§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Ever since 1947, mineral working has, in the main, been subject to the same planning controls as other forms of development. It is perhaps somewhat surprising that a system which was designed to control the spread of urban development has worked so well for so long in its application to mining and quarrying, for these differ from other forms of development in two important respects.
First, mining operations are not like the erection of a building, in that they can go on on the same site for a very long time indeed—there are some mines and quarries in operation today which were worked in Roman times. The consequence of this is that, although everyone may have been content with the 497 way these operated when they were first opened, the greater concern with environmental matters today means that such quarries may be being worked in an unsatisfactory manner. There is therefore a need for regular review to see that modern standards are met.
And yet, secondly, although workings can go on for a long time, they are essentially a temporary use of land, and what is more, they are of a destructive nature. Therefore, the effects on the land need to be repaired, and preparations need to be made for an acceptable after-use. Much current dereliction has arisen from inadequate or non-existent restoration after mineral working has finished, and we need to ensure that present workings do not contribute to dereliction in the future.
In the early 1970s, both local planning authorities and the mining industry were expressing increasing concern about the adequacy of the current system to cope with a rising demand for indigenous materials, particularly the supply of aggregates for the construction industry. Local authorities were worried in particular that conditions attached to planning permissions granted in the early years of planning legislation were not sufficiently stringent, and also that they did not have enough powers to apply and enforce modern conditions. On the other hand, mining and quarrying companies were concerned that planning authorities did not understand their problems, and, in particular, that the authorities did not give sufficient weight to the importance of long-term planning, or to speed in handling planning applications.
In order to study these problems, the Government appointed, in August 1972, the Committee on Planning Control over Mineral Working. I should like to pay tribute to the chairman of the committee, the late Sir Roger Stevens, and his three colleagues, for their extremely valuable work, and their thorough and comprehensive report.
The report of the committee was published in February 1976. It contains some one hundred recommendations, which have been discussed in some detail with the local authority associations, the mining industry, amenity bodies and others with an interest in the extraction of minerals. Government Circulars were issued in 1978 by the Departments of the Environment, Industry and Scottish Development and by the Welsh Office, setting out which recommendations it was intended to implement.
The changes which the Government propose to make fall into four categories. First, there are a number which require primary legislation, and these are of course the subject of this Bill. Before I describe these in more detail, I should like briefly to mention the other three kinds of action we are proposing to take, because I believe the implementation of the Stevens Committee recommendations should be looked at as a total package. Some of the parts of the package—in particular the primary legislation—will be of particular assistance to the local planning authorities, while others will be of greater benefit to the industry; but overall the complete package will lead to an improved legislative framework, in which planning control can operate over mineral workings, and to a streamlined and more efficient system, which will pay due regard to the long-term planning needs of the mining industry.
The second part of the package consists of amend- 498 ments to the General Development Order. For reasons which I shall explain later, it is not sensible to proceed with these until the Bill has received Royal Assent.
Thirdly, the Government propose to issue a new edition of the memorandum which is colloquially known as the "Green Book", but which is more correctly entitled, The Control of Mineral Working. The last edition was produced as long ago as 1960, and a new edition has been universally requested—indeed, it is one matter on which the Stevens Committee, industry, local authorities and environmentalists, are united. Good progress is being made with the preparation of this text, and I hope that draft chapters will be available for consultation very soon now. A printed version will be produced after the legislative changes have been enacted.
Finally, the Stevens Committee recommended that every effort should be made to formulate and refine national policies for individual minerals, and to reconcile these policies with each other, and with national policies for other land uses. Following the report entitled Aggregates: The Way Ahead, of the committee chaired by Sir Ralph Verney, the Government has been working with county councils in England and Wales, and representatives of the quarrying industry, to develop regional guidelines for aggregate minerals production, and to ensure that the national demand is met and that inter-regional flow arrangements are adequate to cater for shortfalls in certain regions. Again, good progress is being made, and I very much welcome the co-operative spirit in which these discussions have taken place. In Scotland, an alternative form of aggregate guidelines has already been prepared in consultation with the industry, and subsequently issued. Although the Government feel that certain changes in the law arc necessary, it is equally important that local authorities and the industry work together in developing long-term planning policies which pay due regard to the environment, and in setting these out in development plans.
I turn now to the provisions in this Bill. If some of the clauses seem familiar to your Lordships, this would be unsurprising—similar ones were included in the first version of the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill, which was introduced in your Lordships' House in December 1979. The No. 2 Bill introduced in the other place omitted these clauses for reasons of parliamentary time, but the Government announced their intention to proceed with them as soon as an opportunity could be found. This Bill has therefore been introduced at the start of this Session, and I hope we can make rapid progress with it. The clauses it contains are similar to those in the earlier Bill, with the differences that Scottish provisions have been included, and the proposal to modify enforcement notice procedures in respect of mineral workings has been dropped, at least for the present.
Clauses 1 to 17 of the Bill apply to England and Wales only, and, with one exception, relate solely to planning control over mineral working. Clause 1 of the Bill brings under planning control the removal of material from mineral waste tips. At present there is an anomaly, in that extraction from a small grassed-over tip is subject to planning control, since the tip has once again become land, while planning permission 499 is not required to remove material from large bare tips of mining waste, such as are found in areas of the country like Cornwall, West Yorkshire and South Wales, since legally such tips are not land but chattels. In many cases, it is uncertain whether planning permission is needed to remove material from such tips, because of the degree of revegetation. Clearly, the working of these tips after a long period of inactivity can be very environmentally disadvantageous to the local communities, and this clause will allow the local planning authority to decide whether such working should take place, and, if so, what conditions should be attached to the planning permission.
As presently drafted, the clause goes further than necessary, since it would mean that planning permission would be required, for example, to move minerals or mineral waste within the quarry or mine site, even if this was required as part of processing the mineral, or to remove material from temporary waste heaps. It has been drafted in this way because it has been found impossible to draft a clause suitable for primary legislation which would distinguish between uses which should be brought under planning control and those which should not.
It is the Government's intention to introduce a new clause in the General Development Order which will in certain specified circumstances permit the removal of material from a mineral working deposit. The GDO permission will include all movements from mineral stockpiles as part of storage, processing or removal, and also the removal of material from mineral waste tips, provided such material has only been deposited within the last few years. There may be other cases that will be permitted by the GDO.
Clause 3 is one of the most important in the Bill. It places a duty on mineral planning authorities to review current mineral workings in their areas and also those at which operations have finished within the last five years, or such other time as the Secretary of State may, by order, prescribe. It also requires them to make certain orders, which I shall be describing later, if they consider it appropriate.
Because of the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the Government consider it is most important that local authorities should keep mineral workings in their area under review and should have the power to take appropriate action. However, because of the pressing need to reduce local authority manpower, we do not feel it would be right to insist upon mineral planning authorities reviewing all sites in their area within any fixed period. Such a time constraint would inevitably lead to pressure for more staff in at least some counties and, as the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill makes clear, we regard it as essential that the requirements of this legislation must be undertaken within existing resources. I believe that mineral planning authorities can and will set out their own sensible priorities for reviewing sites in their area within the resources available to them, and I am fully confident that the implementation of such reviews and the subsequent orders will make substantial improvements to the environment both while mining operations are taking place and afterwards.
Clause 5 is a major attempt to achieve better restoration of old mineral workings for agriculture or forestry 500 so that the land achieves a higher quality and greater potential for future productive use. At present, planning authorities can put conditions on a minerals planning permission requiring topsoil and subsoil to be stripped from a site before mineral working commences, and such materials to be stored separately. Replacement of these can be required, either as part of a scheme of progressive restoration, or when mineral working has finished. But that is about all. After having been disturbed and stored in this way, soil is unlikely to be in very good condition for growing either agricultural crops or trees, and what is probably required is a period of intensive care, under the guidance of agricultural or forestry experts, which will gradually improve the land quality.
This clause will therefore allow authorities to impose conditions on a minerals permission in certain circumstances, requiring the operator to carry out a programme of agricultural or silvicultural management for a certain period after the soil has been replaced. The clause provides a maximum period of five years, but there is provision for the Secretary of State to alter this by order if it proves inadequate or to set different maximum periods for agriculture and forestry. Because of the need for specialist expertise in after-care, mineral planning authorities will be required to consult the appropriate Government departments or agencies both before imposing such conditions and while monitoring the operator's compliance with them.
Clause 6 is concerned with the length of time for which mineral working is permitted to continue. At present many minerals permissions have an undefined life, and therefore there is great uncertainty as to whether working has permanently finished, and thus whether the land should be restored ready for another use. On new permissions, the Government are encouraging mineral planning authorities to consider carefully just what the life of the working should be and then to specify this in the permission. In doing this they should take full account of the operator's long-term needs for security of supply, if he is to undertake adequate capital investment, but also all other planning considerations in the area. However, in the hopefully few cases where they do not do so, this clause provides that such permissions will automatically have a life of 60 years. There is also a power for this period to be changed by Parliament. As far as existing minerals permissions are concerned, those without a definite life will automatically end 60 years from the coming into effect of this provision.
Clauses 7 to 9 deal with the order-making powers being made available to mineral planning authorities. The equivalent compensation provisions are in Clauses 11 to 16. Clauses 7 and 8 are extensions to existing powers, while Clause 9 introduces two new types of order. Clause 7 is consequential upon Clause 5 and permits authorities to impose an aftercare condition when modifying a minerals permission.
However, if no planning permission exists then it is not possible to make a modification order using Section 45 of the 1971 Act. There are a number of circumstances in which mining operations may be going on without an express permission—for example, the quarrying may have begun before 1947 and no planning application was made at that time, or one was made but never determined under the provisions 501 of the General Development Order. Where there is no permission there are no conditions on operating the quarry or on its restoration. Clause 8 seeks to remedy this by extending Section 51 of the 1971 Act so that mineral working becomes a use of land. Conditions, including restoration and after-care ones, can then he put on continuing to use the land for mineral working.
Clause 9 introduces two new types of order for use where mineral working has already ceased either permanently or temporarily. The first, which I shall call a Section 51A order, after its new position in the 1971 Act, will allow mineral planning authorities to prohibit the resumption of mineral working. At the same time they will be able to require compliance with any existing restoration and after-care conditions, and to impose certain new requirements. The order is only available to authorities if mineral working appears to them to have stopped for at least two years. Once an order takes effect a new planning permission is required before mineral working can restart.
The order which I have just described is for use when mineral working appears to have come to an end permanently and where it is then desirable to turn the land to some new beneficial use. But there may be occasions on which mineral working has stopped—either because of a temporary lack of demand for the product or for other reasons—but is likely to resume at some time in the future. In these circumstances, the mineral planning authority may wish to have the site tidied-up while working is in abeyance, and also may wish to see certain steps taken to avoid the area deteriorating. Another new type of order, termed a suspension order, is therefore being introduced to provide powers to do this. The procedural steps and compensation arrangements are similar to Section 51A orders except that only one year of no working is necessary before the order can be made.
Clauses 11 to 16 deal with the complicated subject of compensation. At present, if a local planning authority makes an order modifying a planning permission for mineral working, then the operator is entitled to compensation for any abortive expenditure, loss or damage incurred. The Stevens Committee recommended that operators should not be automatically entitled to claim compensation for loss resulting from modifications made as a result of a review, and in discussions with the industry on this recommendation there was a measure of agreement that the operator should bear a reasonable amount of the loss or damage in each case. The difficulty is, of course, in deciding what is reasonable. The basic principle we have in mind is that for each mine or quarry a threshold should be set in relation to its annual output and expected life. If the loss or damage arising out of the modification is less than this threshold, then the operator should bear it all and no compensation will be payable. If, however, the loss or damage exceeds the threshold, then the operator should receive, in compensation, the excess over the threshold.
The setting of such a threshold is a difficult exercise, and indeed different thresholds may be needed for mining and quarrying and for different types of order. My department issued a consultation paper on this in 502 September last year, and responses are still being considered. Because of the complexity of the issue, we do not believe it would be right to include the details of the threshold in this Bill, but instead we are proposing a power in Clause 15 to make regulations which will provide when compensation is to be payable—that is, what should be the threshold, and the basis on which compensation is to be assessed when the threshold is passed. In addition, by making this the subject of regulations, a measure of flexibility will be provided, so that the formulae can be updated from time to time. However, the Government recognise the vital importance of the compensation provisions to both the industry and local authorities, and therefore it is proposed that the regulations should not come into operation until they have been approved by your Lordship's House and in the other place.
Clauses 18 to 30 contain provisions equivalent to those in Clauses 1 to 16, but applied to Scotland, with certain small differences. First, mineral planning applications north of the Border are treated in the same way as applications for other forms of development; that is, they are handled by the district authorities in the first instance. Regional authorities have powers of call-in when a planning application raises issues of regional significance, and, therefore, depending on the circumstances, a minerals planning application may be determined by either tier of planning authority. The new powers contained in the Bill are therefore being given to all planning authorities in Scotland, rather than to just one tier.
Secondly, under existing administrative arrangements not directly paralleled in England and Wales, planning authorities in Scotland already consult the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland on planning cases affecting agricultural land, including restoration following mineral working. It is considered unnecessary, therefore, to put planning authorities in Scotland under a statutory requirement to consult on after-care conditions.
Finally, certain other changes are necessary, because of the differences between Scottish land law and that in the rest of Great Britain. My noble friend Lord Mansfield will be replying to the debate, and will be happy to expand upon any of these points.
The only point I should perhaps mention about the remaining provisions of the Bill and its two schedules is that none of the provisions will take effect on Royal Assent. Many require subordinate legislation to be passed before being brought in, and the commencement order provision will allow different provisions to be brought in at different times.
My Lords, I hope I have not bored you with too long an exposition of what is, by all accounts, a technically complex Bill. We shall no doubt need to examine carefully in Committee many of the details of these provisions, but today I commend the Bill to you, on account of the fundamental principles it is striving to attain—the operation of mines and quarries in a way environmentally satisfactory to this day and age, and the achievement, through adequate restoration performance, of a satisfactory use of the land when mineral working has come to an end. It is perhaps a truism, but one which I believe is worth repeating, that minerals can only be worked where they are found. The Government's aim in this Bill is to 503 provide an enhanced legislative framework within which planning control over mineral working can operate. We look to mineral planning authorities, and the industry, to work together responsibly to meet the nation's continuing requirement for minerals at the least environmental cost, and I feel sure that this Bill and the other measures I have mentioned will be beneficial to that process. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I think that this is the first time that I have been in a position of welcoming a Bill moved by the noble Lord the Minister. I very much welcome this Bill and consider that it is environmentally probably the most important piece of legislation or work concerned with minerals that we have seen since the 1947 Planning Acts. It certainly does a great deal more for the environment than the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations that we debated the other night. I should also like to thank the Minister for his very clear exposition on the content of what really is a very complicated and technical Bill.
When these provisions were withdrawn from the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 1) Bill we on this side of the House expressed great dissatisfaction that such useful and non-controversial proposals as these should be withdrawn, and we were only persuaded not to seek their reinstatement in the Local Government Bill by assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, that the provisions would come before this House in the next Session of Parliament. With hindsight, it should certainly turn out to be positively beneficial to have had these proposals withdrawn from the original Local Government Bill, because it is ironic that, had the Local Government Bill remained in its original form—in which case it would have been even more massive than it was when it appeared as the No. 2 Bill—the minerals clauses would, despite their importance, have received scant attention, for they were a relatively minor part of a highly complex and controversial Bill.
If we are to have the enormous amount of legislation which we get from all Governments now, it seems that it is better for us to break it up and have a series of small Bills rather than these large, unwieldy Bills which, when they become Acts, are certainly never satisfactory. I speak not solely from the political point of view when I say that.
I hope that the proposals will receive proper consideration. The passage of time has also meant that drafting and printing errors, which were so frequent and distracting in the Local Government Bill, have largely been eliminated from this Bill. Therefore, I hope that that will make the task of all of us easier in the next stages.
In welcoming the reappearance of these proposals before your Lordships' House, I must add that I hope the equally non-controversial planning enforcement clauses, which were also dropped from the No. 1 Bill, will soon be enshrined in a further Bill. I hope that at some stage the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will be able to give me an assurance about that, even if it is by way of a letter or even in the Prince's Chamber. 504 I should like to know about that.
While welcoming the general principles of the Bill, we on this side of the House are very concerned that little is being done to deal with the historical dereliction which still scars the landscape of many areas. How much longer must people continue to live with the derelict sand and gravel workings around Heathrow or with the derelict slate quarries in North Wales? Many of these operations, not only there but in different parts of the country, were often started before the 1947 Planning Acts and, therefore, no planning permission was needed for them at the time. We should like to see some statutory reference to this in the Bill. Although the Minister may argue that with resources as restricted as they are at the moment it would not be possible within a short period to bring any such provisions into operation, nevertheless the fact that provisions are on the statute book means that we do not need further legislation or more of these wretched regulations, with which we seem to be snowed under, in order to set the wheels in motion. In other Acts we have seen provisions brought into operation when it is possible to do so by reason of time and resources.
I also appreciate that ultimately the resolution of these problems is a matter of finance; and local authorities, who have the prime responsibility in this field, have, as we know, been faced with massive cutbacks in resources and are also subject to the arbitrary financial controls introduced in the Local Government Act. At present local authorities, whose overall capital expenditure is tightly controlled, are having to make extremely difficult and unenviable choices between capital spending on derelict land and other equally or more important capital projects.
Until by their actions as well as by their often written intentions central Government both understand and accept the financial needs and problems of local government and recognise the positive contribution they make to the economic wellbeing of the country, then the environmental improvements—and they are important ones—which this Bill seeks to encourage will be introduced only gradually and piecemeal. It would be a great pity if the very good intentions that run right through this Bill were in fact delayed in execution because of lack of motivation on the part of central Government.
I am also very concerned that many of the proposals in the Bill can be implemented only upon the issuing of detailed regulations. I really have to say that this is becoming a far too common, and a very worrying, feature of this Government's legislative programme. It is all very well to say in a statute that the Secretary of State will make regulations referring to this, that and the other, but we all know that with the pressure of business on both the Secretary of State and on Ministers what in fact happens in the end—and this is no discourtesy to the Civil Service, the officials who work very hard on these matters—is that we are having government by regulation rather than by statute which can be examined by both Houses of Parliament.
I ask the Minister to ensure that the House is clearly informed of the Government's detailed intentions while the Bill is going through this House; and I hope that that was what he meant when he talked about the consultation paper which would be available on the compensation clauses and the regulations, and that 505 this means that we shall in fact know what is going to be in the regulations, because they are as important as the different clauses which are now before us in the Bill. I should like an assurance on that today. Noble Lords will remember the problems we had in considering the Government's proposals to introduce charges for planning applications when no detailed information was available about either how such charges would be levied or upon whom. Indeed, even now that information is not publicly available. Let us make sure that in this Bill, which really is not highly controversial, we all have that information.
The basic principle of the Bill, which we strongly support, is to make sure that there is effective long-term control over mineral workings, so that in future there will be, first, sufficient minerals for the needs of this country; secondly, orderly development of mineral reserves; thirdly, a minimum environmental impact at any one time—this is extremely important, and I am sure we shall come back to it in Committee; and, fourthly, rapid restoration once extraction has ceased, which is of equal importance.
The Government have recognised that the way to ensure that these different goals are met is through the planning system. We would therefore resist-and I hope that the Government would do so as well-any move to take mineral workings outside the mainstream of planning control, or to dilute them in any way. The basic principles of planning are accepted, I believe, on all sides of this House. One of the most important features of the system for encouraging and controlling development is the provision whereby, once granted, planning permission lasts for only five years unless the local authority renews it.
The operation of this rule ensures that mineral deposits are worked in an orderly fashion as part of an overall scheme and not according to the whims of many different operators with their obviously conflicting interests. There will, I fear, be moves to lift the five-year rule for minerals. I very much hope that the Government will join with us in resisting those moves if in fact they come forward. If they are not resisted then, as the number of planning permissions for mineral extraction build up, any hope of orderly development and everything that goes with it will disappear. The basis of long-term mineral planning will be totally undermined—if your Lordships will excuse that pun—and we shall be left with an increasingly random set of permissions to extract minerals, which may be valuable capital assets for the operators but which will become a series of time bombs in the environment which could explode at any time and with devastating effect.
I realise that the relaxation of the five-year rule was advocated by the Stevens Committee, which I believe was set up by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is to speak later in this debate, but after careful consideration the Labour Government came to the conclusion set out in Circular 58/78 that this was not right. Anyway, local authorities already have the discretion to vary the five-year period if they see fit.
There are three key areas of this Bill which I particularly welcome. Clause 3, as the Minister pointed out, is extremely important, since it places a duty on every mineral planning authority to undertake, at such intervals as they think fit, reviews of all mineral 506 workings in their area which are, or have been, carried out in the previous five years. Secondly, the Bill allows mineral planning authorities, when granting or reviewing planning permissions where restoration is a condition of the permission, to impose in addition an extremely important after-care condition. This will require that land be specially treated for a period not exceeding five years to make it suitable for use for agriculture or for forestry. The placing of such a duty on operators would help to ensure that reclaimed land does not rapidly deteriorate once mineral operators have left the site. I think there is even an argument, which certainly many environmental groups have and will be putting forward, for in fact increasing that period.
Thirdly, one of the major problems in derelict land reclamation is the problem of inactive sites where operators either will not admit to having finished working or intend to delay resumption of working for several years. if this Bill is enacted, local authorities will be able to require that sites which will be inactive for a long time must be tidied up, and therefore will be able to remove the right permanently to extract any further minerals; and they will be able to have the land restored to the standard set out in the original planning permission. So long as the procedures are not too long, too complex, too drawn out or too expensive, then these proposals will have a substantial and beneficial impact on the environment.
There are detailed matters in the Bill which we will wish to take up at Committee stage, including the definition of "minerals", but I shall not pursue them now on Second Reading. However, we are concerned about the proposals for compensation when planning conditions are varied. At present the proposal is that the mineral operator should make a contribution towards improved restoration up to a maximum financial ceiling. With inflation, such ceilings are always in danger of being overtaken. It might, I suggest, be preferable for operators to be required to pay for an agreed national list of minimum improvements which should naturally be part of good quarry practice. Once such a procedure is agreed in principle—and I understand that talks are taking place between local authorities and the mineral operators on this—then the scheme should be administratively simple and effective. But I believe it is essential for local authorities not to be inhibited from implementing it by heavy compensation implications, otherwise the whole thing will fall down.
I am also aware that unnecessary burdens should not be placed on industry, particularly in the present economic climate. In fact, all this Bill does is to extend the practices adopted by the best operators to all existing mineral workings. In assessing any financial implications for industry, it should also be remembered that when land has planning permission for mineral extraction or is currently being worked for minerals or lies derelict after operations have ceased, it is land which is removed from other productive uses.
The present Secretary of State always appears much concerned to ensure that our land resources are used to maximum effect. I therefore understand why he wishes to make sure that land is not taken out of use for longer than is absolutely necessary. He will also be aware that where land lies derelict after mineral 507 working, it can blight the surrounding area and substantially reduce the likelihood of economic regeneration. In addition, it is essential of course that we should be creating an agreeable environment in areas where mining and quarrying has stopped. By the greater use of derelict land grants, which I understand even now are not used as much as they might be, much could be done, along with allocating, even in the present economic straits, enough money to create a balance between industry and the care of the environment.
I am worried that some existing sites are likely to be worked indefinitely. I appreciate the clause in the Bill, to which the Minister referred, putting on a limit of 60 years, but 60 years for many people might as well be indefinitely. If one takes the case of a working which has been in operation for, say, 30 years, working perhaps on and off, and then adds 60 years, that is bringing the time up to very nearly a century before anything can be done about the situation. An area can be so completely blighted that it must be possible to take action, not necessarily to stop operators taking out the minerals but to make those operators take out the minerals as quickly as possible, and in my view that is essential.
In one important respect the provisions of aftercare have been improved since the No. 1 Bill, as the requirement in this Bill is that land he broughtto the required standard when it is as nearly as possible restored to the condition in which it was when it was last used for agriculture".This improvement will go some way to making sure that when agricultural land is reinstated, it is not markedly inferior to the land that was there previously. Unfortunately, these provisions, in Clause 5, extend only to land for agriculture and land owned by the Forestry Commission. I should like to see them extended—I am sure many noble Lords share this view—to cover land for recreation and land for visual enjoyment, in fact land involving the protection of our environment. In doing this we must protect the great scenic beauty we have in this country, remembering that it is not only for the enjoyment and welfare of our own people but for the many tourists who visit areas where there are quarries and mines.
While I welcome the proposals on suspension and prohibition orders, I am worried lest the completion of the procedures will take too long. Moreover, once a suspension order is confirmed, an operator can give 28 days' notice and then resume work on the site, and the local authority will be unable to do anything about it. However, these are some of the points we can go into further in Committee.
This is a Bill which at present has some teeth; they could be sharpened but they are there. It would be catastrophic if attempts to blunt, cap or draw the teeth were successful. Obviously those operators who have implemented the high standards which are publicly encouraged by the various mineral industries will not seek to do that. I am sure that all operators must come to recognise that the Bill is indisputably in the national interest and that to the good operators it poses no threat whatever.
I shall be particularly concerned if bogus administrative justifications are put forward to lengthen the 508 time necessary for the implementation of the procedures in the Bill. The various times specified, particularly on suspension and prohibition orders, are reasonable compromises. Indeed, if anything, they are rather too long and are certainly longer than the times put forward by the Stevens Committee or in the Government Bill of 1979. Any further extension would only undermine a Bill which all responsible organisations concerned with minerals and the environment must support.
The Bill shows that central Government trust local authorities to do a job and to do it efficiently and effectively. It will not be of any service to local democracy in this country if suggestions are made that local authorities, in close consultation with industry and central Government, are incapable of preparing long-term plans which balance the need for minerals with the protection of the environment and the quality of life of those who live close to extraction sites or the transport routes from them. There will, as I say, be many detailed points we shall wish to make in Committee, but in principle we on this side congratulate the Government on bringing the Bill to the House and recommend giving it a Second Reading.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, the two comprehensive speeches we have just heard have covered a great deal of the scene, so I shall do my best to be brief. I too welcome the Bill on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches. The Government have done a good job, particularly because they have had pressures on them from two sides—from the mining companies and from the preservationists—and they have managed to secure a number of really intelligent compromises. It seems to me that, on the whole, our job here, and indeed in another place, must be to see that those compromises are not upset on either side, whichever way our sympathies lie, be they more with one or the other.
It is a balance between the interests of the mining companies and the preservationists, but of course that is to say it is a balance between two different parts of each one of us, between us as consumers who rely on the health of the mining companies for the prosperity of this country to a large extent and for valuable raw materials, and our wanting to see an unspoilt countryside but a countryside also which can produce the maximum amount of food. As I say, the Government have done a good job with the Bill. They had a good report to work on, and for that we are extremely grateful to the people concerned. As we know, we have over the years in this House seen a lot of bad legislation come out as a result of rather good reports, but this appears to be an exception and in many respects an improvement.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, we can be particularly thankful for the power which remains in the hands of local authorities. It has not been a marked facet of this Government that they have been content to leave power in the hands of local authorities, so we must be thankful that this measure is an exception, and my party thoroughly approves of that. It means that there will not be a uniform application of the various principles across the country, and that 509 is quite a good thing. There will be a uniform framework—that is what the Bill is in favour of setting up—but much of it will be in the hands of the local authority, which will make its own judgment. Quite obviously there will be a very great difference between what local government may do in areas of great natural beauty, where there is very little mining, and an area such as St. Austell, with its concentrated clay mining. It is quite right that there should be a difference between the two.
There are notable problems in the St. Austell area, as everyone who knows about that part of the world is aware. There are the enormous slag heaps as well as the fine dust which, in high winds, can penetrate absolutely everywhere. There is the problem of how to dispose of the enormous amount of waste. However the clay pits provide work, they provide prosperity, and on the whole the local community is happy with the situation, and the county council, which is the local mining authority, can be relied upon to see that a proper balance is kept between trying to get rid of the worst of the damage to the environment while at the same time doing nothing that would harm the prosperity of a vital industry.
I believe that local councils can deal with that kind of situation and make decisions along those lines in a way which a Whitehall department, no matter how good it is, is not able to do. I believe that the situation I have just mentioned relates to a notable part of the Bill and that is one reason why it is a good piece of legislation.
Noble Lords who are taking part in the debate, and who have been known to be due to take part, might have received differing submissions from various bodies on both the conservationist side and the mining companies' side about some of the problems in the Bill. In particular I would draw the attention of the House (as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, did) to the question of timings in the whole procedure for clearing up dereliction at the end of operations. As the noble Baroness said, this has already been a matter for compromise within the Government and the various Ministries concerned. The report said one thing, the Government have listened to other people and have come up with a compromise. As has been suggested, there may be attempts from both sides of the House to try to change the timing. We take the view that far the happiest and safest course would be to keep the compromise which has been arrived at after such difficulty in the Government departments, and certainly we should resist any move to alter that in either direction.
Having said that, I should like to turn to one or two detailed questions, and I apologise to the noble Earl for the fact that I have been unable to give him notice of these points. I did not know until yesterday afternoon that I was to make this speech, and so I have not myself had much notice of the questions. I have looked as hard as I could at the Bill and the various problems, and have come up with one or two points that I do not quite understand. The first has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. Why is the five-year after-care condition restricted to restoring land for agricultural and forestry use? What about leisure pursuits? What about alternative uses? Surely this definition should be widened.
510 Secondly, it seems that a mining company will be able to delay the winding up of a site by not applying for a certificate of completion. Is there not a case for the mining authority to have power to direct the company to apply for a certificate of completion if it seems that the company is dragging its feet?
My next question relates to Clause 3, page 2, line 40. I must confess that, having looked at the clause and having referred to the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, to which it makes reference, I am not entirely clear about what is meant by the words "relevant period". It seems to me that this might be a matter of some importance where disagreement might arise.
I turn to another phrase which seems to me to be very ambiguous, and I should like to learn more about the Government's thinking on its interpretation. It appears in Clause 9, on page 9, at line 24, as well as on page 11, at line 38. There is the question of development having been carried out,in, on or under the land to any substantial extent"."Any substantial extent" is a very vague phrase, and it seems to me that this, too, could give way to considerable argument, and perhaps we could make an effort to tighten it up.
The last of my detailed questions concerns Clause 15, on page 21, and relates to imposing changes in the rate at which minerals are extracted. This is part of the entire question of when compensation can or cannot be paid. According to this part of the Bill, if the local mining authority gives instructions that minerals should be produced at a rate less than they have been in the recent past—a lessening of the rate of extraction—the mining authority would be responsible for paying compensation at the full rate. Is not this provision open to manipulation? Indeed, I understand that in the past something of that kind has happened. If there is a hint that the mining authority is to take action, might not irresponsible mining companies—and there must be one or two; do not let us pretend that there will be none—considerably raise the rate of extraction so as to obtain maximum compensation? Is there any safeguard against that and, if not, can we not include one?
Those are detailed points, but I think that it may be as well to ask questions now on these matters of uncertainty, rather than wait until the Committee stage, when we could try to put them right if the answers we have received prove unsatisfactory. I shall quite understand if, because of such short notice, the noble Earl prefers to correspond with me rather than answer the points directly at the end of the debate today.
I wish to close with another plea, which duplicates one made by the noble Baroness. I refer to the regulations regarding payment of compensation when restoring land. I think it is now common ground that everyone would wish to see the regulations published before the Bill has its Third Reading—and preferably before its Third Reading in this House. I have had indications that on both the mining side and the amenity side people are anxious that that should happen. We on these Benches, as well as noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench, are keen to see that happen. When appealed to, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, sat there looking sphinx-like, which did not appear too 511 hopeful, but I hope the Government will consider this. It is quite clearly very important.
It may be embarrassing to publish them, because in a sense I suspect that that is when the real argument will happen; but it is right that if there is going to be a real argument between two sides in this matter it should be an argument conducted rather on the Floor of Parliament than in an unseemly wrangle when not much can be done about it afterwards. I think we really would not be doing our duty if we passed this Bill, as good as it is, without seeing those regulations and having some debate about them, so I hope, indeed, we shall have them by Third Reading.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I must start by saying that in preparing my contribution to this debate I have been advised by the Confederation of British Industry, and many of my remarks will therefore take the opportunity to put to the House the points which industry has to make on this Bill. I should like to join with those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Beltwin on the very skilful way in which he introduced this Bill, and the clear way in which he explained it to us. Perhaps I might also congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandford for having set up the Stevens Committee, from which it all stems.
As I understand it, the principal aims of the Bill are to introduce after-care of land after mineral working has taken place. I would digress at that point to say that I think the use of the expression "after-care is most unfortunate". It rather reminds one of maternity cases, or perhaps probation. If only my noble friend could find another name without having to make too much amendment of the Bill, I am sure it would be helpful in the long run, so that it was not a joke—because I do not think this is a joke. The other point, as I see it, the other main aim, is to impose a duty on planning authorities to undertake reviews of mineral working sites.
There is no objection from industry in principle to those aims, but we are much concerned at the provisions within the Bill to allow both the Secretary of State and local planning authorities the opportunity to implement certain powers in a way which could, probably unwittingly, have serious economic consequences for mineral operators. It is in those two areas that we are particularly concerned. An example of such provisions relating to the Secretary of State is giving him power to make mineral compensation modifications by Statutory Instrument without providing for any limitation of such powers within the Bill itself. I would have thought—and I shall be proposing amendments later on—that one could spell out rather more tightly just how far the Secretary of State could go in this respect within the main Bill. Here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that all these tendencies to legislate by regulation are to be deplored if they can possibly be avoided, but it comes as somewhat a matter of amusement to me that the noble Baroness should make these remarks because in my recollection the Government of which she was such a notable and important member legislated by regulations far more than anybody else. However, 512 we agree, and it is nice to think that I am agreed with the noble Baroness because that is a very rare event, as your Lordships will know.
Another example (and I am only giving examples at this point) of the excess powers within the Bill relates to the local planning authority and concerns the time limits relating to starting work. The Stevens Committee, in its paragraph 19.7, recommended that with certain specified provisos, which are accepted by industry, there should be no limit on the time within which mineral working must be started. As your Lordships will be aware—and the noble Baroness referred to this—the Stevens Committee report was commented upon by the Secretaries of State in 1978 in comments which were not quite as welcome as was the original report itself. In commenting on the report the Secretaries of State, without saying why, stated that they did not see sufficient cause for leaving the time of starting entirely open, subject only to the maximum life of the permission.
This opinion is reflected in the relevant parts of the Bill and in the current practices of local planning authorities. There are good reasons why, in this respect, and in most of their other recommendations, the Stevens Committee were right and the advice given to the Secretaries of State was questionable. So from what the noble Baroness has said it seems that perhaps Ministers put in some of the provisos rather than relying on the advice given them. Very briefly, an application for mineral working is never made unless the operator is certain the minerals exist and can, at an appropriate time economically, be worked. In this respect the situation is very different from other sorts of planning application, because the authority can be certain that at some suitable time the working applied for will be carried out.
Industry is happy to accept control on the order in which deposits are worked, but feel very strongly that planning approvals for minerals operations, once given, should not be withdrawn after some arbitrary time limit. In addition to this reasonable certainty that working will at an appropriate time take place, an important business factor is that suitable land for mineral working comes on the market only relatively rarely and has to be purchased when it is available. After that, the operator will work the land as soon as it is economically most suitable for him to do so. As stated in the Department of the Environment's own guidance to local planning authorities, which is quoted in paragraph 7.12 of the Stevens Report, mineral undertakers often need to make their plans a long way ahead, and local planning authorities should adopt a similar time-scale.
The guidance also said that sometimes it may be necessary to take account of mineral reserves even though they are unlikely to be wanted for periods even longer than the accepted normal 60 years. These references indicate that in 1971, when they wrote the guidance to which I have just referred, the department saw clearly the need to allow up to 60 years' maximum life of permission, or even longer, before work starts. Under a different Government, in 1978, the department seems to have changed its mind, and indeed the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made it clear why this was so. I would suggest to your Lordships once again that Stevens was right and Lady Birk was wrong.
513 To sum up, mineral extraction is a very long-term exercise. Indigenous minerals are part of the wealth of the nation and should be husbanded with as much care as other aspects of the environment. Full cognisance must be taken by central and local government of the need for productive industry, especially private enterprise, to conduct its affairs in as economically advantageous a fashion as practicable. That is the key point, and that is the point that I rather suspect the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, tend, not to overlook but not to give full weight to—the need for economic operation of commercial operations.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I do not have my notes with me; I have sent them to Hansard. But I remember distinctly that I felt strongly about it and emphasised it. I said clearly that I thought that the needs of industry and productivity and being able to work—and I used the phrase, "in a difficult economic climate"—were important; and that one had to find a balance between industrial needs and the environment. I do not think that one could have said it, even in a much longer speech, more clearly and emphatically than that.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me but of course she said that. I agree that she said that; but, taken in the round, she said a lot of other things which negated the value of that particular contribution in her speech. When she reads it she will find that out.
There is one other point which has been drawn to my attention by my noble friend Lady Elliot, and that is the use of minerals by farmers for their own purposes, not exploited commercially, which has hitherto been exempt from planning control. It seemed to us when we were looking at the Bill before my noble friend Lord Bellwin made his speech that in Clauses 1 and 18 of the Bill this exemption might be overridden. However, my noble friend Lord Bellwin said that Clauses 1 and 18 relate particularly to tips and, clearly, from the tenor of his remarks, he was not thinking of farms using minerals on their own land for their own purposes. He went on to say that the general development order was in some way going to give guidance on that; so perhaps this is not something which in the end will be a matter of importance.
But it is, I think, reasonable for farmers who have, say, sand and gravel deposits on their land to be able to use such deposits, particularly if they are not selling them or explointing them commercially, for example, for building roads. It would seem reasonable in that sort of situation that they should not be subject to planning control in the same sense as other types of mining—although it is hardly mining in the way that I have described it—require to be within the terms of the Bill and of the Stevens recommendation. We therefore may find ourselves putting down amendments if only to elucidate more clearly from my noble friend Lord Bellwin that he has no intention of subjecting farmers unnecessarily to new forms of planning control. Finally, the points that I have made, and others of a similar nature will be the subject of amendments which we shall bring forward at the Committee stage.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I should like to say a word of welcome to this Bill and to congratulate my noble friend on his very lucid exposition of it. I have to declare an interest as chairman of the regional planning authority for London and the south-eastern region, which is particularly interested in the getting of aggregates.
I should like to congratulate my noble friend and the Government on finding time for this small, technical Bill. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that it is a very useful Bill. It does not seem a glamorous one but it has far-reaching public implications, and the Government are to be congratulated. Also to be congratulated, certainly in the field of aggregates, is the entirely new look in the DoE on aggregates generally where the policy of the past was, if I may call it so, one of masterly inactivity—just leaving the local authorities and operative industry to fight it out on the ground while the DoE kept as clear of the matter as they could. There is now a much better look there and a realisation that all must work together as partners to get these essential minerals.
I pay tribute to the Stevens Report and also to the Verney Report, which is particularly valuable in the field of aggregates. I use the words "great public interest" because the fact is that my remarks are directed primarily to aggregates. No building work can take place without aggregates, no road and no building can be built without aggregates, principally sand and gravel but also clay and chalk. But all extraction—that is to say, digging—of any of these aggregates inevitably destroys the local land amenity and therefore arouses strong public opposition in the localities concerned. The south-eastern region of the country with, I suppose, something like one-quarter to one-third of the total population of the nation living in it, experiences this problem in the most acute form.
In 1976, our maximum year, we used some 58 million tons of aggregates. It is rather less now. The supply from the region was only some 49 million tons, and that included eight million tons of marine dredged, which is limited. We had to import from the south-west and the East Midlands the additional nine million tons. This basic imbalance is bad enough, but it is greatly intensified by the fact that the few remaining gravel- and sand-bearing sites in the south-east are invariably lands of high agricultural value and high amenity value, much of its alongside the rivers. Therefore, the degree of public opposition to the extraction of what remains is very great.
The main purpose of the Bill, as my noble friend has rightly said, is really to ensure better restoration. My word, that is a proper purpose! I warmly support him in it. And the thought here is that the powers of the county planning authorities should be strengthened to enable them so to specify the conditions of extraction and restoration that land is speedily and fully restored to its original condition. I would add—and I am sure that my noble friend knows this; and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, must remember it, too—that public opinion in these localities is extremely hostile to further mineral extraction, for the obvious reason that people must put up with noise, mud, dust and traffic for years while all this is going on. But 515 if full restoration can be assured then they may become reconciled to it at the end of the day by the local authorities or, perhaps, on appeal.
Technically, as my noble friend has indicated, full restoration is possible. The standard of restoration can be reached by careful advance planning. It is possible to arrange for extraction to take place in phases, in strips, on a particular area so that, after the first strip has been worked, while the next strip is being extracted the first can be restored so that the area which is open is reduced to a minimum and restoration goes forward as quickly as possible.
There is no great difficulty in preserving topsoil, subsoil and overburden—no problem. But one of our major problems in the South-East—and, I dare say, in other parts—is to find acceptable fill, especially in water-bearing areas near rivers where lies most of the sand and gravel. Town waste is organic and is unsuitable. It causes pollution. Therefore, we must have sterile waste. I can foresee the time coming when the DoE will have to accept that it is not possible for the industry or the local authorities to bear the very heavy transport costs of bringing in surplus sterile fill from other parts of the country. Cornwall has been mentioned—china clay. There is masses of sterile fill there and it would be ideal to put in the pits that we have around London, but the cost of getting it there is so great that it cannot be done. But one of these days this problem will have to be faced. We cannot go on forever having more and more artificial lakes; nobody likes them.
Restoration and after-care is possible provided that there is careful planning and a sufficient period of after-care. That involves expert supervision and I was a little sorry that it was not possible for the Ministry of Agriculture to provide for that; and that the local authorities and the industry together must do it. That is possible, but it would have been helpful to have the Ministry taking part in it. They will give supervision to it of course, but they cannot take a part; they cannot stand the manpower drain. What is needed during this period is to build up the humus value. I see my noble friend Lord Woolley alongside me who well understands all these things.
One also has to cater for the patchy subsidence, which is inevitable in these areas, by readjusting the levels of the land drainage pipes which have been put in the ground so that eventually there is a sound piece of ground. All this can be done; it is expensive but it is essential. Even then we must remember that the Ministery of Agriculture doubt whether Class I and Class II quality land could be fully restored and therefore they are still opposed to that being opened.
So this is a formidable prospect. I am glad to be able to report that in the South-East we have the kind of partnership that my noble friend was asking for between industry and the local authorities. In the past couple of years I have been able to initiate a system of joint seminars with the industry and local authorities so that we can discuss it together. At the end of the day we are both dependent on each other and must work out a solution together. This is a much better arrangement than the running warfare of the past. I am hopeful that we shall be able to cope, but the heavy cost of this restoration is going to increase building costs 516 because aggregates will be more expensive. The industry must get more for its aggregates. They understand that; we understand it. But of course what the industry also understands —and the seminars have been particularly valuable for this—is the intensity of public opposition, and we must be able to give the assurance that restoration is really going to be first class. There are some really very good examples indeed coming through just now where the industry has done some very good jobs. But there are far too many which look terrible.
There are two weak spots in the Bill. Some of what I am about to say is going to follow what the noble Baroness has said. The first one is Clause 3, a very important clause, which gives the local authority the power to review past consents in order to see whether conditions were adequate. In many cases they were not adequate; we all know that. There were not sufficiently strict conditions of restoration and the result is that adequate restoration will not be made. We are talking about land in process of operation in the South-East now of 10½ square miles—a big area—so we want to make sure that it is going to be right when it is finished. So I welcome the clause, but the aspect of it that worries me here is the compensation arrangements.
I listened with great interest to my noble friend explaining this concept of a threshold up to which the industry will pay. I wonder whether the industry are 100 per cent. with this. I suppose that it depends where the threshold is put. But the local authorities are expected to pay after that. The local authorities simply have not the money now for them to make this contribution, and it is no good pretending that they have. My noble friend must give a substantial grant if this review is to be effective. It is most important that it should be effective. Apart from anything else, a good many of the decisions for planning consent were given on appeal with the conditions attached laid down in the past by the DoE or their predecessors, so they have a specific responsibility. I hope that my noble friend will be willing to look at this particular point again.
The other point which is weak is a further matter to which the noble Baroness referred, about past dereliction. We in England have in the South-East no fewer than 26 square miles of derelict past workings. They are appalling. They are absolutely useless for anything. A lot of them have old machinery hanging about in them: sodden, useless land. They really are an eyesore. They hang like millstones around the necks of the local authorities and the industry, because local people will not believe that new extractions will be properly restored when they see these appalling areas of devastation all round. This problem must be tackled. I have made strong representations to my noble friend and his colleagues in the DoE. They accept that it must be tackled but they explain that there is not the money now. I accept that, as the noble Baroness does.
I think that this Bill—which is so good in every other wa—yshould contain the principle that the Government should be committed to a survey of past dereliction with a view to a start being made on a 10-year programme which will eventually restore these areas when the funds are available. If that were done 517 it would give people confidence that something is eventually going to happen. Unless a provision of this kind is made we are seriously handicapping the consents which we must have to open up the remaining areas where sand and gravel can be found. I hope that my noble friend will be willing to look at that again. I shall be very tempted to put an amendment down on the Committee stage to ask my noble friend to do this. With those two criticisms, I warmly welcome this Bill, which is a most valuable step forward.
§ 4.56 p.m.
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I also welcome this Bill. I should like to congratulate my noble friend on the very concise and clear way in which he has introduced it. I intervene in this important debate with some hesitation, particularly when I follow my noble friend Lord Nugent who speaks with such a great number of years of experience in this matter. Quite rightly, as I see it, in our small country with very considerable mineral resources we need to watch very carefully, review how we handle extraction and what steps we should take to ensure within the reasonable capabilities of present techniques the practical restoration and after-care—and I use that word despite my noble friend's comment on the term—of the land affected, without putting too heavy a burden on the extractive industries, and without also its resulting in a situation where some important minerals may actually become sterilised.
That no doubt is to over-simplify what is a very complex matter. I recognise the immense amount of effort that the Government and the department have taken to work on it. As I see it—and I think that this is borne out by other speakers who have also contributed this afternoon—there are three main areas of interest affected. If I may I will call them three potential lobbies. They can prove antagonistic and therefore a balance is so important. There is the interest of the extractive industry itself; but that interest carries with it a very considerable responsibility to a far wider range of other industries and therefore it is not merely the interest of a small industry. It is much more important than that. There is the interest of agriculture and forestry, and there is the environmental and amenity interest. In some respects I find that I can wear all three hats at different times, which makes it rather difficult. I can see therefore very clearly the force of the arguments that any of these three can put forward. But it is the first, the interest of the industry, that I shall perhaps come to emphasise more at the end of what I want to say.
So far as amenity is concerned, no one is more sensitive than I am to the importance of keeping the beauty of our countryside as unspoiled as possible. It is a treasured part of our national heritage which attracts visitors from all over the world. It is enough for me to prove my sincerity in this by saying that I live in the centre of what I like to regard as the premier national park, the Lake District. I hope I am not being provocative by saying that. Also, I am vice-president of the Friends of the Lake District, which acts in Cumbria on behalf of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. I am therefore very fully aware of the force of their amenity arguments.
518 As regards the agricultural and forestry lobby, my family owns a very modest property in the Lake District which is very close to old copper and lead mine workings, where I understand deposits underground still exist and which, given the right economic climate—that is, a suitable climate of demand and world prices—could well be attractive to new operators to develop or to seek to re-open. Indeed it is only a very few years ago that a Canadian company came there and was interested in opening a copper mine very close to where I live but, for one reason or another which I need not go into, that project was not proceeded with. On the other hand, another mine which is equally close did start work and is working now, extracting zinc and copper concentrates and barytes. That little mine does no harm to anyone and in fact I am pleased to feel that I may have given them a little assistance in one way. I say "Good luck" to them. However, these very small parochial examples do indicate how agriculture and forestry interests can have legitimate fears as to mineral development, and I think they emphasise the importance of adequate planning control, restoration and after-care, which is what this Bill is all about, as I understand it.
That leads me to say something about the third lobby: the mineral industry itself. I have no interest to declare in this. I have never personally had anything to do with the industry except very indirectly when, before nationalisation of the steel industry, I happened to be a director of that ill-fated company which we all know of, Consett, where we mined the ganister used for the flux we required in the furnaces.
On the other hand, I have been intimately associated with manufacturing industry for most of my working life—a very wide range of industries too—and I have become well aware of the vital need that industry as a whole has for all sorts of mineral projects, ferrous and non-ferrous, as well as all sorts of building materials, which must be regularly available to industry, hopefully at consistent prices.
The first question, therefore, I must ask is, are these three lobbies, all of them with ostensibly justifiable claims, being fairly treated? I recognise from what my noble friend and others have said that at any rate the Government have done their best to keep a fair balance, but I suspect that over the years—going further back than this Bill—the agricultural and, more recently, the forestry and amenity lobbies, have been heard longer and louder than the less glamorous extractive industry lobby; so that the bias has, perhaps unnoticed, gone against that industry and therefore against and to the disadvantage of its far wider areas of responsibility. After all, it is manufacturing industry which relies to no small extent on our indigenous minerals, whether for processing work or for our buildings to work in, and it is industry which is surely the main wealth-creating activity and which has to pay for so much of everything else we need in our complex way of life.
That leads me to my second question. I must ask: Does this Bill add to or diminish the many obstacles—not merely planning obstacles—that a would-be applicant for planning permission to win and work minerals has to contend with already today? I should be surprised if my noble friend was not aware of would-be developers perhaps from overseas—and I have already mentioned a Canadian company—having 519 been, as it were, driven away because of these obstacles. The great question seems to me to be whether the Bill helps to remove uncertainty of availability, and uncertainty of availability of permission to operate where it is economically appropriate.
Like other noble Lords, I accept in Clause 6 the 60 years' duration. That may be fair and practicable; but it appears towards the end of that same clause that the 60 years can be varied to a shorter period. That, my Lords, disturbs me. I hope that my noble friend Lord Mansfield, when he replies, will refer to Clause 6 where it says that 60 years can be varied for a longer or shorter period.
The mineral extractive industry can be very capital-intensive. It is obviously a very speculative industry. On the one hand, it needs to be able to plan ahead but, on the other, it must be able to retain a degree of flexibility in its plans to meet changing circumstances, changing demands and changing price levels. There may well be occasions when it would be prudent for an operator to close a mine or to defer opening or re-opening a mine, so long as he can feel free from any doubt that when the right time comes he can look on that mine as a reserve and use it again and be quite certain that it will be available to him. Certainty in this context is immensely important and, without it, it may well be better for an operator never to embark upon an acquisition when the opportunity arises, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said, rather rarely in the market.
For the same reason I am a bit apprehensive about the time limit of two years in Clause 9—a time limit that comes into operation if no development appears to have taken place within that time. It may have been the operator's deliberate policy to take the opportunity of acquiring a mine, realising that he cannot use it but also realising that the time will come, perhaps after two years or five years, when it will become a very important reserve in his planning. In some respects I have been encouraged by my noble friend Lord Bellwin on this point in the way he presented it, but I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, will perhaps say a little more later about this question of certainty for the operator as to where he stands for the future. Having said that, I welcome the Bill and I hope it goes through speedily.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I should like to welcome this Bill, which will make a great contribution to the future of the British landscape. In the mid-1970s, there were some 121,000 acres in England which were affected by mineral workings, and only three-quarters of that area was subject to restoration conditions. It is the principle of after-care conditions that is particularly welcome, and the first question must be to ask whether the remaining quarter—that is, some 32,000 acres which escape the conditions at the moment—can be brought into this legislation.
There are only one or two points which I should like briefly to mention and they relate mainly to Clause 5. Probably, the most important interest involved in any restoration is the surface owner, who will have the problems of subsequent management after the land is restored, and the greatest interest in the appearance of 520 the site along with the adjacent owners and farmers. Yet there is no provision in the Bill for the planning authority or the Ministry of Agriculture to consult the surface or adjacent owners regarding after-care. There is, indeed, inadequate provision for the planning authority even to consult the Ministry of Agriculture and this itself is surely a serious omission.
A surface owner can of course impose a condition of restoration in a mineral lease, and failure to implement may give rise to a claim for damages. But were planning law to admit, as it does not at present, consultation with owners as to the terms of restoration conditions, the power to ensure performance of agreed after-care treatment by both the planning authority and the owner would be strengthened, duplicating the planning requirement with the conditions in the mineral lease. For all the reputable mineral working companies, there are always the "fly boys" who will work an area and either just fail to comply with the spirit of restoration conditions, or even go bankrupt and leave the job in a mess.
One way to deal with this is to secure a performance bond, but this will be heavy on the mineral lessor and reduces his ability to trade profitably. I should like to see a provision in the Bill to require progressive compliance with after-care. This would simply mean that the mineral developer would have to work in phases and restore phase 1 while developing phase 2, and he would not be allowed to start phase 3 till phase 1 was totally restored. Perhaps the Government would consider the advisability of writing something like that into the Bill.
Under the Bill, restoration has to be to agriculture or forestry. This point has already been made by other speakers. Yet there may well be occasions when both the surface owner and the authority would prefer restoration to, perhaps, a golf course, rough terrain for a motor-cycle scramble, an aquatic playground or some other non-agricultural use. Again, the agreement, co-operation and consent of the owner are paramount. But would the Government agree that uses for amenity and leisure should be included along with agriculture and forestry?
With regard to the working of old and exi sting mineral waste tips, there is considerable scope for gradual removal of slag heaps for in-fill or for building farm roads. Over a period, tips could be greatly decreased and tidied up. These partial removals should not require planning permission. The removal is desirable, there is even a grant to do so and any heap, or part of a heap, that can be removed as opportunity occurs can only be beneficial and should not require the expensive process of planning. What would be the position where a small proportion of a large tip was required for fill? It would be both economically and practically impossible for a developer to give after-care treatment to the whole area. This Bill will be likely to sterilise tip heaps from gradual and beneficial removal. There should be relaxation from planning for partial removal of old and bare tips.
Finally, with regard to restoration for forestry, this is the first occasion on which "forestry" has been defined and the definition is given as,the growing of a utilisable crop of timber".Particularly in these days of conservation lobbies, it might well be that the restored land could be better 521 used for shelter belts, amenity or other forestry use. It is, therefore, necessary that the term "forestry" in Clause 5 should be able to be widely used and not confined to pure timber production.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Falmouth
My Lords, perhaps I should say that I am a creature, a trident, like my noble friend Lord Rochdale, with land, agriculture, mining and industry in his blood in equal parts. My noble friend gave us an extremely balanced view on this issue and made some important points with regard to the great importance of our extractive industries. I must declare an interest, as the chairman of a small, privately owned china clay company, working and owning minerals and quarries in Cornwall. I also have leases out to well-known mining companies and, at the same time, I obviously have a great love of the landscape, like all in this Chamber. Therefore, it may be that what I say will perhaps be more on the mineral operatives' side than on the side of the others.
First, may I say how much I welcome the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on the Liberal Benches, who said such complimentary things about our china clay industry in Cornwall? That is an example of close co-operation in the restoration of tips which should be copied with great care by other bodies in the country. If our little industry—and it is not really a little industry, because it is the leading industry of its kind in the whole wide world—closes down, the potteries will have to close down and the paper industry will be most seriously affected, as will our exports, because until quite recently, with the coming of North Sea oil, we were the leading exporters of raw material from England.
With those general remarks, I should just like to say that I have been closely counselled by our China Clay Council, which plays an important part in our industry in guiding us through the maelstrom of legislation which affects us at all times with ever-increasing magnitude. I am, of course, delighted that this Bill has been separated, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said at the start of her address, from all the other mammoth Bills from which we so often have to suffer in this House.
May I briefly discuss a point which worries us in our china clay industry? It may be thought to be a Committee point rather than a Second Reading one, but I do not think it is, because it carries implications which affect the whole Bill. As my noble friend said, this Bill is mainly a restoration Bill, but it is not that entirely. Sir Roger Stevens's report, to which tribute was rightly paid this afternoon, and the consultation paper from the department in June 1979, have led to this Bill which is in front of us. There is much good in it, but some of it is worrying. As has been mentioned, it is most important—I cannot overstress this—for mineral undertakings to be certain as to their rights and permissions over the whole of their future life. In our little industry our reserves will go on for 100, 150 or perhaps 200 years before they are worked out. No company in its senses would dream of taking up a mining licence for only five years when heavy capital expenditure is planned. Modern mining expenditure is enormous. You only have to find out how much it costs to sink a yard, a foot, or a fathom, 522 as we call it in Cornwall, of shaft for that point to be made good.
The re-enactment of Section 41 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971—that section has not been repealed by the Bill—requires that the development of an undertaking must begin within five years from the date of the granting of planning permission, unless otherwise agreed with the planning permission authorities. The Stevens Committee advised against this legal limitation being placed on the time within which working must start, on the ground that if permission for mineral working covers a definite area which has a definite place in the operator's programme and the programme has been made available to what they call the consultative minerals committee—in this case the planning authority—there is no need for this five year legal limit. Noble Lords will see that in Clause 3 there is the safeguard of a review at intervals of undertakings. Despite this, the Bill reaffirms the principle that development must begin within five years or planning permission may lapse.
The effect of this clause is that the working of mineral reserves is put at jeopardy through uncertainty. Certainty in mineral undertakings is most important. Consent to the working of reserves will have been given in the original permission but the working may well have to be re-assessed by the company in the light of a possible, or even probable, trade recession, or a change in the market. The five year period, therefore, will have to be breached. Mineral reserves have to be proved, often in detail, by hard rock drilling. This is a most expensive process. Companies will have to do this far ahead of the mine or quarry development that is envisaged, whenever cash is available for the purpose. Such development could be put at risk by unreasonable planning authorities. I am glad to say that in Cornwall our planning authorities are extremely knowledgeable and cooperate well with the mining industry. The old saying is: "Scratch a Cornishman and you'll find tin in his veins". In other parts of the country, however, there may be difficulties when unreasonable planning authorities insist on the five year period and the provisional permission then lapses.
Despite all his other commitments, I hope my noble friend will find time to look again at this point and that it will be possible for him to remove this five year limitation. Because of all the other safeguards in the Bill, it is hardly necessary.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, we are greatly in the debt of the Stevens Committee and the Verney Committee for the advance that is represented by the Bill. I should like to express my particular thanks to them. It was nine years ago when I was Minister in the Department of the Environment and responsible for these matters that it seemed to me that two things needed to be done. The first was a review of the procedures by which mineral working was controlled. I appointed the Stevens Committee to carry out that review. The second was to take steps to look a little further ahead and see what kind of resources the construction industry would need in the 1980s, the 1990s and at the end of the century, where they were going to be found and how they were going to be taken to where they were wanted. 523 That was the job I set the Verney Committee to do.
I congratulate the department for now harvesting the fruits of the labours of those two committees, for applying very considerable drive and skill to these matters and for bringing forward this legislation with the agreement of the local authority associations and the planning departments in particular, with the industries very close to almost complete accord as to how matters are to be handled in the future. I congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward the Bill now, having secured further improvements to that version of it which was incorporated in the Local Government Bill, Mark I.
The issues are these. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has made the first point: that we are an island too densely packed, with too many demands on the limited land that we have, for any amount to be lying about, in a mess, under-used, under-productive and unenjoyed. On the other hand, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone has said, we cannot afford to overlook or neglect the very considerable variety of indigenous mineral resources which lie underneath that land. To make sure that we are doing as well as we possibly can, the reviews provided for in Clause 3 are a very welcome innovation.
When my noble friend replies I wonder whether he could indicate if there will be a requirement—I hope there will—that before embarking on any review in the area of any particular mineral planning authorities there will be consultation with the district councils. The primary responsibility lies with the counties, and it is right that it should. But one would not want them to embark upon a review without consulting the district councils who are responsible for the control of most of the rest of the development in the area.
I am concerned and worried, as is my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, as to whether the Government are being realistic about the capacity of the staffs of the mineral planning authorities and the resources of those authorities to make a proper job of these reviews and to face up to the costs which will be involved and the compensation which will have to be paid. Perhaps my noble friend could say whether the county councils were consulted about their ability to start this operation and, if they were consulted, what they said in reply and whether the Ministry of Agriculture are satisfied about the capability of their staff to do what is required of them.
This is important because, although at the moment it is up to the local authorities to decide how often to carry out these reviews, so that they need do no more work than they think themselves capable of doing, it will not be long before the EEC directive on environmental impact assessment is in force and that is very likely to lay down mandatory conditions for the review of industries and operations which have the massive impact on the environment that mineral working does. Therefore, by that time it will not be an optional matter for the mineral planning authorities to be properly staffed; it will be a duty under EEC legislation.
I welcome very much Clauses 11 to 16 of the Bill which provide for a progressive tightening up of the conditions under which mineral working is operated, as procedures and technology permit that to be done. My noble friend Lord Bellwin started by pointing out 524 to the House—and he was right to stress this—that most of the development control which is done under the planning system is the control of projects: one-off building operations in which a house or a factory is put up according to a plan which is produced to a planning authority. They give their approval for that and there it is—a static item in the environment. Obviously, it it is appropriate that if the local authority changes the conditions after giving permission for something of that sort, then compensation should be payable to the applicant. What we are concerned with in mineral working is permission for a project—the establishment of a quarry, the setting up of the equipment, the building of this and that; but we are also giving approval to a process, and a process which goes on to the detriment of the environment and inconvenience to a lot of people living round for many years.
Most industrial processes are controlled by a general establishment of conditions which are progressively tightened without compensation. That is the way in which the Alkali Inspectorate used to work and the Clean Air Inspectorate now works; the way in which the Health and Safety Executive works, and the way in which the regional water authorities work. They progressively tighten the environmental conditions and industry is not entitled to compensation for having to comply with them. So it is appropriate in this Bill that we should have a mixture of some things which will attract compensation and other things which will not.
It is generally assumed that the imposition of conditions on industry incurs costs. With the permission of the House, I should like to quote extensively (but not too extensively, I hope) from a speech which I heard made yesterday in the presence of my right honourable friend Mr. Tom King, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. I am one of a panel of judges which makes awards to business and industry for particularly enlightened attitudes towards the environment. These awards were being made yesterday at the Royal Society of Arts and this is a quotation from a representative of a firm which has a quarry of silica sand in Cheshire who won one of the awards. The speaker started by explaining the long confrontation and battles between themselves and the Cheshire County Council, going on for many years and then he said—and I am now quoting verbatim:In 1969 Cheshire County Council published their 'Draft Policy for Sand Workings in Cheshire'. This coincided with our own timing for planning the new works on the Eaton Hall Estate near Congleton.Eventually, we were granted permission to extract sand from this site for a period of at least 20 years, provided we complied with the many conditions imposed to protect the environment. At first sight, these conditions appeared to be totally unrealistic.We had to agree to restrict the dust emission level to less than one tenth of previous practice. We had to agree to restrict the noise from the plant to an extremely low level. We had to agree to site all the classifiers and stockpiles some 50 feet below the normal ground level. We had to agree to use an electrically operated dredge to extract the sand from below the water-table. And so the list went on.We quickly came to the conclusion that a conventional plant lay-out and design couldn't possibly meet these conditions. It took two years of research and a tour of works in America and Europe in the search for new technology … before we were finally able to set down our proposals.Prior to commencing any work at all on this site, we presented a full set of plans and drawings to the newly formed residents' committee from the nearby village of Eaton. The frank and open discussions with the committee resulted in several modifications 525 and did much to allay their fears and suspicions concerning the impact we were to have upon their environment.Our choice of the drying and cooling system, which we modified to suit our own requirements, resulted in a 50 per cent. saving of the fuel oil required and enabled us to achieve dust emission figures approximately 60 per cent. below the permitted maximum. These results played an important part in negotiations between the Alkali Inspectorate and the Technical Committee of the Silica and Moulding Sands Association which led to new national standards for the silica sand industry.A theoretical study of the noise problems indicated the necessity for the installation of acoustic control equipment which has enabled us to restrict the noise level from the plant to approximately that of a public library. The County Council Mineral Planning Committee has since adopted these figures as a standard for all future sand processing plants in Cheshire. We've subsequently received permission to operate during the night, which has enabled us to achieve greater output without increasing the size of the plant and its visual impact upon the environment.As a result of siting the classifiers and stockpiles below ground level on the quarry floor, we've been able to reduce pump and motor sizes by taking advantage of an abundant natural water supply from the adjacent lake.The necessity to use an electrically operated dredge led us to develop an almost automatic system of quarrying with savings in operational costs".This is the important conclusion:In fact, many of the onerous conditions that were imposed have assisted us in achieving significant technical and financial advantages in the efficient design and operation of the plant".That leads me to say that the flexibility in making provision for compensation ought to be a flexibility which allows the mineral operator to pay the planning authority for doing them a good turn by so concentrating their minds on the process that they have been able to introduce economies from which they have taken a positive advantage. I think there is a good deal of that in the whole compensation business.
I should like now to turn briefly to Clause 5 and to welcome, with others, the after-care conditions. I think the main factor to bear in mind here is the complete distinction that arises according to whether the topsoil has been stockpiled or not. If the topsoil has been stockpiled—and, of course, under any modern conditions given today it certainly should be, and usually is—then I do not see any difficulty in reaching normal agricultural yields and normal forestry yields after restoration, and I would hope that the after conditions would require it. There is not a lot of evidence but there is enough in a number of cases of restoration after opencast mining and deep mining that where the topsoil has been stockpiled for 20 or 30 years and then put back properly with suitable drainage and looked after for four or five years, or sometimes not more than three or four years, normal local agricultural yields can be achieved.
I would hope—and here I agree with the brief provided by the National Farmers' Union—that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would be actively involved, and they have not, in my experience, in a number of instances in the past where they should have been. If the topsoil has not been stockpiled it is totally unrealistic, in my view, to contemplate normal agriculture or normal forestry, and in that case the appropriate treatment is to restore the land for some form of amenity, put bushes and shrubs and trees on it, which will not produce an economic crop but will make the site attractive and contribute to the landscape. I agree with all those noble Lords who have said that this clause must be amended to allow of that possibility and to make it 526 possible for the planning authorities to prescribe that kind of condition.
The only other things I want to speak on very briefly are suspension and cessation orders. I think on Committee we want to consider shortening the waiting period; and the duration of the planning permissions, where again on Committee I think we want to cons der shortening the period also. Generally speaking, I should like to join with others and very much welcome the Bill.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I must first declare an interest as I am the chairman of a company with substantial mining and quarrying activities within the United Kingdom. I consider the purpose of this Bill to be highly commendable and most of it I am only too happy to support. The purpose is—as indeed was the purpose of the Stevens Committee on which much of it is based—to reconcile the needs of the environment and the needs of industry, not a particularly easy task.
As I understand it, the core of the agreement which was reached in discussions with industry depended upon the understanding that there would be the grant of longer-term planning permissions, in return for which the industry accepted that there could be modifications of the non-fundamental conditions attached to planning permissions without full compensation being paid. Indeed, my noble friend the Minister in his opening speech, in which he expounded the Bill with such clarity, did refer to the fundamental condition, the understanding about there being long-term planning permission. Also, my noble friends Lord Rochdale and Lord Falmouth have made similar remarks about the need for being able to look well ahead in one's planning. Many of these mineral operations involve enormous capital expenditure, not just in the opening of the quarry but the processing plant that goes with it, such as kilns costing £6 to £10 million each, railway sidings, special loading facilities and the like. It is therefore essential that those mineral operators should be able to look well ahead to security of the permission for their source of supply; it is also essential for the downstream industries being supplied to be assured that a long-term supply is coming from the mineral works.
The Stevens Committee in their report said that planning authorities should be urged to consider the national interest alongside the local considerations in considering the length of planning permission to be granted. The Bill is strangely silent on this, and it is a very important point because it is the quid in the quid pro quo, the understanding between industry and the department that there would be long-term planning permission given, provided that flexibility could be negotiated to make non-fundamental change of conditions without paying full compensation. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some assurance on this and perhaps be able to assure us that something might be introduced into the Bill to make clear the intention that there will be long-term planning agreements and the national interest will betaken into account by planning authorities. There must inevitably be some conflict between planning authorities and the national interest; planning authorities are focusing 527 primarily upon the needs for their locality, and the large operations that may be desirable for the national interest are less likely to commend themselves to them or their electorate or indeed their ratepayers. That is my first point.
My second point relates to the compensation provisions or perhaps the lack of them in the Bill. I agree with what the noble Baroness, and indeed my noble friend have said, that this Bill leaves extremely open what compensation basis will be adopted. I hope my noble friend will be able to give us some assurance as to what we are likely to see in the regulations before this Bill comes before the House again or at the time that it does so.
There has been a consultation paper—indeed two. The content of those is somewhat disturbing to the mineral operators and the mineral industry. The latest consultation paper suggests that the mineral operators will receive no compensation on a loss of 20 per cent., or if it is a large operation 10 per cent., of the value of their minerals every five years, and that is a very significant and serious penalty. It applies to existing workings where the capital has been invested and the investment decisions made on the basis of the present law, that full compensation will he paid for any interference with or modification of the planning permissions.
There is perhaps an even more serious point which arises from the consultation paper, and again I hope my noble friend will be able to say something about this. That is that the consultation paper appears to limit the compensation, if any is payable, to the cost of carrying out the further work that is required to be done by the modification of the planning permission. Under the law as it stands today compensation is payable, if planning permission is modified, not only for the costs incurred in carrying out that particular work but also for the loss that the mineral operator suffers from being placed under further restrictions.
The consultation paper is silent on the question of loss; it limits its indication of compensation, and indeed very reduced compensation, to the costs of carrying out the particular work. I cannot believe that my noble friend intended to place such heavy charges on essential industry. Massive capital investment has been made in existing mines and quarries on the basis of the existing law, and some of those workings would become quite uneconomic if they were then subjected to modifications, restrictions and the like and were not entitled to any compensation for the loss or the costs they incurred as a result. Having said that, I support the Bill; I believe it is right to get the proper balance between industry and the environment. I hope my noble friend will he able to give me some reassurance on the two major criticisms I have made.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, this has been an interesting and indeed wide-ranging debate. We have heard a variety of views on the problems raised by mineral working and on the new provisions to meet those problems being proposed in the Bill. These proposals are complex, but they reflect a simple purpose, which is to provide within the present planning system more 528 sensitive and more flexible measures than are now available to deal with mineral working and its impact upon the environment. The variety of points which have been raised this afternoon reflects the magnitude of the task which faced the Stevens Committee when it came to consider this whole question. I should like to associate myself with the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Bellwin, and indeed others, to the thorough and painstaking work of the late Sir Roger Stevens and his committee. I should also like to reiterate the point which was made by my noble friend, and indeed other noble Lords, that consideration of these problems is very much a question of balancing a number of potentially conflicting interests.
The Stevens Committee Report recommended a package of measures, and while those which are now embodied in the Bill would seem by and large to be giving greater powers to planning authorities, they must be seen in the context of the package as a whole. Taken together with the recommendations which do not require primary legislation—the proposed amendments to the General Development Order, the updating of advice on good mineral working practices and the co-operation between planning authorities and mineral developers on long-term policy—they will constitute valuable improvements to the system which will then be able to take better account of the needs of minerals developers as well as of the concern of planning authorities for the proper planning of their area as a whole.
I accept that this is not the time to be adding significantly to industry's burdens. The Bill does not do that and, indeed, no real allegation that it does do so has been made this afternoon. It provides a framework which will give some planning authorities additional powers to deal with those recalcitrant operators who just do not meet their environmental responsibilities; the good operator has nothing to fear from the provisions of the Bill. The considerable dereliction arising from past mineral working is all too powerful evidence for the need for increased powers, and I am confident that with the increased co-operation between planning authorities and the industry these powers will be used reasonably and to the benefit of society as a whole.
My noble friend and I will consider most carefully all the points raised by noble Lords. I shall deal with some of them in a moment; in the case of others they will be taken away and either my noble friend or I will reply to them after consultation. Of course, your Lordships will have ample opportunity to debate the detail of the Bill at the Committee stage—and, if I may say so without being too offensive, a number of points which have been raised are really Committee points. But, at any rate in order to facilitate consideration of the Bill in Committee, I am glad to be able to say that copies of Notes on Clauses will be available in the Printed Paper Office, I hope, within the next few days, and in any case well before the start of the Committee stage.
Before I go on to deal with some of the detailed points which have been raised, I must say a few words about the way in which the Bill applies to Scotland. Although the Stevens Committee was appointed by the previous Conservative Government—indeed, by my noble friend Lord Sandford, in effect—it reported in 529 1976 to the Labour Government in which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, played such a prominent part, The provisions of the Bill are not, I fancy, a matter of party political controversy. But, the differences in political circumstances are relevant to Scotland, since the then Secretary of State for Scotland in 1978 prefaced his response to the Stevens Committee Report in effect by saying that so far as primary legislation was concerned its proposals would be for consideration by the proposed Scottish Assembly. Events, of course, have moved on since that time.
Be that as it may, the present Government have carefully considered the question of the application of the committee's recommendations to Scotland and have decided that basically the same provisions should be applied to Scotland as are being applied to England and Wales. The problems in Scotland are perhaps somewhat smaller in scale, since conflicts between the needs of mineral development and other land uses are less acute, but they are the same in substance. In addition, many mineral operators conduct their business throughout Britain, and it is therefore desirable that legislation in this area should, so far as possible, be identical on either side of the Border.
In spite of the bulk of the Scottish clauses, therefore, which is due largely to the need for separate references to the Scottish legislative background, the provisions of the Bill in relation to Scotland are identical in substance to those in relation to England and Wales. What differences there are simply reflect the difference in the legislative and administrative arrangements in force in Scotland.
I should now like to turn to one or two of the general points that have been raised. I think that there may have been some misunderstanding about the effect of the Bill so far as time limits for mineral working are concerned. The Bill does not impose a blanket limit of 60 years on the life of new mineral permissions. The 60-year limit will only come into play where planning authorities do not exercise their discretion to set a longer or shorter life. Similarly, it does not interfere with planning authorities' discretion to set the appropriate period within which mineral working must start following the grant of a planning permission.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone complained, if that is the right word, about what I might call the "five-year period". Planning authorities have the power to prescribe a period other than five years—either longer or shorter—before the expiration of which working must have begun. Local planning authorities are encouraged to discuss industry's needs and take its views into account when considering when development should start. To adopt my noble friend's suggestion—which would be to exempt mineral working from the prescribed period—would lead to uncertainty as an operator would have a valid planning permission, but there would be no control on when he would actually start working. Such uncertainty about our commencement or recommencement of working has led to many of the detrimental effects of mineral working on the environment which the Bill is seeking to alleviate. Therefore, at present we are not convinced that mineral working should be treated differently from other forms of development in this respect.
I come now to some of the more particular points which were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, 530 asked for an assurance that the enforcement provisions in the original Bill will be reintroduced. The facts of the matter are that the Government are looking at the enforcement of planning control generally and not just in respect of mineral working. If, in due course, it appears that further measures are necessary, then they will be introduced. But I hope that so far as mineral working is concerned the provisions of the Bill, in particular the new orders, will do much to improve land restoration.
The noble Baroness and also—in an unholy, but I hope short-lived alliance—my noble friend Lord Mottistone, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and others, complained, in effect, about the proposed regulations in relation to compensation which are due to be published and then eventually pass into law. 1 appreciate that if is fair game to say that every Government pass regulations in a way which cannot be properly questioned or supervised by Parliament and that therefore, to that degree, the democratic processes of our country are being polluted. T think that everybody says that in Opposition. But, as regards these particular provisions, I wish to point out that we are aware of the fundamental importance of the modified compensation provisions to the concept of the Bill.
As has been said, a consultation paper was issued in September 1980 to local authorities, the industry and others with an interest in the proposed content of the regulations. That is still the subject of discussion. The aim is to provide a workable formula to interpret the reasonable contribution which the Stevens Committee recommended the industry should pay. The formula is likely to be both complex and detailed and is, therefore, not really suited to primary legislation. Equally important, the formula is likely to need to be changed from time to time—in other words to be up-dated—and regulations provide a certain flexibility in this regard which primary legislation certainly does not. We do not want to impose too great a burden on either industry or mineral planning authorities. Nevertheless, because of the importance of the regulations, they will be subject to the procedures of an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, if the noble Earl is moving on from that point, I should like to ask him a question about this. I take the point that the regulations have to be up-dated, but that is for the future. I want to know, quite clearly and plainly, whether we in this House shall have a sight of the original regulations—the regulations before they were up-dated or changed—while this Bill is proceeding. As I said, I am not very happy about the legislation going through and then, by Affirmative or even Negative Resolution, having these regulations put down. I think that we should know—and this has been said on all three sides of this House—what, in fact, is contained in the regulations; that is to say, the basis of the compensation.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I had not quite reached the end of my remarks because I was going to give the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, such undertaking as I am able to give. He said that he thought the regulations should be available by the time the Bill, hopefully, receives its Third Reading 531 in your Lordships' House. On that, I can simply say that we shall certainly try to give a firm indication of our thinking. But I must repeat that there has been a consultative paper, and a great deal of detailed consultative work has already taken place. Therefore, I do not anticipate that there will be any surprise about the regulations when they are published. Further than that I cannot go and, on reflection, I think that the House would scarcely wish me to at this particular stage of the Bill.
On past dereliction, there is already a system of derelict land grants which can be used to restore the effects of old mineral workings, such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. We do not think that there is a need for this Bill to do more on this specific matter. The Government have undertaken to reconsider a separate allocation for derelict land reclamation grant if local authority associations consider this necessary.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, if my noble friend will be good enough to give way, I can tell him now that it is not adequate. Nothing less than 100 per cent. will be sufficient.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I take my noble friend's point. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, raised a number of very detailed points, and my noble friend or I will write to him. The five-year after-care period is needed for agriculture and forestry, because without it land is not properly restored. We do not believe that the same considerations apply to other situations, such as recreational uses. As to another point that the noble Lord raised, a certificate of completion certifies that restoration has been completed. If working has been abandoned, the planning authority can revoke the planning permission under the procedures proposed in the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone raised what I might call a vicarious point on behalf of our noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood; that is to say, the use of minerals by farmers. If necessary, the position could be covered by further amendments to the General Development Order. My noble friend Lord Nugent has already made his position plain. There have already been surveys of derelict land, and I believe that the way forward now is for local authorities to develop proposals for particular sites. We hope that the industry will wish to be fully involved in this process, and we are willing to do what we can to assist. I am all too aware of my noble friend's dissatisfaction with the level of grants which are available under existing legislation. One hopes that eventually the resources will become available to improve them, but one cannot see it for the moment.
My noble friend Lord Rochdale raised a point about time periods under the new Section 51A and Section 49A Orders. I have no doubt that suspension orders will be debated in some considerable detail in Committee. Suffice it if I say for the moment that we think we have the balance about right between the conflicting interests of the environment and the industry. But I want to tell my noble friend that the Government's mind is by no means closed on this matter, and any points which are raised in Committee will be listened to with considerable interest.
532 My noble friend Lord Gisborough raised six points about which he was good enough to warn me by letter in advance. In view of his courtesy, I think that I should do my best to answer them. The first question that he put to me was, in effect: Could the Bill be made to cover the existing areas of development which are not covered by after-care conditions? The answer is, yes. Clauses 7, 8, 23 and 24 empower planning authorities to attach after-care conditions to existing permissions. My noble friend then asked this. As well as returning to agriculture and forestry, can there be a return to more recreational uses, such as golf courses? The answer to that is that there may be occasions when mineral land can subsequently be put to such uses, specialist though they may be, but we believe that it would be more equitable if the new user, rather than the mineral operators, undertook the necessary preparatory work.
Then my noble friend asked whether planning authorities should consult surface owners for mutual benefit on restoration conditions. I can only answer him by saying that it is a matter which will be considered. He asked whether there should be a need to stage after-care—that was reflected in his speech; that is to say, whether one stage should not be started until a previous stage had been completed. That is a matter into which we can go in Committee, to see whether the Bill needs to be amended to cover progressive restoration.
Then my noble friend raised the point—as, I think, did one or two other noble Lords—that grants should be given to remove existing slag heaps and, therefore, no planning consent should be necessary, if heaps are worked, to remove them as opportunities arise. Of course, this is something which farmers find important. At present we believe that planning consent should be required for the removal of shale heaps, but in reaching a decision on an application the planning authority will naturally take account of the use to which the material is to be put. Finally, my noble friend raised a point about the definition of "forestry", and whether it should include amenity planting, such as shelter belts. That, too, is a matter of definition which we can go into in Committee.
My noble friend Lord Sandford suggested that district councils should be consulted on the reviews carried out under the provisions of Clause 3. We believe that the reviews must be a county council function in England and Wales, but we have provided that where a county council proposes to make one of the four orders under Clauses 7, 8 and 9, it must consult the district council if it wishes to benefit from the modified compensation arrangements. I hope that in the circumstances my noble friend will feel that this provides an adequate balance between unnecessary bureaucracy and consultation with the interested parties.
I think that that encompasses most of the points put to me, but not that of my noble friend Lord Boardman. I shall look with interest at what he said in the Official Report tomorrow. My noble friend or I will write to him, as desirable. I am very conscious that a winding-up speech on a somewhat complex and complicated Bill such as this is bound to be disjointed, but I hope that my efforts, such as they are, will not 533 prevent your Lordships from giving this Bill a fair wind.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.