HL Deb 17 July 1958 vol 210 cc1203-11

11.15 a.m.

Order of the Day for receiving the Report of Amendments read.


My Lords, your Lordships will remember that when we dealt with this Bill in Committee last week, we were not able to take the Amendments to the Schedules, and it was agreed that they should be left until Report. The narrow proceedings of Report stage do not seem to me to be a satisfactory way of dealing with Amendments of importance and difficulty. I have, therefore, after the usual consultations, put down a Motion to recommit the Bill forthwith in respect of the Schedules, and to take the full Report stage on the whole Bill as soon as we have finished these Recommitment proceedings. I hope your Lordships will agree that this is the most practical way of dealing with the Bill. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved, That the Report of the Amendments be now received, and that the Bill be re-committed in respect of the Schedules, and that Standing Order No. 41 be dispensed with in order that the Report of all the Amendments made in Committee of the Whole House be received this day.—(Lord Mills.)


My Lords, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, may I say that we agree with the suggestion made. But we hope that we shall have some regard to the lateness of the hour tonight.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the Schedules of the Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the Schedules of the Bill.—(Lord Mills.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

First Schedule:

Procedure for granting authorisations under section one

4. Before submitting to the Minister an application for the Minister's authorisation under section one of this Act, the Board shall— (b) serve on every local planning authority in whose area any part of the relevant land is situated, and on every other local authority, being the council of a county, county borough or county district, in whose area any part of that land is situated, a notice in the prescribed form stating that the application is intended to be submitted to the Minister, and specifying the time (not being less than twenty-eight days from the service of the notice) within which, and the manner in which objections to the application can be made;

LORD BURDEN had given Notice of several Amendments to paragraph 4 to provide that notice of application for Minister's authorisation under Clause 1 should be served on river boards. The first Amendment was in paragraph (b), to omit the first "and". The noble Lord said: River boards and drainage boards attach the greatest importance to the principle underlying Amendments Nos. 1 to 7 on the Marshalled List, and I suggest that it may be for the convenience of the Committee if they are considered together.

I need not remind your Lordships that quietly, and without any of the glamour of publicity, river boards and drainage boards are doing work of vital importance to the national economy. I sometimes wonder whether it is because of the absence of publicity that from time to time river boards, or the interests of river boards and drainage boards, tend to be overlooked—I am trying to use a colourless word—by other Departments. By Clause 1 of the Bill the National Coal Board are prohibited from working by opencast operations except under an authorisation by the Minister of Power. Under the First Schedule to the Bill the National Coal Board—I will use the term "Board" in future—are required to send notice of their application for such an authorisation to all local planning authorities and to all other local authorities, other than parish councils, in whose areas any part of the land concerned is situated and to the owners, lessees and occupiers of that land, and to publish a notice in the London Gazette and the local Press. In the Bill the expression, "local authority" has the same meaning as in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which includes any drainage board. But in the First Schedule there is inserted a limitation, and the term is to apply, or is restricted to, county councils, county borough councils and county district councils.

The result of that restriction is that neither a river board nor an internal drainage board would be entitled to be served with a notice of proposed opencast coal working. It will be readily seen that, as a result, although a drainage authority may be vitally interested, its only means of knowing what is proposed to be done will be to watch the London Gazette or the local Press for any announcement of the Board's intention. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that even with the greatest vigilance such a matter could be easily overlooked; and, frankly, I cannot see any valid reason why one public authority should not in decency be ready and required to give notice to another public authority of proposals which may adversely affect the work which that other authority has done or is doing on behalf of another Ministry or on the instructions of another Ministry.

A period of twenty-eight days is to be allowed for lodging objections, and unless all objections are withdrawn the Minister must hold a public local inquiry. By the same reasoning it is submitted that where a drainage authority objects to the proposal of the Board the Minister should also be required to cause a public local inquiry to be held. Moreover, it is considered that in such a case the person holding the inquiry should be appointed jointly—I repeat, "jointly"—by the Minister of Power and the appropriate Minister concerned, it may be the Minister of Agriculture, it may be the Minister of Housing and Local Government, because obviously the work of drainage and river boards is closely associated with both those Government Departments. It is perfectly true that in another place similar Amendments were resisted on the ground that to include drainage boards would he to open the door wide for other authorities to apply to receive notice. But I say, with respect, that drainage authorities are more vitally concerned with opencast working than any other interest that I can think of. In the past, instances have occurred where drainage levels have been entirely altered by opencast coal working. I am sure that if one looks at the matter calmly and reasonably the work of one public authority ought not to damage or hamper the work of another.

In the course of the Second Reading the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, Lord Mills, stated that the National Coal Board had informed him that, in addition to these formal requirements as specified in the Bill at the moment, they—that is the National Coal Board—before applying for the Minister's authorisation for opencast coal working, would discuss their plans informally with the owners and occupiers of the land, the local authorities and other public bodies likely to be interested. The Board's aim in these informal discussions will be to work out a detailed proposal which is acceptable to all the parties concerned. I think I am quoting correctly what the noble Lord said. I will not inflict on the House today that phrase which Members of this House have heard so many times: "Put it in the Bill". But if it is intended that drainage boards are to be included among the public bodies likely to be interested, again quoting the noble Lord's words, I can say that this assurance is welcomed by the associations concerned. But in view of the very serious repercussions which opencast coal operations may have on their interests, the drainage boards and river boards are firmly of the opinion that, for the reasons I have ventured to submit to your Lordships, there is no justification for excluding them, as is done in the Schedule, from the definition of "public authority" given in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.

May I, in conclusion, make it clear that these Amendments will in no way detract from the authority of the Minister of Power. They seek only to ensure that before the final decision is given all the interests vitally concerned, and all the factors in every particular instance, are fully considered by those who know the facts, and that they will place their knowledge unreservedly at the disposal of the National Coal Board to ensure that inadvertently—I repeat, "inadvertently"—damage is not done in the way which I have indicated. Therefore while I repeat that these Amendments in no way impinge on the authority, the final decision, of the Minister of Power, I hope that the Amendments will commend themselves to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 63, line 46, leave out (" and ").—(Lord Burden.)


I do not in any way underestimate the importance of the river boards and drainage boards, but I am afraid that I cannot accept the principle underlying this Amendment, which, as the noble Lord has said, can be conveniently considered with Amendments Nos. 2 to 7 on this Marshalled List. The granting of an authorisation for opencast coal working is essentially a planning matter. Normally, planning matters are settled by the local planning authority, and no other public authority has a legal right to be heard on a planning application. In the present Bill we have gone beyond this and have given other local authorities in whose areas a proposed opencast coal site is situated a right to have their objections heard at a public local inquiry; but I am afraid that we cannot go further and extend that right to river boards and drainage authorities. The noble Lord himself has given the answer why his Amendments are not acceptable. There is no case for treating these authorities differently from other public bodies.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but what public authorities has the noble Lord in mind?


I will certainly explain what I have in mind. If we granted this concession we should have to give a similar right to such authorities as water undertakers, the British Transport Commission, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the dock and harbour authorities. If we once brought in these public bodies we should have to include in the First Schedule a very long list indeed, and that would inevitably greatly complicate the procedures under the Bill, involve a lot of work and delay the bringing of new opencast coal sites into production.

While I cannot accept these Amendments there are two provisions in the First Schedule which go a long way to safeguard the interests of river boards and drainage authorities and to meet the points which the noble Lord has made. The first is the provision in paragraph 4 (a), which requires the Board to publish notice of their application for an authorisation in local newspapers and in the London Gazette or the Edinburgh Gazette. This provision will ensure that public bodies who are not entitled to receive an individual notice will have ample opportunity to find out that the Board are applying for an authorisation and, if they so wish, to lodge objections. The second provision is paragraph 7 (3), which empowers the Minister to hold a public local inquiry even though no objections have been received from the owners and occupiers of the land and the local authorities who are entitled to have their objections heard at such an inquiry. This provision was expressly included because we envisaged that there would be cases when substantial objections might be received from other public bodies which the Minister would wish to hear at a public local inquiry before deciding on the Board's application. I quite understand the desire to "put it in the Bill," but I also have to safeguard the scope of the Bill, to see that it is not unduly burdened. I trust that, in view of the safeguards I have mentioned, the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press these Amendments.


I am bound to thank the noble Lord for his courteous reply, but may I point out to him with respect, that the Department concerned, the Ministry of Power, are themselves responsible for the difficulties in which we find ourselves this morning. If they had retained in this Bill the definition of "public authorities" as contained in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, no trouble would have arisen, and the British Transport Commission, the Central Electricity Generating Board and all those ancillary bodies to which the noble Lord has made reference would have had to look after their own interests. Cannot the noble Lord see that by this limitation the Schedule specifically limits rights that were given to the river boards and drainage boards by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947? Naturally, they take exception to that limitation. I feel that it is because they are not a local body like, say, some great town council that they are somewhat brusquely put on one side and are not treated in full measure as a public or a local authority. But, of course, they are a local authority. It is true that they are one degree removed, because their members are appointed from the various councils within the area or nominated by the Minister; but the river boards are a public authority in the same sense as a local council. The members of the river boards report to their local councils. For the life of me, I cannot see why we have to bring in the Central Electricity Generating Board or the British Transport Commission. Keep the definition that is contained in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and no difficulty will arise.


I am quite unable to follow the argument which the noble Lord, Lord Mills, has raised against my noble friend's Amendments. He says that if this proposal is accepted it would logically follow that there should be included in the Bill, as bodies entitled to notice, such authorities as the Central Electricity Generating Board or similar public undertakings—for instance, British Railways. But those bodies are entitled to express notice under the Bill as it stands, because they are owners or occupiers of property. A river board is not in that position because it is not an owner or occupier of property in the area with which it is concerned. Therefore, it will not automatically get notice, as all these other public bodies will, although they are not expressly mentioned. It is on that account that I think the Amendments are absolutely correct.

The noble Lord also, if I understood him correctly, said that an objection to this proposal was that it would give the river board a locus standi to be heard at any public inquiry, and he did not want that. But I think that he contradicted himself when he referred to a later paragraph in the Schedule which gives the Minister power to hold a local inquiry, even although it has not been asked for by an owner or occupier of property in the district; and he indicated that that would entitle a river board to ask for a local inquiry. If that is so, then his objection that this would give the river boards a locus standi, is entirely fallacious.


I rise to support the Amendment which has been moved. I am associated with the same central association as the noble Lord, Lord Burden, and I think that we should weigh all the considerations that come into play.


I thank the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, and the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, for their contributions to this discussion. I would point out two things. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, when the Minister of Housing and Local Government deals with a planning application only the local planning authority has a right to be heard. Here we have made a wide provision which enables the Minister to consider any appeal. I have already said there is ample notice to the river boards and drainage boards. They can easily ascertain when an authorisation is applied for, and they can make their objections known. In regard to the other bodies, I would point out that many of them do not own all the property in which they have an interest. For example, water undertakers do not normally own their water gathering grounds, so that drainage boards and river boards, important as they are, are not in a unique position. I believe there is ample provision for objections to be laid and heard and I regret that I cannot agree to this Amendment.


The noble Lord can carry this and get his own way, but I wonder whether I may ask his good offices in this way. I have not the slightest doubt that the National Coal Board want to be reasonable in this matter, but recalling what was said by the Minister in his Second Reading speech, is it possible for him to arrange for some informal discussions between representatives of the associations and the National Coal Board, with a view to seeing whether, within their own ambit, they can work out a solution to this problem? I am not going to press the matter to a Division, for I know that I should be beaten, and I do not wish to impede the progress of this Bill. With due respect, I feel that the noble Lord has not dealt with the substance of the point made by my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch, but I will let that pass. It will be recalled that in connection with another Bill we were able to arrange for informal discussions, led by the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, and to reach a friendly and amicable understanding. I am throwing out an olive branch. Is it possible for some such informal discussions so that possibly some agreement may be reached?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I will gladly give the assurance that I will discuss the matter with the National Coal Board in the hope that they can take on a voluntary basis such measures as will be satisfactory to the river and drainage boards.


My Lords, in those circumstances the Amendment can be negatived. I do not propose to move the other Amendments.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

First Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule agreed to.

Third Schedule [Provisions as to compensation by way of payment of costs of works]:

11.43 a.m.

LORD MILLS moved to leave out the Third Schedule and insert the following new Schedule: