HL Deb 12 April 1988 vol 495 cc1042-5

7.46 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 7th March be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the purpose of these regulations, on which there has been formal consultation, is a very simple one. It is to make a technical amendment to the 1985 mineral compensation regulations to take account of a recent change in the base date of the retail prices index.

The 1985 regulations modify the basis of compensation payable in certain circumstances following the making of orders under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 to update old mineral permissions. They also contain detailed provisions for reducing compensation. The principles of abatement and the circumstances in which it may be made were extensively considered by Parliament in 1981 during the passage of the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act and the regulations were themselves debated in both Houses in 1985.

Calculation of the amount of abatement depends on an indexation factor derived from the RPI to ensure automatic uprating in line with inflation. The base date of the RPI was changed earlier this year, so it is necessary to amend the indexation factor in accordance with the regulations laid before your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the regulations laid before the House on 7th March be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].—(The Earl of Caithness.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we must be grateful to the noble Earl for the way in which he has introduced these regulations. It is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. One duty of the Opposition as legislation is being passed is to demand that regulations which are proposed by the Government to require negative resolutions should become affirmative resolutions. This seems a classic case where we have an affirmative resolution which ought to be a negative resolution. If I learn either on the passage of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 or the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981 that affirmative resolutions were inserted on the insistence of the Labour Opposition, I shall be deeply embarrassed. However, we can find no reason to object either to the principle or the detail of these regulations.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I join the noble Lord in expressing our gratitude to the Minister for the clear way in which he expressed what are in effect on the explanatory notes to these regulations. I also express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for what he has said. With his willingness, and with the willingness of your Lordships, I propose to adopt everything that he said as part of my presentation this evening.

There is one matter which has been raised and I suppose that I should declare an interest. I know nothing about the law on town and country planning, but I sought the advice of my son-in-law, Daniel Robbins, a Silk at the town and country planning Bar. He introduced me to the delightful intricacies of Section 178A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and we could find no question of ultra vires. We thought that we might be able to raise questions such as that even at this stage, but we found nothing.

My son-in-law suggested that I should ask the Minister one little question. I hope I am right on my dates. The Town and Country Planning (Compensation for Restrictions on Mineral Working) Regulations 1985—I believe that I was concerned with those regulations or at any rate a Bill dealing with compensation where people had built over areas from which all had been extracted—included provisions for a calculation factor relating to the base of the retail prices index. It was a factor of about 1 per cent. I need not go into the details of how it operated. The retail prices index was re-based two years later on 1st January 1987. But the regulation for the purposes of calculating compensation, of which these regulations are the subject, has been increased fourfold to approximately 4 per cent.

I wonder why it has been over a year from bringing the regulations to the notice of Parliament, and also there has been this fourfold increase in the calculation of compensation. I wonder whether anybody has lost money in this period and, if so, whether compensation in the circumstances can be backdated. I know the difficulties about retrospective actions, but there is no real time as to when these regulations will go through both Houses of Parliament. Article 1 says when: they are approved by resolution of each House of Parliament". That may be tomorrow or in several months' time; I do not know.

My simple question is, why was the compensatory factor in the 1985 regulations of about 1 per cent. not increased immediately after the retail prices index was re-based on 1st January 1987? There seems to be a period of well over a year where the factor of about 1 per cent. operated, whereas after the Bill goes through it will be 4 per cent. It is purely a question of arithmetic. To help the Minister while he is getting information about this matter, I presumed to put the point to his advisers earlier this evening, though it was very late; just before 7.20 p.m.

These regulations amend the factor that takes account mathematically of the re-basing. Why was the factor not introduced at an earlier date? That is my point.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome given by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, to these regulations. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that as far as I can elucidate in the short time that is available to me he has no need to be embarrassed. As we consider these regulations over the next couple of years or so, perhaps I will take on board the points he made about it being a negative resolution in the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, raised the matter of the retail prices index. It has been a recent change that the base date of the RPI has been set at 1st January 1987. That is why the appropriate factor has to be amended. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, the new factor is obtained by dividing the RPI for January 1987 with that for April 1973, in both cases using the previous series, and then dividing by 100. I am sure that if the noble Lord quickly does that sum in his head (which I am sure he is capable of) he will come down to the figures in the regulations.

As I understand it, no one has lost money because in the interim there have been no claims.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the assurance that no one has lost money as a result of the delay in introducing this new factor.

On Question, Motion agreed to.