HL Deb 18 February 1985 vol 460 cc413-32

4.30 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Avon, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Power to enter former mining land etc.]:

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran moved Amendment No. 1: Page 5, line 3, at end insert ("and "land" includes any structure or building thereon.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and, with the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 3, which is in the same terms. Amendment No. 3: Clause 8, page 6, line 43, at end insert ("and "land" includes any structure or building thereon.").

The object of this amendment is to clarify in Clauses 7 and 8 what is understood by the word "land". I am raising this matter because of the structure of this Bill. As I indicated at Second Reading, the first six clauses deal with very specific problems in relation to mining in very specific areas which are set out parish by parish in the schedule. To that area, this Bill is of the greatest importance, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, indicated at Second Reading.

Then come in the Bill far wider powers under Clauses 7 and 8. It is unusual, as I indicated at Second Reading, for wide powers particularly relating to entry on to land to be put in a Bill which starts off with such specific and limited clauses. I quite understand the reason given by the noble Lord the Minister at Second Reading for this, but when wide powers in relation to entries on to land are inserted in any Bill, as was said in another place, naturally, very careful consideration should be given to safeguarding the interests of the owners and of persons who have interest in that land.

The local authority is empowered under the terms of Clause 7 to enter land for the purposes of carrying out certain works. I need not deal with the kind of works which it is authorised to do, but does that mean that it is only concerned with the surface of the land or is it also concerned with buildings on the land? As, again, I indicated on Second Reading, there may be a very simple answer to what is of course a probing amendment—that the word "land" includes hereditaments, which includes buildings. Therefore, my amendment that there should be added at the end of line 3 on page 5 the words, 'land' includes any structure or building thereon is unnecessary. However, it is not clear from the Bill as it stands whether the definition in the various Town and Country Planning Acts will be accepted or what should be the definition of the word "land".

The matter can be of significance as regards the word "land" because persons having interest in the land are allowed to make claims for compensation. Consequently, if the interference is merely in connection with the land or with chattels on the land, the scope of compensation will be different from the scope if there were buildings and other structures on the land which it was necessary to enter into.

In the part of Wales where I come from I am aware that a problem arises in connection with holes in the ground and where underground mines have been covered and subsidences arise. As to derelict land—and in Wales we well know what derelict land means, because so much of Wales has been disembowelled for many reasons during the last century or so—it often happens that a man will be able to get a patch of derelict land and perform certain work upon it so that its value may go up as a result. He may put structures on it; he may have a factory. For instance, I recall a large quarry which is being used now by small businesses in the village of Kilgerran with which I am associated. Therefore, this amendment does not contain any kind of semantic approach. It merely asks for clarification by the Minister as to what is the scope of the word "land" and whether it includes structures or buildings placed thereon. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, for explaining his amendment so clearly. I rather thought at one stage that he was going to deal with all three of his amendments together, but I understand he is dealing with the first and the third. In essence, he asks whether buildings are included with "land" so far as the compensation and other provisions of the Bill are concerned. The answer is, Yes, because as regards this Bill we have to go back to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. In that Act, the definition of "land" is to be found in Section 114(1), where it says: … 'land' includes land covered by water … .". The rest of the definition is not relevant for our purposes because it relates to Scotland and Clauses 7 and 8 of this Bill do not extend to Scotland.

Incidentally, I should like to apologise to the Committee and correct something I said on Second Reading. This Bill does extend to Wales, although I said on Second Reading that it did not.

The definition in the 1949 Act must, however, be read in the light of Section 22(1) of, and Part I of Schedule 2 to, the Interpretation Act 1978. Paragraph 5(b) of Schedule 2 provides a definition of "land" for the purposes of any Act passed after 1850 and before 1st January 1979, which is—and I quote—that, 'land' includes messuages, tenements and hereditaments, houses and buildings of any tenure". I hope that answers the noble Lord's question.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I am very much obliged to the noble Lord on two counts. First, I am obliged to him for his reply in dealing with my specific amendment. I am also obliged to the noble Lord for correcting a matter that I was going to raise on the Question that the clause shall stand part in relation to Clause 7, because there is quite clearly a misunderstanding somewhere. He said on Second Reading on 28th January, at col. 466 of Hansard—and I quote: The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, also asked about Wales. I should tell him that the derelict land survey of 1982 covered only England and so Wales is not included in this Bill". If we look at the last clause of the Bill—Clause 11—we see that the Bill does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland but it says nothing about Wales. If the Minister had been right in saying that the Bill does not include Wales, then of course I would have had to put down another amendment. However, I accept that this is a misprint in Hansard and that Clauses 7 and 8, and indeed the whole Bill after Clause 6, include Wales.

Lord Skelmersdale

Just to put the record straight, may I say that there is no misprint in Hansard. They reported faithfully what I said. The fact is that what I said was totally incorrect, and it is for this that I gave the apology earlier.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

The noble Lord is characteristically very fair, and I accept that it was a mistake made by him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran moved Amendment No. 2: Page 6, line 15, after first ("chattels") insert ("or any depreciation of the value of an interest in land occurs.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is of considerable importance in relation to the scope of claims for compensation which arise under Clause 7 after the local authority has entered upon the land to do certain activities. I submit that the clause should also give as a ground for compensation any depreci ation of value of an interest in the land if that occurs as a result of the entry by the local authority's representative on to that land. May I say that I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord the Minister for the long letter he has written to me explaining why, in the opinion of the Government, it is not necessary that a further ground for compensation, based on the fact that there may be a depreciation of the interest in the land, should be inserted.

Those very words are inserted in Clause 8. Clause 8 has again wide powers for entry on to the land in order to carry out certain works—perhaps different works. It is provided in one phrase that a person having an interest in the land has, as one of the grounds for claiming compensation, the fact that there is a depreciation of the value of an interest in the land. The answer of the noble Lord the Minister to that point is to tell us to look at the powers in Clause 7 and compare them with the powers in Clause 8. He says that, in so far as Clause 7 is concerned, the work to take place by the local authority on the land is different from the work that would be taking place with regard to the powers under Clause 8. The Minister goes on to say: It is extremely unlikely that either activity would result in any depreciation in the value of the land and it is for that reason that no provision has been made for compensation in this respect". In view of that reply, I must ask your Lordships to look in more detail at the powers given under Clause 7 to the local authority to do some work on the land. The clause refers to, A person duly authorised in writing … (a) to carry out works under section 89(2)". As the noble Lord the Minister has agreed that the word "land" includes hereditaments—buildings and structures upon it—when the works under Section 89(2) are considered it might therefore affect the buildings; and not only might it affect the buildings, it might also affect the whole nature of the area. If a farmer, for instance, owned the land and was trying to tear some kind of a living out of the very poor and difficult soil, he might want to sell the land with the structures and so on upon it. But the value of the land might be affected by the entry on to it by the local authority's representatives. It is true that under subsection (3)(b) the authority's representatives go onto the land only to survey it; and under subsection (3)(c) the entry is in order to survey the land for different purposes. The Minister pointed out in his long letter that all the representatives are going to do, apparently, is survey and monitor, but even a survey of the land, a monitoring of what is taking place on the land, may affect the financial interests of some person in relation to that land.

Therefore it seemed to me only reasonable that there should be included in Clause 7 a power that will enable a person with interest in the land to have as a further ground for compensation the point that the value of the land might have depreciated as a result of the operations of a local authority's representatives. In other words, although it is more likely under the operation of Clause 8 that damage to the land would be sufficient to alter the value of the land and cause some depreciation in the value of it, it is also possible in my view that such work as the local authorities are permitted to undertake under Clause 7 would also affect the value of the land. I therefore beg to move that another ground on which a claim for compensation under this clause could be founded is where there has been a depreciation of the value of an interest in the land.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

The noble Lord is arguing for compensation to be paid in respect of any depreciation in the value of the land caused by the powers given in Clause 7 of the Bill. That would bring the clause into line with the provisions of Clause 8. I sought to quell the noble Lord's anxieties on Second Reading, in columns 465 and 466 of the Official Report. However, I had the feeling that I might have failed and subsequently I wrote to him explaining this in more detail.

The drafting of the Bill reflects the differences between the two clauses. If, like the noble Lord, I may pre-empt the Committee a little, Clause 8 is concerned with operations for the purpose of reclaiming or improving land under which underground mining operations other than coal mining—which has its own legislation and which is not affected by this Bill—have been, but are no longer being, carried out, or of enabling it to be brought into use. In this case it is quite possible that a person with an interest in the land in question could suffer damage, loss, disturbance, or depreciation. That is why the compensation provisions in subsections (9) to (11) have been inserted in the Bill.

Perhaps I may now return to Clause 7, the subject of this amendment. The noble Lord is still concerned with compensation. But there is an essential difference between the purposes of the two clauses. Clause 8 is as I have described it; Clause 7, on the other hand, is concerned only with entering and surveying. It does not matter, as I understand it, for what purpose the entering and surveying is done; the clause itself only directs such things that shall happen in those two operations. Here the damage liable to be committed is negligible, but, even so, subsections (11) to (13) again contain compensation provisions commensurate with the level of damage which could reasonably be expected to occur. This level—and I am not talking about monetary value—is naturally considerably lower than under Clause 8, as it is extremely unlikely that operations under Clause 7 will result in any depreciation in the value of the land. It is for this reason that I must resist the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I am a little surprised that the noble Lord has taken a narrow view as to the scope of the activities that might take place under the authorisation given by the local authority. I come back to this point; we have now agreed that the land includes hereditaments—structures upon it. Persons are coming in to survey the land. That piece of derelict land—I have some in mind—with its structures on it will have officials descending on it; for how long is not clear. They are coming in to make a survey. I do not know whether the survey will involve the moving of the structures—in which case of course compensation is allowable. Under the clause any damage to the structures would be a ground for compensation. If one looks at the situation broadly and with full commonsense in regard to how some of this derelict land is being used, surely local authority authorised persons should not be allowed to go along to the land without there being some ground for compensation for depreciation.

The authorisation to the local authority under Clause 7 is in three parts. Two parts give the local authority powers to survey the land. But the first part in subsection 3(a) is to carry out works under Section 89(2) of a previous Act. Therefore it would appear to me at any rate that while two of the subsections deal with surveys, the other subsection deals with carrying out works. The carrying out of works, even under Section 89(2), could in my view in certain circumstances have some effect on the value of the land.

I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister wishes to make any further reply, having regard to my lengthy observations. It seems to me that even if the Government say, and the distinguished civil servants dealing with this matter so advise the Minister, that it is unlikely that damage will arise as to the value of the land, there is a chance that there might be damage. In those circumstances I move this amendment to give the persons having interest in the land a further ground for compensation with regard to the value which is depreciated.

Lord Skelmersdale

Before the noble Lord, Lord Kilgerran, presses this matter, perhaps I have not made myself clear. Of course there is compensation for damage, negligence and matters of that nature. And if the local authority were to break into a house and had to smash a lock or splinter a door with an axe, then of course compensation would be paid.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I accept that.

Lord Skelmersdale

But I cannot see in what circumstances depreciation would arise in this particular case. As I said earlier, the power under Clause 7 is to enter the premises but not to undertake the works—and a survey is most unlikely to cause long-term depreciation of the land. Indeed, the whole object of the exercise is to improve the value of the land and not depreciate it. The power to undertake reclamation work in Clause 8 includes depreciation as a compensatable factor. In those parts of the Bill where it really matters, this provision is already included.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, who has really failed to meet my point or to see the circumstances under which I deem that the value of the land could be diminished. I accept of course that if anybody forces an entry into a building by means of an axe then, as the noble Lord indicated, compensation would be allowable under a further subsection of this clause.

Assuming that, suppose that the building was destroyed. Would the local authority reinstate the building? I do not know that they would agree to reinstate the building. If they were to reinstate the building, possibly the value of the land might be increased. But perhaps the owner would want to sell the land before the building was reinstated, and therefore a building that had been partially destroyed would affect the value of that land.

I do not propose to press this matter in view of the lengthy reply which the Minister has given orally and of his helpful letter. I will consider what he has said and what he has written to me, and will reserve my position for a later stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Works on former mining land etc.]:

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:

("Existing Ironstone Planning Permissions.

—(1) This section applies to any existing ironstone planning permission, as defined in subsection (4) below:

(2) Without prejudice to the powers of the mineral planning authority under sections 45, 51 and 51A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, an existing ironstone planning permission shall remain in force after the commencement date subject to section 44A(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, but only for the winning and working of ironstone and minerals overlying such ironstone for, or in connection with, the manufacture of iron and steel and where such ironstone and minerals overlying such ironstone are to be transported from the land to which the existing ironstone planning permission relates by railway or some other means not involving the use of a public highway.

(3) An application for planning permission shall be made under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 for the winning and working of minerals after the commencement date on land to which an existing ironstone planning permission applies where such minerals are to be used wholly or partly for a purpose other than that specified in subsection (2) above unless a planning permission for the winning and working of minerals on that land other than an existing ironstone planning permission is in force at the commencement date.

(4) In this section— existing ironstone planning permission" means a planning permission in force at the commencement date for the winning and working of ironstone (whether or not such permission includes the winning and working of overlying minerals) by surface working on land situated within the ironstone district where such permission was granted on a planning application referred to a Minister of the Crown for determination by a direction issued under the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act 1943, the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 or the Town and Country Planning Act 1971; Mineral Planning Authority" has the same meaning as in section 1(2B) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971.").

The noble Baroness said: I am aware that this amendment was moved in Committee in another place but it was withdrawn pending the Minister's visit to Northampton, which is one of the places most concerned with ironstone permissions. That visit took place on 28th January, which was the day of the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordships' House. So information about the Minister's visit was not available here on that day and, perhaps because it was pending, this particular subject received very light treatment on 28th January. We now hope to be told the Minister's views on his visit and to receive in addition answers to some other questions.

It may be helpful to your Lordships if I give something of the background to the problem, as this was not gone into at the time. These ironstone permissions were originally granted by the Minister in the national interest, and the direction that this should be so has been maintained throughout subsequent legislation, to enable Government policies relating to steelmaking to be implemented. Permissions were granted for the working of ironstone and overlying minerals; usually limestone, sometimes with a stratum of clay.

In the case of Northampton, total permissions covered 22,000 acres, so the problem there is particularly acute. I propose therefore to pay a little more attention to the problems of Northampton, although other areas are similarly affected and the same principles should apply. Those areas are Humberside, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire.

In Corby, in Northampton, steelmaking has—as everyone in the Committee will know—ceased, and a substantial part of the permitted areas remain unworked or partly worked. It is those areas which cause concern to the county council. Permissions remain in force, and on the sites which have been partly worked they are subject only to the statutory 60-year time limit—of which 57 years remain. Although all permissions were granted for the express purpose of ensuring a supply of ironstone for steelmaking in the national interest, it is being claimed that the permissions allow the extraction of minerals for other purposes, since planning permission does not usually control the destination or use of a mineral after extraction.

Ironstone was taken to the steelworks by means of a mineral railway, so when the Minister granted the permissions no issue arose about the effect of large numbers of heavy vehicles moving to and from the working areas by road. If the overlying limestone is now worked separately for commercial use, it would have to be transported by road. This would frequently involve use of substandard and unsuitable roads, and would also cause severe environmental problems in the villages near the areas; many would be affected. The little mineral railway which was used for the ironstone workings has been entirely removed.

The sites to which the permissions relate usually have an access that was used as a service access into the ironstone workings. Therefore, there would be no need to apply for planning permission for access to roads now. Many of the sites are in environmentally sensitive areas, and public expectations about the need to conserve the environment and about protection from heavy road traffic have become much greater in recent years. Also, the size of the vehicles likely to be involved aggravates the problem.

The effect of Amendment No. 4 would be to allow the existing ironstone permissions to remain valid for the purpose for which they were originally granted; that is, for the supply of ironstone by mineral railway for steel-making—but applications for further planning permission would be required if the minerals were to be worked for other purposes. This would preserve the right to work the minerals in accordance with the intention of the original grant but would enable the county council to exercise planning control over use for other purposes—and, in determining any application, to take into account relevant planning considerations such as the effect of traffic, the effect on the environment, the provisions of the county structure plan and any minerals subject plan. The present position has made a nonsense of the structure plan and has delayed production of a mineral subject plan, which is still not forthcoming.

It has been suggested that I should speak also to Amendment No. 6, and it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I do that now: Amendment No. 6: Clause 11, page 9, line 3, after ("6") insert (", (Existing Ironstone Planning Permissions),"). However, before I leave Amendment No. 4 I should like to ask the Minister this question: what action does he propose to take to resolve the problem of the ironstone permissions following the visit of Mr. Macfarlane on 28th January?

Turning now to Amendment No. 6, its effect would be to allow the mineral planning authority to impose restoration and after-care conditions on existing ironstone permissions without liability to compensation. The original consultation document, of which I have a copy, was sent to the authorities affected in January 1984. It included in its proposals, in paragraph 5(c): To impose restoration and after-care conditions without any liability for compensation to existing ironstone permissions". Naturally, that was agreed to by the authorities concerned but it has now been dropped from the Bill without any explanation being given. Can the Minister explain why that is not included in the Bill?

5 p.m.

The existing restoration conditions may not be effective to achieve modern standards and those that pre-date the Minerals Act 1981 will not have aftercare conditions attached. The absence of an ironstone restoration fund will add to the county councils' problems; whilst the operator no longer has to make a fund contribution. Since the Government are committed to the "polluter pays" principle, it seems reasonable to expect that the purpose of this amendment is acceptable to the Minister. If the "polluter pays" principle is not to apply in these cases, can the Minister explain why? I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am not quite sure whether this is, in fact, an amendment probing the Government's intentions or whether it is real, but I should like to proceed, with the Committee's permission, by assuming that it is a bit of both.

Clearly, the purpose of this new clause is to confine extant planning permissions for the winning and working of ironstone and overlying minerals in the ironstone district to minerals extracted for use in the manufacture of iron and steel. Equally, such permissions are intended to be kept alive only where the minerals are to be transported from the site by railway or by some means other than on the public highway. Furthermore, all ironstone permissions within the district which do not meet these criteria are to be revoked so that any person who wishes to extract or to continue present extraction of ironstone or overlying minerals for purposes other than iron and steel manufacture should be required to make a fresh planning application.

The Committee will be aware that a clause very similar to this was tabled during the Committee Stage of the Bill in another place. Indeed, the noble Baroness said so. I know something of the background to the problem because the Northamptonshire County Council wrote to me about it on 18th January and because, as I said at Second Reading, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State went to see the problems for himself on 28th January. I promised to report on this at Second Reading and I now very gladly do so. He returned very sympathetic to the problems which some of the authorities in the ironstone district may now have to face and at his request officials of my department have arranged to meet the Northamptonshire County Council to discuss how best those problems may be overcome. The noble Baroness sought to pre-empt, in her own quiet way, the results of that discussion and, obviously, I am not prepared to follow her down that route. Equally, the noble Baroness did not know that discussions were likely to take place, so perhaps honour is satisfied.

These problems are not those which arise from the abolition of the ironstone restoration fund. Even were the fund to remain in existence its resources could not be made available for the reclamation of land which had been worked for limestone—or for any other material—unless that mineral had been worked in association with ironstone. The local authorities, I know, recognise this. The noble Baroness, will, I am sure, accept that these problems only occur in areas within the old ironstone district; and she discussed some of the modern contingencies that would be considered if such planning permissions were to be given in today's climate. She referred to the railway and, perhaps in certain places, the unsatisfactory state of the roads for moving heavy lorries, and so on. Even so, I must say that I do not think it is appropriate to seek a solution through this or any other public and general Bill.

It is a fundamental principle of planning control that each individual development should be considered on its planning merits. It would be a radical departure for the system to be used to make blanket revocations and modifications in the way that is now being suggested. It would also, I suggest, set a controversial and undesirable precedent, because, although some mineral workings would thus be permanently discontinued, the planning merits of others would justify the granting of a new permission. In such cases, all that would have been achieved would have been to place a new layer of inconvenience, delay and expense on the minerals industry, whose direct contribution to the national economy is considerable and whose ancillary activities often provide jobs in areas where employment opportunities are otherwise scarce.

So far as the restriction on the method of transporting the minerals is concerned, that is clearly a matter which needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The old railway line by which ironstone was originally transported through the ironstone district to the British Steel Corporation's Corby works is closed, as the noble Baroness said. Many sites now have no alternative to transporting the minerals by road, and it is for the authority to decide—in the light of the circumstances pertaining to a particular site and at a particular time—whether the transportation problems are such that the relevant planning permission should be modified or revoked.

I suggest that it is both illogical and improper to seek to impose such controls on a particular class of planning permission within the ironstone district in such a blanket fashion. The intention of the ironstone provisions of this Bill is to place those with an interest in ironstone land in the ironstone district in exactly the same position as those with an interest in other minerals in other parts of the country. It makes no sense then to impose on that section of the industry contraints which positively disadvantage them in comparison with minerals interests elsewhere.

Most of these old permissions were given at a time when the British steel industry was bouyant and it is true that they were called in by past Government Ministers who were anxious to ensure that adequate supplies of ironstone were available. The conditions attached to those permissions were consistent with the planning standards of the day, and it is only the passage of time with its altered economic and environmental circumstances which may now have rendered some, though not all, of the permissions inadequate.

Parliament has vested the main responsibility for mineral planning control in the mineral planning authorities. Those authorities have power under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971—as amended by the Minerals Act 1981—to revoke or modify extant planning permissions in their area, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. If authorities in the ironstone district decide on the planning merits—which is what we are talking about—of the particular case that it is appropriate to revoke or modify a particular ironstone permission, then the proper course is for them to exercise the powers already available to them. I know that some authorities may be reluctant to resort to those powers because they would then become liable to pay compensation for any loss or damage arising from the modification or revocation order. But since such liability can only arise from a decision made by the authority—in the light of the planning consideration relevant to the individual case—I do not think that the Committee should judge that to be inappropriate.

The noble Baroness also spoke very quickly to Amendment No. 6 which, in a sense, is consequential on the new clause in Amendment No. 4. That amendment suggests that this new clause, if approved by the Committee, should be given early introduction. I suggest that it should not. The Committee will be aware that the normal convention is to delay the introduction of new provisions for at least two months after Royal Assent in order to allow those likely to be affected to take advice on the implications for them and to make necessary arrangements. We have, exceptionally, felt able to propose the early introduction of the Government's ironstone provisions in this Bill because they have been subject to wide consultation with all those likely to be affected. Thus, people have already had plenty of opportunity to make preparations. As I have explained, the new clause is a sweeping new measure with wide implications for landowners and the Midlands ironstone industry. It has not been subject to consultation and it will, therefore, be unreasonable to give it an early introduction.

Lord Beswick

I am bound to say that the Government are being somewhat casual about this. As the Minister said concerning this particular part of the country, the matter was raised in the other place in Committee and there the Minister gave an undertaking that he would visit the site to see for himself what was involved. I should have thought we should have had the benefit of that report before we considered the Bill at Second Reading.

After all, this is supposed to be a revising Chamber and we revise a piece of legislation after it comes from the other place in the light of all the available information. But the Government chose precisely the day on which the Minister was visiting the site to put the Bill before the House on Second Reading. Therefore we could not intelligently discuss what observations the Minister had to make as a result of his investigation on the spot.

Now I have my name down to this amendment, and again up to the time of moving the amendment I had absolutely no idea of what the Minister said after his visit to the site. If we are to disuss this sensibly, surely it would have been helpful to have the benefit of the observations to take them into account either when drafting or considering the amendment.

As my noble friend said, the problem with which the two amendments deal concerns especially the county of Northamptonshire. I should like to say a word or two about the problems that have been confronted there because they have had some quite special characteristics. The county has always faced them constructively. In my view, they deserve special consideration now. I can recall—I do not know how many other noble Lords were around at the time—that the decision was taken to shift an industrial complex from Scotland down to this English county. It meant uprooting a community. The people came down to Northamptonshire and started work in the new site around Corby. There were considerable social and economic problems as a result of that transfer. The Government of the day endeavoured to be helpful to the county and made special planning provision with regard to the extraction of the ironstone from those areas for the benefit of the steelworks that were erected at Corby.

Then in this decade there have again been upheavals. Quite above the heads of the county authorities—they have not been responsible in any way—the decision was taken to close down the steelworks and quite appalling new social and economic problems were created by that decision. The efforts to rebuild the economy and the community life in Corby seem to me to reflect great credit on all concerned. I feel that they should have had much more sympathy and consideration from the Government in this problem.

This particular problem arises because planning permission was given in a situation which does not now exist. That great steelworks is no longer there. The need to rip up the countryside and extract the ironstone does not now exist. But it seems to me, and the Government have admitted it, that the permission then granted in the late 1940s and 1950s was rather widely drawn. Had the Government of the day been able to look ahead and see the possibility of the contraction of one of the most important industries in the country, I am quite sure that the wording would have been such that it would not now be possible to use it or to exploit it for the purpose of the limestone workings.

The Government say that the proposals in this Bill will not in any way affect the future treatment of limestone workings in the area. Of course they will not. That is what we are complaining about. There ought to be some control over the future limestone workings in this area. If the limestone is to be worked, it should be worked under a permission granted for the purpose by the county planning authorities.

5.15 p.m.

The Government in the Commons, and again here today, stated that it would be wrong if blanket revocations and modifications were made to existing permissions. But this amendment which we are now considering—and it is not really a probing amendment; it is an amendment which could be accepted and written into the Bill—does not propose any blanket revocations. It is proposing that permission granted to meet a very special situation be revoked now that that special situation no longer exists. Any future workings of limestone should be under new permissions granted to meet a new situation.

The Government, I understand, are still complaining that there have been no consultations. I am not sure what happened when the Minister went up there. I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord, but I understood him to say that there had been no consultations. That is the excuse that the Government gave in the Commons, but I thought that consultations had now taken place. If there are to be further consultations, certainly I am sure that my noble friend would agree that we should wait to see what the outcome is. But in the meantime, I hope that the Minister can say that the problem will be considered much more sympathetically than would appear to be the case at the present time.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, should take that attitude. On the point of consultations, he most certainly misunderstood me. What I said was that consultations on the Bill have already taken place. They have been very wide. Therefore it is possible to have an early introduction of the Bill. However, consultations, should they be needed, on the new clause of the noble Baroness have not been held, which is the reason why I would counsel a delay in introducing the new clause beyond, I think it is, 1st April 1985, as proposed by Amendment No. 6.

I must reject the charge that the Government are being unsympathetic—

Lord Beswick

I am sorry, but I still do not understand what the noble Lord is saying about consultations. Are there impending consultations about this particular problem with which the amendments are concerned?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, there are pending consultations, which I referred to, I think, in the opening paragraph of my response to the noble Baroness. The consultations on the Bill as it stands have already been held. They have been widely held, which is the justification for asking your Lordships to approve the Bill's early operation after Royal Assent. However, with the best will in the world, although consultations have already been started with the Northamptonshire County Council, consultations with other bodies—for example, landowners and the mineral operators themselves—have not yet been held because we have not got a basis of discussion with the local authorities on which to hold them. I was suggesting that that was a very good reason for delaying the operation of the new clause.

Lord Beswick

I am not talking about the Bill as a whole. I am talking about the particular problem with which these two amendments are concerned. If I understand the noble Lord to say that there are consultations taking place or to be held, can we take it that the Bill will not be progressed any further until we have had the result of the consultations?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, I think that it would be unreasonable to do that in any event. But what I was saying was that consultations on the problem to which the noble Lord has drawn our attention are going on at the moment, but they will be incomplete consultations until such time as the mineral operators and the landowners have also been included within the consultation process.

Perhaps I used a little bit of shorthand when I said that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary returned very sympathetic to the problems which some of the authorities in the ironstone district may now have to face. As the Committee already knows, the exact position is that my honourable friend visited Northamptonshire on 28th January and was given a very clear exposition by the county planning officer of the problem, as he saw it, that a number of the existing ironstone planning permissions would also allow the working of other minerals. He also saw examples of quarries where limestone was being worked from such permissions.

My honourable friend noted that at a number of those quarries the operators had submitted a new planning application and the limestone was being extracted in an environmentally acceptable way under conditions imposed by the county council.

The problem appeared to be concentrated on one or two quarries where the county council did not want to see any limestone working at all. This, of course, would be under modern-day conditions. My honourable friend understood why the council might take this view. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there are planning permissions which have been in existence there for many years and the rights of those with an interest in the land and the minerals under it must be safeguarded. My honourable friend considers that it would be quite wrong for Parliament to sweep away those rights at a stroke in some possibly unprecedented blanket way, and the position at each site must be considered on its merits, as, indeed, the council has been happy to do at those sites where new limestone permissions have been issued.

As I have already made clear, my honourable friend has also suggested to the council—and they have welcomed this—that the Department of the Environment officials should discuss further with the county planning officer and his staff the options available to them at any particular site about which they are concerned. These options will include powers such as prohibition orders introduced by the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act, 1981, once Parliament has approved the necessary compensation regulations and I hope that it will have the opportunity to do so before the Easter Recess. As far as I know, that is the complete and up-to-date position as of this moment. As I said on Second Reading, if there is any more to report, I will inform your Lordships.

Baroness Nicol

If I may mention the last point first, I would say that the 1981 regulations are a long time a-coming, and we have no clear idea of what will be in them. If we could have a foretaste of what might be in the regulations, it would be helpful. However, far from delaying the Bill in order to take account of any consultations that are going on, it has been suggested, in the usual channels, that in fact we hurry it through and that the interval between now and Report stage should be reduced. I mention that point for the information of my noble friend Lord Beswick, who is concerned about the progress of the Bill.

To say that the authority concerned has the power under the existing legislation, provided that it pays compensation, may be appropriate when we are talking about just one or two permissions. But in the case of Northampton there are so many permissions that it just is not possible for them to examine them in the way they would wish. The district valuer reached the conclusion that if—and this is unlikely—Northampton wished to extinguish, or to put conditions on all the existing permissions which have been partly worked, it would cost in the order of £6 million. Obviously, with rate capping that is simply not within the reach of the authority at the moment; so that answer by the Minister will not do in this situation. As my noble friend Lord Beswick said, Northampton is a special case, with special difficulties, and it really should be taken out of the common run in this particular case or for this particular legislation.

The idea that the mineral owners or mineral permission holders should be protected is all very well as far as it goes. However, at the moment there is a growing acceptance by the farming community that they have to work along with environmental considerations and bear in mind community needs. They are reaching this situation of their own accord, in their happy way, with a few exceptions, and their products are just as valuable to the well-being of the country as are those of the mineral extractors. It seems to me that in this regard we have had a very glib answer, which is not acceptable. The Minister did not answer my question as to what happened to the "polluter pays" principle. If it is applicable in other cases, why is it not applicable here? If the mineral extractors are polluting, in the sense of destroying the environment, why does the county council have to pay to protect the environment from their depredations?

The Minister did not answer, either, the question as to what action the Government propose to take generally on the ironstone permissions. We have been fobbed off with the idea of other discussions. But that will not do, either. The Minister must have some idea of what will be proposed.

What about the structure plan, which I asked about originally? The structure plan is a nonsense in Northampton at the moment because many of the permissions are in direct conflict with the provisions of the structure plan which were approved by the Minister in 1980. The provision of a mineral plan has been awaiting some kind of determination in regard to these areas and it, too, is at a standstill. We cannot just dismiss the whole matter in terms of existing legislation; it simply will not do. I hope the Minister has some more answers.

Lord Skelmersdale

Quite honestly I think I have answered as fully as I am able to at this particular time. I have been asked whether consultations are going on; and the answer is, yes. I have been asked about various matters. All I can add to what I have already said is to tell the Committee a little about the regulations, though of course they have not yet been published and I am under a certain amount of difficulty so far as this goes. It is intended that the regulations will provide for the abatement, in certain circumstances, of the amount of compensation which a mineral planning authority is obliged to pay in respect of loss or damage arising from an order made by the authority under Part III of the 1971 Act to amend an extant minerals planning permission. Such orders may, for example, revoke or modify a permission, require the discontinuance of mineral working, prohibit the resumption of mining operations which have ceased, or impose requirements in relation to a site where mining operations are temporarily suspended. As I have said, this is not the complete story because we do not have the regulations in front of us.

In her last speech, the noble Baroness gave the impression that there are so many permissions extant in the ironstone area that the county treasurer had suggested that in Northamptonshire alone it would cost £6 million in compensation. I think that is what she said—

Baroness Nicol

The district valuer.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am sorry; the district valuer has suggested that it would cost £6 million in compensation if they were all to be revoked. But it is by no means clear that they are all unacceptable, even in today's terms. Therefore I would most certainly query the figure of £6 million. So far as rate capping is concerned and the question of whether the local authority would be able to find any money for such compensation—which is really what the noble Baroness is asking—compensation is calculated and is funded in a variety of ways, and sometimes, in particular circumstances, as I understand it, involves central Government. Whether this would be so in that particular case I do not know and I am sure that this is one of the matters with which the consultations will be concerned.

Lord Beswick

May I just press the noble Lord? He is being very patient, and I am sure that my noble friend Baroness Nicol and I are grateful to him. He emphasised the importance of the consultations. Will he now give an undertaking that he will use his very considerable influence to see that the Bill is not rushed through the House and that there is ample time for the consultations to take place, so that when we come to the next stage of the Bill we shall have the benefit of knowing what has been discussed and possibly agreed?

Lord Skelmersdale

The answer is no, because during the consultations the Government will not be in a position to make a final agreement, for the reasons that I have already given to the noble Lord.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I have listened with great attention to the debate on this matter. I have great sympathy with the submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in relation to the apparent shyness of the Government to give any further information in regard to these consultations. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has asked for an undertaking that the Bill will not be pushed through quickly before some of the results of these consultations can be disclosed. I wonder whether I can be helpful and ask for an assurance from the Minister, who, in my view, even this afternoon, has shown his great sense of fairness, frankness and courtesy in so many matters. Will he give an assurance that the observations and submissions of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will at least be brought to the notice of the Minister in the other place concerned with the matter, in case the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, should carry considerable weight with him when he sees them in writing?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, I most certainly give that assurance. I have no doubt that my honourable friend will take full cognisance of what has been stated by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, during this short debate. I cannot, however, give an assurance as to the effect that this will have on the final outcome of the discussions, or whether it will affect the subsequent proceedings on the Bill.

Baroness Nicol

Before withdrawing the amendment, which it is my intention so to do at this stage, I should like to say that I do not consider that Amendment No. 6 is entirely consequential on Amendment No. 5. It seems to me—

Lord Skelmersdale

We might have been talking at cross-purposes. Amendment No. 6 is consequential upon Amendment No. 4. It has nothing at all to do with Amendment No. 5, so far as I can see.

Baroness Nicol

I beg your Lordships' pardon. I had meant to say that Amendment No. 5 is not consequential upon Amendment No. 4.

Lord Skelmersdale

Absolutely. I was not speaking to Amendment No. 5.

Baroness Nicol

I do not wish to press the Minister beyond what I know he can say today. I have, however, asked one or two questions to which I should like answers. I am concerned particularly about "the polluter pays" principle. Either we subscribe to it or we do not. I should like to know why it is not applicable in this case. I should also like to know why paragraph 5(c) was dropped from the Bill. It appeared in the original consultation document as a proposal to impose restoration and aftercare conditions without any liability for compensation to existing ironstone permissions. It is important that the Committee should know why this was left out when it was included as a proposal originally in the Department of the Environment document dated 19th December 1983.

Lord Skelmersdale

The noble Baroness asks why paragraph 5(c) was dropped. I am advised that this is an extremely complicated matter and that I would be well advised to write to the noble Baroness and to put a copy of the letter in the Library. As to "polluter pays" principle, I do not see how that charge can be levelled at me, the Government or anyone else. We are considering existing planning permissions, no matter whether they were made in 1951, 1931 or whenever. So far as the permissions go, they were made, as all planning permissions and planning consents are, under the conditions pertaining at the particular time they were granted. If, in the light of circumstances—which, incidentally, is the root of my cause on this amendment—such conditions change and the local authority takes it upon itself or, in this case, the mineral planning authority takes it upon itself to revoke or alter the consents in any way, then, of course, it is up to them, having made their own decision, to do so; but in that event compensation may well be payable.

Baroness Nicol

I look forward to receiving the letter from the Minister on paragraph 5(c). In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 5: After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:

("The imposition of restoration and after-care conditions.

.—(1) The provisions of sections 164 and 170 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, as the case may be, shall not apply to an order made by the mineral planning authority under section 45 of that Act modifying an existing ironstone planning permission by imposing new or altered conditions or new or altered after-care conditions or to an order made by the mineral planning authority under sections 51 of that Act imposing new or altered restoration conditions or new or altered after-care conditions on a use of land which is taking place pursuant to an existing ironstone planning permission.

(2) In this section— existing ironstone planning permission" has the same meaning as in subsection (4) of section (Existing Ironstone Planning Permissions) of this Act; mineral planning authority" has the same meaning as in section 1(2B) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971; restoration conditions" and "after-care conditions" have the same meaning as in section 30A(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971.")

The noble Baroness said: It was my intention not to move this amendment, but the Minister indicated that he had not spoken to it. If that is right, I move the amendment formally and invite the noble Lord to reply.

Lord Skelmersdale

It occurs to me, having had a few seconds' peace from the flak of the last half hour or so, that what I am about to say may help considerably your Lordships' future consideration and discussion on the last amendment. The purpose of this amendment is to protect mineral planning authorities from having to pay compensation in the event of their deciding to exercise powers under Sections 45 and 51 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 to modify an old ironstone permission to impose conditions requiring restoration and after-care of the site when extraction is completed.

It is understandable that mineral planning authorities might seek to be absolved of their compensation liabilities in the event of their deciding to modify an extant ironstone permission. They will be aware that we, at one time, considered whether such a concession should be made to them. But for a number of reasons we concluded that it should not.

Before I discuss the merits of the proposal, I should first explain that it would not be necessary to amend this Bill in order to relieve mineral planning authorities of their compensation liabilities. That power already exists. The Secretary of State has powers under Section 178A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, as amended by the 1981 Minerals Act, to make regulations for the abatement of compensation which may include provision as to the circumstances in which compensation is not to be payable. I have already referred to the forthcoming laying of these regulations.

We concluded that it would not be appropriate to exercise that power to remove the compensation liability in respect of the modifications of extant ironstone permissions within the ironstone district because the effect would be potentially to impose a penalty on those with an interest in Midlands ironstone which was not imposed on minerals interests in other part of the country. That would clearly be inequitable.

Furthermore, the compensation burden faced by those authorities is not likely to be great. All extant ironstone permissions in the ironstone district are already subject to conditions requiring the restoration of the land after ironstone extraction, either as a requirement of the express planning permission or by virtue of the Ironstone Areas Special Development Order 1950. Restoration—which is the most costly part of the reclamation process—is already, therefore, a requirement of the permissions.

I accept that few, if any, of the old permissions will also require a full aftercare scheme to be carried out on the land after restoration, though some aftercare work is often required by the terms of the operator's lease from the Royalty owner. The Committee will appreciate, however, that in such cases only a modest amount of additional treatment may be necessary to bring the aftercare to modern standards.

Where an authority decides to add an aftercare requirement to an extant permission—and to add nothing more—the amount of compensation which they have to pay will be able, under Section 10 of the 1981 Minerals Act, to be abated by the full amount to be prescribed in regulations which it is hoped to lay before both Houses next month.

The compensation abatement provisions of those regulations will be applied throughout England and Wales to orders modifying extant permissions for all sorts of mineral working except National Coal Board workings, to which other compensation provisions already apply. It would be extremely difficult to justify making different arrangements for ironstone permissions in the ironstone district. As I have said, this does, I think, have a bearing on our last discussion. Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to consider the two together.

Lord Beswick

The noble Lord may be able to help me as I have great difficulty following this. I think I am right in saying that throughout the first part of what he stated he referred to ironstone workings. The problem in Northampton is created by the fact that the permission that was granted to extract ironstone had the effect, incidentally almost, of allowing the working of limestone. What is at issue now is not the extraction of ironstone, because there is no steelworks in the area to use the ironstone. But there are people who want (I have already used the phrase) to exploit this loophole for the purpose of extracting limestone. Do I take it that the power of the Minister to abate any compensation provisions would apply to the limestone working equally with ironstone?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes. I think the point here is that, had the ironstone not been there, these particular permissions that we are talking about would not have been granted in the first place. I accept that ancillary to the ironstone permissions there are permissions to extract for other minerals, particularly limestone. I am not sure that this gets us any further, but I should say that of course where those conditions for other minerals apply then that is what we are talking about now that the ironstone extraction no longer goes on.

Baroness Nichol

I think that I detect a glimmer of hope in that reply, and in order to have time to study it I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Citation, commencement and extent]:

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.