§ Queen's Recommendation having been signified—
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make amendments relating to the winning and working of minerals in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 and amendments relating to rights for the purpose of the conveyance of minerals in section 2 of the Mines (Working Facilities and
Support) Act 1966, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the said Act of the present Session in the sums so payable under any other Act.—[Mr. Thompson.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Perhaps the hon. Member would like to continue. It is unusual for a Minister not to be present, but I think that he may be coming shortly.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not make too much complaint about such things, but there are issues to be raised on this motion. Partly, it is the concern of Lothian region relating to a report that we have received from our director of physical planning, who believes that there is considerable doubt whether the proposed subsection (3A) which clause 18 proposes to insert in section 19 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 encompasses the removal of material from waste retorted oil-shale bings.
It seems that this process is peculiar to the area of West Lothian and that the method of working oil-shale is such that the material eventually deposited in the bing may be seen as the product of an industrial process as opposed to a mineral working deposit. Consequently, a case may exist for the contention that the removal of material from a deposit of retorted oil-shale is not a mining operation and is not, therefore, brought within the limits of planning control.
It is suggested that to close this potential loophole an amendment might be forthcoming from the Government to clause 18(1) along the lines that a new paragraph (ii) should be added to the proposed subsection (3A)(a) to read:from a deposit of retorted oil-shale; orand that consequential amendments should be made to existing sub-paragraphs. I do not expect an answer from the Government tonight, but I undertook to the local authorities concerned to put that on the record.
There is considerable concern about the Bill because it imposes a duty on local planning authorities to review mineral planning consents. It also permits them to review and alter consents at five-yearly intervals, removing the operators' present entitlememt to compensation for alterations made with that frequency.
Although a few types of alterations remain fully compensable, these are types which can hardly be altered restrictively in any case. Although the Bill provides for modified compensation for alterations made, the scale of modified compensation is not contained in the Bill, and the intention is clearly that in making alterations the authorities will plan their revisions of consents entirely in the non-compensable area.
The effect of the Bill is to place the planning authorities under pressure and incentive to alter our planning conditions at five-yearly intervals, and whether they change them at five-yearly or at greater intervals the operator is faced with additional resultant costs and losses to which no maximum is set by the Bill.
Does the Minister agree that no maximum is set by the Bill? What figures are involved? The power given by the Bill to impose additional costs on the industry, without ceiling, may well be fairly objectionable.
592 Although these costs are not quantified in the Bill, we have taken account of the indications given to us by the Department of the Environment on the extent of the costs which, by the later issue of regulations by the Minister under the enabling powers of the Bill, they will for the meantime permit local authorities to impose on firms in the industry.
The proposal advanced by the Department is that the authorities will be able immediately to impose costs not exceeding 20 per cent. of the mineral value of our assets and to repeat such imposition every five years or possibly at somewhat longer intervals.
In principle, the imposition of a five- or ten-yearly regime on an industry which must take a long-term view of its operations and of its investment decisions is misconceived and represents, one might justifiably say, a trivialisation of the planning system. It does not fit the industrial policy of any party. It may represent an accommodation of dated and marginal environmental pressures, or the official interpretation of these at local or national level, without realistic assessment of their environmental benefits. Even if the industry could afford it, we seriously doubt that the measures capable of being exacted from the industry by the local authorities, in pursuit of this power to impose costs, will be of value to the environment.
The dated pressures which have led to the Bill relate to derelict mineral workings of a former era. Planning conditions now being agreed between mineral operators and planning authorities for current workings already represent the fullest exercise of the ingenuity of both the industry and the planners in contributing to the environment. In any case, the contribution to be made to the environment by tidy restoration of mineral workings is now quite unimportant in the total spectrum of environmental interest and frequently counter-environmental as regards genetic diversity. The proposals for more intensive control reflect the expired period of expanding government.
That view has been put to the Government by British Industrial Sand Ltd. and by other companies. There is a case to be answered. BIS states that the Bill is thus something of an anachronism and that its principal effect in return for the non-productive costs imposed on operators will be merely to make the administration of planning control even more complicated and expensive than it is already. The industry's main protest at this time against the Bill is an economic and financial one.
The industry states that it stands to forfeit up to 20 per cent. of the mineral value of its assets at every review. The total of this burden on the industry, for each review period, is calculated by the industry and the government alike at £100 million, which can be repeated. Although the industry fully appreciates genuine environmental advance and accepts that in times of reasonable prosperity it should meet part of its costs, it rejects the present imposition. Its customer industries are not able, it says, to absorb these non-productive and non-beneficial costs by way of increased prices.
The proposals as they stand can only lessen the industry's ability to employ its depleted labour force and to supply essential user industries. In current conditions the proposals, according to the industry, should have been suspended. Any legislation at this time should provide for an effective date after the recovery of the economy. Even in the best circumstances, a level of additional costs at 20 593 per cent. of the mineral value every five to 10 years is not supportable. The maximum burden that the industry could contemplate would be 10 per cent. arising at minimum intervals of 15 years. If this ceiling is to produce confidence and stability in the industry, the industry says that it should be written into the Bill.
This is a serious case. I have to declare a constituency interest, although it is not a personal one. Instead of automatically accepting the Bill, we should ask the Minister for the explanation that I am sure he is prepared to give.
§ 12.2 am
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)
I shall comment on the points raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). He mentioned the problems of the shale-oil workings in relation to his constituency. As he will understand, that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Although the Bill has a remit over Scotland, I should wish to discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend before giving the hon. Gentleman a detailed answer in writing.
The hon. Gentleman has raised several important points on the two most obvious and outstanding matters—namely, the compensation formula and the formula's effect on the industry and, therefore, on the environmental pressures that the Bill seeks to apply to the restoration of mineral workings. In the past few weeks, significant discussions have been held with local authority representatives and with representatives of the CBI minerals committee in order to arrive at an agreed formulation for the compensation clauses.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of a significant 20 per cent. impost involving £100 million per quinquennium. That burden would add too significantly to the industry's costs and would be detrimental to this valuable industry. I can give the hon. Gentleman two assurances. First, the Government recognise the importance of arriving at a formula that is less destructive of the industry's potential than that which was originally discussed and quoted by the hon. Gentleman. Secondly, on reflection, we agree that some parameters to the compensation policy should be included in the Bill in Committee, if hon. Members so wish. It would be our intention to move in that direction if the Bill should reach Committee, which I sincerely hope it will.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make amendments relating to the winning and working of minerals in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 and amendments relating to rights for the purpose of the conveyance of minerals in section 2 of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to said Act of the present Session in the sums so payable under any other Act.