other person or local authority responsible for the handling of the land. I have been asked a question by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), who I am glad 669 to see present. He wrote me a letter asking for certain particulars regarding the Fund. I thought it more convenient, as I am sure he will agree, that these matters should be dealt with in debate rather than that I should, at this stage, before the Second Reading, write him a letter full of detail. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give more detailed information, if that is desired, than that which I am about to give now. I shall give one or two broad figures, indicating what we anticipate with regard to receipts and expenditure for the Fund about which the hon. Gentleman wrote to me.
We put outgoings from the Fund at roughly £150,000 a year in the immediate future, as against receipts of £180,000 a year which I have already quoted. We think that the outgoings will be divided in this way: about £82,000 to £83,000 a year for current workings and between £60,000 and £70,000 a year for past dereliction. The current workings we hope in future to restore as we go. We hope there will be no wide gap in time between the extraction of the iron ore and the restoration of the land.
With regard to the past dereliction, we are setting ourselves a target of cleaning up the mess in 10 to 15 years—it can only be approximate. On this basis we allow from £60,000 to £70,000 a year for past dereliction and £82,000 to £83,000 a year for current workings; which gives about £150,000 for the two together, as against £180,000 a year coming in to the Fund. These estimates are necessarily rough. We have not yet experience of the work to go upon, but I think they are sufficient to show that for some considerable time to come the Fund should be able to meet the demands upon it from income.
Now I come to Clause 26 and I apologise for the hyphenated jargon which the experts have bequeathed to me—what they call the "near-ripe set-off," which is not the kind of language I would use in a personal letter. Clauses 26 to 29 deal with all the minerals, not only with ironstone, and they cover Scotland as well as the whole of England and Wales. Clause 26 is the most important and I will read a carefully prepared statement which I hope will do full justice to the complexity of the matter. I want to get this on the record, because, as hon. 670 Members will appreciate, there are a number of landowners, operators and others who are in some doubt as to exactly what this implies. I think it better that I should read a prepared statement and get it on the record so that they and their legal advisers may study it at their leisure.
Clause 26 enables regulations to be made giving effect to what is called the near-ripe scheme for minerals. The Clause covers minerals of all types, not ironstone alone, and applies to Scotland as well as England and Wales. The scheme has been worked out in consultation with organisations representing mineral undertakers and mineral owners, and it is hoped to send them the regulations in draft shortly. The regulations will apply broadly to minerals which were owned or leased by a mineral undertaker on 1st July, 1948; that is to say, at the date on which the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, came into operation.
The Government have already promised that claims on the £300 million fund in respect of such minerals will be paid at 100 per cent. of the mineral development value, and the object of these regulations will be to see that the development charge due on the working of the minerals is equated with and set-off against the payment due from the £300 million fund; or in a leasehold case, against the two payments due to the lessor and lessee.
The effect will be that where permission to work the minerals is granted, the payments from the £300 million will not be issued. No development charge will actually be paid, and there will be no need to modify existing leases. Where permission is subject to onerous conditions, a payment will in certain circumstances be made towards the additional expense. These provisions will only apply, of course, where planning permission is granted to work the minerals. Where permission is refused the claims on the £300 million fund will be paid out in the ordinary way.
Putting it in simpler and less technical language, the purpose of this Clause is to simplify the procedure and save unnecessary work and to remove uncertainty. If this were not done, if this provision were not made, and if the law were not thus amended before 1st July next, a development charge would become pay- 671 able on every ton or mineral extracted after that date. This is laid down in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. The Central Land Board would in that case have to assess the development charge, which would be a great labour, but, on the other hand, land owned or leased by a mineral undertaker on 1st July, 1948, being near-ripe land, would qualify for full 100 per cent. payment out of the £300 million. That was promised by Sir Stafford Cripps, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 2nd June, 1949, in a statement made in this House.
This Clause renders both these operations unnecessary and it is to that extent a very labour-saving provision. There will now be nothing to value on the part of the Central Land Board and nothing to pay in the way of development charge. If planning permission is granted the payment which would otherwise be made from the £300 million fund will be kept by the Central Land Board in full satisfaction of the development charge. I hope I make this clear.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
I should have thought only one of those processes was eliminated. It will still be necessary for the Central Land Board to assess the development charge in order that it may be known how much compensation is to be paid out or set off against the £300 million.
§ Mr. Dalton
No, Sir, it will not be necessary. The provision for the near-ripe land applies to land which was actually being worked, or subject to a lease to be worked, on the due date, and the development charge will not need to be assessed by the Central Land Board. It was one of the purposes to avoid this unnecessary labour, because if they are to be paid at 100 per cent. for the loss of development value, as they will be, then this will be covered by the other side of the case. They will be wholly exempted from paying development charge. I think the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Molson) will appreciate that in fact, logically, these two things must equate, and that being so, there is no need for any valuation to be made or payment to pass.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South West)
Will not the Minister agree 672 that it will be necessary to assess the development value for which compensation would otherwise have been payable? Otherwise it will not be known what sum must be deducted from the total of the £300 million before the Treasury Scheme for the distribution of the rest is made. I think the Minister will agree with that.
§ Mr. Powell
So that only one process of the two which the Minister has mentioned will be eliminated?
§ Mr. Dalton
We agree that no payment need pass as a result of this Clause, and that the Central Land Board will not have to assess the development charge in relation to each of these separate properties.
§ Mr. Nicholls
Have these figures been agreed as to the value that will need to be paid on the transaction, although it may only be a book transaction?
§ Mr. Dalton
I think it is perfectly clear. If the hon. Member, or any other person, is the owner of land involved in any of these operations, he will not be required to make any payment and he will not be troubled with any further demands for valuation or particulars leading up to valuation. This Clause 26 clears away a lot of hypothetical calculations which otherwise would have to be made and which now have no bearing on the business in hand.
§ Captain Duncan (South Angus)
It is clear, is it not, that, by the amount of valuation that is made in respect of this Bill, the £300 million is reduced in total. Therefore, everybody else is interested. Also, may I ask what minerals in Scotland are concerned?
§ Mr. Dalton
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is perfectly correct. The £300 million is a fixed sum. It is, of course, true that the more we subtract from it, the less there is left; but this group of operators have, by general consent, been given a preferential position. They are preferential creditors upon this Fund, following an undertaking given by Sir 673 Stafford Cripps when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. As to the residue of the Fund, people must fight that out in due course. This Clause governs only the group of persons affected by the Bill.
The remaining Clauses following Clause 26 are minor and supplementary provisions, and I shall not weary the House by going through them in detail now. I would merely summarise the purpose of the Bill by saying that our hope is that this Bill, taken in conjunction with the Development Order, will in no way hinder the mining of iron ore. We should be very sorry if that were to be the result, because the mining of the iron ore, particularly Midland iron ore, is very necessary to the national economy. We believe that this Bill will not hinder the mining of iron ore, but will give us back in the future agricultural land, timber and natural beauty which otherwise would have been lost in an ever spreading area of desolation. I commend the Bill to the House as a genuine and real measure of reconstruction and of planning.
Finally, I should like to pay tribute to two men who have played a very special part in preparing this Bill, and the Order of last July. I should like first to mention Sir Henry Prior. He was the Regional Controller in the East Midlands region of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and has now become the Regional Controller in that area for my present Ministry. Sir Henry Prior spent most of his working life in the old Indian Civil Service. Since he returned to this country he has made himself an acknowledged master of all the intricacies of this subject, and there are many. Since he has acted as my Regional Controller in this area—and probably many hon. Members have met him—he has established most harmonious relations with all those connected with the industry in East Midlands. He has presided, most happily and successfully, over two standing conferences, which have been most important in the consideration of these matters, of industrialists, landowners, local authorities and others in the area. I wish to pay my tribute to what he has done.
Secondly, I wish to pay my tribute to Mr. A. H. S. Waters who was author of a most valuable report on this problem which appeared first in July, 1945, and a summary of which was later issued as a White Paper. He has also served as a 674 member of the standing conferences presided over by Sir Henry Prior. Mr. Waters is a very remarkable man. He is one of a small and choice band who, in the First World War won a Victoria Cross, a D.S.O. and an M.C. He is a consulting engineer with a very large practice, but he has spent a large part of his time and energy in recent years on unpaid public work of various kinds. In addition to his work on the Midland iron ore problem, with which we are concerned today, he also acts as chairman of my advisory committee on sand and gravel. His professional standing and personality have given him great and well-deserved influence in very wide circles. I am glad to have the services both of Sir Henry Prior and of Mr. Waters on the advisory committee on iron ore questions which I set up last year and on which, in any future difficulties, I shall rely.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Assheton (Blackburn, West)
The House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation of this most complicated Bill. He is the first to admit that it has its complications, and inevitably so. But for his provocative opening sentences, about which I may say something later, I do not think that there was a great deal in what the Minister said with which, in general, I wish to disagree. As he said, the Bill has two objects: first, to form a Fund to deal with the restoration of ironstone working; and, secondly, to make statutory provision for this near-ripe minerals scheme which is a further instalment of the amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act—an Act which we on this side of the House all think needs so much amendment.
That part of the Bill which deals with ironstone is by far the largest part of this Bill and it concerns only the six counties mentioned in the First Schedule. The other part of the Bill, from Clause 26 onwards, concerns all minerals in the country. Here I must declare an interest. Although I have no interest whatever in ironstone, and as a result was not personally provoked by the rather malicious observations of the right hon. Gentleman, nevertheless, I have a certain interest in other minerals. Also, I am chairman of a committee of the Country Landowners' Association which, as the right hon. Gentleman may know, has been concerning itself with these matters. The prob- 675 lems raised by the destruction of agricultural land have been a matter of concern for the Government and also for landowners and farmers for some years now.
It was under the Government of Mr. Chamberlain in 1938 that the Kennet Committee was appointed. That Committee, appointed in 1938, reported in the next year; but, of course, that was in 1939, and the circumstances of the day made it impossible to take any action then. The matter was further considered by the Scott Committee and then by the Waters Committee, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. That was the Committee set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) when he was Minister of Town and Country Planning. Although the report of the Waters Committee was completed in the middle of 1945, it has taken this Government six years to make up its mind what to do about it. Meanwhile, this devastation to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, has continued.
In September of 1948, the Minister appointed the standing conference under Sir Henry Prior to whom as well as to Mr. Waters hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House would also like to pay tribute. There were two conferences, one of ironstone producers and the other of agricultural landowners and tenants. The agricultural section of the conference recommended that the policy should be to bring the land back to agricultural use to the maximum extent practicable and reasonable, and at as early a date as possible. It suggested, with certain qualifications, that it was in the national interest to spend in the after-treatment of this land a sum of approximately 3d. per ton of ironstone gotten opencast in future in the Midland field.
Since the Bill has as its main object the establishment of a Fund to finance the after treatment of this land, we on this side of the House agree with it in principle, but we have certain criticisms which I hope we may be allowed to make; they are criticisms which I think will be helpful and are not offered in any party spirit at all.
Ironstone has been worked opencast for about 100 years. I think that railway 676 engineers, in the middle of the last century, first came upon it when constructing their railways, and they found that this ironstone was near the surface. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House that, up to the first War, it was the standard practice to restore the land completely, and that was followed up to 1919. The provocative opening remarks of the Minister would have been more balanced if he had told us that, and if he had also disclosed the fact that by far the greater part of the land which has so far been worked has, in fact, been restored. I am not denying at all the problem which the Minister has put before us, and about which I feel quite as deeply as he does.
Nearly all the old mining leases contained clauses to effect restoration, but, as the excavations became deeper, many operators took advantage of clauses in these leases to make cash payments in lieu of restoration, and that, of course, led to a lot of the trouble which the Bill and the remedies which it proposes are designed to meet. The Bill is complementary to the Ironstone Areas Special Development Order, which makes it necessary for the developer to comply with certain conditions before he is allowed to obtain planning permission to work the ironstone. It appears from this Order—and I think that what the Minister has told us today confirms it—that there is no obligation under that Order to restore the topsoil on excavations of a greater depth than 35 feet. The Minister has told us of certain exceptions, which have given rise to anxiety in certain quarters. I would like to quote, if I may, from an article in the "Economist" of last July, when these words were used:The Minister's statement of policy last week was more formidable in its language than its content. 'Complete restoration with replacement of topsoil' is to be the formula for present and future workings, but the exceptions to the formula are so extensive that it may fairly be doubted whether the new order will differ fundamentally from the old.Knowing the interest which the Minister takes in this matter, I hope very much that he will see that there are not more loopholes left than are absolutely necessary.
The Bill sets up a Restoration Fund, and therefore, it is the second leg of the Government's policy. The Order is the first leg, and this Bill is the second. It is not at all easy, in a short time, to 677 assimilate what the Minister has told us about the financial effects of the Bill, and I therefore hope that he will allow me to study further his opening speech, and will permit me, possibly, to modify to some extent any remarks that I may make now. The Bill is not at all easy to understand, and those of us on this side of the House who take an interest in this matter have consulted together, as the result of which there are many questions which we would like to put to the Minister and with which we hope he will deal, some of them now and others during the Committee stage.
One point on which we are anxious is whether the Government's policy will give enough incentive for the right kind of machinery to be used, the right kind of skill to be developed and the right teams of engineers to be built up to deal with this matter, and we want to know to what extent payments will be made in such a way as to make it attractive to the operators to do that work and to develop that machinery and that skill to the best advantage.
We have been told by the Minister, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary made a forecast of this when he spoke in the Midlands in February of this year, that £180,000 is the likely income of this Fund, but the Minister today disclosed something of which we were not aware—that a very great part of that money is to be spent on restoring old devastation. I was wondering why so much money was being asked for, because, on making certain calculations, it appeared to me that rather more money was being collected than was necessary to deal with current devastation. This is a matter for discussion. I do not know whether the Minister has made up his mind about it, or to what extent the burden of restoring past devastation should be placed upon the shoulders of those who are operating at the present time and will be operating in the future.
I should also like to ask him whether it is fair that those whose overburden is less than 35 feet should pay any contribution, since I understand that they are to receive no benefit from the Fund. That is another point which we should like to discuss. It is a very considerable burden, and we want to make certain that it is levied as fairly as possible.
678 Next, the Minister said that the levy was to be on a flat rate. I am not absolutely clear whether that is a fair principle or not; it is a debatable question, anyway. It means that operators and owners in the areas which are poor in ironstone will be subsidised by those in the areas which are rich in ironstone, and that, for example, would be to the advantage of operators in the county of Northampton and to the disadvantage of those in the county of Lincoln.
Then, I want to touch on the question whether the levy is fair to owners. In the past, many owners have charged operators a low royalty on the condition that the lessees accepted an obligation to restore the land, but there were certain owners who were less careful of their land and who charged a higher royalty, and it appears to me that the owners who charged the lower royalty are now to be penalised for their virtue. That is another point into which I hope the Minister will look at the appropriate time.
If we take the owner who accepted the low royalty of 2½d. per ton—and we must remember that the Government's tons are of 2,240 lb. each, whereas the tons talked about in these leases were very often 2,640 lb.—and we assume that that equalled 2⅛d. per ton, on the condition that the land was properly restored, he will have to pay 1⅛d. per ton in this levy; the man who is getting a higher royalty will, of course, do much better.
On this point, I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which he will answer very easily because he occupied for some years the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is on the question of taxation. Can the Minister tell the House whether the payment which the owner will have to make to the Fund will be deductible from his income or not? I do not myself know of any section of any Finance Act under which a royalty owner can claim relief in respect of a contribution made by him to restoration.
If that is the case, it may well be a very important question, because, unless I am wrong—and I hope I am—it would mean that, in many cases, the deduction would be a great deal more than the income, and that the owner might well be left with a net loss because, whereas he might receive 2⅛d., less tax, he would have to pay 1⅛d. gross by way of levy. Therefore, at the end of the day, he might very well 679 be paying a great deal more to the Revenue than he was, in fact, receiving. I know that is a question into which the right hon. Gentleman will go if he does not already know the answer, and, if there is no such provision in the Acts, perhaps he will tell us that such provision will be made.
I now turn for a minute to the question of how the Fund will be used and whether it will achieve its objects. I gather that the Fund can make payments for costs incurred by landowners or local authorities and that there are also provisions for payment by the Minister of Agriculture under Clause 18, about which the right hon. Gentleman told us. But that Clause does not say that these grants will come from the Fund. I did not quite gather from the right hon. Gentleman's speech whether or not they do. Perhaps we can be told about that. I should also like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary, if he is to reply, whether this division between the role of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Local Government and Planning is completely satisfactory.
I am sure that everyone is very anxious that the Fund should be fairly raised and that the proceeds should be properly spent. The main point is to see that this Fund really will ensure that the land which ought to be restored will be restored, and I hope that before we reach the Third Reading of the Bill we shall have obtained assurances from the Minister which will satisfy us on that very important point.
I wish now to turn for a few minutes to Clause 26 onwards, which deal with the general amendment of law relating to mineral development. The Minister has explained Clause 26 to the House very fully—I should like to have said very clearly, but I think it would be impossible to explain this Clause very clearly. It is an enabling Clause and provides that regulations should be made to deal with this near-ripe scheme. We have not yet seen the regulations, but I am glad to know that they are to be submitted in draft to those interested, and, no doubt, to the House. They will, I understand be designed to give effect to the setting off of the development charge against the payment to be received out of the £300 million.
680 I want to make it quite clear that we on this side of the House have never approved of minerals being brought within the scope of these financial provisions at all. We thought at the time—and we still think—that an Act designed to deal primarily with the development of land for building was not suited to deal with the problem of minerals, and we warned the Government that difficulties would arise from their decision to include minerals in the financial provisions of the Act.
I am quite certain that this decision was taken late in the day, that the Act was designed for one set of circumstances, that, subsequently, another set of circumstances had to be fitted into it, and that that has made it difficult for the Department to make it work at all. In fact, it has not worked, and, therefore, they have had to introduce these Clauses. We maintained that minerals, whether in lease or not, should be dealt with by a separate Act, and that there should be a separate compensation fund, if, indeed, Parliament decided to deal with minerals in this way at all.
My own personal view has always been that the principle of the financial provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act is wholly wrong because I do not think that the conception of divorcing ownership from the rights and duties of development is a sound one, and it is a principle which I frankly believe will eventually break down. I do not know what is the right hon. Gentleman's personal opinion of that matter, but, at any rate, he is now trying to administer the law as it stands and to get it altered with regard to minerals, and, in so far as we have to work within the Act, we are trying to assist him.
Though we accept the object of this Clause and agree that it is fair that minerals in lease should receive near-ripe treatment, we regret that the effect of this and other near-ripe schemes in connection with building land and single plot owners should be to diminish the £300 million fund and thus reduce still further the chances of the owners of development rights receiving fair compensation for their property. We still take the old fashioned view that if the State insists on depriving citizens of their property, they should be paid the 681 whole value for it, and not part of it, and we should like to stick to that view.
The near-ripe scheme, however, seems to be the only practical solution within the framework of this Act, and, unquestionably, it is an ingenious one. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was quite right in what he told the House earlier about the question of valuation, because I think that when he comes to consider it again he will appreciate that we have to value the near-ripe land in order to ascertain what sum is deductible from the £300 million. I dare say that on further consideration he will agree that that process will have to be gone through, and it will certainly save an immense amount of trouble in various directions.
I have some anxieties with regard to Clause 27. I am given to understand that that Clause does not, in general, apply to cases falling within the near-ripe scheme, but that it is intended to apply to the case where a lease in existence on 1st July, 1948, which was the appointed day, is prevented from being operated because of the refusal of planning permission. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to confirm that this is the right view of the Clause, and to give an assurance that it is not intended in any way as a device to enable existing royalties for near-ripe minerals to be reduced by a reference to the Lands Tribunal. I should also like him to tell us what exactly is the purpose of the Clause, and what action it is proposed should be taken under it either by operators or by anybody else. It is an extremely important point from the business angle to know under what circumstances the terms of leases can be varied, because the variation of contracts is a matter of some consequence.
There is one other Clause upon which I should like to comment, and which we shall certainly seek to persuade the House to amend. It is Clause 32 which deals with powers of entry. That Clause empowers a duly authorised person to enter on land at any reasonable time, but it does not seem to include the safeguards contained in Section 103 of the Powers of Entry Act, 1947, which requires notice of the intended entry to be given to the occupier. I dare say this is an oversight, and I am very hopeful that the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to add that very reasonable safeguard.
682 I very much regret that this Bill will result in a further flood of regulations, and I should have been much happier if what is to be in the regulations could have been in the Bill and if we could have had an opportunity of discussing it during the Committee stage. But that, apparently, is not to be. I should also like to draw the attention of the House to the Second and Fourth Schedules of the Bill which contain some very complicated arithmetic, and I wish to warn the right hon. Gentleman that when the time comes we shall call upon him to explain in detail that arithmetic, and that, if he is unable to explain it, we shall be very cross. But, seriously, it does cover some very important points of principle into which we shall have to go.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will reply to most of these points this evening, but if he cannot reply to all of them today he will be able to deal with them on Committee stage. The Bill is a very complicated one and that makes the task of the House difficult but all the more necessary. I trust very much that the Government will give the most careful consideration to the points which will be put forward during the debate and to those I have mentioned.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
This is really two Bills. The Clauses from Clause 26 onwards, with the exception of one or two of general application, are concerned with minerals of all kinds in all parts of Great Britain. I propose to say nothing today on those Clauses, except that I have an indirect interest in some mineral workings which are neither ironstone nor within the area affected by the earlier Clauses of the Bill.
However, I want to say something about the part of the Bill concerned with ironstone workings in the Midlands. I think no constituency in the Midlands is more directly and obviously affected by these ironstone workings than the one which I represent. Corby Iron and Steel Works were placed in the middle of the iron ore field of Northamptonshire, which stretches into other counties, for reasons of good business practice, and for similar reasons mineral leases were negotiated by the company concerned and subsequently by other companies with the local landowners.
683 As my right hon. Friend has indicated, in many cases those leases provided for a lump sum payment in lieu of restoration. That may have been, and perhaps it was, at the time convenient to both the parties concerned; but I think the present state of Northamptonshire and the present state of some of the counties around it is a most lamentable comment on the system and the civilisation which allowed those concerned to get away with the matter in that way.
I am not here today to raise the question of blame or to go too far into the past, but this has been a really urgent problem for many years. It has been raised in Parliament after Parliament and with one Government after another and, indeed, within Governments with one Minister after another. I should like to say with complete sincerity, and indeed with some enthusiasm, that I am exceedingly glad that my right hon. Friend who now occupies this Ministry came into it when he did and in this matter took action with the promptitude which he showed.
One of the first things he did, having apprised himself of what, after all, is a complicated problem, was, as he said today, to come down and look at it. I had the pleasure of going on some part of the journey with him and I thought he could have taught many members of my profession quite a lot about handling experts from whom information must be received and, having been received, must then be criticised. I thought there was a refreshing commonsense in his approach and a firmness in his purpose which certainly increased my own pretty considerable respect for him; and I was not at all surprised that the visit was followed by definite action for the first time.
The key to the whole of this business lies in the Government's statement to which my right hon. Friend referred at some length and from which I am not going to quote again. It was made on 4th July, 1950. I feel that one of the main points, perhaps the main point, we have now to consider is how far we are certain that the present machinery, including the machinery contemplated by this Bill, will give full effect to that statement. The present machinery, of course, comprises in the first place the Development Order, which is fully satisfactory as regards the 684 comparatively easy task of restoration where the workings have not exceeded 35 ft. It is with the deeper and more difficult workings, where difficulty may arise either from the depth or from the nature of the ground worked or from the combination of those two things, that the Ironstone Restoration Fund and that part of the Bill are concerned.
There are one or two general points about it that I should like to put to the Minister now. I put them by way of inquiry at this early stage because I am inclined to think that he will be able to give satisfactory answers about them, since they really are points which do no more than follow out the general statement of policy of 4th July, 1950.
First, I have noticed with a little uneasiness that there have been considerable variations in the estimated cost from time to time. I appreciate today for the first time, and I am exceedingly glad to see it, that a considerable proportion—nearly half—of the outgoings of the Fund is going towards the restoration of past workings; but as regards present and future workings, is the Minister satisfied that with this Fund he will be able to effect what was intended in the statement of 4th July, 1950, that is, the restoration to agriculture, except in cases where it is impracticable? Will he be able to include restoration to agriculture in a number of cases where it may well be difficult but cannot be regarded as impracticable?
I feel I shall have his entire sympathy when in that connection I put one particular point to him. I do not think anyone in the Government has shown a greater or more practical interest in the amenities of the countryside than he has done. Corby is a fair-sized town already. It is going to be a larger place as a New Town. At present it has iron ore workings, past, present or future, all around it. Immediately around it there are iron ore workings which are in a state called "hill and dale." They have been planted with trees, with various degrees of success.
If that is to be continued all round the town, my right hon. Friend is going to place the inhabitants of Corby in a situation to which as Scotsmen they may be more accustomed perhaps than are our people further south. They will find themselves on what one might call an 685 island surrounded by a sea of hill and dale workings. How they will manage to get out for a walk and enjoy themselves in the surrounding countryside, I do not know. Nor would anyone know if he ever tried to go for a short walk over the hill and dale relics of that part of Northamptonshire. I should like to commend to the Minister's particular attention the question of preserving the amenities round about new towns with which, in a slightly different function, he is equally concerned.
My next point is this. I have in mind the past, present and future workings. It is obviously sensible that, so far as this worked-out land can be usefully applied for things as important as agriculture or forestry, that should be done, and I have in mind the use that can be made of this land by local authorities many of whom have it either actually within their area or coming up to their doors. For instance, in my own constituency there are two or three towns, of which Kettering is one, which have this worked-out land coming actually up to the boundary of the borough or urban district, but often not within it.
I notice that the Bill provides for purchase by the local authorities within their own area. I know perfectly well the difficulties of dealing with arrangements of this kind between one local authority and another. They are often exceedingly jealous in these matters, but, all the same, there is a provision in the principal Act, the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, for purchase in certain cases by one authority of land near its area but not within it, subject to Ministerial consent and Ministerial consultation with the other authorities concerned. I suggest to the Minister that that would be an exceedingly practical thing to do in a large part of this area, for such purposes as playing grounds and even for such purposes as refuse dumps, although I am thinking more of playing grounds, and possibly for other purposes. I hope my right hon. Friend will give that aspect of the matter his sympathetic consideration when the Bill goes to Committee.
Those are the two main points I wanted to make. I am afraid I am taking up some of the time of the House, but this is a matter with which I have been very much concerned and in which I am deeply 686 interested, and I hope the House will excuse me to that extent. There is one other matter. I hope that the Minister will, as indeed I think he will, bear continually in mind the need for convincing the local people in Northamptonshire, and I am sure in other areas too, that the work of restoration is actually going on.
May I put it to him in this way? If in some unfortunate dispute outside this House I were to contract a black eye, I am quite certain that everybody would look at my black eye rather than at the rest of my singularly beautiful countenance; and that, of course, is exactly what happens in Northamptonshire. People do not look at the unworked area. They do not even look very closely at the area which was easy to restore and which has, in fact, been worked and restored, and, as has been pointed out in previous discussions on this matter, there really is quite a lot of it.
What people look at is the very large machine that stands up on the skyline and grabs up the earth in a way that terrifies and horrifies everyone in the area, and they notice the fact that a great deal of the workings of that machine, usually the more recent workings, have not been restored. It is, in short, the scars which they look at. I hope the Minister will take great care to give full publicity to what is actually being done and to the very important time-limit of two years which occurs in the Development Order. I believe that we have at last got going, and that what with the Development Order itself and with what is now being proposed in this Bill, the matter will at last be substantially put right—not perfectly, but substantially.
I would respectfully agree that, on the whole, we cannot try to parcel out too closely the burden of putting this matter right. If we were to spend a great deal of time weighing up the exact incidence of the burden between operators of various depths and operators in different types of country and so on, at the end of it I believe we would not get much further and that we would not make much change. I think that the short, simple village justice, if I may so put it, of the thing is to put the burden as a whole on the two parties principally concerned—the operator and the landowner—with the measure of Exchequer assistance which is now being given.
687 Everyone will be exceedingly glad—certainly everyone in my constituency and in the neighbouring ones—that this Bill is going through today, and they will judge it as British people do—not merely by what appears in the terms of the Bill but by the action which is to be taken. There is need and room for a great deal of advice still to be given. Although I know far less than the Minister does about the two persons whom he mentioned, I am glad to know that their advice will still be forthcoming, and as to one of them whom I do happen to know, I am quite certain that it will be excellent advice.
I hope that the iron ore operators and the landowners will be public spirited enough, before or after the nationalisation of iron and steel, to regard this matter as something which concerns the nation as a whole, to treat it in the way in which I believe the House is treating it today—as a matter of real public concern for the face of our country; as our responsibility in this generation towards those who after us will have to live and enjoy their lives in this part of the country. If that spirit is adopted and if the Bill is worked in that way, then I believe that a wrong which has existed for some time past, a scar on the face of England, is now on its way to removal on fair terms.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I have listened, as I always do, with pleasure and interest to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I shall have a word or two to say about some of the things which he has included in his speech. If I do not deal with his points more fully he will, I am sure, forgive me and attribute it to the fact that my normal and instinctive desire not to trespass unduly on the patience of the House is today reinforced by the physical seanction of a bad throat.
First of all, let me say that I deplore as much as anybody, albeit I am not a Midland Member, the result of failure to effect restoration after mineral workings. As the hon. and learned Member has said, this, in effect, is two Bills, and they both raise matters of great importance. Unlike him, I wish to address a few observations to each of these quite distinct parts of the Bill. This is a planning Bill, and town and country planning has been 688 well defined as being the highest common factor of what is aesthetically desirable and what is economically possible. The real planning problem is to get the maximum mineral output combined with the maximum preservation of amenity and of the agricultural potential of the land. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) that the necessity of restoration was by no means always overlooked in the past.
Only last week I was considering the covenants in a mining lease which was entered into a very long time ago. Some covenants in those old mineral leases might serve as a reasonable model for planning conditions to be imposed under present law, provided, of course, there was no computation for a cash payment. But it is quite clear that, with the passage of the Bill, we enter into a new era, and the business of restoration ceases to be the concern primarily of covenants in leases and becomes the concern primarily of the conditions attached to a planning permission. That, of course, is ensured by the fact that under Clause 7 (1) of the Bill payments from the Fund can be given only in respect of work which is required by a condition attached to a planning permission.
For myself, I see quite a lot of good in these new circumstances. In the first place, the conditions attached to a planning permission may, in many cases, have been arrived at after an exhaustive inquiry where the Minister calls in, under Section 15 of the principal Act, the application for planning permission; secondly, the conditions of a planning permission will, of course, be enforceable against a mineral operator under a new lease and not merely against an assignee of an existing lease, as in the case of covenants; and, thirdly, I suppose one may hope that in due course, and after a certain amount of experience, it will be possible to hammer out a model set of conditions rather like model bylaws.
In that context may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry upon the recent publication of their Memorandum on the Control of Mineral Workings, which, on the whole, is an admirable, comprehensive and lucid document and can be obtained by those who are not fortunate enough to be Members of this 689 House for the modest sum of 2s. That Memorandum has already provided some useful preliminary guidance on the sort of conditions which can normally be attached to planning permission in respect of the working and restoration of ironstone and other minerals.
May I now say a word about a matter which has already been mentioned by my right hon. Friend—the limits on the receipt of payments which are prescribed in the Bill? As I read the Bill, there are two types of limitation—in Clause 7 (4), which limits the workings in respect of which payments may be paid, and in Clause 7 (1), which limits the type of restoration in respect of which payments may be made. So far as the workings are concerned, where there is an overburden of 35 feet or under there is no entitlement to a payment.
My right hon. Friend has already referred to that point, but may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether, in his observations, he will give the House a little more insight than has so far been vouchsafed into the nature of the special circumstances which are referred to in Clause 7 (4) and which the Minister has to take into account? Similarly, could he also give some information about the working of the provisions of Clause 7 (5)—that is to say, could he inform the House whether the Minister's decision under that subsection will be purely administrative and, if not, what sort of machinery is contemplated in order that he can make up his mind?
May I turn now to the type of restoration to which payments are limited under Clause 7 (1)? The subsection reads, as the House knows:An operator who carries out work for levelling worked ironstone land within the ironstone district or for respreading surface soil.…Looking at that subsection, and in relation to the interpretation Clause, which is Clause 36, I see that the interpretation Clause contains a definition of levelling which I personally find rather unhelpful. It seems to me that works of restoration in the sense of reinstatement appear to be excluded from the possibility of a payment from the Fund under the wording of the two Clauses as they stand at present. May I say, in parenthesis, that I view with some alarm the words 690work for levelling worked ironstone land.…because the Parliamentary Secretary will recall the very great doubts to which the rather similar wording of Section 78 of the principal Act has given rise, the phrase there being, "works for the erection of a building."
That point is a Committee point, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something today on the main point. I see that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering is looking at me with what I hope is not an unfriendly gaze, but which, if it is not an unfriendly gaze, appears to be an interrogative gaze. I do not know whether he is able to clear up the matter straight away; if not, I still await the Parliamentary Secretary's reply.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Since the hon. Member invites me to intervene, I would say that I was only going to call his attention to the words of the following line—"or for respreading surface soil." Do not the two things between them cover what is required?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
With respect, I think not. I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I did read out both sets of words. It is quite true that Clause 36 applies only to levelling, but I am still doubtful whether the wording "respreading surface soil" goes sufficiently far in the way of the restoration, in the sense of reinstatement, which may be required in connection with these works.
I turn to rather a different point—that is to say, mining operations in the proper sense of the word and which are not catered for by the Bill one way or the other; they do not attract a payment and they do not command a levy. The point I should like to raise is this. Is the Minister satisfied, and are his experts satisfied, that the danger of subsidence after deep extraction is sufficiently cared for by the common law and the existing statutory provisions, or does he think that there should be some provision made in respect of it in the current legislation?
On that point I see that the memorandum contemplates the imposition of planning conditions in respect of this sort of work. But, of course, where planning conditions of that sort are imposed, the work carried out thereunder will not 691 attract any payment from the Fund as the Bill stands at present. The paragraph of the memorandum which deals with this point is paragraph 127, and the passage to which I particularly want to call attention is at the end:If the mining is of a kind which normally causes subsidence it will probably be found that the only effective method of preventing it will be to refuse permission to work the area concerned"—which is rather an extreme course.In some cases, however, it may be possible to find a solution in prescribing a particular form of working.It seems from that—and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can confirm this or otherwise—that it will be considered an appropriate matter to be dealt with in planning conditions, and that a particular method of working in the case of deep mining may be specified. If that is so, I could have wished—and it is almost the only criticism I have of this memorandum, to which I have already ventured to pay tribute—that it could have been rather more elaborate in its treatment of this subject under that particular paragraph.
My right hon. Friend has spoken of the appearance of hardship to owners in some cases which occur in respect of these levies. In particular, it appears that the mineral owner has to pay the levy even where the land is worked under a compulsory lease under an order under the 1923 Act. Again, the amount of the levy he pays is not varied or mitigated by the fact that he may have accepted a lower royalty in his lease, long before these provisions were law, in return for a covenant in respect of the restoration of the land. I will not go into these matters in any detail now, but it does appear that in some cases—I do not want to exaggerate it—there is a penalty on prescience in these provisions, and there is certainly a question of there being payments in any event for perseverance in the ordinary and known methods of restoration, which may inhibit the possibility of the improvement of such methods.
Let me now pass briefly to the other part of the Bill. I do not intend to say anything about Clause 27, not because it is such an easy Clause, but because it is such a difficult Clause. I shall hope to 692 say something about that in Committee, but I will not detain the House with it today. With regard to Clause 26, we have not seen the regulations, and I am not quite clear what is the position of the House of Commons in regard to the drafts of regulations made under this Clause. I understand that they are to be made available to the interested parties, which no doubt is a very good thing. But I hope the House of Commons will not be treated with less consideration than them, and that, as there is no requirement for approval of these regulations by this House by affirmative Resolution, provision will be made for the House to see the drafts of regulations in the form of a White Paper, or whatever may be convenient, at the earliest possible opportunity.
The principle of the Clause and of the regulations to be made thereunder is however quite clear. It is simply the setting off of development charge against 100 per cent. payment out of the £300 million Fund. In other words, there is complete immunity from development charge for near ripe minerals and a complete liability in respect of dormant minerals. Now I am quite satisfied that near ripe minerals should have their complete immunity. I do not question that for a moment. I am not so happy about the position of the dormant minerals.
I may say, in passing, that I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman exaggerated the virtues of the near-ripe scheme when he suggested it would save a lot of valuation machinery. It cannot, of course, affect the statutory necessity of assessing development value under the principal Act. Nevertheless it is a convenient thing, and especially convenient for those who are engaged in the particular industry to which the near-ripe treatment is given. My view is—and so far as I personally am concerned, this is a view I expressed a very long time ago in a different context in this House—that the near-ripe treatment is, in principle, the wrong method of giving effect to immunity from development charge. The position is quite simply that it increases the size of slices to be taken out of a fixed cake of compensation, with the necessary and regrettable result that other claimants have a lesser residue out of which they can obtain any compensation.
693 I would remind the House that none of these preferential claims—neither near-ripe minerals, nor near-ripe building land, nor single-plot owners—was in the contemplation of the House in 1947, or of the Government when they drafted the Bill. The result is that we are getting this piled up pyramid of preference which will crush down the legitimate expectations of other claimants on the Fund. It cannot be otherwise. The more these preferential claims are added to, the more is taken away from the residue of the fixed sum which will be available to others. I have always maintained, and I maintain today, that the right method of giving exemption from development charge is to give exemption as such, and not by way of 100 per cent. preferential claim on the Fund, which can only result in injury to others.
The financial operation in regard to minerals, development charge, and so on, has, in my view, shown quite clearly that the whole theory and incidence of development charge needs a dispassionate re-examination in the light of experience and of results. I am very much afraid that the machinery of town planning is becoming clogged by the system of development charge which, as at present operated, is an instrument not of town planning but of taxation, and, in some cases, of penal taxation. I therefore conclude by expressing the hope that the lessons learned from the difficulties which have arisen out of getting an appropriate financial settlement for the mineral industry will be taken to heart by the Government, and that the lessons will be applied on a wider scale in the re-examination of the incidence of development charge.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (South Fylde)
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) will be sympathetic if this discussion for a short time resumes its former character of being wholly Old Etonian. I am sorry that the Minister is not in his place because, as my right hon. Friend very reasonably said, he did impart into the Bill a great deal of unreasonable bias, and started off with a display of moral indignation which is hardly justified by the situation.
The fact is that full restoration of iron ore workings has been the custom in the overwhelming proportion of cases ever since iron ore was mined in this country. 694 What has happened is that more recently—and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) knows this as well as anybody else—marginal land in East Northamptonshire, in which the iron ore is not of a very high quality, has been mined under very different circumstances from those in which iron ore was previously mined.
We must have regard to the fact that the iron ore being extracted was of comparatively little value, and that the land itself was of a very marginal type. No one deplores more than I do the fact that the land was not restored, but I do not know that we are fully justified in saying that we can be very indignant about that fact. It may well be that had full restoration been insisted on when it was decided to undertake the mining, that particular type of ore would never have been mined at all.
I must admit to a special interest in this matter. I have been interested in mining ore for a great many years, and, although my interest is a fast disappearing one, nevertheless I have mined for ore; and in most of the counties mentioned in the Bill. I have a further special interest in that I do happen to live in Northamptonshire and, unlike the Minister's, my feeling about the matter has not been brought about by a brief two or three days' visit, for I have lived for many years very close to this part of the country which has been left derelict, and in many places devastated. But in justice to myself I must say that in the mining I have done, and the companies with which I have done this mining, I have always carried out full restoration, and I suppose that we have done more ore mining than anybody else in Great Britain.
This particular condition of affairs in parts of Northamptonshire is deplorable—I fully recognise that—but one cannot get away from it by saying that the people who perpetrated it got away with the swag and then ran away. They did not do anything of the sort. In certain cases there was an agreement to pay a lump sum settlement—which I, personally, think was an unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter; but they did not get away with the swag: they paid the settlement. In other cases large tracts of land were purchased by the operator, and the land was mined in the particular manner in which he mined it, 695 and no obligation rested on the landowner, for the operator was his own land owner, and he had to bear in mind the practicability of either restoring fully and, therefore, producing iron ore un-economically, or of not undertaking the mining of that particular ore at all.
We have in the discussion so far used a number of terms rather loosely, I am afraid, and unless we get them straight we shall be confused when we reach the Committee stage. The Bill itself is by no means guiltless in this matter, because it brings in a number of technical terms—or so-called technical terms—which are not normally used in ore mining operations. The word "restoration" means full restoration; levelling and replacing top soil is only a process of what is known as restoration. When one refers to restoration one assumes that the land is to be replaced in a fully agricultural condition. The mere fact of levelling would not necessarily be the most desirable means of bringing that about, and replacing top soil, if an unsatisfactory method of mining has been followed, would tend very often to be a waste of time.
My right hon. Friend put his finger, I thought, on what is a very important aspect of this matter. If we are to spend these comparatively large sums of money sensibly I think some effort must be made to see that the method of mining itself is a sound one. Unless the mining is done in the best possible circumstances we shall never get good restoration-Good restoration is possible at fairly considerable depths if the method employed is the best possible type of method. There is a suggestion so far in the discussion that it is fairly simple to do this at a matter of 35 ft. and that from there onwards it becomes very difficult. In fact, that is not so.
It is possible to restore fully and perfectly satisfactorily up to 60 ft. or 90 ft. so long as the method employed is a sound method. If, on the other hand, one employs the wrong type of method it does not matter if the workings are really of a shallow nature, of 20 ft. or 30 ft.: one will not get good restoration, in the sense of what restoration is meant to be, that is to say, land restored to its original purposes. Therefore, I feel that the effort to be made is to see that the type 696 of mining employed is of a very satisfactory nature.
We have been talking so far today about the operator. Who, in fact, is the operator today? In the overwhelming proportion of cases it is now the nationalised steel industry. There will be no longer the private operators, except in a very few cases. I happen to be one of them. I am a fast disappearing individual in this matter. There will be no private operators producing iron ore. The nationalised steel industry will be the operator.
One of the good things which could come about from that otherwise wholly bad nationalisation Act would be an effort to see that the principles and methods employed by the old iron foundry companies, who were the originators of iron ore extraction in this country, and which were employed by some of the newer concerns who entered into the iron ore extraction field, notably some of the steel makers, are everywhere utilised—the methods which we in the iron foundry concerns have employed for the last 100 years, and employ today effectively and efficiently.
Then, I think, the whole question of restoration will be a very much more simple one than it may otherwise be; because otherwise, if restoration is looked upon as a matter of levelling and replacing the top soil, it can be an immensely expensive process. In fact, I am not at all happy about the figures which the Minister read out today in regard to the restoration of old workings, because restoration in this sense means levelling an area without replacing most of the top soil. The top soil will not be there to replace, and will have to be brought in from elsewhere; or some form of top soil will have to be created artificially.
At a level of £60,000 a year that will mean a very small acreage per year. Indeed, I go so far as to say that I do not hold out any great hopes of seeing the land brought back into agricultural production where there is no top soil present. I know that a good many experiments have been carried out of this nature, and at one time I was interested in the work that the then Minister of Agriculture was doing in Northamptonshire in the latter part of the war, in attempting to bring land into agricultural production by almost wholly artificial means.
697 Although some results were forthcoming in the first instance I am afraid that a great many of those results have tended to disappear in the course of subsequent years. In the overwhelming number of cases it will not be very practicable to restore old workings to agricultural purposes in the first instance. Where we are able to level these workings, I think that a period of afforestation will be the only practical approach to the problem, followed, possibly, in a generation or so, by agriculture.
We must also bear in mind that a great deal of the land to which reference has been made was, of course, commons land, and, in some cases, forest land. It did not start life as agricultural land. If we are to set about trying to restore that to agricultural land, we are going to use an unreasonable proportion of the amount of money available for bringing about something which is in great part an artificial result. I think that we should be much wiser to recognise that, at any rate, for some time, it would be better for the land to return to its original form. If, subsequently, it can be utilised for agriculture, well and good.
I do not want to take up a great deal of time on matters which are more appropriate to be dealt with on the Committee stage, but I am not happy, even at this early stage, about the question of rough and ready justice in regard to the proportions paid by the operator and the land owner. Whether or not the operator, for the time being, under the Iron and Steel Act will, in fact, be one operator, it does not seem to me to get away from the desirability of some degree of competition between the different sections of that industry. To put everyone on to one common, flat figure, and to give no advantage or benefit to those who may in the past, and who may at the present moment be mining ore more efficiently than their neighbours, is, I think, going to be inimical to the best interests of the steel industry even under nationalisation.
That the same contribution should be made by the landowner as by the operator seems to me also to be wrong. In many cases, as has already been said this afternoon, the landowner has received what is a rather modest return by way of royalties for his land. Very often it has been well below the figure of 4½d. and nearer 3d., and he has, of course, 698 given away certain advantages thereby and reaped certain benefits. If the figure of 1⅛d. is taken away from what is already a very restricted figure, I think that the landowner will be asked to contribute more than his reasonable share towards this very necessary plan. After all, the operator can, even at the fairly low level of prices existing at present for ore, make a reasonable profit, and out of that profit he is able to make a fair contribution. The landlord, who is restricted to a very small profit, is asked to make a bigger contribution relatively than is the operator, and I do not think that is a fair approach to this problem.
I think that everyone on this side of the House is in agreement that the Bill is required. We want to see the land restored where it is possible to restore it. We want to see the devastation which has been done in the past attacked, and we want to see Northamptonshire and the surrounding counties regain their original form and appearance, but I do not think that we shall do ourselves any good if we jump into this and think that we can bring about satisfactory results overnight.
I think that we have to approach this matter very sensibly, recognising that the immediate result will not be, even from the visual point of view, very substantial. I think that the long-term results are what we must aim for. Although it may not be very encouraging to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering for me to say this, I believe that we have to approach this matter with a good deal of caution, otherwise we shall misapply what is, after all, not a very large sum of money in attempting to tackle something which has become a quite big problem.
There is a fair acreage involved in this scheme. I think that it will be even greater than the 2,500 acres mentioned by the Minister. I would not be surprised if it were nearer 4,000 acres which have to be dealt with, and unless we recognise what can be done and should be done and the order in which it should be done, and unless we are prepared to recognise that a long-term result will be very much more worth-while than an immediate attempt to do too much, too quickly in the wrong manner, we shall not bring about the best results envisaged in this Bill. Having said that, I would like to join with my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the 699 House in saying that I wish the Bill well, and I hope the results obtained will be those for which hon. Members on both sides of the House are looking.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
I propose to speak for only a short while. I feel compelled to get up not only because of the lack of competition on the benches behind me but also because I am somewhat intrigued by this magical number of 35 feet. Clause 7 (4) says:
No payment shall be made to an operator … unless the Minister is satisfied that the over-burden exceeds thirty-five feet in depth over at least nine-tenths of the land.I should like to know why the payment will only be given for the restoration of land where the over-burden is 35 feet or more. I have a dim recollection of my student days in geology, and I would say that to shift, say, 30 feet of boulder clay is just as difficult as to shift 40 feet, 50 feet or 60 feet of lighter sandstone in this particular lias formation.
To my mind the restoration work fundamentally consists of two parts. One has to level the dumped over-burden or waste, and there is then the subsequent re-spreading of the top soil taken off in the intial stages. These two fundamental operations apply whether there is 30 feet, or 60 feet or 70 feet of overburden. Where we have 40 or 50 feet or more of mixed clay, sandstone and loams, it would seem to me no more difficult to move that than to shift under 35 feet of over-burden. One would be paid for moving the larger over-burden but not, of course, for the lesser thickness of 35 feet.
Beyond the mechanical or physical point which I am making, there is a more sinister one, or so it appears to me. We may have a lot of different ironstone pits with operators leaving the shallow workings under 35 feet to work the deeper ones because they get paid compensation. There would perhaps be a temptation for people to mine the deeper ore and not to obtain the shallower ore on the dead line level of this depth. I should like the Minister to enlighten me on why it is 35 feet and not perhaps 40 feet. It may be a technical point, but I can see no reasons for it from the geological point of view.
700 There is just one further point; it seemed to me from the Minister's speech that the restoration would be either for agriculture or for forestry. They would seem to be the only two alternatives envisaged by the Minister or his advisers. I suggest that some of these areas might be useful for building purposes. I throw that out without trying to be too clever or subtle about it. I am wondering whether it has occurred to the Minister, and whether any investigations have taken place or discussions between the experts in this field. For example, have the mining engineers consulted with the building experts with the possibility of perhaps having a building estate at Corby, or any other new town in the Midlands where there are these ironstone workings?
I think that the Bill is a wise one and a Measure that has been long overdue. People like myself who have been born on the coalfields and have seen those slag heaps sticking up, this vandalism of the past, think it is a pity that we cannot get some of this money to restore the countryside out of those who were responsible in the past. It is a sad thought that now we are taking measures to undo the misdoings of the past we are placing a burden on our industries. It may seem scandalous to suggest it, but it is a pity that we cannot have retrospective legislation to get some of the money from those responsible. The Bill is well thought out, and the proportion of money between owners, producers and the Treasury seems fair. I wholeheartedly welcome the Measure.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), except to endorse his point that when some of the hills and dales have been levelled and where the land is no good for agricultural purposes or for playing fields, it ought to be borne in mind for housing purposes. Like the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), I joined the Minister when he made his tour of the Northampton iron ore workings last year. I should also like to place on record that I thought he was full of vigour, enthusiasm and bonhomie. But we do not find the same enthusiasm and whole heartedness when we look at the Bill.
701 As a representative for a Northamptonshire Division where we have 25,400 acres of good agricultural land scheduled for ironstone working, I naturally welcome any legislation that is likely to minimise the permanent damage to the land's future production and the effects it will have on the people living in the villages. Some 27 villages are likely to be affected in my constituency with ironstone extraction over the next half century. While admitting a sense of relief that at last some definite proposals by way of legislation are being attempted, I think it will be understandable if those interested in the details and the possible outcome are a little suspicious until we see the actual effects of the working of the Measure. We cannot forget that for many years there have been reports, investigations and promises of a White Paper and some such legislation as this.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Lindgren)
The Tories were in power then.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The Minister who preceded the right hon. Gentleman admitted that prior to 1945 19 per cent. only had been left in a derelict state. So it is not a question of the Tories. I suggest that during the last six years the amount has been rather more. Since the hon. Member has been in office, we have had a White Paper promised from the Minister's predecessor, and this is the first time that anything tangible has appeared. Unfortunately, during the six years that the hon. Member has been a member of the Government these delays have not shown themselves in the extraction of ore. During this time the Government have had the benefit of the Kennet and Waters Reports. Something like 300 acres of land per year have been inexorably churned into rubble heaps, and in far too many cases left in rubble heaps. It is a fact that over the last six years something like 2,000 acres have been lost to agriculture since the issue of the Waters Report.
It is true that very soon after his appointment to the present Department the right hon. Gentleman went to see the position for himself and recognised the urgency of the problem. His words were that it was a vital national need to make compulsory the best possible restoration after the minerals had been extracted. 702 These were good and brave words, but at that stage, like so many of the other promises, they remained just words. But now, a year later, we have these formal proposals, and it is for us to see that the letter and the spirit of his previous observations are really carried into effect. I still feel some considerable uncertainty on this.
Reference has already been made to the statement by the Minister on 4th July in answer to a question I put. This is what he said:His Majesty's Government have now decided on the policy to be followed in future as regards restoration. Our aim is to ensure that, while full production of iron ore is maintained, the land is restored, as completely and as speedily as possible, to agriculture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 231.]He then asked for permission to circulate his detailed statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT. This seemed a definite and satisfactory oral reply, that the land would be restored "as completely and as speedily as possible to agriculture," but when I was able to examine the circulated statement he was good enough to send me later in the day, I was rather concerned to find that the words of the statement were nothing like as definite. One or two important points had been hedged, and they still are. The statement started by saying:There will be:
and then there is that wretched word "except"—
- (i) complete restoration, with replacement of topsoil, in all cases"—where the length of face being worked is so great that the cost of replacement of top-soil would be very high."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 231.]The length of face should be no handicap for restoration if the right method of extraction is used in the first place. That is a point which was well made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster). It should be the purpose in future to insist that whenever possible the extraction method is adopted which would permit restoration.
The Parliamentary Secretary interjected a few moments ago, "Why did we not do it in the past?" To a large extent it was done in the past. For the last 15 years, however, we have had new machines which can do so much more 703 than was done in the old days, when we had to use the pick and shovel rather than the huge machines which the Parliamentary Secretary has seen from time to time in his constituency.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Is the hon. Member really suggesting that the pick and shovel did more damage than the present day machines?
§ Mr. Nicholls
I said that over the last 15 years they had these huge machines, whereas in the period to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde, South, referred, where we did do restoration, we used the pick and shovel for restoration. In this Bill we have to pay more attention to see that the right method of extraction is used, so that it can be restored, and I think that should be our first concern. I feel that we must either offer incentives or use compulsion at the time the extracting companies apply for permission to start new work.
I want to make one point which may be followed up in the Committee stage, but it is rather important. It is not right to excuse the grounds of "length of the face" only when we have such machines as "tractor scraping units," which are used to remove the over-burden and transfer it to worked out sites some distance away, where it means that there will be a fairly long haul. If the "drag-line" machine is used this problem is largely overcome. If in certain places we do not use this "tractor scraper unit" and make full use of the "drag-line" method, it will be possible to restore in a way that is not possible now.
I am saying that I would not make, as this Bill does, the length of face alone a reason for excepting from the need to restore. If persuaded or pushed, the extractor companies could overcome the problem by giving as much thought and ingenuity to restoring machinery as they have done for the last 20 years to extracting machinery. That is the first point where I feel that the statement on 4th July and the Bill today fall a little below the very attractive words the Minister used when he actually visited the sites.
Another sign of weakness in the circulated statement was when it said:… where restoration to agriculture is impracticable, afforestation, either on levelled 704 land or on land left as 'hill and dale'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 232.]I had hoped that in no circumstances whatsoever in the future would the ugly and useless devastation known as "hill and dale" be allowed. I had hoped that that was accepted by all sides of the House. I agree that in the interests of good agriculture we must have wind breaks, and the provision of estate timber is essential, but surely all this can be done on levelled land where it is not unapproachable as it is on hill and dale, which will remain as a breeding ground for vermin and for weeds, and be unduly expensive to extract the timber later.
Those are two examples, and one could have quoted many more, which I feel denote the slippery path upon which the high hopes expressed during the Minister's visit to Northamptonshire have been dashed. The trend in this Bill should put interested people well on their guard. That circulated answer, to which reference has already been made, filled me with apprehension when I read it on 4th July.
On 23rd October the Minister announced the names of an advisory committee to assist him in carrying out the restoration policy. The Minister and other hon. Members have paid tribute to the very valuable work of two members of the advisory committee, and, of course, I endorse that wholeheartedly. When I first read it I thought that from the general standpoints he had obtained the services of a most able and capable group of men. But I look in vain for one with actual restoration experience.
I went to some trouble to obtain the information about the past experience of the members of this advisory committee, but I do not think that one of them has had practical personal experience of supervising on the spot a restoration scheme. That is important, because in the past, as has already been mentioned, one of the obstacles has been the high estimate, of the cost of restoration as put down by what I call the office sitters, which are often in complete contrast to the figures given by the men who have actually carried out the work. The difference between the two groups is the difference of approximately £800 on one side down to £100 or below on the other. With this in mind I was perturbed that no practical restorer was on the advisory 705 committee. It is to be hoped that it is not too late now to have this omission rectified.
By the time I had examined the circulated statement and the composition of the advisory set-up which must precede the Bill itself, I was particularly interested to see the terms of the Bill itself that we are now examining on Second Reading. I examined the Bill again to see if it would rise to the high promise of the Minister's first statement, or whether it would go further back along the slippery road of retreat. I find little occasion for jubilation having read the Bill now. In the first place, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will explain why the main question of land restoration following the extraction of iron ore, is all mixed up with the hangover question from 1947 Town and Country Planning Act and the payment of development charges. That is very important but it ought not to have been in the Bill. It is a thing which will take up time which could be more usefully given to discussing the restoration of Northamptonshire and other counties.
Then we have Clauses 28 and 29, which are completely unrelated to the main problem which inspired the Bill. Why was this done? It can only mean that it will deflect attention from the overriding point, which should be restoring the land. I notice the Minister has had to give some considerable time to it. My hon. Friends and other Members have taken up time in discussing this question, and I wondered at the time why this had been put in. Was it to precipitate such criticism as that from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) and from other claimants on the £300 million fund, so that an inadequate settlement of our restoration problem would go through under the clamour?
In connection with Clauses 1 to 25, which deal with the actual restoration and the Fund to assist restoration, I should like to advance one general proposition. If our real objective is to be attained the terms applied to both producers and others must be fair and they must bear a true relationship to the efforts that have willingly been made in the past, quite freely, to achieve the restoration that we are now trying to force upon the less willing operators by this legislation. Unless such a distinction is made between 706 those who tried hard and did it and those who lagged behind, it might very well be that the Bill will do more harm than good. I did not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) who thought that a general all-round charge would be better, ignoring the claims of the genuine operators who had restored if, in the process of making it easier for the people who have not restored in the past, we injured the cooperative spirit of the willing restorer who has freely carried out all that this Bill does, we should not be doing much good. If we bear in mind that 75 per cent. of the operators have restored in the past we can see that we are likely to injure the spirit of the majority and not of the minority of the people doing the extraction.
For that proposition the rough justice in the Bill of setting up a levy common to all, presumably for easy book-keeping, will not do. Similarly with the mine-owners, we have some who agreed to accept a low royalty figure in return for a covenant from the operators to restore fully. That is the process which we are going to carry out now, but they did it quite willingly. To say that they have to pay the same levy, in spite of the fact that they accepted a much lower royalty, would be unfair. Surely those owners who spurned an immediate profit in the interests of agricultural productivity in the future should be shown some special consideration by the Bill.
I should like to bring an actual case which is known to me. It was rightly referred to by my right hon. Friend. Unless we have clearly settled these questions of whether tax is deducted before or after, we shall perpetuate a very real and unfair anomaly. I could produce the facts about the owner at the present time receiving 2½d. as royalty. A tax would be deducted at present of 2d., leaving him with only ½d. to pay the 1⅛d. levy contribution as is laid down in the Bill. Surely equity demands that some consideration should be given to the owners whose land is compulsorily acquired under a High Court order. It was never anticipated that it would be required, and therefore those owners made no claim on the global sum under the Town and Country Planning Act. They ought to have special consideration.
707 Therefore, it can be seen, despite all the good intentions from all sides of the House which inspired the Bill and despite all the enthusiastic tributes that have been paid already, there is still room for some sort of suspicion as to the ultimate effectiveness of the Bill. Fortunately, most of the weaknesses can be overcome if the Minister is co-operative in Committee. I hope that he will be, because it is important to recognise that the livelihood of many people working in agriculture is at stake. The very soul of our village life is also involved in this matter.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
Representing as I do a certain part of Northamptonshire, I am very glad to be able to follow the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls). For many years I lived in the Kettering Division—I do not do so now—so I am by no means unaware of the problems created by iron ore excavation. I am glad to say that the constituency which I represent is far less affected than the Kettering Division or the Peterborough Division, and I hope will never bear on its face the sad scars which so often have resulted from iron ore excavation.
Since I have been in this House I have done all that I could at every opportunity to bring this question to the forefront and to endeavour to get something done to secure the restoration of the land, devastated as it has been by that excavation. It has been a long struggle. I am sorry to say that I am by no means certain that when the Bill reaches the Statute Book that struggle will be over. The problem really did not begin to assume major proportions until shortly before the last war.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The hon. Gentleman says that, but he is a comparative newcomer to Northamptonshire.
§ Mr. Lindgren rose—
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, he 708 will have his opportunity of making a speech later. Although excavation has gone on for a great many years—not so far back as the period which the Prime Minister has recently been studying—that excavation has been accompanied by a great deal of restoration. I am sorry that when the right hon. Gentleman moved the Second Reading of the Bill, instead of engendering rather synthetic heat, he did not pay tribute to those who, without being under any statutory obligation, did this work of restoration often, as one knows, at considerable expense. It would indeed have been more gracious if he had paid that tribute to those extractors and to those landowners who insisted upon restoration being a condition of extraction.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
Yes, some, but why not pay tribute to those who did? I think the right hon. Gentleman might have done it. When one looks at the Report of Mr. Waters, published in 1946, one sees that out of 18,500 acres worked out, only 3,600 acres are derelict. It follows from that and from his Report that the major part of the excavation has been followed by some degree of restoration. Those figures in themselves are the answer to the interruption made by the Minister a few minutes ago. He would know, if he had studied the report, where he will see it for himself, that it was not until the bigger machines were used not long before the war for deeper workings that the real problem arose, and that the areas of unrestored land began to become large.
I quite agree with the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) who said a moment ago that some landowners had not insisted upon restoration. It may be true that some could have done more than they did but—and this is why I am a little doubtful about the effect of the Bill—we have had the Scottish Committee recommending that legislation should be passed imposing an obligation on all those who derived benefit from the working of land for minerals to restore the land. That recommendation was made because they believed that the problem of restoration was not insuperable, in view of the developments in the design and working of earth-moving machinery. It 709 is worthy of note that that recommendation applied to all those who derived benefit from working minerals and not just to iron ore extractors. The Bill imposes no such obligation, not even on iron ore producers.
The problem of restoration falls into two parts, the restoration of the ground which is being worked now and the treatment of the ground already worked out and left. There seems to be considerable disagreement about the acreage of land already worked out and left. From what I can read of the matter, I do not think the figure is likely to be less than that of 3,600 acres given by Mr. Waters. I noted that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary recently quoted a lower figure.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I shall be interested to know whether that means that 1,100 of the acres to which Mr. Waters referred have been restored since the date of his report.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunity of dealing with that point later. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster), said, the treatment of the ground already worked out is a much more difficult problem and likely to be very much more expensive, but with regard to ground now being worked, I am sure it is right and more economical to do the restoration as part of the process of extraction. The Bill gives no incentive for that. I am sure that Mr. Waters was right when he said in his Report that if there was a legal obligation to make a stated degree of restoration, it would lead to modification in excavating machinery and progress in restoration methods; but there is no legal obligation of that sort in the Bill and there is no real incentive to restore as part of the process of extraction.
I first raised the matter on the Adjournment as long ago as 4th July, 1946. Lord Silkin replied to the debate and, in stating why nothing could be done then, he said:We cannot deal with one type of mineral working without dealing with the whole lot. That is what we have in mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1946; Vol. 424, c. 2481.]That "mind" appears to have altered, 710 since the Bill relates only to iron ore. We have pressed continuously since then for statements as to policy. I want to say a word or two on the statement of policy made on 4th July, 1950, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough referred. We had to wait a long time for it. It was a policy which was described by a Northamptonshire paper, which I believe circulates in the Parliamentary Secretary's constituency, as:… so full of loopholes that it will hold less water than a colander.That may be a little harsh and stating it a little high. I recognise that it may not always be practicable to effect complete restoration with complete replacement of the top soil, but I regard it as a serious defect that the policy should be stated to be that, where there is no restoration to agriculture, there may be afforestation on hill and dale. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough said about that, and I hope that this will be reconsidered.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will come to the conclusion that levelling should be required in all cases. Levelling should be done before trees are planted. It will be very difficult to extract fully grown trees from hill and dale. The Report published by the Select Committee on Estimates showed the expense which was being incurred by the Forestry Commission in making big roads after planting in some of their large forests. We might be able to drive a road in to get the trees out, but surely it would be much simpler to level with a bulldozer before planting. I should have preferred to see in the Bill a general obligation to level instead of having a statement of policy which contains so many exceptions in spite of the Scott Report and the Report of Mr. Waters. If such an obligation were laid down in the Bill, there would be an incentive to develop machinery and methods as part of the process of extraction. The omission of a legal obligation for a stated degree of restoration will mean, I fear—I hope my fears will not be realised—a great deal of argument, and perhaps pressure, from the nationalised industry to be relieved, if not entirely, at least to some extent, of the obligation to restore.
§ Mr. Mitchison
It cannot have escaped the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman that there was a general legal 711 obligation to level, in the Order made on 20th July, 1950, as part of the execution of the policy which had been stated 16 days earlier.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
According to my recollection, that Order complied with the statement of policy, and the statement of policy made it quite clear that, in the last resort—it did not say on how many occasions the last resort would be reached—afforestation could take place on hill and dale, and it is upon that that I am commenting. I should have thought that I would have had the hon. and learned Member with me in saying that I hope that that will be reconsidered and that in every case—unless it is a very extraordinary case—levelling should take place rather than the sort of replanting of hill and dale with which he and I are so familiar.
§ Mr. Mitchison
So far, I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he was deploring the absence of a general legal obligation to level and I am pointing out that it appears, in terms, in paragraph 3 (1, 1) of the Order.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am sure that if the hon. and learned Gentleman had been listening to me he would have noted that I said that there was no statutory obligation. That is what I have been pressing for, and he pressed for it very strongly in an eloquent speech during the Committee stage of the Iron and Steel Bill. I have no doubt that he remembers the occasion. There was a vote on it later, and perhaps that has brought it back to his mind. I thought we were in agreement in saying that we wanted a statutory obligation. I still want it, and I do not believe that there is a satisfactory one at present.
The Bill is chiefly a financial one, and in that respect it is not entirely satisfactory. It penalises landowners who have taken a low royalty to secure restoration and it penalises those who have done the restoration and makes them pay the cost of something which should have been done by others. I do not think that is a satisfactory arrangement, and I hope we shall give further consideration to it at a later stage.
At least this Bill will make some progress. I hope we shall improve it in 712 Committee. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think any Member for Northamptonshire, on whichever side of the House he sits, will let the right hon. Gentleman rest until real progress is made in curing this trouble, in preventing further devastation of the countryside, and in bringing back into use the land which is now derelict.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I rise to welcome this Bill on behalf of those who are primarily interested in the results of getting and producing iron ore. I do not suppose there is an hon. Member of this House who has used more iron ore than I have.
The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), spoke at length about those who had done what they ought to have done. This Bill does not seek to deal with those people. It seeks to deal with those who did not do that which they should have done. If there had been at that time an Act of Parliament which compelled those who were accepting royalties to do so on the basis of restoration, possibly there would have been no need for this Bill. It is becoming now an old, old story. It is the story of what will this Socialist Government do to put right all the evils that the other fellows did by omitting to do what they had the power to do.
As the Minister said, iron ore is becoming of vital importance. I was glad to hear him say so, because those of us who understand the industry can tell the House and the country that we shall have to get more iron ore in the future than ever we have done before in the history of Britain. The facts are simple. We have to make the best use we can of the indigenous raw materials which Almighty God gave us. Incidentally it says in the good old Book, "The earth is the Lord's." The good old Book meant the Lords spiritual. It is the Lords temporal who have got hold of it. Iron ore will become more and more vital to steel production as the days, indeed the hours, go by. Scrap iron and scrap steel is in short supply, and if we are to maintain our present high rate of production—higher than ever under any Tory administration—we shall have to get more iron ore and we shall have to convert iron into steel to a far greater extent 713 than ever before. That means we must have the necessary mechanisation.
I would advise hon. Gentlemen opposite, and also those on my own front bench who spent some days looking at this material, to go further and look at the places where people have succeeded in getting ore in a much more economic fashion than we do in this country. I am not belittling the achievements of my own country in this connection, but they should go to Salzgitter in Germany to see the drag-line machinery that gets ore from between 130 and 150 feet deep. The Germans can teach us in that respect.
I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for efficient machinery. One reason the Groundnuts Scheme went so awry was that we did not have the right machinery in the hands of the right people at the right time. I hope that as a result of this debate the Minister's attention will be drawn to the importance of the right type of machinery. To make more steel from iron ore we shall need more coal. Converting iron ore into steel is a much more costly and efficient process than converting scrap steel into liquid steel. More coal means more coke, and that demands more limestone. We shall soon have to pay attention to the scars in the country which arise from getting more limestone. That, in turn, means more refractories, more clay for the bricks, because the wear and tear on furnaces is greater in the hot metal process than when melting scrap, which is called in the industry "ready money."
This Bill is long overdue. I know something of the scars of the countryside. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and I have toured the area more than once. The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) and I have looked at Frodingham and Scunthorpe, and I have also seen Durham and some of the spoliation of the countryside in the North.
My right hon. Friend in opening the debate did not use quite correct Parliamentary terms. He reminded me of a steel worker when he talked about the robbers who went in, took the swag and bunked. We all understand what that means. In Parliamentary language, it means that the gentlemen of the countryside took out what it was easy to get for private capitalistic interests and then de- 714 parted from the scene of their activities. In my own terms it means that they took the guts out of the earth and hopped off with the swag.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I know the hon. Member is always fair and I should like to have it on record that the numbers who did that were very few.
§ Mr. Jones
I agree, but if it had been only one, it would still have been wrong. His Majesty's Opposition, who were then in power, should have taken steps to see that those people did not get away with it, but they did not do so. This Bill seeks to do what the Opposition never sought to do. It is those who get away with it to whom the law should be applied. But what about the swag that has disappeared? I want to ask the Minister where is the Clause in this Bill which makes provision for getting it back? I cannot find it. It is grossly unfair to expect the present lessees of the land to take on a financial burden bequeathed to them by those who got away with it.
The workers who live in these areas are very much concerned. They, like everybody else, want playing fields and open spaces. They want good vegetables at reasonable prices. They would like to see reclamation take place and at the same time, if possible, some claim being made against those who took that which they were not entitled to. I do not see why there should not be a reasonable profit resulting from hard work, because getting ore is not a sissy's job, it is a he-man's job. But today we must not look for ore with shovels and buckets. We need mechanisation. During the Committee stage I hope to suggest some words being inserted so that some of the land still remaining in the ownership of the people of whom I have been speaking shall be taken over for the growing of, say, pit props for our nationalised industries.
I could talk at length about mechanisation, but all I will say is that I think the amount of money which this Bill will bring in will prove insufficient. Those of us who know something about what it takes to reclaim land, to shift the rock and sandstone and to move the overburden and put them back so that the land is fertile and of use to agriculture, know that it is an extremely expensive business.
715 I wish the Bill well on behalf of those who are primarily affected by it—men who are never tired of doing a good job of work for their country and who are very tired in their leisure time of walking around and seeing the desecration which was done by those who went before them. If the Bill does nothing else than make the countryside into a thing of beauty and use rather than of anarchy and chaos, it will serve a useful purpose.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Woverhampton, South-West)
The Bill is of a kind which the Romans would have described as a lex per saturam—a Bill in which there have been combined a number of things which really have nothing to do with one another. Our predecessors in the House would have described it more briefly as a "tack." A tack is a device whereby a Government who want to get something through, tack that objectionable provision on to the tail of another Bill which must be passed or is likely to be passed.
So far, I agree with the analysis of the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls). I disagree with him, however, in his interpretation of the motives behind this extraordinary combination. He considered that its object was that part two of the Bill, if I may so describe it—Clauses 26 to 29, which deal with general amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947—should cast into the shadows what in his view was the more important part one of the Bill, dealing with restoration in the ironstone areas.
I am fortified in my disagreement with my hon. Friend, first, by the fact that the Minister in his introductory speech placed much the greater emphasis on part one and was deliberately engaged to play down the significance of part two; and secondly, by the fact that whatever was the intention, the greater part of this debate has revolved around part one. By far the majority of the time of the House so far has been taken up with the restoration provisions.
I believe, therefore, that the object was to conceal and to play down part two of the Bill, which is really the most serious admission of the failure in principle of the compensation and development provisions of the Town and Country Plan- 716 ning Act which we have had so far. If, as my hon. Friend suggested, the Bill had been divided and part two had been brought in as a separate Bill, then a suitable title for that Bill would have been the Town and Country Planning (Repeal of Mineral Provisions) Bill, and that would have been much less convenient for the Government, much more exposing, than to tack it on to 25 Clauses dealing with the restoration of ironstone land in six counties.
It is because that second part of the Bill is so much the more important—after all, it affects not six counties, but all the counties in Great Britain; it affects, not one industry, not one form of extraction, but directly or indirectly every industry and every consumer interest—that I propose to devote the majority of my remarks to that part two, as I will call it, of the Bill—I mean Clause 26 and the Clauses which follow it. Before I leave part one, however, I want to draw attention to three inequities which part one, as it stands at present, will produce.
The first of these iniquities is so serious and glaring that I do not believe that the Government could really have intended it. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), who is no longer in his place, and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) both deplored the fact that there was no retrospective legislation in the Bill. Well, there is. Those hon. Members may be delighted to hear it; but when they examine the particular sort of retrospective legislation which it contains—I refer to Clause 4—I think that even they would agree that it amounts to a most serious denial of justice.
By Clause 4, persons who have a right to a payment in compensation under Section 58 of the principal Act, have that payment in compensation reduced in proportion to the fraction of their royalty which they would have had to pay in contribution under the provisions of this Bill, had they not been bought out by the 1947 Act. The value of their interests as at the appointed day, for the loss of which they are being compensated or are to be compensated, is diminished retrospectively by the Clause. That is a most improper action. It is virtually the breaking of a promise which was made by Parliament in passing the 1947 Act, Section 61 of which lays down that the development 717 value for the loss of which compensation is to be paid is the difference between restricted and unrestricted values as at the appointed day.
At the appointed day, neither the restricted nor the unrestricted value of ironstone land was subject to diminution as a result of the provisions which the Bill seeks to enact. Therefore, by reducing the compensation payable under Section 58 by a sum proportionate to the contribution which in future will have to be paid under the Bill, we are taking away property which was in the possession of people on the appointed day and for which they are by Act of Parliament entitled to be compensated. It is a piece of retrospective legislation of the worst description. It is the taking away of a right which Parliament has already conceded, and I am sure that the Government when they compare the effect of Clause 4 in the Bill with Section 61 of the principal Act, will realise that this is a serious injustice and will remove it.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
Is the hon. Member seeking to establish that because an Act in 1947—that was not a long time ago—possibly could, and did in the opinion of the present Ministry, give an unfair advantage within the terms of the Bill, it would be wrong within the Bill not to put the matter right?
§ Mr. Powell
This has nothing whatever to do with acts which were done or omitted in 1947. In that year the nation decided to buy certain values from certain people at a certain valuation. The Government have no right three or four years later to come and change that valuation retrospectively, which is what they are doing. It creates not only an inequity in itself but an inequity as between these claimants and others, because there are other sorts of interests in land which would would have been less in 1948 if legislation passed since that year or to be passed in future had then been in force. Are we to go back and alter those valuations also? We are penalising a particular section of the persons entitled to compensation under the 1947 Act, and I am sure that upon cool reflection both sides of the House will see that that is a substantial injustice.
I pass to the two other inequities which I discern as resulting from the provisions of the first 25 Clauses of the Bill. It re- 718 quires a contribution to the Ironstone Fund in equal proportions from the landowner and from the operator. The assumption behind that imposition, if the imposition is indeed logical at all and is not merely arbitrary, is that if this new burden had been imposed before the agreements were made between the parties, it would have been shared between the landowner and the operator in equal proportions.
That is extremely improbable. In view of the small level of the average royalty being derived, it is most unlikely that an equal part of that burden would have been shouldered, as between willing lessor and willing lessee, by the landowner. I therefore believe that in fixing the contributions equally from the landowner and from the operator, we should be perpetrating an injustice against the landowner.
It has been further argued by many hon. Members on this side of the House that it is inequitable to impose a flat contribution upon all royalty owners irrespective of the terms in their particular lease, that it is inequitable to demand the 1⅛d. per ton irrespective of whether the royalties reserved under the lease took account of a more or less complete degree of restoration, or not. I am by no means sure that this inequity is in fact created by part one of the Bill. I believe that the provisions of the Third Schedule are intended to avoid it, by scaling down the royalty owner's contribution in cases where the royalty was fixed low out of regard to an obligation to restore.
But, if that be so, it was not stated by the Minister in opening the debate. I hope that whoever replies will make it quite clear that the Third Schedule, combined with the main provisions of the Bill, does in fact enable the contribution of the royalty owner to be scaled down in proportion as his royalty has been less because the lease provided for the good practice which the hon. Member for Rotherham and all of us wish to see.
Having pointed out those three injustices which I believe part one of the Bill perpetrates, I come to my observations on what I regard as by far the most important part of the Bill, Clause 26 and the following Clauses. In a most important particular they amend the principal Act—as I shall call it—the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. It is a 719 remarkable fact that whenever in applying the Town and Country Planning Act the Government have found themselves confronted with a situation of real difficulty, or with a class of applicants for the assessment of development charge who were able to make a real stand, they have either compromised on the principles of the Act, or thrown it overboard altogether.
So far we have had two examples of this retreat from the 1947 Act. The first, which was announced before the Act was on the Statute Book, was the near-ripe scheme whereby builders were allowed to use a ration of land without payment of development charge, while offsetting the full claim in compensation against the £300 million global figure. The second retreat was in the case of the single plot owner, who again was allowed to utilise his single plot without payment of development charge and have the full compensation value deducted from the £300 million global sum.
In both cases the Government were unwilling to face the outcry they knew there would be if the public discovered, so soon after the passage of the 1947 Act, that its effect would be to delay and increase the price of housing. They were not prepared to face the consequences of the 1947 Act in so crass and obvious a form, and therefore gave way and practically said, "In these cases the 1947 Act shall not apply."
But minerals presented a far greater difficulty. After all, it is easy to assess the development charge for this individual who wants to put up a factory, and that individual who next week wants to put up houses, and other developments later. When development is sporadic and progressive, the oppressive provisions of the Act do not at once come home to the public. But minerals have to go on being extracted every day. If there were an increase in their price, we should all know about it and should know that it was due to the 1947 Act. They were an important test case. The Government gave way, and said that for three years the Bill would not apply to minerals at all.
The time passed unpleasantly quickly, and 1st July, 1951, drew uncomfortably close. What were they to do about it? They were still not willing to apply to current mineral extraction the principles 720 embodied as universal principles in the 1947 Act. They ran away again and said, "All right; we shall not apply the Act to any minerals extracted from land held or owned for mineral extraction on the appointed day." Of course, the extractors were quite satisfied; but sooner or later there will be a number of people who will have reason not to be satisfied.
I will mention the minor and less important class first. It is a peculiar effect of Socialism in practice that it always favours the existing vested interest. A man who happened to have a mineral lease on 1st July, 1948, is sitting pretty. Not so his competitor who wants to come into the business and do the job better and sell the article to the public more cheaply. No; he has to pay the development charge. Who is it, I wonder, that Socialism really suits? Is it the monopolist, or the near-monopolist, or the vested interest to which Socialism is most dangerous? I sometimes doubt it.
The first class of person, therefore, who has a complaint against part two of the Measure is the operator who wants to get into the business and open a new sand pit, or a new quarry, or start a new extracting business. Just because he was not in business in 1948 he has to stand the draught. It is exactly the same in the case of the near-ripe provision for building land; it was the established firm that was able to claim the benefit, but the new man coming out of the Forces who was not established and wanted to create a business had to pay the charge.
So the first class damaged are the potential competitors. Whenever we damage a potential competitor, we damage a much wider class of person. When we create a semi-monopoly and favour the vested interest, we reduce competition and push up the price of the article. Anything which tends to reduce or hamper competition in the whole range of operations to which the 1947 Act extends, damages the general public in the end. The general public are the ultimate, residual sufferers from the principles of the 1947 Act.
I come to the second class of persons who are directly subjected to an injustice by part two of this Measure. They are the other claimants—who have already been referred to several times—upon the global sum of £300 million in compensation. In order to understand exactly how brutally 721 their rights have been overridden by the previous schemes and especially by this scheme, it is necessary to understand something of the theory behind the global sum in compensation and, in particular, to say a word about a phantom—for it is a phantom—which is known as "floating value." It was the theory of floating value foisted upon such part of the public as is interested in these matters by the town and country planning profession that lay behind the whole theory of the £300 million global sum.
To illustrate the theory of floating value, I will take an over-simplified case. Let us suppose the land arround an expanding town to be divided into 100 plots, and let us suppose that within the period, usually taken as being 20 years, within which development is relevant to the creation of development value, 50 of these plots, that is, half, will be required for development. The owner of each plot is perfectly ready to contend that the development will take place on his plot and not on that of the next man, but the fact that development can take place on only half of them has nothing to do with the so-called theory of floating value, although it is often mistaken for it.
The fact that development will take place only on 50 per cent. of those plots is accounted for in the normal process of valuation. The willing seller and the willing buyer, by arguing against one another, argue down the probabilities of development to a particular point. Development value is a function of probability. Development value expresses the probability of a particular development taking place within a particular period. When the two valuers have looked at this from opposite points of view, they arrive at a valuation of the development value, which is an assessment of the probability of that sort of development. That is the status of the claims which are agreed between the Central Land Board and the claimants on the £300 million global sum. They are a product of the pressure of the claimant to raise the figure and the pressure of the district valuer and those behind him to lower the figure; and they presumably represent a balance of forces between the two.
But the theory of floating value says that when these agreed schemes are added together, the result will still be a 722 figure which is in excess of the true total of development values in the country. That is the genuine theory of floating value upon which the £300 million global sum was based.
That is a fallacy, because it is based on the assumption that in fact the buyer of land is always "had for a sucker," that the buyer as opposed to the seller of land for development always over-estimates the possibility of development, that, in the case I have given as an example not 50 per cent. but only 40 per cent. of the plots will be developed within the relevant period. It was in order to shrink the total of agreed claims by the amount of this alleged element of optimism in the forecast, or "float," that the sum of £300 million was assessed. That figure was arrived at on the assumption that the ratio between £300 million and the then unknown total of agreed claims would represent the amount of "float" for the whole country.
Having—I fear perhaps at undue length—explained what is behind the theory of the £300 million global figure and the theory of "float" implied by it, let us see the effect on claims on the £300 million of the deduction from that sum of the full claims for near-ripe land, single plots and now all mineral land held for working at the appointed day. It is probably true that the single plots and some of the near-ripe building land was so certain to be developed that the full payment of a claim in respect of development value represents no injustice to the other claimants. But can such a claim possibly be made in respect of all the land held in a 30 or 50 years' mining lease or owned by an extraction company in 1948?
An immense amount of that land must have been as little ripe as most of the other land in respect of which claims have been submitted under the 1947 Act. In fact, a great many parcels of land will be much riper than either the near-ripe land under previous schemes or the mineral land under this scheme. The consequence is that claimants on the £300 million will suffer two successive injustices. First, they will have their agreed claims scaled down according to an assumed element of "float" represented by the difference between the £300 million and the total of the agreed demands. Second, they will have them scaled down still more severely by the extraction of a large number of claims made payable in 723 full, which from any other point of view would mostly have been regarded as not payable in full but liable to take their chance with the rest.
So the large numbers of people—they must run into hundreds of thousands—throughout Great Britain who are entitled to compensation payments under the 1947 Act, and who may eventually be so paid by virtue of the Treasury scheme, which we have not yet seen, are being subjected to a demonstrable injustice by the provisions of Clause 26 and those which follow it.
From the behaviour of the Government in the administration of their own Town and Country Planning Act it is possible to draw a very clear, logical conclusion. Whenever they have been confronted with a problem under that Act, with a subject who had any means of resistance to the Government, and where the consequences of that Act would have made themselves directly apparent to the public in the form of increased costs, the Government have given way. They have had to give way; they have found themselves obliged to give way.
By so doing they have conceded that the principle of the Act itself, in so far as it affects compensation and development charge, is a false one, that the effect of the Act must be to increase costs, that it is a taxation measure, that delay of development, increase in the cost of development and increase of existing costs by reason of the repression of further development, are the inevitable consequences of the 1947 Act.
The Bill before us is to my mind chiefly important as the most striking admission of that which we have yet had. I imagine it to be hopeless to expect that this Government will do anything to place town and country planning on a sound financial basis instead of on the basis of the 1947 Act. It is fortunate that they will soon be followed by a Government which will do so.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has made a classic Tory speech.
§ Mr. Thomas
The sole purpose of such a speech is not to find any good in a Bill but to find everything that the speaker thinks is bad in it, and to endeavour to prove, to the speaker's own satisfaction no doubt, that nothing should be done by the Government in seeking to offset the result of unrestricted and uncontrolled industrial development in this country. That is the true classic Tory style in respect of every approach by this Government in their endeavour to deal with the fundamental industrial problems which have their effects on the general social life of the community. There is nothing of a positive nature in such speeches. No suggestion or proposal is made as to how, when and where this Government or any other should take action to deal with these great evils. Every reason is trotted out to prove that nothing should be done. We accept that challenge every time it is thrown out.
My criticism of the Bill is not that it will do too much, or that the Government are endeavouring to do too much, but rather that it does not go far enough. I wish to refer particularly to another phase of the despoiling and desecration of our countryside, not by the process of making holes and allowing them to remain unfilled, but by covering square miles of our countryside with industrial refuse; the making of new hills of slag and industrial slime which over a couple of centuries have blotted out hundreds of square miles of the fairest parts of our countryside. I hope that during the Committee stage of this Bill the Government will make some effort to introduce provisions to deal with the removal of the-mountains of industrial refuse which appear in different parts of our countryside.
I go frequently through the Midlands to and from my constituency and one of the oldest industrial areas in the country lies within the borders of my constituency. There coal has been worked for the last 200 years, and the Shropshire coalfield may be taken as an illustration of what has happened in many other parts of the country. Instead of the fields of waving corn, instead of pleasant fields and pastures, we now have a series of artificial hills of industrial refuse. Is it not possible for something to be done to remove this social eyesore? Cannot the Government introduce into a Bill of this kind some 725 procedure which will enable local authorities or special Government agencies to deal with it and have these hills of refuse levelled and the ground re-cultivated? If it is possible, as it seems to be by the provisions of this Bill, to take certain financial steps to cover the cost of filling holes caused by industrial development, is it not possible to take similar steps to remove this industrial refuse?
I appeal to the Government to give some consideration to this aspect of the matter. It should be easier to deal with such industrial problems now when we have a National Coal Board for instance, than it would have been when we had a multiplicity of separate private colliery companies; when there was no responsibility to the State or to anyone else regarding the despoiling of the countryside. I hope the Government will find it possible to introduce additional Clauses in this Bill to provide for the removal of those huge mountains of industrial refuse. I see no practical difficulty, and when the time comes for the detailed examination of this Bill in Committee, I trust that the Minister will find means to introduce new Clauses to deal with this problem.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent (Guildford)
I extend a welcome to the intention of this Bill, although there are certain features in it and certain methods proposed of which I feel critical. A number of hon. Members opposite commenced their speeches by belabouring Governments of the past because of this derelict land, and congratulated themselves on these measures which they hope will restore the land to good agricultural condition.
§ Mr. Nugent
I am glad to hear a response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. While this process was going on, on the other side of the House, I called to mind some land which has been worked for ironstone and which has been improved for agricultural purposes. It was worked for ironstone before right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side were even thought of—in fact before we were thought of either—back in the 16th century—
§ Mr. Nugent
No, not in those days, but a few years ago. It is interesting to find that ironstone working can take place and that as a result land has in fact been improved. I do not say that the operators set out with the intention of improving the land; I think it was probably fortuitous. The ironstone working was very small, about 50 tons a year. The operators used for fuel the oak trees that grew in profusion in the neighbourhood, and they threw the ashes on to the fields. Now, instead of the rather rank clay soil which we had in my neighbourhood there, is beautiful rich black soil in two fields, which are known as the larger and smaller furnace fields. They are, in fact, two of the best fields in the neighbourhood. So it is possible that our forebears have done even better than the Government intend to do to restore land to its previous condition.
Surely in this matter we do not need to introduce a party issue. We have had a warning of what does happen if land is not restored, if it is just worked and left, by the appearance of the two or three thousand existing acres which are completely derelict, unable to grow anything, an insult to one's eyes and a misery to anyone living near them. We know that our need for ironstone is likely to increase and that we shall have to work more and deeper ironstone. Obviously, therefore, we have to make more comprehensive provision than in the past to get the land restored. It would only be fair to say that, in the main, most of this ironstone working has been restored by the voluntary intention of the operators and the landowners. In passing, I think it a pity that the Government have not seen fit to take into account the leases of the landowners which have provided for restoration when the amount of royalty was decided. It is unfortunate, I think, to make an even levy on all landowners.
To turn to the practical measures of the Bill and the question of the adequacy of the Fund, I was grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me some 727 figures as to how the Fund was to be made up and how it was proposed to spend it. If my arithmetic is correct he expects to get some 14 million or 15 million tons of ironstone per annum in total the levy on which will go to make up the total of this Fund. The Minister proposes to apply a sum of £80,000 a year to the restoration of land being currently worked. The right hon. Gentleman did not give me any figures to show what proportion of the workings will be deeper than 35 ft. My information is that about one-third of the workings will be deeper than 35 ft. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some more accurate information when he winds up the debate.
If one-third of the acreage is of workings deeper than 35 ft. which, therefore, qualifies for assistance from the Fund, and if I am right in assuming that between 500 and 700 acres—let us take an average of 600 acres—will be worked in a year, it appears that this £80,000 a year will be applied to something like 200 acres per annum of workings deeper than 35 ft. That being so, it appears that about £400 an acre will be available to assist in the process of restoration. That should be adequate, in fact more than adequate, for that part of the job.
I turn to the other aspect of the application of £65,000 a year to the reclamation of the now derelict land over the next 10 to 15 years. The minimum figure given by the Government shows that there are 2,500 acres of that land. Some people think that the area is larger than that. It would appear that about £250 to £300 per acre is being allowed for the work. That is totally inadequate. It might easily cost twice that amount to restore completely derelict land.
What it means is that, if the Fund is not to be prejudiced in assisting the restoration of land which is being currently worked for ironstone, the pace of reclaiming the now derelict land will have to be slower than the Government now anticipate. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that, important as it is to reclaim the derelict land, it is even more important to get proper restoration of the land now being worked. That must be the priority.
§ Mr. Lindgren
If it would help the hon. Gentleman with his argument, I am prepared to give the figures now, or I can give them later.
§ Mr. Nugent
I do not want to take up too much time, because others wish to speak. I merely want to make the point clear. If the Parliamentary Secretary can clear up the issue satisfactorily, then I shall be pleased. The point is that current restoration should come first, and the reclamation of derelict land should be the second priority.
Probably it will be impossible to reclaim the derelict land for agricultural purposes. The process of creating new top soil by mechanical means is almost impossible. Probably the best way to tackle this matter will be to level the ground and to afforest it and let the trees, for the next few hundred years or even longer, slowly and naturally do the job for us by depositing their leaves and slowly building up a top soil. It is almost impossible to recreate top soil by mechanical means. One can get a plant to start in soil treated in this way, but it always dies out and such a process is a waste of money. Hon. Members will no doubt know of the failures there have been on some of the opencast coal sites where the top soil was not put back. The fields failed one after the other. One may get a plant to start but invariably it dies.
So much for the adequacy of the Fund. The more serious aspect is whether the arrangements for the Order of last year and those envisaged in this Bill will be adequate to ensure that restoration is satisfactory. The operator is solely responsible to a depth of 35 feet. Is any arrangement envisaged to ensure that he does the work adequately? There is no mention of it in the Bill. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is proposed to have a supervisory arrangement. It is vital in all these processes that the actual work of in filling should be done properly, to get the bigger stones and boulders buried deeply in order to get the right kind of consistency on the top.
Clause 10 tells us that a certificate will be given that the work in respect of which a claim is made has been carried out, and that, on that, the Minister will pay. Who will give the certificate that the work has been done satisfactorily? I hope that the 729 Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell me that there will be some machinery through the Ministry of Agriculture, or perhaps through the county agricultural executive committees, for the work to be supervised, and for a certificate to be given at the end of the work to the effect that it has been done satisfactorily. Otherwise, there will be no assurance that Government money is being properly spent or that the land is being properly restored.
I hope that the Government will pay special attention to trying to ensure that that original operator does the restoration work. The Parliamentary Secretary will know from his Government's experiences with opencast coal workings, that where the restoration is let out to a subcontractor it nearly always leads to difficulties. One person gets the cash, and the other is left to clear up. It is much better if the same person carries out the mining and the restoration.
Clause 14 provides that local authorities may do the work of reclamation of old workings. Presumably, if local authorities are to do the work, they will do it for amenity purposes as opposed to agricultural purposes. The Minister takes default powers under Clause 25 to enable himself to take action if a local authority does not. I imagine that Clauses 14 and 25 are in distinction to Clauses 18 and 21, under which the Minister of Agriculture will work. I assume that the Minister of Agriculture will act where the land can be restored for agriculture, and that the local authority will operate where the land is not suitable for agricultural purposes and the Minister wishes it to be restored for its amenity value.
The Minister of Agriculture may acquire land for agricultural purposes, under Clauses 18 and 21, either by voluntary arrangement, by compulsory hiring or by compulsory purchase. The Bill gives him power to make grants and to give directions, to supervise, and so on, to ensure that the land is properly farmed. All that is perfectly proper, and no one will disagree with it; but I think that the Minister of Agriculture is being equipped with powers under Clause 20 which are rather too arbitrary and which may prejudice the finding of suitable tenants.
The Minister of Agriculture is given power to give three months' notice to a tenant on restored land. That period is 730 too short. I appreciate that these are special circumstances and that the Minister wants to have as complete power as possible, but it is not a suitable term of tenancy if the Minister has power to give three months' notice without any compensation for disturbance. I suggest, recognising the special circumstances, that it would be reasonable to ask that the tenant should have not the full protection of the 1947 Act which an ordinary tenant would have—that is, one year's notice and compensation for disturbance with appeal to a tribunal if he is not satisfied—but that some sort of compromise might be worked out by which the tenant could have the right of appeal to an ad hoc committee in these special cases, similar to the other advisory committee which has been set up. We ought to give a tenant some right of appeal to somebody, and I should be grateful if the Minister could give some assurance on those lines.
Again, in Clause 21, the Minister of Agriculture, in connection with his powers to acquire land compulsorily, has taken power to charge the owner of the land, when the land is handed back to him, for any improvements at the end of the period, without the Minister having the duty to consult the landowner on whether the improvements are those specified under Part I of the Third Schedule to the Agriculture Act, 1947. Those are improvements which materially alter the whole character of the holding, and are substantial alterations and additions to the holding. It is only reasonable, if the Minister thinks it right to make alterations or additions on land of this kind, that he should consult the landowner before he does so. It is not reasonable that he should be able to oblige the landowner to take them over compulsorily when the Minister hands back his land to him, and I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say that he will exclude Part I of the Third Schedule to the 1947 Act. The improvements included in Part II of that Schedule are perfectly reasonable, but those in Part I are not.
Finally, on the same Clause, in subsection (3, c), there is reference to the procedure under the War Damaged Sites Act for taking possession, which is really altogether too arbitrary. There is no urgency of that kind here, and surely it would be reasonable to proceed in the ordinary way under the 1946 Act, and I 731 hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that the Minister will agree to that.
I must bring my remarks to a close, and so, again, I would say that the farming world generally will welcome this Measure, for which they have been watching a little anxiously in the last few years and wondering whether it would ever reach the Statute Book. This Bill is going to help; there is no doubt about that; and if we can have some modifications concerning the few points I have made, and if we can ensure that this machinery is really going to work in order to produce satisfactory restoration, it will help in doing a very useful thing for our own time and also, without doubt, for the future.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas) regretted that this Bill did not include provisions to deal with slag heaps, or, as we call them in Scotland, bings. It just happened that today I had lunching here with me a professional man who was recently advising a company in Scotland which proposed to perform the great public service of creating bricks out of bings. At the same time, this company proposed to do two very useful things—to make the bricks which are so badly needed for housing, and to demolish the bings which the hon. Member for The Wrekin and the rest of us would like to see levelled. The company were prevented from doing so by the imposition of a development charge which made the operation so prohibitive that they had to abandon it.
However, that is not the subject to which I intended to devote myself this evening.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Miss Herbison)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the point about the bings, may I ask him whether he is aware that, in Scotland at any rate, we have a provision under which, in certain circumstances, the local authority may receive a 100 per cent. Government grant for clearing away these bings, and that in some instances it has already been done?
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I am quite well aware of that. Indeed, no Member 732 of Parliament for a Scottish constituency could fail to be aware of it. The point is that these bings were to be turned into bricks for housing, and the whole operation was stopped by the imposition of an impossible development charge. However, I had not intended to bring that into my speech.
Like almost everyone else who has spoken today, I am generally in favour of the object of this Bill. No one who has travelled by day by rail on the east coast route to the north can fail to be impressed as he goes through the districts near Peterborough and Corby by the evidence of the scars that are left after ironstone extraction, and anyone who is interested in the right use of the diminishing undeveloped acreage of Britain must be seized of the need to restore land of that kind for agricultural purposes, if that is possible, or, if it is not possible, for afforestation.
I am myself neither familiar with the technical problems of the ironstone districts nor qualified to speak about them. What I do want to do is to speak about the general mineral provisions in Clauses 26 and 27, which, as many hon. Members have said, refer to the whole of Great Britain, and to the effect of these and of regulations based upon the mineral provisions in the 1947 Act, in extending the benefit to minerals afforded to certain other categories of land, such as near-ripe land, single building plots and so on.
On the face of it, it seems to me to be reasonable, since in the process of the extraction of minerals from the ground development actually commences as soon as a quarry is opened and the first stone is turned. There could be no justification for treating the royalty owner in such a case worse than the owner of near-ripe land. Indeed, it could be argued that, in the case of the royalty owner, there is an even higher claim for better treatment, since his development is income-producing from the moment when the first stone is turned, whereas not all near-ripe building land is so far developed as to produce an income.
I would make a further point, in which I am most powerfully supported by the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) and Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), and would say that the principle of fixing a global sum to compensate owners, both 733 in England and Wales and in Scotland, for the loss of development value, and then, after having done that, and after the Act has been passed, granting certain categories of owners a prior claim upon that Fund, cannot in my view be justified in equity. Neither, apparently, can it be justified by any statutory authority. I recall that the Public Accounts Committee in 1950 pointed out in its fourth Report, on page 23:Your Committee regard as undesirable the continuation for a long period of a procedure which has no statutory authority.The Committee was referring, in that case, to what is called near-ripe building land. Here the principle is exactly the same. To fix at the start an inadequate total sum, arrived at by some undisclosed process of guesswork, and then to give certain claimants an absolute right to a 100 per cent. claim upon that fund, irrespective of the validity or the amount of all other claims, can only result in the sum being even less adequate to satisfy the just claims of the generality of applicants than was expected when we passed the principal Act four years ago.
What is the Minister's estimate of the aggregate value of interests in minerals covered by Clause 26 of the Bill? He ought to know a lot more about it than his predecessor did in 1947—four years ago. Is it £40 million, or more, or less? We ought to be given some indication of what is the aggregate value of the interests in minerals covered by this Clause, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, pointed out, it affects the balance that will be left for the satisfaction of other claims upon the global sum.
Other hon. Members have spoken about the remarkable expression used by the Minister in his speech today to the effect that these arrangements which are being made mean that there is nothing to value and nothing to pay. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will assure the House that the Minister was wrong in that statement. He must have been. There must be some valuation of the amount, as otherwise none of us will know how much of the £300 million will be left to be distributed. We really must press the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to give the House the technical explanation of how these sums are to be dealt with. It is not satisfactory just to say airily that there will be no 734 valuation and no payments. Far more than that must be attained. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary understands that perfectly well, and I hope he will take the House into his confidence about it.
Finally, I want to ask one question about the apportionment of the £300 million under Section 58 (2) of the principal Act—which is very relevant to this Bill—as between England and Wales, on the one hand, and Scotland on the other. The Section to which I refer says:The Treasury … after they are sufficiently informed as to the development values of land in those countries respectively …may make or shall make a scheme.
Since that was enacted, prior claims have been given on the fund, and it seems to me likely that most of these claims in respect of minerals given under the terms of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in June, 1949, and now under the terms of this Bill, and claims in respect of so-called near-ripe land and in respect of single building plots will be those which originate in England as against those which originate in Scotland. If all were to be aggregated and deducted from the global sum before apportionment, then, I believe, considerable hardship would be done to claimants in Scotland. I am glad that the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is present, because I am sure she will appreciate this point. If these claims were deducted from the global sum before the apportionment was made, then, I think, we should be doing an injustice to Scotland. I seek an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that the apportionment will be done first of all and then the deductions made.
I repeat that my objection to the Bill is based on the fact that in the clauses to which I have referred, and particularly in Clauses 26 and 27, there is perpetuated, and, indeed, extended, a bad principle that payment for loss of development rights should not be made in full, but that instead it should be made in accordance with a fixed global sum, and that prior claims should be given on that sum, first to one category, then to another, and now to a third category of claimants so that the amount to be distributed to other just claimants will be very seriously diminished.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
This Bill has two entirely different purposes, and, as has been made plain by all the speeches from this side of the House, we are broadly sympathetic with the objectives in both parts of it. Many passages of the Bill, however, are obscure, and it is not possible simply by reading them through to know how exactly certain Clauses of the Bill are intended to operate. Therefore, it will be necessary for the Opposition on the Committee stage to ask how a number of the Clauses—which, so far as we can see, are not open to objection—are intended to operate, because that is not clear from the wording of the Bill.
There are also a very considerable number of matters upon which we shall wish to move Amendments. I do not think any of them go to the root purpose of the Bill, but I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that there are many different ways of arriving at the Bill's objective. It is quite obvious that a number of its provisions will be harsh, and, in some cases unnecessary, and that it would be possible more simply to arrive at the desired result.
I regret to say that there has been a certain attempt by a number of speakers opposite to suggest that the matter of the devastation of land is a wrong which goes back into the very distant past. I hope that when he replies—because I believe he has visited the areas in question and has informed himself upon this subject—the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that for the first 80 years or so that iron ore was being developed in this country there was really no ground for complaint that the land was being left devastated. In the old-established iron foundry companies, most of which were old colliery companies, with the great expert knowledge which they possessed of the technical side of mining, they in every case completely restored the land. For example, the Parliamentary Secretary misunderstood a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) this afternoon. My hon. Friend pointed out that this new and admittedly very serious problem which has arisen was the result of the modern technical development of mechanical excavators which has enabled low grade ore to be worked profitably 736 whereas in an earlier age, when the pick and the shovel were the normal instruments used in mining, it was only the richer ore which could profitably be mined.
Therefore, it is in fact only since the end of the 1914–18 war that any serious problem of this kind has developed. I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary nodding his head, but in case anyone has any doubt on the subject it is useful to remember that Lord Silkin, when he was still a Member of this House and responsible for this particular subject, said:Of 6,500 acres worked in Northamptonshire before the introduction of planning control in 1946 only 19 per cent. are left as hill and dale."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 1841.]That may be far too much, but at any rate it does indicate this was a recent development.
I was glad to hear the Minister say in his introductory speech that the number of acres devastated and now being dealt with is 2,500, because in the Waters Report we were told that the area was already more extensive than that—more like 3,600 acres. I hope the figure the Minister gave today indicates it is not as serious as it was thought to be when the matter was investigated some time ago. I should have supposed that in the six years that have elapsed since the Report was presented to this Government in the middle of 1945, devastation would have continued and that the acreage now would be even greater than it was then. We are glad that now, at long last, something is being done to deal with this problem.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us a few figures which the Minister did not give. I do not ask that to burden either the Parliamentary Secretary or the House with figures, which we all tend to find indigestible. But since this Bill was published, my hon. Friends and I have been trying to arrive at some kind of accurate financial estimate of what it really does cost both to restore land when the restoration takes place as part of the operation of mining the iron ore and also—and this of course is an entirely different and very much higher figure—the cost that will be involved in carrying out the reinstatement and restoration of land which at the present time is remaining derelict.
737 I am going to offer some figures to the Parliamentary Secretary with all diffidence. I really do so to show my good faith in the matter, because estimates differ so very much. I am not blaming anybody because the estimates differ. The conditions in different counties differ, and what makes it even more difficult to arrive at any accurate figure is that in the same county and only quite a short distance away one may find that the amount of iron ore one recovers is very substantially different.
§ Mr. Molson
The question of its depth enters into it very much, of course. I understand from iron foundry companies who have had the longest experience of the matter that private restoration is carried out as part of the operation of mining, that the cost is something in the nature of 3d. per ton and that on average it is likely to vary from £150 to £250 per acre. That is a wide variation, but it varies so widely for the reasons I have given—the amount of ore recovered and the circumstances in which it is recovered may vary.
If those figures are accurate, if the cost is only £150 or £250 per acre or 3d. per ton, then some of the figures which have been given as the cost of restoration are quite absurdly high. Therefore, the House need not suppose that it imposes a colossal burden on the operator to be required to carry out restoration of the land. In the case of land which has been worked and left devastated the cost is much higher and, I understand, may go up to anything like £1,000 per acre.
If those figures I have given are anything like accurate, the first question I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is whether there really is any need for this Fund to be created at all. The Minister explained that the purpose was to spread the cost of restoration over the whole of the industry. I understand that was not a recommendation of either the Kennet Committee or the Waters Committee and this proposal will mean that other counties contained in the Schedule would be called upon to subsidise not all but some of the producers in Northamptonshire.
If it were possible to leave the burden where it falls, a number of difficulties which we find in this Bill would be 738 avoided. The Minister said it was his considered opinion that it was necessary to spread the burden but he did not give us the figures of the cost of restoration which would justify that view. When it is proposed to set up a Fund, we come up against three questions. The first is whether the Fund is necessary. The second is whether it is desirable. The third is whether it is just. Necessity is the mother of invention and in the last 30 or 40 years there has been the most extraordinary development of machinery for excavating. If a burden were imposed upon the same concerns which have shown themselves so ingenious and enterprising in developing machinery for excavating iron ore, would it not be likely and probable that they would produce machinery for reinstating the land?
It appears as though the system of paying out the grants is not likely to encourage enterprise and imagination. If the grants are based upon the extent to which the cost of reinstatement by any particular concern exceeds the average of the cost of reinstatement we are not encouraging enterprise and efficiency but are seeking to protect that particular concern against the cost of its own inefficiency. The higher the cost of its restoration, the larger the amount it will obtain from the fund.
The third question is: Is it equitable for a Fund of this kind to be raised? The Minister said that it was intended that the whole industry should bear this burden. In that case it is necessary to define what is meant by "industry." Although I think there is an omission of an important word in one of the Clauses, I understand that those concerns which are mining iron ore, as opposed to those which are quarrying it by opencast working, will not be called upon to make any contribution. Once the definition of the industry is restricted to concerns which are engaged in opencast quarrying of iron ore, it is not easy to see why two particular categories should be obliged to contribute.
The first of those categories is the landowner who has, in fact, always insisted upon the full restoration of his land. There is a difference between the landowners who insisted upon the full restoration of their land and took a smaller royalty because of that, and those who sought the larger royalty and did not 739 worry whether their land was restored or not. Surely, it is inequitable that those who have taken a smaller royalty in order to ensure that the land which they controlled was restored in order to make it useful for agriculture again should be called upon to pay the same flat rate of contribution as is required of those who are responsible for the hills and dales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), in what I thought was an extraordinarily well-informed speech, suggested that the somewhat obscure references in the Third Schedule do, in fact, cover that point. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply to deal explicitly with that point—namely, whether those landowners who have insisted upon full restoration of their land should indeed be called upon to make the same contribution for the restoration of land as those who have taken a larger royalty as a consideration for not imposing the obligation to effect full restoration.
I think 63 per cent. of the acreage which is now being worked has an overburden of less than 35 feet, and only 37 per cent. of what is being worked at the present time has an over-burden exceeding 35 feet. That means that 63 per cent. of the industry is being called upon to make a contribution to a fund from which under the provisions of the Bill it can never in any circumstances possibly benefit. I put those points to the Parliamentary Secretary as really important points of equity for the House to consider, and I press them upon him because they are part of the disadvantages which must necessarily result from the decision of the Government that it is necessary to spread this burden over the whole of the industry.
If, indeed, the burden of restoration is so great that in the case of that 37 per cent. the cost of restoration is so great as to bring the nationalised steel industry slowly and painfully to a close, then we might take the view that it was necessary to call upon other people to give a helping hand. But if the cost of restoration is as low as it has been stated to be by some of those with the longest experience of restoration, then we must consider carefully whether it is necessary to have a 740 Fund with all the injustices which it must necessarily carry with it.
Not less important than the first part of the Bill dealing with the Ironstone Restoration Fund is Clause 26. Indeed, in some respects it is more important because it deals with the whole of Great Britain and it also deals with all minerals. It is, in fact, a very fundamental amendment to the principal Act, the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South West, we are not satisfied that an error which the Government have now found in their Act of 1947 should be put right at the expense, not of the Government, but of the landowners of the country as a whole. We never accepted as fair the compensation of £300 million, and, despite the absence of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, I feel inclined to quote what he said at that time by way of justification of the £300 million when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Speaking on 30th January, 1947, the Minister said:There is no logical method of calculating this thing.That is the fair compensation for the development value of land in this country.Therefore, we had to make a guess at what would be reasonable. My right hon. Friend "—that is Lord Silkin—has made his guess. I think it is as good as anybody else's guess. He guesses that £300 million would be just about enough to keep the wolf from the door…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 1226.]Unfortunately, Mr. Silkin as he then was, in his speech had shown how he arrived at his guess, and he did not refer to minerals at all in his calculations. Therefore, it really was an afterthought on the part of the Government to include compensation for all the minerals except coal in this country within this £300 million.
As my hon. Friend has pointed out, there have been two categories of claimants to this £300 million who have been given the right to receive 20s. in the £ for their justifiable claims. Every further priority which is given to a new category of claimants means that there is that amount less of compensation available to all the other claimants throughout the country. If this £300 million, which was the guess of Mr. Silkin as the 741 fair amount of compensation for the development rights in land, was made, as it is plain from his speech it was made, without thought of royalties, all the additional compensation which is now being paid for royalties upon minerals means that there is an unjustifiable deduction in the total compensation which is payable to the landowners of this country.
So far as this provision is concerned—and here again I would refer to the very comprehensive speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West—it means to say that all those large concerns which had bought extensive areas in order to mine the minerals in them, or who had leases of them on the date when the Act came into operation, are being excused the development charge which all new and enterprising concerns which desire to develop minerals in new parts of the country will be called upon to pay. This is injustice between those who are already in an established position and those who in the future may be able to discover new minerals and seek to develop them in the general interests of themselves and of the country. In the first case, they are to be excused the payment of development charges not at the expense of the Exchequer but by being given 20s. in the £ as a priority charge upon a fund which was roughly guessed by Lord Silkin as being what was due to the whole of the claimants of the country.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us exactly how this will operate. I ventured to interrupt the Minister during his introductory speech and to suggest that it would be necessary for the development value of these minerals to be assessed. Perhaps I should have expressed myself better if I had said, not that they might have to be assessed, but at any rate that they would have to be valued. It is manifest that the first slice off the £300 million joint, which is to be given to the operators of these minerals, is not yet determined. It cannot be determined until the Treasury produce their scheme and that scheme has been approved by the House. But quite clearly, under any conceivable scheme the amount which is to be deducted from the £300 million must bear some relationship to the development value of the minerals which are being dealt with under Clause 26.
742 I want to make this point to the Parliamentary Secretary. It has not been denied by the Government that, in the case of development charges now being made by the Central Land Board, there is a great deal of negotiation between the Central Land Board and the would-be developer. Indeed, the Government have rather prided themselves upon the reasonable attitude which the Central Land Board have taken about this matter and we have had brought up, both here and by Lord Llewellin in another place, the extraordinary difference between development charges which have been finally agreed and what was originally requested. In the case of a society of which I am on the executive committee we have just agreed a figure which is approximately half of what was originally requested.
This is a matter of the utmost importance. If all these mining concerns are to be compensated with their 20s. in the £, out of the £300 million, what inducement have they to argue with the Central Land Board as to what the development charge should be? It will be the most monstrous injustice upon all the other claimants if not only are the near-ripe mineral owners to receive the first slice off the joint, but also that that slice off the joint is to be assessed in a different way from the way in which other development charges are to be decided.
The only way in which to prevent all the great and important mining enterprises of the country from having been gravely embarrassed in the past was for there to be a moratorium for three years upon development charges. Experience has now shown the Government that it is very important for the moratorium to continue. The hands of the clock are moving very quickly towards 1st July, 1951, and it is very important indeed that these people should not suddenly become liable to pay development charges on 1st July. The Government therefore come to the House and ask that the moratorium should be made permanent in the case of all existing concerns who own land or who have leases of land. I submit that the Government should also consider those who have an option upon land. The Government are willing to be reasonable and indeed generous to these existing mining enterprises because the cost of the moratorium is not being borne by the Treasury; it is being borne at the 743 expense of other people who are entitled to compensation for the development rights of which they have been deprived.
While we welcome the two main purposes for which the Bill has been introduced, we say that there are many respects in which it is likely to bear harshly and unfairly upon various interests in the country. We are not satisfied by the information so far vouchsafed to us that the Fund is necessary in its present form, that the Fund is being raised in an equitable manner or that the payments it is intended to make from the Fund are likely to result in the most efficient and economical reinstatement of land. We are anxious that this reinstatement shall be carried out and that those who then engage in agriculture upon that land shall enjoy reasonable security of tenure.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Lindgren)
May I first of all apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend from a part of this debate and from the winding-up. He is engaged on important Government business; otherwise, of course, he would have been in the House. He asks the House to accept his apology for his absence.
I should like to thank the House for what has been in the main a very generous reception of the Bill. There were one or two exceptions on the part of hon. Members who tried to make some political capital, and I shall try to reply to them, but generally speaking the reception has been very cordial. I agree most heartily that over a very large field of ironstone operations the operators have carried out restoration effectively and to a very high standard indeed—a standard at which the land, if not greatly improved as it was in the 16th century—as was recalled by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent)—was restored in a way which has not been injurious to its productivity. Some of the land has been restored under the most difficult conditions.
The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), with whose speech I shall deal in a moment, referred to the devastation in Northamptonshire. There are areas 744 quite close to Northamptonshire where ore has been extracted under much more difficult conditions than in Northamptonshire, and the ground has been restored excellently. It was not a question of restoration being impossible. Having made that point, I must say I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South, was not here to listen to the beginning of the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who admitted, quite rightly, that this problem arose, not as the hon. and learned Member said in 1936, 1937 and 1938, but in the 1914–18 War.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The hon. and learned Member shakes his head, but this does not affect his constituency. In my own constituency, Wellingborough, there are working which have resulted in the present dereliction of the land—excavations 40 and 50 ft. deep, which were made in 1916, 1917 and 1918 and closed in 1920. The problem increased during the years 1914 and 1915, and after that because of the introduction of machinery. Those companies which were prepared to take the easy way did so, and my complaint is that no Tory Government did anything at all to stop that exploitation of the countryside of this England of ours. The Opposition have twitted us with having done nothing since 1945 when we took office. When we took office in 1945, there was no planning control over mineral workings at all.
§ Mr. Lindgren
That is perfectly true. There was no planning control over mineral workings. None at all. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he can tell me what the control was.
§ Mr. Powell
Under the 1943 Act there was complete power of control if the Government desired to use it.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Not at all. It was in fact ineffective, because immediately there was a restriction on operations the local authority had to pay compensation. No local authority could afford to pay compensation, and planning control was therefore ineffective all the way round.
§ Mr. Lindgren
It existed, but what is the good of having control if it cannot be enforced? The whole failure of the Tory Party in town and country planning is that they never faced up to the question of compensation and betterment. The 1932 Act required that where there was a refusal of planning permission, the local authority had to bear the cost of the loss of development value by the user, so every local authority worked on the General Interim Development Order and refused nothing for fear of compensation becoming payable.
In 1945, when the Labour Government came to power, there were no planning powers at all, and the first planning controls for mineral workings were imposed in November, 1945. We were elected in July, 1945: there was planning control in November, 1945: and it was operative from 1st January, 1946. We were able to impose those controls because the Minister of Town and Country Planning at that time knew that his Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 was being drafted and that he was going to deal with compensation and betterment.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister had the advantage of having in front of him all the evidence prepared by the Uthwatt, Barlow and Scott Reports, all of which Commissions had been appointed by Governments in which there was a predominantly Conservative majority?
§ Mr. Lindgren
Yes, that is all the Tory Party ever does—appoint a committee and shelve the problem. This dereliction was going on all the time.
§ Mr. Powell
Would the hon. Gentleman please say under what Act his Government imposed that control at the beginning of 1946?
§ Mr. Lindgren
They put those controls on under the 1932 and 1943 Acts, but they could afford to do so because they knew they were going to deal with the problem of compensation and betterment, and they did deal with it, under the 1947 Act. Even under the control that was imposed in 1946, had it been effectively operated and had there been no 1947 Act, local authorities would have had to bear the cost of compensation, and no local 746 authority could afford to bear the cost of the compensation involved.
It is true that after the 1947 Act we had two Standing Conferences which went into the ironstone problem in all its aspects, and consulted landowners, producers, agricultural interests and local authorities. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite say that we should not have consulted those various interests? Do they say that, independent of that consultation, we should have immediately imposed our own views? No hon. Member opposite rises to say so. If it is admitted that, in order to arrive at conclusions, one ought to consult the interests concerned, it must be realised that that takes time. In July, 1950, there was a statement of policy, and now we have this Bill to deal with the policy. What the Tory Party did not do for 25 years we have done and made effective in a matter of five years, and that is a result in which we are justified in taking some pride.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) referred to the exemptions, as did other hon. Members, and rather suggested that exemptions meant "get-outs" by the Minister, or loopholes by which restoration would not be completed. That, of course, is completely false. I suppose that all hon. and right hon. Members opposite accept that conditions before and during excavation and intentions after excavation, are likely to vary from case to case, and that there ought therefore to be exemptions. There have been 62 claims for exemption, one of which has been conceded. That was the obvious case of an area of land on which it was intended that there should afterwards be industrial building. Would hon. Gentlemen opposite say that our legislation should be so tight as to cause expenditure of labour and materials on restoring land to agricultural use when it is known at the time of the excavation that the land is afterwards to be used for industrial building purposes? We must have regard to the future use of the land, and the exemptions are to meet the varying conditions of both extraction and future use.
May I refer, as a number of hon. Gentlemen did, to the opportunity for the afforestation of hill and dale? Hon. Gentlemen opposite very likely know very much more about trees than I do. I am 747 given to understand, as a result of consultations between officials and technicians of my own Ministry and of the Forestry Commission, and those who are know-ledgable on this subject, that where one is growing timber as timber and not woodlands for amenity purposes, hill and dale planting is better. I am not going to argue whether that is true or not. That is the professional advice that we have received. If it is incorrect, perhaps some hon. Gentlemen with knowledge on this subject will challenge it. I am not prepared to, because I am not competent to do so, but I quite definitely make the point that hill and dale operation is considered to be quite good for timber growing.
The question of incentives to reduce costs was raised by the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite realise what they have been saying during this debate. One after another has got up and said that the whole emphasis for the last 25 years has been on getting all the raw material out of the ground as cheaply as possible and therefore the whole emphasis on the construction of machinery has been to get that ore. There has been no thought whatever, by the producers of the material, about restoration afterwards.
I have referred to producers who have thought about restoration. The criticism of hon. Gentlemen opposite is of the competitive system which they so gallantly support. I am prepared to say that it is true that a number of operators have given far more thought to the cheapness of extraction than to the possibility of restoration, and so I give hon. Gentlemen opposite that point, which is not a criticism of the Bill but of their companies who have been doing this work, and of the general competitive system which they support.
In the Bill we are trying to give an incentive. Where the over-burden is more than 35 feet, the average cost of restoration is assessed and before the work is commenced the operator knows the contribution he is to get. If he is lackadaisical in the work, it will cost him more, but if he is efficient it will cost him less. His grant for restoration will be the same. If incentive is the thing which really gets people to do right rather than doing right for right's own sake, the incentive in the 748 Bill is that the grant is fixed and known beforehand. Those who carry out the work will be able to make a profit out of restoration if they do the work more efficiently than was expected.
Of the other points which have been raised, the first is: Why should these persons working an overburden of less than 35 feet make a contribution when they themselves will not get any benefit? The whole conception of the Bill and our approach to the problem generally is this. Here we have an industry which derives its raw material from the earth. Some of it is easy to get and some of it very difficult. Therefore some of the restoration is comparatively easy and some is very difficult. Though I castigated just now certain operators who have not done all they might have done to restore, one has to be fair and say that one of the reasons is that the conditions under which they had to work were very difficult.
In an industry like this, in which one part—the majority, if you like—causes great devastation, the correct thing is to get the whole industry together so that those who have easy conditions make a contribution to those who have difficult conditions. One has to get back to the old sick-club principle that those who are well pay to those who are unfortunately unwell. In this industry we say that those who have easy conditions should make a contribution to those who have difficult conditions.
The next criticism has been of the flat rate of 1⅛d. for the producer and 1⅛d. for the royalty owner.
§ Mr. Molson
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I asked him if he could give us any figures to show what the cost of restoration will be in the view of the Government.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I am going through the speeches. I am taking first the speech of the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West, who opened the debate. Many other speeches crossed one another and I will try to skip them as I go through my notes. When one is replying to a debate like this without an opportunity to prepare a reply, one's speech is bound to be sketchy because one deals with points as they came along in the debate.
The next point of the right hon. Member for Blackburn West, was that of the 749 flat rate levy of 1⅛d. for all royalty owners irrespective of the amount of royalty received by them. He and a number of other hon. Members have suggested that the royalty rate is sometimes low because the royalty owner, who was at the same time the landowner, placed conditions of restoration on the producer. That may be so, but my general experience and information is that the amount of the royalty is much more dependent on the thickness of the seam and whether or not it is easy to work. Royalties in the ironstone industry vary from about 1s. to 2½d. Where the royalty is 1s. a ton the seams are thick and easy to work and the producer is prepared to pay a much higher royalty because he can get the products more easily; where the royalty is 2½d. considerable excavation is generally required and the seams are thinner, and, therefore, the concession is not worth so much in royalties to the operator.
§ Mr. Nicholls
That is not entirely so. There are the cases where covenants for restoring land exist.
§ Mr. Lindgren
That is a general covenant. Unfortunately, so is the "get-out" clause in leases whereby the operator can pay £50 or so an acre in order to relieve himself of the requirement to restore. We are dealing with legislation in which, surely, one has to deal with general principles. The general principle governing the amount of royalty which has to be paid is what the producer considers worth while. Generally speaking, where the seam is thick and easy to work the producer is prepared to pay a higher royalty and where it is thin and difficult to work he will pay a lower royalty.
There was an attractive suggestion that we should base the levy on the amount of the royalty drawn, but from an administrative point of view it is better to have a general flat rate applicable over the whole industry so that everyone knows where he stands and administrative costs are less.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I do not know. We on this side of the House, in particular, think that royalty owners of all sorts of minerals have had a pretty good era of exploitation of something which they 750 had no responsibility for placing in the ground. Whether or not private individuals have a right to exploit minerals placed in the ground by other than human power, is a matter for debate. Hon. Members opposite would say "yes," and we we should certainly say "no."
The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West referred to the question of tax. Since he made the request early in the debate, I have taken the trouble to get an answer for him. As this is a tax matter on which some people might put great emphasis today, if not tomorrow. I will read the answer. It is:We understand from the Board of Inland Revenue that the annual payments which the producers bear will be allowed as a deduction in computing their net profits. The lump sum contributions under Clause 4—that is to say, the 'slices' from the £300 million payments—will not, of course, be deductible. Where a royalty is reduced because of Clause 5, it is recognised that the royalty owner's income is reduced, and the Income Tax position will be adjusted accordingly.The position is a little complicated because some payments are partly recoverable under Clause 5, it would perhaps be more satisfactory if the association representing the producers arranged to discuss these complicated points with the Board of Inland Revenue.That is their general reply to the points raised.
With regard to the point of access on Clause 32, I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman must have looked at the Bill hurriedly. If he had read further, he would have seen that Clause 33 deals with the question of access on the basis of the previous Act, which was really what he asked for.
Division of responsibility between the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and my Ministry will vary from time to time in different circumstances. Generally, however, the restoration of the land is a problem for my Ministry, and when it comes to the point of handing over in order to bring the land back its health, the Ministry of Agriculture or the Forestry Commission take over.
A number of points were raised in regard to Clause 26 and the regulations to be made under it. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) felt that as these were to be circulated to the industry, Members of Parliament ought also to have an opportunity of looking at them. We will give the draft regulations in a White Paper before the Committee stage 751 of the Bill so that hon. Members may have an opportunity of looking at them at the same time as industry.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West thought that minerals ought not to be included in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947—
§ Mr. Lindgren
I agree that would be the approach of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and it is the fundamental cleavage between us. No alternative has been put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite. One cannot deal with effective planning control unless one is prepared to deal with the question of compensation and betterment. If a person is to receive compensation when he is deprived of certain resources, those who are allowed to use them ought to pay a betterment charge. That is a fundamental of planning as we see it, and evidently it is the cause of the lack of planning so far as previous Tory Town and Country Planning Acts were concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman then asked me questions about Clause 27. The position is exactly as he envisages it. Two examples come to my mind. The first is in a case where planning permission is refused. The second case is where the royalties have changed hands through death. The original royalty owner may have died and the claim of the £300 million is split up between two or three different people.
May I now express appreciation to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for his references to the Minister and the work which my right hon. Friend has done in connection with this Bill? As we are paying compliments, may I say, too, that we appreciate the work which he has done over a long period in connection with the reason for this Bill. My hon. and learned Friend raised the question of Corby, a town within his constituency which is in great danger of becoming surrounded by the devastation which we have seen over past years. I give the categorical answer that the Bill will be used to ensure that, so far as restoration is concerned, Corby will have the amenities which it has the right to enjoy.
752 My hon. and learned Friend asked also about the possibility of local authorities acquiring land outside their boundaries for the provision of playing fields or other facilities. Those of us associated with local government appreciate that, generally speaking, local authorities do not like other authorities coming into their area and undertaking operations. Playing fields, however, are a use to which this type of land can be put, and in the Committee stage we shall be prepared to look at this problem and to see whether it can be met by an Amendment.
I take this opportunity which the Second Reading affords to say to local authorities who have this problem in then-areas that they should start immediately to see to what use they can put the land which they have complained is derelict. From the point of view of the Ministry, we shall be only too pleased to help them in getting ready their plans so that we can proceed speedily with the restoration of land which has been derelict for so long.
The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) referred to Clause 7 and to subsections (4) and (5). Subsection (4) is a let-out for land with an over-burden of under 35 feet in depth. Generally speaking, land under 35 feet is liable for a contribution but gets no payment for restoration. There may, and undoubtedly will, be certain cases, even where the depth is less than 35 feet, when the operator comes up against exceptional difficulties, such as those connected with the nature of the subsoil, and in those exceptional conditions we are prepared to make a contribution from the Fund. The hon. Member raised also the question of mining subsidence, but that is not included in the Bill, and a special Bill—and we have had one or two such Bills—would be required to deal with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) asked why we drew the line at an overburden of 35 feet. The answer is that the line has to be drawn somewhere, and from past experience we generally accept that restoration up to 35 feet, whilst not an easy operation, is a fair charge on the industry for the cost of extraction. Over 35 feet, however, it becomes more and more difficult for the value of the ore to bear the cost of the 753 extra feet of over-burden. That is the reason for the division.
The hon. Member for Peterborough raised a number of the points with which I have already dealt, such as the incentive for machinery and hill and dale planting; but one point he raised was that on the Advisory Committee there was not someone experienced in restoration. The Iron Ore Producers' Association put on two members, their president and their vice-president. I cannot accept that those of that association who have been carrying out very effective restoration over a long period of years are not knowledgeable on the question. Over and above that there is the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture whom we met, and I am sure we agree that he is very knowledgeable. Although he has no actual experience of working on restoration, on the question of bringing the land back to a healthy condition he is an expert.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I understand that the hon. Gentleman refused to accept one nomination to the Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I quite agree, but if one accepted all kinds of nominations one would not have an Advisory Committee, but a public meeting. I wish to conclude by answering points raised by the hon. Member for Guildford and also some of the points raised by the hon. Member for The High Peak. They asked me the figures in regard to the cost, and I should be pleased to give them. The estimated future output of ironstone by opencast working in the Midland field is from 14 million tons to 15 million tons a year. The average yield of ironstone per acre of land varies from 18,000 to 60,000 tons an acre according to the area, but the average is 28,000 tons an acre. The estimated future annual acreage to be worked opencast is approximately 500 acres. The average with less than 35 feet over-burden is 200 acres and, with more than 35 feet over-burden, 300 acres. These are all estimates and hon. Members will appreciate that they are not definite figures.
The average payment from the Fund in the more than 35 feet cases is £275. This is only a rough average and is intended to include not only the cost of levelling, but also the cost of agricultural work afterwards, tree planting and other miscellaneous charges. The total annual 754 payment for current working is £82,500 per annum. On past workings there are 2,500 acres to be dealt with. Hon. Members have referred to the difference between 2,500 acres to which I have referred and the 3,600 acres referred to in the Waters Report. That difference is due to the fact that since the Report was issued afforestation has taken place on about 1,000 acres of land. Restoration of past dereliction will cost an average of £300 per acre. Assuming that it can be dealt with over the next 10 or 15 years—and it is too early to forecast yet—this would mean a charge on the Fund of £60,000 to £70,000 a year.
The other points raised by the hon. Member for Guildford were mainly points on agriculture, and he will agree that in the main they are Committee points. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture was present and in the light of the hon. Member's speech we will consider in Committee how far we can meet the points he made. I thank the House for its general reception of the Bill and hope it will be given a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
The Parliamentary Secretary seemed to be coming to a conclusion. He will agree that it can only be by an oversight that he has not explained that extraordinary statement by the Minister about there being nothing to value and nothing to pay. Surely he will explain that to the House?
§ Mr. Lindgren
I have tried my best in a short space of time to meet the points which have been raised in a debate that has lasted for four and a half hours. I have taken the time that I said I would take, and therefore, having dealt with the general points, I thought I ought to sit down.
To reply to the point which the hon. Member has made, although I hope this will not be an incitement to other Members to raise points which they think should be answered, I would say that there will, of course, have to be a general valuation in order to assess the amount of the slice we are to take from the £300 million. What my right hon. Friend meant was that this is a bookkeeping entry in which there is no development charge and no claim on the £300 million—that they cancel one another out. It means that the £300 million is depleted 755 by the amount representing the value of the slice which we take out of it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.