HL Deb 12 March 1985 vol 461 cc139-55

4.12 p.m.

Read a third time.

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

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran moved Amendment No. 1: Page 5, line 2, leave out ("89(2)") and insert ("3(1) of the Derelict Land Act 1982").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the first amendment relates to what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said was nonsense. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Renton, were here, he would agree with me that we ought to include in Clause 7 a definition of what are "relevant operations". The point is simple. As it stands, the Bill says: In this section 'relevant operations' has the same meaning as in section 89(2)". of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. If one looks at that section of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, one cannot find a definition of "relevant operations".

As I said at Report stage, when one looks again at that previously referred to Act one finds a reference to earlier Acts, but if one looks at those earlier Acts for a definition of "relevant operations", one just cannot find it. I gave the example of a poor farmer in Wales with a derelict piece of land. He consults his solicitor, comes to the term "relevant operations", goes through all his books and cannot find it. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was good enough to dig out the relevant Acts with the help of his distinguished advisers and they found a definition of "relevant operations" in the Derelict Land Act 1982. Therefore to clear up all this nonsense I ask that at page 5, line 2, there should be inserted a reference to the Derelict Land Act 1982 which defines "relevant operations" as clearly as can be.

I cannot understand why we have to have all this nonsense of giving some person in the country, a solicitor or perhaps a man acting for himself, all this hullabaloo trying to find out what are "relevant operations". If only the Minister or his department would be good enough to agree to include the words of my amendment, that would do nobody any harm and, indeed, would do everybody some good. When the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, spoke at Report stage she was good enough to say that she had some trouble in ascertaining what "relevant operations" meant. This is one of those simple amendments which common sense demands should be inserted in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I tried to explain at Report stage why the Bill is properly drafted in this respect. If the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, can pray in aid my absent noble friend Lord Renton, so can I. He would, I am sure, agree with me that the position is that Section 89(2) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 contains the specific power which local authorities have to treat derelict land or land which may become derelict as a result of collapse of the surface due to the carrying out of former underground mineral workings.

What Section 3(1) of the Derelict Land Act 1982 did was to substitute a new Section 89(2) for that which then existed. It is Section 89(2) of the 1949 Act which contains the meaning of "relevant operations", so far as it relates to the power of local authorities, and not Section 3(1) of the 1982 Act.

I repeat the assurance which I gave on an earlier occasion to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, that this is properly drafted and is in the normal way. The noble Lord says that he does not like the normal way, but with the greatest respect to him. I do not feel that that is a matter for me in regard to this Bill, but a matter for general drafting of legislation on which my noble friend Lord Renton is an expert.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I do not propose to press this to a Division; but he makes my case for me. I am a member of the Select Committee on Consolidation Bills, and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, discovered recently in dealing with a Bill on company law, we are very much in the hands of the expert parliamentary draftsman. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is a member of a committee—I have forgotten its exact title—which has produced a report and is rather anxious about the position, the influence and the power of parliamentary draftsmen in giving evidence before the committee on Consolidation Bills.

I have raised this point more or less ad nauseam. The noble Lord the Minister refuses to move. I have said that common sense requires that there should be this reference to the Derelict Land Act 1982 for this simple reason. The Derelict Land Act 1982 is said to revamp Section 89(2) mentioned in this Bill. If it revamps the whole of that section, for the life of me I still cannot see why this amendment cannot be accepted by the Government. I could think of reasons why this Government do not accept common sense amendments of this kind, but I shall not be tempted into those avenues on this occasion. I am sorry that the noble Lord has not had the courage—if I may put it that way—to overrule some of those points in his brief which, though absolutely correct, should not he accepted. That would have accorded with the common sense that is required in order to enable people to understand a Bill of this kind. In these circumstances, I have no option but reluctantly to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran moved Amendment No. 2: Page 5, line 6, after ("above") insert ("for a reasonable period of not more than one month").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4. Amendment No. 3: Page 6, line 7, leave out ("and such equipment"). Amendment No. 4: Page 6, line 7, at end insert ("and shall cause a report in writing to be sent to the owner as to any action recommended or proposed to be taken within two months of the date of first entry on the land."). I think I should try to explain to noble Lords that the object of Amendment No. 2 is to deal with the entry on to land by officers of a local authority to survey the land for certain purposes, to bore holes in the land and so on. This kind of operation could mean (if I may again use the example I used at Report stage) that a small farmer in Wales suddenly has descending upon his land a lot of inspectors, a lot of officers, who can bring equipment on to the land. The value of the land, merely as a result of that operation, may be reduced. People will say, "What is happening here?"

If I may go back to what the noble Lord the Minister said at Report stage, on 28th February, at column 106 he said: The noble Lord"— and he was referring to me— said that local people will say"— and these are the words in the Official Report: 'What's going on 'ere then?' ".

I do not remember using that phrase. Nevertheless, that was the way in which the noble Lord approached the matter, and I congratulate him on approaching the matter in that way because there may be a lot of uneducated people who may be owners of land in the parts of Wales which I know so well.

Then the Minister went on: The officer will either tell them or will not, as the case may be. Indeed, from everybody's point of view it would be far better to come clean and explain the position. Even the most suspicious person would like to have his fears either confirmed or proved wrong". Then he continued: Let us concede the second of my suppositions and that the officers, the contractors of the local authority or whoever it happens to be, do not explain to the local populace what is going on". So far, the Minister has the mood in which I approached this matter: that of people wondering what is happening on this patch of land. It might be a large patch of land, but, anyway, they have the right of entry: and if they have a right of entry on to land, then we must consider and safeguard as far as possible the owners and those who have an interest in the land.

The Minister went on: It just might be that in these circumstances a council enters on to land in an area which is underlain by underground mineral workings in order to survey and monitor. The act of entering may create suspicion…". The act of entering, the Minister said, "may create suspicion". Here, again, so far the Minister is with me. The Minister goes on: The act of entering may create suspicion as to the state of the area, in the unlikely event—which in country areas is very unlikely indeed—that it is not known by the local populace already, and thus might in exceptional circumstances lead to a temporary loss of value".

In the course of that last passage the Minister goes away from me because, in his experience of such places, including the parts of Wales and Scotland and northern Yorkshire where these matters may arise, he says that the local populace will know all about this land and that the entry of people on to the land will not create suspicion.

My submission is that the entry of officers on to the land will create suspicion as to the nature of that land and, as a result, there may be a loss of value, a depreciation of that land. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, at Second Reading, pointed out that there might be an overdraft from the local bank in regard to this land. The bank manager might hear about all these people coming on to the land and might ask: "What's going on?", and it might affect the overdraft and the value of the land. I shall later be referring to an amendment which gives the right to the owner, in claiming compensation for disturbance (which is allowed under this clause of the Bill), also to claim any loss of value or depreciation of the land.

I did not get very far with the noble Lord the Minister on that submission, to which, no doubt, I shall have to return later; so I come back to his suggestions. He says that the entry of the officers of the local authority is merely to monitor and survey generally. He goes on to say that any loss of value that might have occurred in the meantime would be so temporary that in his view it will be totally unprovable. He says that that is one of the points which I make. I am saying, therefore, that if the entry of the officers is not to create suspicion, they must not stay there for long on the land. Therefore, my Amendment No. 2 says that if they enter the land they should remain there only for a reasonable period of time, for a period of not more than one month: that in order to reduce this question of suspicion over this entry, they must not remain with their equipment on that land for more than a month.

Now, perhaps, I may speak to Amendment No. 3. Here, again, in order not to arouse suspicion I say that the local authorities should not be allowed to bring equipment with them. I pointed out at Report stage that at the present time the Bill says that these officers can bring equipment with them and it may be that they will bring excavators, bulldozers and any kind of heavy equipment on to the land. Therefore, to avoid suspicion being created, I submit that they should not introduce equipment. I have asked for a deletion of the words "and such equipment", so that officers can come on to the land, with hand equipment but not with heavy equipment which might be necessary in order to do the monitoring and surveying.

Then, in order again to reduce the suspicion that anything is wrong with this land, I say in Amendment No. 4 that the officers: shall cause a report in writing to be sent to the owner as to any action recommended or proposed to be taken within two months of the date of first entry on the land".

My three amendments are an attempt to accept the view of the Minister that no suspicion will be aroused or that, if it is aroused, it will be only temporary. I say that if it is to be a temporary suspicion then they must not stay on the land for more than a month, and this seems to me to be a very reasonable suggestion to make, for otherwise they could stay on the land for three months or four months. There may be inclement weather, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, indicated previously. They then might be on the land for weeks and weeks. I say that they should not stay on the land for more than a month. Further, they should not be allowed to bring on to the land any heavy equipment. The officers may come on with a certain amount of hand equipment, no doubt, that they would need so as to carry out normal surveying. Then, I say, the officers having come on to the land and gone away, they should notify the owner of the land within two months of the first entry onto the land of the actions which they propose to take.

4.30 p.m.

I am sorry to have been so long, but this is a matter of considerable importance to small farmers or owners of small patches of land in areas where there has been quarrying and where minerals have been dug out of the land decades ago. A piece of land may have been in the possession of a family for years and suddenly, for some reason or other, the local authority wants to get onto that land. That entry should be of a temporary nature without heavy equipment, subject to a report of what has been found or what is to be done within two months. If those temporary arrangements are not introduced, then I shall come back later and say that there ought to be another parameter for consideration when compensation is asked for by the owner of the land; that is, that the value of the land has been depreciated. I hope that in regard to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 I shall get a more satisfactory answer from the noble Lord the Minister. My Lords, I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, it was not my intention to speak on the earlier amendments, because I find that I cannot support the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, but perhaps he will answer one question when he rises at the end. Can he explain how, if the officers in question are not to bring equipment onto the land, they can fulfil subsection (4), which gives them power to search and bore? I do not think I know of any boring tool that could be carried in by hand, and it seems to me that in the light of that power his suggestion of no equipment is not reasonable.

The one amendment for which I feel some support is the last one, which calls for a report in writing to be sent to the owner within a reasonable time. He suggests two months. My own feeling is that two months is possibly not a reasonable length of time, but I support the idea that there should be a time limit of some kind and that a report should be sent to the owner.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, for deciding to take these three amendments together. They are, of course, different in substance, but as he has explained they have but a single thought underlying them. I must say, so far as Amendment No. 3 goes, that the phrase, A rose by any other name would smell as sweet struck me as apposite when I heard the remarks of the noble Baroness opposite—

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but the noble Baroness asked me a question. I wonder whether it would be appropriate for me to answer that question before the noble Lord continues about the nature of the equipment.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, if the noble Lord will ask the leave of the House to do so, I have no doubt that he will receive it.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for reminding me of that formality, and I ask leave of the House in order to answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. After the last stage, I had the great advantage of an informal talk with the noble Lord's advisers. They drew my attention to the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, which contains subsections almost identical with those in this Bill.

Section 23(6) of that Act states: A person entering upon any land by virtue of this section may take with him such other persons as may be necessary". There is no mention of equipment that is required on that occasion. Subsection (2) of that same section states: The power of survey conferred by this section includes power to search and bore for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of the subsoil". So that section had it in mind that persons entering upon the land could bore, but it does not state that equipment may be taken onto the land. As this Act has been drawn to my attention by the advisers of the noble Lord, it seems proper to use the same wording in this clause as was used in sections of the 1975 Act. That is my reason for asking for the words "and such equipment" to be deleted.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for that further explanation of his point. I was saying that the noble Lord has asked for the three amendments to be discussed together, but perhaps I may preface my remarks by making it quite clear that I do not regard people who drop aitches as either uneducated or unintelligent. I would normally expect a local authority's surveillance of land, to ascertain its state or the effect on it of works carried out, to take less than a month. However, even here there will no doubt be the odd occasion when more time is needed.

As the Bill is drafted, the power of entry is included in Clause 7 not just for inspection and surveying, but also as a precursor to the main operations which these activities show to be required under the powers in Clause 8. These main operations would invariably take in excess of a month, as the noble Lord will readily appreciate. If the noble Lord's amendment were accepted, therefore, the council might well have to make several renewed applications for entry. It would be wrong to constrain local authorities in the terms of the noble Lord's Amendment No. 2, when they were trying to ensure the safety of persons and property in potentially dangerous situations, and it would be most inappropriate to limit their stay on the land to a maximum of one month when major remedial works were required.

Local authorities would not be undertaking these works if they were not necessary; and, indeed, they would be shown to be necessary by, first, the entry and, secondly, the surveying which is required under, in some cases, Clause 7—but by no means in all cases, and I shall get onto that point in a minute. If local authorities were required to renew their right to enter and remain on the land, then the delay to the undertaking of remedial works could have serious consequences. Equally they might be tempted to rush the job. Both these actions would be entirely unacceptable and I am sure that the House will understand why.

The purpose of the power in Clause 7 is to enable local authorities to enter land which might be liable to collapse due to former underground mineral workings, and where permission has not been freely given by the owner or occupier, in order to survey it to measure the extent to which remedial works are required. If the local authority was not able to take onto the land such equipment as it considered necessary to complete the job satisfactorily, then the whole purpose of the clause would be negated.

In his explanation to the noble Baroness just now, the noble Lord spoke about the powers of the Welsh Development Agency. I can tell him that the powers in this Bill are much wider than those in the Welsh Development Agency Act. As the noble Baroness said, it would be impossible to drill bore holes without taking any equipment onto the land. I would go further than that. If the council's officers were not allowed to take equipment, one of the pieces of equipment that they might well need in order to enter upon the land would be bolt cutters or wire cutters if the land was securely fenced. In that case, the noble Lord would again negate the whole purpose of the clause. The House might think that I am absolutely adamant in resisting all the noble Lord's amendments en principe, as it were. Indeed, the noble Lord has made it quite clear throughout the proceedings on this Bill that that is his feeling about my role in the House. But I assure him that it is not my role, because I am able to hold out not exactly hope for him but supportive words for his views, though these do not extend as far as amending the Bill.

It is the Government's stated policy that local authorities should let owners and occupiers know as soon as they can what is happening on or under their land and what action is needed to remedy any instability—although of course that may not be possible where Clause 7 powers have had to be used because the owner cannot be traced. Clause 7, as the House will remember, is a matter of compulsory access. However, there are going to be differing circumstances and it seems to be open to question whether the rigidity of a fixed date specified in the statute is the right way of ensuring that that information is given.

I can well understand that the landowner—and no doubt also the occupier—will want to know the result of the authority's survey under Clause 7. But I do not think it is appropriate to amend this Bill in order to achieve that. I think we should bear in mind that most survey work done in these circumstances will not be carried out under Clause 7 at all, because responsible owners and occupiers will freely consent to authorities' efforts to ensure the stability of their land. Those co-operative people will no doubt want to know the results of the surveys as well, but they will not have access to the provisions of Clause 7 because the authority has not needed to exercise its powers of compulsion. It would be quite wrong to accept an amendment to this Bill which gives a statutory advantage to the unco-operative which is not available to his more responsible neighbour.

We shall be issuing guidance to local authorities on the exercise of these powers and in it we shall remind them that it is common courtesy for the authority to tell owners and occupiers the results of a survey undertaken on the land. I would go further than that to say that it is the Government's policy that they should do so. We want to ensure that the co-operative owners and occupiers have just as much right to information about surveys on their land as the handful of uncooperative people, and we intend to do it. It is for this reason that I would ask the noble Lord to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, so far as my Amendment No. 2 is concerned—that the officers entering onto the land shall remain there for only a month, otherwise suspicions will be aroused as to the nature of the land and therefore there is a danger of the value of the land being depreciated—the answer of the noble Lord the Minister is, as one might expect, that it would be administratively inconvenient to the local authorities to allow this elementary, as he said, temporary work, this surveying and monitoring, to come onto the land like this. My view is that if these people stay on the land for more than a month suspicions will be aroused and therefore that must affect the value of the land.

I have developed this point very strongly, and, in the circumstances, I hope that when this Bill goes back to the other place the points that I have raised will be put more strongly and far more eloquently and with greater effect than my words today. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 2.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 3: [Printed earlier: col. 141.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have spoken to Amendment No. 3. The Minister has replied and said that equipment will be necessary in order to do the boring which can be done under this Bill. The same powers are to be found in the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 for boring when they enter the land but no equipment, it is suggested, should be taken on to the land. By equipment, I mean heavy equipment to do the boring. Therefore, the fact that the Government support this Bill to allow people, not only to enter onto the land but to take any kind of equipment they like for this purpose onto the land, in my view makes the value of the land likely to be depreciated accordingly. However, in the circumstances, I shall not move Amendment No. 3.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 4:

[Printed earlier: col. 141.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with regard to Amendment No. 4, to which I have already spoken, the Minister has come some way towards me in this matter. The purpose of Amendment No. 4 was that notice should be given to the owner of the land within two months of the date of entry of persons on the land as to what was proposed to be done in regard to the land.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, who supported the general theme of this amendment. I am also grateful to the noble Lord the Minister who said that the Government are to issue guidance to the authorities. If I understand the noble Lord correctly—if I have made a mistake he will put me right—the purpose of the guidance notices to be issued is to make it clear to the local authorities that within a reasonable time—by "reasonable time", I mean of the order of two or three months—they will be notified of the results of the survey and the monitoring and the boring that has taken place. The noble Lord the Minister nods his head in agreement, and I am grateful to him for that concession. In those circumstances, I shall not move Amendment No. 4.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

4.45 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran moved Amendment No. 5: Page 6, line 15, after ("to") insert ("land or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my case has been made for me in relation to Amendment No. 5 by the attitude of the Government in this matter. People can come onto the land; they can bring heavy equipment, any equipment, onto the land; they can hang about on the land for as long as they like.

Clause 7(11) states: Where in consequence of an exercise of the power to enter land…any damage is caused to land or chattels"— your Lordships will note the words "damage is caused to land or chattels"— or any loss occurs in relation to chattels, the local authority authorising the entry shall pay to every person interested in the land or chattels compensation in respect of the damage or loss". I say that that is not enough. In view of the submissions of the noble Lord as to what can be done in relation to this land, it seems to me—and with regard to the passage I have read, the noble Lord admitted it—that there is a chance; that the fact of entering on to the land might cause people to be suspicious as to the nature of the land, although it had been there for years and years before, and therefore the value of the land could be depreciated.

All I am asking is that the owner of the land should be entitled to include as grounds for compensation that a loss may be occurring not only in relation to the chattels but in relation to the land. Therefore on page 6, line 15, I say that the grounds for compensation should be not only for damage to the land, which of course would be specific in relation to making holes and damaging the surface of the land, but for any loss which occurs in relation to land and chattels. Any loss in relation to the land should be covered by this Bill so that the owner has a ground for claim. That is all I am asking for. I am not asking for any money to be given to this man, but if he can prove that there is a loss or a depreciation in the land then this ought to be allowed as a ground for his claim.

Clause 8, in dealing with compensation, gives the owner of the land the right to claim that there has been depreciation of the value of an interest in the land, That is to be found on page 8. Clause 8(9): Where in consequence of the carrying out of works as mentioned in subsection (2) above any…depreciation of the value of an interest in land occurs"— That is specifically in the Bill as a ground on which compensation can be asked for.

I am asking, as a matter of fairness and in view of the Minister's remarks about how the entry would take place and about the equipment which might go on to land—and maybe it will be on the land for weeks and weeks—that Clause 7 should include as a ground for compensation the fact that loss occurs in relation to the land as well as to chattels. Therefore, my amendment is to include the word "land" before chattels in line 15.

My second objective is to make the two clauses dealing with land and with doing things on the land more or less the same. It seems most odd that under Clause 8 a claimant can make a claim in relation to depreciation of the land but that he cannot make a claim in relation to depreciation of the land under Clause 7 when, as is clear from what I said before, there may be circumstances in which suspicion locally might prompt the question, "What is wrong with the land?".

I hesitate again to give a personal view, but I know of land on the borders of the River Teifi, which runs into Cardigan Bay through Kilgerran, where there are quarries which have been there for more than a century. I know an owner of such land near those quarries who is worried about this very point. The local authority, for a variety of reasons—perhaps it is pressed by developers—may come on to the land in order to see whether any quarrying has been going on which affects the surface of the land, although the surface of the land may not have been moved for 100 years or so. These are matters of real concern, which I raise in relation to land owned in particular by small country farmers. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, has been most persistent on this point throughout the various stages of the Bill in this House. The noble Lord said—and I think I quote him correctly—that I have made his case for him. If that is so, perhaps we have both scored own-goals, and I shall try again. It is clear that my arguments have failed to satisfy the noble Lord and I must explain again in some detail how I see the compensation elements of this clause working.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I should like to make it clear that on each occasion, though I have been persistent, I have introduced different words, though to try to achieve the same effect, certainly.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will be fair enough to say that my answers also have contained different words. In the disappointing circumstances— and I say "disappointing" because it will inevitably mean that negotiations to exercise the functions under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 have failed, in that the owner or occupier cannot be traced or is otherwise uncooperative—that a local authority decides it has to use the powers in Clause 7 to enter and to survey land, it will do so because it fears that the stability of the ground is doubtful due to the existence of former underground mineral workings and it wishes to ascertain what treatment, if any, will be necessary to make the land safe. In the case which the noble Lord has just mentioned, I would of course go along with him totally, so far as that is concerned.

The existence of such mineral workings are going to be known locally, as in the case to which the noble Lord has just referred. If they are, that will have the effect of blighting the land and making it lose some of its value. It is already blighted. Far from causing any depreciation in the value of the land, the actions of the local authority in entering and surveying have the purpose ultimately of restoring confidence in the land's safety and thus restoring its value.

If the local authority finds that despite the mineral workings there is in fact no danger and so remedial works are not needed, confidence ought thereby to be restored and any former loss in value should be regained. If the surveying operations have caused any damage to the land or to buildings—for example, top soil has been compacted or otherwise damaged by machinery, or a fence or gate, or a building, which the noble Lord mentioned on one occasion, has been knocked over—then compensation will be payable by the terms of the clause as it stands. Subsection (11) already provides for compensation in respect of "damage caused to land", but there is no likelihood of the surveying operations causing any permanent depreciation or loss in the value of the land.

To complete the cycle, if the local authority finds that the land is unstable, the value of the land may be affected by that discovery. But the depreciation in value will not be caused by the survey; it will be due to the condition of the land itself. The depreciation should, in any event, be temporary because the local authority, having found that remedial works are necessary will either get permission from the owners of the land to carry out the works or will use its powers under Clause 8 if such permission cannot be obtained. Any permanent depreciation which might result from the exercise of the power to carry out remedial works will of course be compensatable under Clause 8, though normally, as I have said on many occasions, one would expect the value of the land to increase and not decrease.

I now return to Clause 7. My noble friend Lord Kinnoull—whose remarks at Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, has twice quoted this afternoon—raised the question of the landowner who is forced or who chooses to sell when the local authority is present on his land, using its powers of survey under Clause 7. I accept that there may in such a case be a loss on a forced sale, but it must be remembered that it is not the local authority which is forcing the sale, and I cannot accept that it should be required to compensate an owner who finds himself in such a situation. An owner might suffer loss in a forced sale in any event, particularly if his land is in an area affected by the existence of old mine workings.

A prospective buyer who notices that the local authority is on the land will naturally want to know "what is going on here"—with or without the aspirate—but once he is informed that the local authority is there in order to ensure that the land does not fall into a dangerous condition, one would expect him to be much happier. After all, if one is buying a house and one sees a workman repairing the roof, one does not expect to pay a lower price because of the workman's presence there with his equipment.

If a prospective buyer tries to knock down the price because of a local authority's presence, it is the seller's choice whether he resists or accepts a lower offer; but he cannot expect a local authority to compensate him if he chooses to accept a lower offer because of his personal circumstances. For those reasons I must continue to resist the noble Lord's amendment.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I hesitate at this stage to create an acrid atmosphere of party controversy in relation to a matter such as this, but what the noble Lord has said has very little relevance to the difficulties I have spoken about at great length concerning the position of the owner of a small piece of land onto which the local authority has come with its equipment. That fact alone may affect the value of the land. As the noble Lord said, I am not asking for compensation; I am asking that that owner be given the opportunity to put in his claim for compensation, not only for the loss arising from the disturbance of the entry or the damage to chattels but also for the reduction in the value of the land.

The remarks which follow are not personal to the Minister, for whom I have the greatest admiration because he always deals with these matters with the greatest courtesy. But his advisers seem to be dealing with these matters from an ivory tower. Perhaps I should not use the words "ivory tower" but should say instead "from the usual places in Whitehall". It seems to me that the attitude of the Government in this matter almost makes out a case for devolution. We should get away from those persons who are living comfortably and no doubt doing their best—I make no attack upon them personally in any way—but who have no knowledge of the circumstances in which the facts relating to this Bill arise. It is an uncaring attitude, which I deplore, in relation to small farmers and owners of small farms in rural areas. Having fired those broadsides, if they are broadsides, I thank the noble Lord particularly for the movement he made towards me on my earlier amendments and ask to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

5 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, although we have had some disagreements during the passage of the Bill, we welcome it. In particular, we welcome the enhanced powers of local authorities in relation to derelict land. We on these Benches are satisfied that the provision to protect landowners against excessive use of powers is adequate; which is why, with some regret, I felt unable to support the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran.

We are still concerned about the special difficulties of some local authorities. I hope the House will forgive me for coming back to this point again. I will, as the Minister did slightly earlier this evening, try to use different words. Indeed, I have one or two different points to make. I refer to the authorities who have very large areas of unworked, or partly worked, ironstone deposits on which outstanding planning permissions have another 57 years or so to run. The planning conditions attached to these are primitive by modern standards and do not offer sufficient protection to residents of neighbouring settlements or to the natural environment when minerals other than ironstone are being worked. We had hoped to persuade the Minister that a commitment should be made to assist those authorities most affected if the need arose; to attach further conditions or to extinguish the permission.

One of the areas in most difficulty—and I make no apology for coming back to it—is Northampton. It has an enormous area of land concerning which there is some difficulty. The authority has had discussions with the right honourable Minister in another place and only last week with officials of his department. I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister in this House for his prompt and full report which reached me on the day following the meeting. I think that must be a record. The Minister takes the view that the powers contained in the new Section 51A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, which will shortly be effective following the commencement of Section 10 of the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981, will meet the case by enabling the making of prohibition orders. We are assured that the regulations to be laid before both Houses by the end of this month will contain a provision to exclude the value of unworked minerals from any compensation liability. There is an element of jam tomorrow about all these answers which is not very encouraging.

There appears to be some doubt, however, about the legal basis for the use of prohibition orders for ironstone workings and I understand that this is still being investigated by the Department of the Environment. There is also the problem of holdings presently being worked for overlying minerals without adequate environmental safeguards. These fall outside the scope of prohibition orders, even if found to be legally viable, and can only be dealt with by revocation or discontinuance orders which would make full compensation payable. I understand that the two main problem quarries in Northampton would, on Inland Revenue valuer's figures, cost several million pounds if the permissions were to be revoked.

It still seems to us, despite all the Minister's arguments, that permissions granted directly by the Minister in the national interest at that time should be the financial responsibility of the national purse. I sympathise with the view that each case should be considered on its merits; but what we seek from the Minister is an assurance that if and when a specific case is referred to him he will have regard to the historic background of the permissions as a whole and the potential total liability of the authority concerned. It would not be justice for the full burden of solving a nationally imposed problem to be borne by local ratepayers. This was obviously the department's first view, as we saw in studying the consultation paper, which the Minister has since written to me about, because the particular part of that consultation paper which refers to the lack of need for compensation in certain circumstances was withdrawn. I regret that withdrawal. I think that in this instance first thoughts were best.

However, we are very grateful for the patience and courtesy shown by the Minister, particularly since some of our comments and questions have been slightly repetitive. We are very grateful for the detailed replies we have had to our questions. With our single reservation about these planning permissions, we wish the Bill success.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in her tribute to the noble Lord the Minister for the way he has conducted this Bill. It would be improper of me to suggest that there was any discrimination against me and my views but I understand that documents have passed between the noble Lord the Minister and the noble Baroness which I certainly have not had the opportunity of seeing. I know little about conditions in the Northampton area, and the areas with which the first six clauses are concerned, but I am quite satisfied that those Clauses 1 to 6 are very important in relation to the parishes set out so clearly in Schedule 1.

I differ from the Government on this Bill only on the power of compensation arising from entry onto land. I shall not repeat my argument except to say this. When a Bill starts off with specific detailed powers, as this Bill does in Clauses 1 to 6, dealing with the problems arising in specific parishes, with geographical limitations of the kind in Schedule 1, and then in the middle of the Bill brings in general powers of entry onto land which are totally different from the first six clauses, it is the duty of Parliament, as was said in the other place, to inquire closely into the scope of those powers; because powers of entry onto land must be inquired into closely to safeguard the persons with interests in that land. Therefore, the only point I make arises from the refusal of the advisers to the Minister to accept that the circumstances of entry of local officers onto land may have an effect on the value of the land; and what I am almost beseeching the Minister to do is just to include a clause—even a phrase—which gives the owner of the land the right to ask for compensation—not to be given compensation, but to ask for it. Nevertheless, that has been refused on every occasion. All I hope is that my persistence, to which the noble Lord referred, will be taken notice of in the other place, where it may be put forward more eloquently and effectively than I have done in this House through the various stages of the Bill.

I conclude my remarks by again thanking the noble Lord the Minister for his patience and courtesy with me and with my submissions.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I think I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, that the debates which we have had on the Bill serve very well to illustrate the excellent job which this House can do when it comes to ensuring not just that all new legislation will achieve its purpose, but also that those who might be affected by its provisions will receive equitable treatment.

The Bill has two purposes. The first is a short-term purpose; namely, to wind up the Ironstone Restoration Fund. I think that the House shares my view that, though the fund has given excellent service, there is little point in retaining it now that past dereliction has been cleared and so little ironstone working is still being undertaken in the Midlands field. Our debates on this Bill have centred round the second half of the Bill, to which the noble Lord has just made reference.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has been very properly concerned to ensure that the mineral planning authorities in the ironstone district should not be disadvantaged by the abolition of the fund. She has particularly pressed me to resolve in this Bill problems which the authorities foresee in relation to the use of old ironstone permissions for the separate working of other minerals. But those problems do not arise from the abolition of the fund. The fund, as its name implies, is available only to assist with the reclamation of land which has been worked for ironstone. It has never been available to deal with problems arising from the working of other sorts of minerals. It is not therefore appropriate to seek a solution through this Bill, the ironstone provisions of which are concerned solely to wind up the fund.

Indeed, I do not believe that it is appropriate to seek in any public and general legislation the sort of blanket solution which the noble Baroness originally proposed, because, as I have said on a number of occasions, such a solution would radically undermine the fundamental principle of the planning control system that each individual development should be considered on its planning merits, and any breach of that principle would be likely to create more problems than it could resolve.

The noble Baroness knows, however, that I am not insensible to the authority's fears. Officials in my department had a long meeting with officers of the Northamptonshire County Council on 6th March. As she has said, I wrote to her the very next day to report the outcome. Of course the meeting was not conclusive. We do not yet know what problems the authorities will encounter. Every quarry presents a different situation, which is why the noble Baroness's proposals were inappropriate. The Northamptonshire County Council has already demonstrated its ability to find an acceptable solution in at least one case in its area where it was proposed to use an old ironstone permission for the separate working of limestone. There it was able to persuade the developer to apply for an entirely fresh permission solely for the working of the limestone. That permission was granted subject to a time limit and reclamation conditions which I am told are entirely satisfactory to all parties.

In other cases it may be appropriate for the authority to exercise its powers to restrict mineral working by making an order under Part III of the 1971 Town and Country Planning Act. My officials discussed those powers with the Northamptonshire officers last week. The noble Baroness knows that if the authorities should encounter problems on the application of these orders to particular cases my officials stand ready to advise. In the event that any individual problem should prove so intractable that the available powers do not offer a solution, it is open to the authorities to make representations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

The House will not, of course, expect me to say in advance what a Minister's decision will be on any particular case, but I can give an assurance that each case will be sympathetically considered on its planning merits. What is essential, however, is that each individual development should receive separate consideration in the light of the circumstances which relate to it.

The compensation regulations to which the noble Baroness referred, and which I said in an earlier debate we hoped to lay before Parliament at or around the end of this month, will make it clear that, where a prohibition order is made under Section 51A, no compensation will be payable for any mineral left in the ground. I am afraid that I am unable to go further than that at this moment, but I should not like the noble Baroness to go away from this debate reading more into the proposed regulations than I have been able to say on this subject so far.

Clauses 7 and 8, on which much of our debate has concentrated, contain the second purpose of the Bill—namely, to give local authorities compulsory powers to take prompt action where they believe that there is a risk of the surface of land collapsing because of former underground mining. The House will have recognised that these are very significant powers. But, as I have been at pains to point out again today, they are emergency powers to ensure against the risk of death or injury to persons or to ensure against damage to land or property. They are to be used only where there is a genuine fear of surface collapse and where for some reason it has not been possible to get the consent of the owner or occupier—because, for example, he is absent or cannot be traced.

Notwithstanding the very limited circumstances in which these powers may be used, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, has been concerned that we should not allow our anxiety to secure public safety to lead us to overlook the interests of the landowner. We have had a further debate on his amendments this afternoon. I am grateful to him for examining the provisions so closely, and I hope that I have been able, at least in part, to reassure him, as his persistence has enabled me to reassure myself, that we have indeed made adequate provisions to protect the interests of the owner in Clause 7 as well as in Clause 8.

I have already paid tribute to the vigorous attention which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, have given to this Bill. May I also, in conclusion, pay tribute to the constructive contributions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, as well as those made by my noble friends Lord Middleton and Lord Kinnoull. My Lords, I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed.