HC Deb 17 June 1981 vol 6 cc1114-33
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 6, line 19, leave out 'ten', and insert 'five'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take amendment No. 23, in clause 22, page 29, line 31, leave out 'ten' and insert 'five'.

Mr. Alexander

We have heard many good remarks about the Bill, but many of us feel that there is a blemish in clause 5. It concerns the period during which the industry is to be responsible for the aftercare of its sites after workings have been completed. As originally drafted the period was to be five years, but an amendment was accepted in Committee extending that to 10 years.

I think that my hon. Friend is aware that the change made in Committee caused the widest concern among the extractive industries. That is why I introduced the amendment, with the assistance of my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) and for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton). I am authorised to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), who cannot be here this evening because of another duty, wants to express his concern about this issue.

The CBI has taken a special interest in this part of the Bill. The Bill, as amended in Committee, aroused the concern and dismay of many extractive industries, such as the Blue Circle Group, the Amey Roadstone Corporation Ltd. and Hoveringham Dredging Ltd. To have these representatives of the extractive industry in opposition to the clause as amended must, I suggest, give my hon. Friend cause for concern.

If my hon. Friend agrees that the good will of the industry would be eroded if the amendment made in Committee were accepted, I hope that he will accept my amendment. If he does not, he will lose the good will of the operators who have a good record in looking after their land following the extractive operations. There are many partnerships within the industry and the farming industry, and if the clause were not to be amended on report that good feeling would go. A period of 10 years would be inconsistent with that good will.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

I support the amendment. I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, and I should not have noted the subject had I not been approached by a reputable firm in my constituency for which I have considerable admiration —namely, Atlas Aggregates Ltd. It told me that it was deeply concerned about the decision that was made in Committee.

I shall read the first paragraph of the managing director's letter: We have been taken aback by the Government allowing at Committee Stage of this Bill the period for aftercare (Clause 5) to be extended from 5 to 10 years. This decision is totally inconsistent with Government's previous view that 5 years was a reasonable period to expect the minerals industry to manage land after restoration, a view which the industry (in general acceptance of the principles of reasonable aftercare) had not sought to challenge. The extension of the period fundamentally changes industry's attitude to the whole aftercare provision and to the way in which it might be implemented; industry cannot accept a condition which ties capital in non-productive use for longer than is reasonably necessary. Having received that letter, I read the relevant debate in Committee. I was surprised when I learnt of the way in which the change had been made. I referred to the report of the Stevens committee, and I noted paragraph 9.22, which says that even when satisfactory restoration has been secured, the important matter of after-care must not be overlooked. There is no provision in the present planning law covering this vital prerequisite to achieving and maintaining the best practicable agricultural quality of land in those cases in which the agreed after-use is agriculture or horticulture. We have heard evidence that conclusively attests for the need for after-care, and it is plain that the successful record of the National Coal Board's Opencast Executive has been due in no small measure to the attention which has been given to after-care. We therefore recommend that county planning authorities should be specifically empowered to impose on mineral permissions a condition requiring land which is to be restored to agriculture or horticulture to be managed for a period of not more than five years after the restoration has been completed, under the superintendence of the county planning authority who shall be obliged to consult the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. That was a clear recommendation by a committee that had investigated deeply and had consulted.

I read the Official Report of the proceedings in Committee on 19 May. I saw that the decision to provide for 10 years instead of five years had been taken after a very short debate. It could not have lasted more than 15 minutes. There were only four speakers in addition to the Minister, who said: I am bound to advise my hon. Friend that this was one of the recommendations given by the Stevens committee. The Bill has been put forward largely to enact a number of the provisions recommended by that committee. I believe that the committee found five years to be an acceptable period for the industry …While we note the varying views expressed, we consider that the balance of five years, as recommended by the Stevens committee, is about right …Of one thing we are all certain:we want an aftercare provision in the Bill which both industry and the local mineral planning authority find acceptable. We do not wish to enact an important piece of legislation which causes resistance and aggravation on either side." —[Official Report, Standing Committee G,19 May 1981; c. 21.] I am sure that the Minister was right. I do not know why, seven minutes later, he agreed to add another five years to the period for which industry has a responsibility. My constituent, giving one or two arguments for the case, said that it would change industry's attitude and this way influence the way it honours the aftercare obligation That is a strong point. If industry feels that it is being bullied into doing something, its reaction will be different.

My constituent also said that the 10-year period would become the norm expected by planning authorities and that it would tend to erode the good will with industry …owners of land would be more reluctant to release it for mineral extraction because of the extra time it would be out of their control …there would inevitably be increased costs arising from additional monitoring requirements. If the industry is not opposed to and the Stevens committee is in favour of a period of five years, and if the Minister considers that that is the proper thing to do, I do not see why the House should not conclude that it is the proper thing to do. That is why I support the amendment.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

I shall first declare an interest. I shall follow up what the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) said —that paragraph 9.22 in the Stevens report recommended five years and not 10. That was followed by the Department of the Environment's circular 58/78, which said that: We accept that where restoration of worked land is to agriculture or horticulture, it would be right to enable the condition to be attached, providing for aftercare over a period of years similar to the arrangement which obtained for opencast coal working by the National Coal Board. I understand that the National Coal Board has a five-year and not a 10-year period. It must be consistent with both nationalised corporations and the private sector that those two should be the same. I hope that the Minister is in an accommodating state of mind and will be able to pursue that recommendation.

The Derbyshire county council, in written evidence to the Stevens committee, on pages 416–417, recommended that the completion of restoration be followed by management under the MAFF auspices for a period of five years. Various local authorities have been thinking in those terms. I regret that I was not a member of the Committee. Whatever may have happened in Committee, MAFF had no hand in promoting the amendment of 10 years' aftercare and considered that, normally, five growing years was sufficient for land to be brought back into operation.

One thing that should be mentioned in connection with the mineral industry is that five years is ample and 10 years would mean a prolonged investment. One of the difficulties with 10 years is that the mineral industry would be turned into estate investment companies. It would be unrealistic to tie up its capital for a number of years when it should be devoted to the development of minerals in the United Kingdom. I support the amendment.

Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)

It is a rare occasion for me to follow so closely the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) and at the same time the views of the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals). I endorse their views on behalf of the Cornish mineral extraction industry, which generally accepts the Bill and commends the amendment.

10.15 pm

The industry, point-blank, says that a period of 10 years is in no one's interest. Ten years' responsibility for aftercare attention is meaningless and unrealistic, and is an albatross around the necks of mineral operators and landowners alike. For instance, the industry feels that over a 10-year period the cost of administration could be higher than the cost of immediate administration. It is traditional in Cornish minerals that reinstatement takes place in the first year after operations have ceased. For Cornwall, even five years is generous, and 10 is carrying things too far.

There is no clash between the Cornish dimension and the views of the Stevens report and the Government that five years is adequate. In the House of Lords Committee on 5 February 1981, at column 1349, Lord Bellwin said that the Government thought that the five years proposed by Stevens was just about right. In fact, we need look no further than this House. On Second Reading, the Solicitor-General for Scotland appeared to accept that if five years turned out to be inadequate the period could be amended by regulation.

The industry agrees with Stevens and the Government. It believes that a 10-year aftercare period is wrong, for five reasons. The first is that 10 years could mean a period of responsibility totally disproportionate to the length of operations. Secondly, a period of longer than five years could become standard in the eyes of planning authorities, and thus create another restriction. Thirdly, if 10 rather than five years were added to the period of answerability of operators to landowners, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Norwich, North, the landowners might be less inclined to grant operational licences, because of the additional time that the land would be out of their control. Fourthly, the longer period of responsibility at the closing stages of an operation could substantially add to the cost of monitoring and administration. Fifthly, a protracted period of responsibility could lead to the positive stagnation of financial resources necessary after five years to move to developments and operations elsewhere.

The operators say —this is not contradicted by the landowners —that five years is the maximum period in which aftercare responsibility has an advantage after restoration is completed. After that, the relationship between money spent and actual improvement is, cost-effectively, a falling curve.

For those reasons, I hope that the House will support the amendment.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I am a little surprised to find so many hon. Members on the Government Benches. [Interruption.] I repeat that I am a little surprised to see so many hon. Members on the Government Benches. What we see is a lobby for the five-year period.

We must look at the matter sensibly. I was on the Committee and I am interested in planning. The suggestion is wrong. Not only that; the Minister has done a U-turn. This was not the position in Committee, and we need to think about that. That is why I say that there is a lobby here tonight in favour of a five-year period.

On a farm in my constituency, land was restored by the NCB after operations were finished, but because it was done so quickly the farmer has been left with a massive dip in his land, which is constantly full of water. I see that I have the support of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), so this must be happening in Cornwall, too. We must consider this matter sensibly and not rush into changes.

I do not accept that it is a matter of saving administration costs. I should perhaps at this late stage declare an interest as an ex-miner and a member of the NUM. We must be fair and sensible about this. I believe that the 10-year period is sensible and that five years would be far too short.

Too short a period would not be fair. We must give those who undertake work of this kind —in the coal industry, it is generally the National Coal Board —sufficient time to complete the job properly. Restoration of land would also cover the restoration of tips at pits, so that they become an amenity for the people in the community after mining operations is over. I do not believe that five years would give the NCB sufficient opportunity to do the job properly in the interests of the community.

Incidentally, I received a letter from the Minister yesterday about a project that I raised with him in Committee. I may indeed wish to question him on that reply, which he promised and for which I thank him, but which I do not regard as at all satisfactory.

We should not rush into reducing the period to five years, as the amendment suggests. I do not intend to vote against it. I give that assurance. Nevertheless, in the interests of those who carry out this type of work following excavations, and in the interests of the community in the locality that the land should be restored as well as possible, I do not regard a five-year period as acceptable.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals). A 10-year period would force many members of the Stone Federation to sell off their land very quickly, even at a loss, rather than bear the heavy burden of 10 years' responsibility for the maintenance and restoration of that land. That would be a serious penalty. In order to maximise their price they would probably sell the land in very small parcels, so that it would be used for purposes such as horse grazing, which would not be a good use of what is sometimes prime land.

I therefore believe that we should support the amendment. Very clear reasons have been given, and I shall not repeat them. Certainly in the interests of quarry owners I feel that unless the amendment is passed the town planning people will be given a licence to make 10 years the norm. That penalty should not be imposed upon the industry.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I ask the House to think again about the line that it is pursuing. There has been a great lobby here tonight to change the 10-year period to one of five years. I have received the same lobby material as other hon. Members. This legislation probably affects my constituency more than any other in the country, certainly in the privately owned sector. I make no claims about the State-owned sector and the National Coal Board, but in the privately owned sector I suspect that more acres of my constituency are actively worked and therefore affected at this time than in any other constituency in the land. Some hon. Members seem to have accepted the lobbying rather easily.

The argument is that the company concerned would be involved in a good deal of administration. The Bill regards the work as being aftercare, after the restoration has taken place. If the restoration is done correctly and satisfactorily virtually no administration is involved. The grass will grow, a few cows can be put on it, and at the end of 10 years that is the end of it. That is all the aftercare that will be needed.

But suppose that the restoration work is not carried out satisfactorily, and the period for restoration has been changed from 10 years to five years. There is then no way of getting back at the company. That is the beginning and the end of it. That is what concerns me. I have a feeling that the period of five years may already have been accepted as satisfactory.

In part of my constituency, in an area measuring about 10 miles by 8 miles, there is a great series of holes, pits and tips. About 6,000 people are employed there, and it is an extremely welcome part of the local economy. Without it, my constituency would have no economy, so let no one think that I am attacking the extractive industry as such. The company concerned has tried to carry out restoration. Although it has made substantial efforts, I could not describe any of the restoration so far as being satisfactory if the meaning of satisfactory restoration is that the land should be as good as it was originally.

The acres of mica from the pits in my constituency are now planted, by means of a technology that I do not comprehend, in order to encourage grass to grow in that mica material. In the circumstances, I am amazed how much grass is able to grow there. Even so, it is very thin. I said rather jocularly in Committee that it appeared to be one blade per sq. ft. I apologise for misleading the Committee. It is not as bad as that. But nobody could possibly describe the area, after 10 years, as being as good as even the most marginal land. That is not satisfactory restoration. But if the Government get their way, the period of five years will go by and, if the restoration is not satisfactory, there will be no possible recourse to the company concerned. Yet it is the company's responsibility to put the land back to its original condition.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

What sort of planning conditions were imposed on the land that could have allowed the company to leave such enormous holes?

Mr. Penhaligon

The hon. Member cannot have been following the Bill very closely. The reason why the Bill is so welcome is that no planning permission, consent or anything else has been required for the industry. Anyone who applied before 1948 could dig a hole and throw the material wherever he liked. When a company wishes to throw the material into a new place it has to get permission under the law as it now stands, but if a company has been disposing of material in a particular place since 1948 it can continue to do so. The Bill seeks to improve that position dramatically. That is why it is welcome. That was the purpose of the Stevens committee. The Bill could bring about a major improvement to the environment in my area.

The company in my constituency to which I have referred knew that the Bill was coming and has already attempted to do some of the things that the Bill regards as necessary. However, the efforts so far cannot be said to have reached a level that I would describe as satisfactory, if the definition of satisfactory restoration is that the land should be as good as it was before extraction began.

10.30 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

Has the hon. Gentleman quantified the cost to that company of reinstating the land? Has he assessed whether it is possible to reinstate it to its full former condition within five or 10 years? Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that, as it is fundamental to his argument?

Mr. Penhaligon

It is impossible to restore the land to its former condition, because in the intervening period someone has enthusiastically removed material from it. By definition, the level will be lower. I do not know the cost of restoring the land. I do not say that I am necessarily right, but I should like the company to be forced to cover the tips with earth. To date, it has refused to do that and claims that it is unnecessary. As a simple man, something tells me that grass will grow better in earth than in mica. To date, the company has strongly resisted the idea of putting earth on top of the tips. I am sure that grass and normal vegetation would grow well if that were done.

What would such an operation cost? It would cost something, but it could cost that much to place a in to in layer of earth on top of the tips, even if they covered several square miles. The company in my constituency made £41 million profit last year with only 6,000 employees. Although I am delighted to have one of the most profitable companies in Britain in my constituency, it is too much for that company to argue that putting earth on top of the tips will be a serious burden.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) obviously read the brief and swallowed it with more enthusiasm than I did. I know the hon. Gentleman's constituency almost as well as I know my own. He referred to the practice in Cornish mining or quarrying of restoring at the end of the first year. The practice is that companies often do as much as they are going to do at the end of the first year. However, I humbly submit that that boils down to very little. Parts of the hon. Gentleman's constituency are like moorland. Past mining activities have left some areas like deserts. I refer to places such as Carharrack, St. Day and Lanner. Areas in the hon. Gentleman's constituency reflect the mining practices of 50 to 100 years ago. The mineral industries have turned them into an endless mass of rubbish.

Mr. Mudd

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would pause in his phenomenal and fantastic flight into rhetoric whilst I ask two questions. First, he suggested that five years was no good. If that is so, why has he not tabled an amendment extending the period to 20, 50 or 100 years? What is the right period? Secondly, will he be kind enough to explain to a simple soul such as myself which parts of Cornwall he would ravage to provide the soil to fill in his clay pits?

Mr. Penhaligon

The hon. Gentleman's latter point is not very good. Not unreasonably, one assumes that there was earth there before. Even today, when new pits are opened it is the practice to take earth from the top and to throw it to one side as if it were of no value. Hon. Members may shake their heads. I will take them to the pits and show them if they wish. I do not know how much time is needed, but 10 years would give a better guarantee than five.

If, at the end of two years, the restoration work is a success, I fail to see that any great expense will be incurred by the company. It will not have to do any more work on it. It will not have to invest any more labour. It will have only to keep an eye on it. As has been said, the responsibility can be transferred on disposal. If the responsibility is of no consequence, the obligation that is handed on will be of no consequence. It will not affect the value of the land in any effective sense.

I think that the House would be making a mistake if it accepted the amendment because that would reduce the protection given to an area that is putting itself into a considerable environmental difficulty to provide the country with raw materials.

Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I want to add my modest weight to the arguments that have been advanced in support of the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander). Several hon. Members have commented on the lobby. I admit that there has been a lobby. No one can deny that. There is nothing wrong with lobbies. What may be wrong is one's reaction to them. I support the right hon. Member for Norwich. North (Mr. Ennals), who said that he was aware that the people in his constituency were good operators with a decent and understanding concern for the quality of the environment. It was with that understanding that he responded to their concern.

I approach the matter on a similar basis. In my constituency there are stone and aggregate concerns of considerable importance. Some companies are immensely worried about the quality of the environment. As the Minister will recall, at the beginning of the debate concern was expressed about the lack of understanding among many of the commercial interests affected by the Bill, but the quality of enlightenment and understanding that resides in my hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Department has, to some extent, moved on to the shoulders of the people in those industries, despite the substantial commercial interests that are at stake.

Those concerned have accepted the need for aftercare. They have recognised that and do not quarrel with it, but they find it difficult to understand how a provision that was originally in the Bill, was not amended in the House of Lords and which had the wholehearted support of the Stevens committee, should subsequently be changed as much as it was. It is difficult for me to explain to them why that has happened. I have read the proceedings in Committee, and I agree with the arguments that have been advanced. The debate was short, and it was not possible for many of us to contribute to it.

It may be said that many concessions have been given to the industry, especially about compensation. That should be taken into balance in the overall package that the Bill contains. I ask my hon. Friend to quantify the balance, if that is a line of argument that he wishes to pursue. Can he support the contention that as much, or more, has been given to the industry than has been taken away by the provision? The answer to that is necessary to allow me to answer the questions that have been asked by my constituents.

I understand and appreciate that considerable pressure has been put on my hon. Friend by local authorities. The taxpayer and the ratepayer will have to bear a substantial burden of the cost of compensation. They are most concerned about that. I received a document this morning from the Lancashire county council, dated 18 May —the debate in Committee took place on 19 May —that argues for a five-year aftercare provision. That major local authority in my constituency —where there are substantial quarrying interests —does not support the argument that the five-year provision should be extended to 10 years. I find it hard to accept that in that case the council has been bringing pressure on the Department to increase the period to 10 years.

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) says that we should not rush in. I am the first person to accept that, but Conservative Members are advocating that we should revert to the five-year provision. If my hon. Friend the Minister wishes to insert a power to issue a regulation to extend that in the light of experience, no reasonable, rational person would quarrel with that, and we should not be rushing in. We should be able to test it in the light of experience. That is why I support the amendment.

Mr. Eric Cockeram (Ludlow)

I support the amendment because it deals with an important matter. About ¼million acres of land are being quarried in this country and that is a substantial area which is not in productive use for farming. It is important that after the quarry or mineral workings have finished the land should be restored to agricultural productivity as soon as possible.

We are not discussing the first five years. We agree what should happen then. The debate concerns the second five years. It would be more efficient if, during that period, the land were in the hands of a farmer, forester or smallholder —rather than in the hands of a quarry owner —because he would be much more likely to bring the land back into productive use than would a mineral worker, who would leave the land lying idle for years while awaiting the opportunity to get rid of it. It would be much more beneficial for the whole country if the land were returned to productive use as soon as possible.

Much of the land is on the fringe of towns, where aggregate and quarry workings are usually required. If the land were returned to a farmer or to one of the other people whom I have mentioned, it is more likely to be integrated with a smallholding, with the marginal extra acreage being turned to high productivity use.

I. Penhaligon

I do not disagree I much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but by supporting the amendment he is supporting the ending after five years of the obligation on the mineral owner to remedy restoration work if it is proved to have gone wrong. It is not a question whether anyone is farming the land or it is being left to I wild. I suspect that it will be farmed anyway, whether on a tenancy, a lease or whatever. The hon. Gentleman is arguing not about who will reclaim it, but about whether the liability for restoration if something goes wrong should end after five years. I see no reason for that.

Mr. Cockeram

I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. He asks for the liability to continue to the end of the tenth year in case it can be proved that something has not taken place. What is so special about 10 years? Why not 15 or 20 years? The hon. Gentleman seems to think that a magical transformation will take place at the end of the tenth year. I do not accept that.

After five years' work by the mineral worker, who will by anxious to offload responsibility for maintenance of the land, he will do all in his power to restore it to maximum productivity and beneficial use at the end of the fifth year. The sooner that it is returned to those who can maximise its use, the better.

Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) that this is an astonishing debate. It is astonishing to see so many Conservative Members here. They are clearly representing a lobby on behalf of the industry and not necessarily on behalf of their constituents who have to live with the results of the industry.

Your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, said that, exceptionally, amendment No. 3 would be considered. It is exceptional, because the matter was debated in Committee and it is rare for us to debate on the Floor of the House an amendment on which a decision was taken in Committee, but that is what happened.

The third unusual circumstance is that this was not an Opposition amendment. It was moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle), who, possibly for good reasons, is not in his place tonight. I am not criticising him. He persuaded both sides of the Committee and also his hon. Friend the Minister that the amendment was right.

10.45 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

The right hon. Member will recall that I spoke on Second Reading about the need for the extension to 10 years. Because of the peculiar workings of the House, I was not selected to serve on the Standing Committee. I therefore asked my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) to move what I can only describe as the Hillingdon amendment. The reason why so many of my hon. Friends are in the Chamber tonight, as the right hon. Gentleman has correctly indicated, is that opposition has built up to the Hillingdon amendment.

The reasons for the Hillingdon amendment were spelt out in Committee. I share the right hon. Gentleman's view that the 10-year period is right. I was responsible for causing the amendment to be moved by my hon. Friend, who kindly dealt with the matter in Committee. Everyone in Hillingdon was delighted and impressed with the words so wisely spoken by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in accepting the amendment. I share the astonishment of the right hon. Gentleman. Something has changed and I shall listen to his remarks with interest.

Mr. Oakes

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) for what he has said. Rarely have I given way to an hon. Member and heard such a favourable response. This matter was debated in Committee for a short time, in what I think the Minister will agree was a friendly Committee. Hon. Members did not have much to disagree about. After all is said and done, the Bill has been kicked about by several Governments, including the present Government, and I applaud them for introducing it.

The Stevens committee report appeared many years ago. The Government of which I was a member did not have time to implement it. The present Government had not previously found time to implement it. I remarked on Second Reading that the issue was very much a matter of balance between the environment and industry. In Committee I moved a number of amendments, some of which were accepted by the Government, in favour of industry, because I felt the balance had gone slightly wrong. I see that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) agrees with me. We tried to strike a balance within the provisions of the Stevens report.

Hon. Members in Committee heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth and of other hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Truro. I was convinced —I had been neutral—that 10 years was right because the Bill deals not only with agriculture, but with forestry. Five years is a minimal time in terms of forestry. Ten years is much more realistic. Conservative Members may shake their heads, but the argument also convinced the Minister.

Why is the industry so worried about the situation? An enormous amount of special pleading has been heard in this debate. If the industry does its job properly and restores the land within a period of five years, even though the statute says a 10-year period, what is there to worry about? It will have done its job. The land will have been restored and no more money will have to be spent. So why this lobby about a 10-year period and five-year period?

It is true that the Stevens committee recommended a five-year period. The Minister said that. He was convinced by the Committee. That is what Committees of the House are for. Hon. Members debate Bills upstairs and are swayed —as I was, because I repeat that it was not an Opposition amendment —by the force of the argument. When a Committee makes a decision, unless the Government change their mind and back-track on what has already been agreed —I suspect that that is what will happen —the matter is not debated again in the House. If a Committee expresses its view on an amendment, that amendment is not normally reselected for debate. That is what happens, unless the Government decide to back-track.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain this extraordinary notion that the Report stage is not supposed to be swayed and is supposed to accept, apparently without any further debate, the verdict of a Committee of the House? Is he really saying that? Will he modify some of his criticisms of the fact that a lobby has taken place? Surely it is right for hon. Members to respond to representations that they receive. In my case, I received sensible and constructive representations on behalf of an industry which is vital for employment locally and the construction industry generally. Surely there is nothing wrong in that. It is a sensible way to conduct a Report stage.

Mr. Oakes

I agree that there is nothing wrong with that. When I was a member of the Committee considering the Bill I, too, received many representations, some of which I put forward on behalf of the National Coal Board, the Stone Federation, and a number of other people who were involved with this measure. I was concerned basically with employment prospects—as Conservative Members probably are in voicing their opposition now, but I believe that they are misguided in opposing what was decided in Committee. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), who has been a Member of the House for a long time, knows that when an amendment is debated in Committee it is rare for that amendment, having been accepted by the Government, to be redebated by the House on Report. I do not know whether that has happened before.

Mr. Ennals

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not suggest that there is anything immoral or unparliamentarian about the House of Commons looking at a Bill that has gone through Committee, reaching a conclusion that part of its conclusions were wrong, and seeking to put it right on Report. That, as I see it, is the purpose of the Report stage. If the House were denied the opportunity of trying to make adjustments to what an admittedly good Committee has done, surely the House would be undermining its own powers. I should not want that to happen —nor, I hope, would my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Oakes

Of course I should not want that to happen, but time and again, when amendments are raised, even official Opposition amendments, on what has been debated in Committee, they are rightly not accepted by the Chair, because the Chair says that the matter has been debated upstairs and the decision has been made.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has made his point. Mr. Speaker selected the amendment, and we are discussing it.

Mr. Oakes

I want to make it clear that I am in no way attacking the Chair. I am merely saying that the matter was debated in Committee. However, I agree that we should leave the point.

The purpose of the amendment in Committee was to deal particularly with the position of forestry and where, as the hon. Member for Truro said tonight, within a five-year period something could go wrong and at the end of the period nothing could be done about it if it remained.

One hon. Member asked "Why 10 years? Why not 20 or 100?" In Committee we tried to strike a balance, which was that a 10-year period was fair. We did not want to make it 20 years, 50 or 100. Ten years seemed to the Committee to be more appropriate than five.

I do not know what the Minister will say. I hope that he will stick to the decision that he made in Committee, where he was swayed by the arguments, not of the Opposition, but of his hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, who moved the amendment and then received the Opposition's support. There was no vote on the amendment, because the Minister, I think rightly, accepted it. I hope that he will stick to his guns.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I listened with great interest to what the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said. I find myself in a minority, possibly of one, on the Conservative Benches. [HoN. MEMBERS: "ND."] I seem to be in a minority of two or three, or four or five. Perhaps that minority will be bigger when the House has heard what I have to say.

I realise that the arguments are finely balanced. I would not presume to summarise them, but I think that the case for reverting to the five-year period is that the Stevens committee, which looked into the matter carefully, concluded that that should be the period. The case for 10 years can be said to be that a period of five years is too short to determine whether the restoration has taken place successfully, at least on some sites. I think that that is the point that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) made. From my reading of the Official Report of the Committee stage I understood the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to believe that five years was a short time for a full restoration, and my hon. Friend the Minister spoke of its being a very short period for afforestation.

Incidentally, I admire the way in which my hon. Friend responded not only to the telling eloquence of my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) but to the more parochial rhetoric of the hon. Member for Truro, and again the telling eloquence of the right hon. Member for Widnes.

I do not know what my hon. Friend the Minister will say, but I should like to make what I believe to be a constructive suggestion. I have no financial interest, but perhaps I had better say, prudently, that I have a professional interest as a fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute. I do not know whether my suggestion will have the institute's agreement.

I propose that the 10-year provision should be left in the Bill but that the Secretary of State should issue a circular saying which sort of restoration work or sites should have a five-year period, a 10-year period, or whatever—

Mr. Skeet

That is too complicated.

Mr. Chapman

I do not think that it is. My hon. Friend, with his great experience of planning law, will know that any condition attached to a planning permission can be challenged by way of appeal. If a planning authority were minded to act unfairly and insist on a 10-year period when patently a five-year period would be more suitable, the Secretary of State could reverse the condition on appeal.

Mr. Skeet

My hon. Friend says that all the terms can be reversed on appeal, but considerable delay and cost are involved in going to appeal. There would be appeals under the clause, under section 41 of the 1971 Act and other parts of the Bill; there would be nothing but appeals. The procedure would be made more bureaucratic for the industry involved.

11 pm

Mr. Chapman

On this occasion I must disagree with both the tenor and content of my hon. Friend's intervention. There will be no delay, because we are talking about a condition relating to a period after the planning application has been worked through. When one applies for a planning application to win minerals, the condition refers to a period after the mineral has been exhausted, which might be 60 years. There would be no question of an economic delay to the winning of the mineral.

Mr. Ennals

It is very much more than the hon. Gentleman suggests. Under clause 5 the restoration condition means a condition requiring that after operations for the winning and working of minerals have been completed, the site shall be restored by the use of any or all of the following, namely, subsoil, topsoil and soil-making material Only after that period do we move to the aftercare conditions. Whether it be five or 10 years, the aftercare condition does not start until the restoration condition has been completed. We are talking not about five or 10 years from the start, but from when the job has been completed.

Mr. Chapman

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the planning application is made before any development takes place. The condition relates to the restoration period after the period in which the development takes place. In some cases that might be about 60 years. There is no additional cost. The matter can be dealt with by written exchanges of views. I shall be interested to hear the view of my hon. Friend the Minister.

Clause 5(7), after naming the period, uses the words or such other maximum period after compliance with that condition as may be prescribed My hon. Friend may suggest a reversion to the five-year period because —I am anticipating his words —the Secretary of State would have powers to prescribe a different period through regulations. I ask him to consider one point, namely, that it would be wrong to deal with the matter by way of regulation. It is far better that the period should be incorporated in the statute.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

I rise to support the amendment. I resent the suggestion that everyone who supports the amendment is necessarily in some way part of a lobby on behalf of a certain industry. I represent an island, a large part of which is at or below sea level. Any extractive activities in my constituency would disappear beneath the waves. We are more concerned with land reclamation than with quarrying or mining.

I am concerned, as are many other hon. Members, with the best possible protection of the environment that can be given after the necessary economic activity of extraction has taken place. It is fair to say that the extractive industries, both public and private, have an excellent reputation for the way in which they attempt to restore the land that they have used —not necessarily to its original condition but to a condition that will be acceptable for the economic activities and local amenities of the area.

Many parts of the country are scarred by the activities of bygone generations. My constituency of Portsmouth, North has a quarrying scar from many years ago. How do we ensure that the provisions of this excellent Bill create the best possible opportunities for the restoration of the environment?

At first sight it would be held by most people that a longer period of aftercare would be an improvement, and the longer the better. I have no quarrying or extractive interests in my constituency, but I have seen the documents that have been prepared by the extractive industry. I am not concerned especially with the industry's financial problems or any of its other difficulties but I am concerned that there was such a strong response from the industry. That suggests that if we move from five years to 10 years without presenting good and legitimate reasons for so doing, we shall impose on it a longer period of aftercare and we shall lose the industry's good will and enthusiasm to co-operate.

In this instance I would willingly trade the extra five years for the good will of the industry that will be directly concerned not only for the five-year aftercare but for the preparation for extraction and the carrying out of the extraction. From an environmental standpoint I think that it would be wise for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State seriously to consider the five-year aftercare period, which will have the full and enthusiastic support of the industry as well as what might be called the environmental lobby.

Mr. Giles Shaw

It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene now in what has been a significant debate. I find myself in a difficult position. The right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) recalled, as did the hon. Members for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) and Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), the debate that took place in Committee. It is true that the aftercare period of five years was incorporated in the Bill in accordance with the recommendations of the Stevens committee. I say to my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander), who introduced into our proceedings a speech of great quality, that the key to this piece of legislation is to achieve an effective balance between the interests of local authorities, which tax us through their rates, and the interests of the industry that provides jobs and essential products for so many other industries.

The question of balance lies at the heart of the way in which the Committee considered the proposals before it. The debate in Committee was not a long one. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) said that a representative of the industry said that he could not understand how the Committee could have arrived at such a decision. The debate in Committee was of great quality, although it was not of great quantity. The Committee had to decide how to handle the proposal that was admirably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) on behalf of the representative of the Hillingdon proposal. That was the amendment that was subsequently accepted, although not on a vote, by the Committee. The right hon. Member for Widnes and I were persuaded by the fact that the agriculture and forestry issue appeared to be stronger when set against the 10-year provision instead of the five-year provision.

The hon. Member for Truro said that his constituency had suffered the ravages of an extractive industry, whose operations took place long before the more enlightened planning restraints that are to be available under the Bill, if the House so pleases. I might describe the hon. Member's comments as the earthy views of the prophet Micah. He has rightly drawn attention to the problem of reclamation. However, we must recognise that that balance must struck.

In Committee there was a vote. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale must accept that. More members of the Committee sought to make the provision a 10-year one than those who sought to retain the five-year provision. Being a democrat at heart, I recognise, although my school certificate in maths was of the illegible kind, that on the date and time in question I made a point of not resisting the amendment. Equally, I must tell the House that the persuasion of the agricultural and forestry factor was, in my judgment, very sound.

Since then, I have made considerable inquiries about those elements and how the Stevens committee, which is at the essence of the debate, arrived at the original recommendation. It appears that that recommendation came from the evidence given to that committee by the Derbyshire county council, which urged the adoption of the National Coal Board's standard arrangement, under which the restored site would be managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for five years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) quoted that provision which suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food found that an acceptable aftercare period for agricultural purposes. The reference to the Ministry's direct involvement in the restoration of opencast coal sites is important. I have confirmed that it does not normally require special aftercare measures to be taken for more than five years.

We must accept that what goes on within the five years after the initial phase of reclamation is crucial to the development of the land as a productive unit. There is a fair point to be made, that what is crucial is that first five-year period —the commencement of crop growing, the planting of trees, and certainly not their maturity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) rightly said that if the land were to be restored to agricultural purposes, the husbandman should have the land available to him at an earlier date than 10 years. That case would also apply to forestry. In the agricultural and forestry argument, there is a strongly-held belief by those who are primarily responsible, namely, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that a five-year period, after considerable experience through the National Coal Board and its activities, is normal for special aftercare measures to be taken.

It has been remarkable that different views have been expressed, although the majority support my hon. Friend the Member for Newark's amendment. Therefore, it is likely that there could be differences of opinion about the optimum period. My hon. Friend was perhaps unfairly criticised for stopping at 10, as opposed to 15, 20, 25 or 30 years. I do not believe that any hon. Member would know the precise number of years required for any given site. What we have to do in a piece of primary legislation is to arrive at the most appropriate average period. I remind the House of a second point on the question of years. We have the power to alter that period by regulation.

Much research is still being done on the problem, and it could well be that in due time a more effective average period would be regarded by those who should advise us on these matters, such as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as more appropriate to be issued by regulation. However, as we stand here now, there is pretty strong evidence that, for agriculture and forestry purposes at least, a return to the Stevens' recommendation of five years would be acceptable.

11.15 pm

The right hon. Member for Widnes, throughout the Committee proceedings, made most important contributions to the matter of balance. I say to him and to other hon. Members who served on the Committee that had the argument been placed before the Committee it might have swayed some who felt that an extension to 10 years was preferable.

I make another point clear in response to those who sought to suggest that the matter is essential for industry. As is his wont, the hon. Member for Ashfield made it clear that he thought that this was a put-up job. Let me issue this caveat —and I come back to the right hon. Member for Widnes. What we are concerned about is to set out in primary legislation the correct parameters, as we see them now, for aftercare, among the other factors in the Bill.

There is no doubt in my mind that industry would be most unwise if it assumed that what it was writing into the Bill was a total commitment that for ever and a day the case that it sought to make in relation to the provision could not and would not be altered. Should we accept the five-year period, if its operation showed deficiencies, as it most assuredly did for generations in the consituency of the hon. Member for Truro, I trust that the Government of the day would do their duty to restore the balance. In the end, what we are seeking tonight is to establish better environmental control, as well as sensible planning regulation, of this essential extractive industry.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Would my hon. Friend clarify one point, because it is of some importance? It is the question of his reserve powers relating to the alteration of the maximum period. Is he saying that he has no early intention of using the powers and that whatever decision is taken by the House will remain the case unless the circumstances totally change?

Mr. Shaw

It would not be the Government's intention to pass a piece of primary legislation, including a provision as crucial as this, and in six months' time to alter it by regulation. The power for alteration lies within the Bill, and the Government of the day must take due care that the performance of the aftercare principle is satisfactory, that the restoration is maintained, and that we are not back where we were in having an aftercare period that is environmentally not worth it.

Whatever the period is, there has to be a partnership between the mineral operator, the mineral authority and the farmer or other ultimate user of the land. If the mineral operator considers that he has been treated unfairly, and if his compliance with the aftercare conditions is grudging and not wholehearted, as my hon. Friends also made clear, we shall not achieve the good restoration that lies at the heart of this part of the Bill and is clearly crucial to the amendment.

It has been clear that for whatever reasons the industry feels strongly that the amendment period, as passed in Committee, would place an unreasonable burden on it. It is true that the period in the Bill is a maximum, but I nevertheless recognise that if we are to alter the proposal now contained in the Bill the alteration must be carried out for good reasons and not merely because the provision happens to be a disadvantage to the industry at a given time.

I recognise equally, however, that the commitment of the industry, like the commitment of the local mineral authority, to accept the intentions of the Bill and to operate it fairly and without favour is essential. From what my hon. Friends have said, and for the reasons that I have given, I believe that we should perhaps risk that good will if we kept the provision for a 10-year aftercare period in the Bill. I have to recognise that ultimately less may be achieved by imposing a 10-year aftercare period on an unwilling operator than by the wholehearted co-operation of that operator over a five-year period.

I have therefore concluded that the amendment made in Committee would be unlikely to lead to better restoration and could well be counter-productive. I have also concluded —and this is the advice of the Ministry of Agriculture —that the agricultural and afforestation uses of restoration which are so clearly important would be satisfactorily dealt with within the shorter five-year period.

Therefore, unusual though this may be, I am prepared —not being of massive dimension —to evolve what the hon. Member for Ashfield might call a U-turn. I am big enough to do that. I therefore advise the House to accept the amendment to restore the aftercare period to the five-year period originally recommended by the Stevens committee.

Mr. Best

I am happy to be the first to compliment my hon. Friend the Minister on having accepted the amendment. It is right to say at this stage that he has nurtured the Bill extremely carefully and has given great care and consideration to the deliberations on it. Indeed, so assiduous is he that he was prepared to come and see me at 1 o'clock this morning to discuss my fears about this provision. In case that might be misinterpreted by any hon. Member, I should say that it was in the Library of the House of Commons rather than at any more disreputable venue that my hon. Friend sought me out at that hour of the morning.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has accepted the amendment, because I believe that it represents a fair balance between the interests of the environment arid those of the industry. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) knows that I like him very much as an individual. He knows also that it is accepted in the House that when he makes a contribution he speaks with conviction. It is a great shame that, with all his experience of mining, and particularly of the coal mining industry, he was unable to tell us what was required in respect of opencast mining. It was my hon. Friend who was able to enlighten us on that. I hope that, having heard my hon. Friend's remarks, the hon. Gentleman's fears will be allayed with regard to the proposition that has now been accepted by the Minister.

It is true that there is a lobby on the Conservative side of the House tonight. Indeed, it is not exclusive. It is on the Opposition side as well. There is nothing dishonourable about that. I hope that the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) will accept that there is nothing dishonourable in a Minister, or indeed any hon. Member, changing his mind in the light of superior arguments that he hears advanced in support of a particular contention. That is the way this institution works. I am sure that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman will accept that that is right.

I believe that the evidence in support of the proposition accepted by my hon. Friend is overwhelming. It is therefore right that the amendment should be accepted, notwithstanding any question of a lobby on behalf of those in a particular industry, who, after all, are constituents just as much as are the environmentalists.

There is one matter that has not been advanced tonight, and it is right that it should be placed on the record. The mining interests are not always the gargantuan, monumental concerns that will tread underfoot the interests of the environmentalist lobby. The quarrymen are often rather small business men who, especially at this time of national economic difficulty, are in need of the greatest help.

In support of that view I refer to a letter from a quarryman in my constituency. The final sentence reads: I would only add that it is already difficult enough to run a business without the imposition of further liabilities, particularly beyond that which seems reasonable". That is the gravamen of the argument. The amendment is reasonable, and will be perceived to be reasonable, I suspect and sincerely hope, not only by those who have sought to put it forward, but by those who are concerned, as we all are, about the environment. If we can all go away tonight feeling that the compromise is a reasonable one, that will be a triumph for the House.

Mr. Oakes

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make clear my view that there is nothing wrong with a lobby. I was merely saying to the House that there are two sides to every question. There is the environmental aspect, and there is the industry aspect. The Minister, in his very fair summing up, made that clear. He said that the period, whether it be 10 years, as agreed by the Committee, or five years, which he accepts, is not a period laid down for all time. The Minister can, in the light of this new legislaton, vary that period in certain circumstances.

It could, of course, go the other way. If the 10-year period had been accepted, the Minister could have reduced it to five years. From my point of view, the industry "doth protest too much". The period of five years in the amendment is not permanent. In the light of experience, the Minister or a successor Minister could vary it if he felt it necessary to do so.

In the circumstances, I do not think that it would be right for the Opposition to divide the House on the amendment, especially in view of the Minister's fair statement about why he has changed his mind. I accept that explanation, and we do not propose to divide the House.

Mr. Shersby

I greatly appreciate what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has said during this evening's debate. The amendment that he rightly accepted in Committee in the light of the circumstances then prevailing has triggered off what has undoubtedly been an interesting debate. It has also provided the opportunity for a large number of hon. Members to attend the House at 11.30 pm to consider what is not an unimportant matter. He dealt admirably with the points that were raised.

I originally asked my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) if he would be good enough to make a number of points on behalf of the London borough of Hillingdon, because anyone who has flown over Hillingdon will realise that the whole of the Colne Valley around London airport consists of dug out gravel pits, and we have to face the problems that are caused by mineral extraction.

11.30 pm

The London borough of Hillingdon provides 25 per cent. of all minerals supplied in the London area. That gives an idea of the scope of the problem with which we have to contend. It was the considered view of the planning department of the London borough of Hillingdon that a 10-year period would have been preferable. There was also the desirability of applying the 10-year rule because of afforestation considerations and the views which it was believed were then held by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. All those arguments came together and resulted in the amendment being carried.

In considering what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said, I feel, on balance, in view of the strong views expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends, that it is probably right for the House, on Report, to look at the matter again and to support the Minister in what he said about restoring the five-year period, on the clear understanding that the matter will be kept under review, and if the five-year period proves not to be satisfactory it can be altered by statutory instrument.

The overriding point made by my hon. Friend, which sways me in the argument and convinces me not to divide the House on this matter, is that we are more likely to get restoration completed within a shorter rather than a longer period. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the trouble that he has taken to consult interested parties, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, on this important matter. This has been a valuable debate, and I am extremely grateful to him and his colleagues for the work that they have done, and for taking so much trouble to debate these matters at length in the House tonight.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. W. Benyon

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 8, line 18, after 'permission' , insert— '"forestry" means the growing of a utilisable crop of timber;'.

The Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 24, in clause 22, page 31, line 19, at end insert 'and "forestry" means the growing of a utilisable crop of timber'. No. 32, in schedule 1, page 51, leave out lines 11 to 14. No. 34, in schedule 3, page 53 leave out lines 20 to 23.

Mr. Benyon

On the face of it, this group of amendments is curious. The background is as follows. The Forestry Commission, when asked for a definition of the aftercare provisions on a planning permission, gave the definition contained in the amendment. It was tempting for me to intervene in the previous debate, because the definition gives the lie to those who are worried about the forestry applications. Having restored a number of mineral workings to forestry, I know that five years is a reasonable time.

The definition was incorporated in schedules 1 and 2. The reason for the amendment is that this is the first time in any legislation that "forestry" has been defined. Although this is a good definition in relation to aftercare, it does not ever the whole ambit of forestry and it could be taken as a precedent, which would be unfortunate. Considerable anxiety has therefore been felt in the forestry industry.

The definition, for instance, does not include forestry enterprises such as firewood, turning, craft material, shelter belts and coppicing. The purpose of the amendment is to delete the definition from the schedules and to insert it in clause 5. The definition therefore relates simply and solely to aftercare, and a very good definition it is.

I hope, with that brief explanation, that my hon. Friend will feel disposed to make the change.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Once I start on the magnanimous road, I find it difficult to leave it. I am pleased to advise the House to accept the amendments commended by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), which rightly restore the definition of "forestry" to the major portion of the Bill, as opposed to the schedules. This is an improvement, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing it.

Amendment agreed to.

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