HL Deb 28 January 1985 vol 459 cc463-7

3.56 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I hope that the House will consider that it is appropriate to return to the Second Reading of the Mineral Workings Bill.

I have listened very carefully to all the speeches that have been made. I will read them equally carefully in the Official Report tomorrow. But I should start by agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that this small but important Bill will not hit many headlines, either visual or verbal. However this should not be seen as making it unimportant in any way.

The first purpose of the Bill which has been widely accepted is to wind up the Ironstone Restoration Fund and is a limited measure. We are all agreed that over the past 30 years the fund has made a valuable contribution to the reclamation of worked ironstone land in the Midlands field. I think however that most of us equally accept that, with the rundown of ironstone workings in this country, the fund has served its purpose and should now be wound up.

I was asked a number of questions and I shall run through them roughly in order. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked me why there are no statutory provisions in the Bill for an annual review and whether there should be. There are technical difficulties about including statutory provision for an annual review in Clause 4. The purpose of the clause is to define the extent of the British Steel Corporation's responsibility. The insertion of an annual review provision would only have the effect of limiting BSC's responsibility, not of requiring that a review be conducted. I understand that the Ironstone Royalty Owners' Association has been given a written assurance from both BSC and the Forestry Commission that the rate of grant will be subject to annual review, so it is not just in the Official Report but the commitment will be in the papers of those two very important bodies.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, there are a number of points which I know the noble Minister has to answer before he goes on to others, but I should like him to deal with this because it was a point supported also by his noble friend Lord Middleton. We are now discussing this Bill in your Lordships' House but it started in another place. I ask the Minister to take this back to see whether it is possible to include this matter. We are all used to the technical reasons—I was trying to find a more felicitous word than "excuse", but that will do for a moment—for not including items on the face of a Bill. This is important. It does not involve putting in a special sum, but saying "subject to annual review". With great respect, assurance in writing to the Ironstone Royalty Owners' Association has, from my point of view, exactly the same small amount of impact as its being in Hansard. I am not accusing the Government of deciding maliciously to do or not to do something, but I should like to see it in the Bill. I should like to feel that this point will be considered again.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I should be the first to concede that a commitment by one Government is not binding on a successor Government. Most certainly I shall undertake, as I thought I had already, to consider and read most carefully the Official Report tomorrow and decide what action to take about the various points that have been raised.

The noble Baroness also asked me what would be the position after 1990 about subsidence. She is quite right. Where the position relates to the after-care of land restored before 1st January 1984 the arrangements may persist until completion or until 31st March 1990, whichever is the earlier. The cut-off date has been set at the end of March 1990; that is five years from the introduction of the transitional arrangements. In passing Section 5 of the Minerals Act 1981 Parliament has already accepted that five years is a reasonable after-care period. In this case we are being even more generous than we were in the Minerals Act 1981 by making it six years.

Several noble Lords raised the question of the visit today to Northamptonshire by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary who looks after these matters. My honourable friend's visit was arranged because of a commitment that he gave in another place at Committee stage that he would visit that part of the country to get an appreciation of the problems of people working limestone from old ironstone planning consents. He would like to look at hill and dale forestry restoration, too, and would like to see examples of subsidence. He has just, within the last hour or so, returned from his visit, and I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that there is no sinister motive in any of this and, certainly, no disrespect to your Lordships' House or to Northamptonshire or any other council. It was in response to a question in Committee in another place, and today was chosen because it jointly suited both his hosts and my honourable friend's diary and was well before the usual channels had discussed the date of this debate in your Lordships' House. No ulterior motive should be assigned to this particular day.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, I readily acquit everyone concerned of sinister motives, but if it was fixed some time ago, would it have been beyond the wit of the planners of business here to have delayed the Second Reading until his report had been received?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am sure that nothing would be beyond the wit of the usual channels, but the usual channels did not consider the noble Lord's point. If he had been in a position to make it earlier, no doubt it would have been considered. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked about Crown land as it might or might not be affected by the provisions of this Bill. I have to tell her that Crown land is outside the scope of the Bill because it would be necessary to look at each case on Crown land if and when it arises; but it is likely that the spirit of the Bill will be followed in any case. It would sometimes, I suggest to her, be difficult to justify a power of compulsory entry to such as defence or prison lands. I see that the noble Baroness is nodding and I think that perhaps she understands that.

The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, asked me a number of questions. I must say that I wondered whether at one point he was not fishing a little. Of course, there is no harm in fishing so long as he is not using lead weights, which of course the noble Lord is not prone to do. He was asking about the differences in the compensation provisions of Clauses 7(11) and 8(9). I must confess that I may have been just a little at fault here in not providing notes on clauses quite as early as I might have done; but I can undertake that they will be in the Printed Paper Office for your Lordships' consideration tomorrow.

However, for now, before the noble Lord reads them, I think I should say that he was talking about two completely different cases. The power of entry under Clause 7 can be used where a local authority proposes to carry out works on any land for the purpose of reclaiming land under which relevant observations have been carried out, whereas under Clause 8 this is the compulsory carrying out of work. The noble Lord will readily see that these are slightly different.

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. But we would perhaps be in a position to consider further whether it should be included at a later stage in the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Middleton made two points. First, I was delighted to hear from him that the owners accept that the conditions of the fund have been broadly carried out and that the Bill now meets the concerns of the owners. I accept my noble friend's point that one can never rule out the possibility that subsidence may recur on land restored after the opencast working of any mineral, although I am advised that the risk is slight. It is generally accepted that where subsidence may recur on land restored after the opencast working of any mineral, although I am advised in certain circumstances, with assistance in the form of grant from the Ministry of Agriculture. I am advised that the risk of subsidence on restored ironstone land is no greater than the risk on land restored after the open-cast working of any other mineral. As far as I can see, that covers the major points.

The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, asked me why we had, in effect, two Bills, with one part of the Bill very narrowly drawn to a specific geographical area and the other covering the whole country. The noble Lord well knows that the legislative window is extremely small and where a situation arises which should be dealt with urgently the Government will use such legislation as they have in mind to bring about those changes in the law which they see as desirable. As I have said, I think now three times, I shall look at the points raised today and I have no doubt that we can look forward to an interesting discussion in Committee.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I have had the opportunity of reading the Notes on Clauses and Schedules for this House. They were presented to me this morning by a Member of the other House; in fact, the chairman of the All-Party Minerals Group, of which I am a member. I have read them carefully and, as far as I can understand them, they do not affect my arguments in relation to compensation and the suggestion that the depreciation of land should form part of the compensation given under Clause 7. The noble Lord referred to Wales and said that the survey was limited to England. He said that this particular point would probably be considered in the course of the passage of this Bill. Was he there giving some kind of assurance that a survey of Wales will be done in relation to these matters, which can be of great importance?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the only undertaking I was giving was to consider any point that the noble Lord might bring forward on that subject at a subsequent stage of the Bill. So far as the Notes on Clauses are concerned, that only bears out the last point I made in this short wind-up speech: that we will have an interesting Committee stage.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.