HL Deb 23 March 1990 vol 517 cc553-5

2.31 p.m.

Lord Hesketh rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 1st March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of these regulations is very simple. It is to make technical amendments to the 1985 Mineral Compensation Regulations as a consequence of the Local Government Finance Act 1988; to correct an error in the 1985 regulations, and to update the thresholds for abatement of compensation in line with inflation. Consultations were carried out with representatives of the industry, local authorities and other interested bodies and no objections were received.

The principles behind the 1985 regulations were fully considered and extensively debated both during the passage of the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981 and when the 1985 regulations were made. The technical amendments must be implemented by 1st April 1990 to align references in the 1985 regulations with changes to the non-domestic rating system which come into effect on that day. The error in the 1985 regulations, which concerns the inclusion of voluntary expenditure in a claim for compensation, could have no effect before June 1990 so there have been no winners or losers in the meantime. Its correction will bring the principal regulations into line with Parliament's intentions when they were debated in 1985.

Finally, the purpose of the 1985 regulations was to provide for the abatement of compensation payable by mineral planning authorities following orders updating minerals permissions, to ensure that mineral operators contribute a proportion of the cost of bringing their operations up to modern environmental standards. The increase in abatement thresholds in line with inflation since 1985 will simply ensure that they represent the same proportion of total cost as Parliament originally intended. I beg to move.

Moved, that the regulations laid before the House on 1st March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee] .— (Lord Hesketh.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am surprised that the Minister should have the temerity to bring forward regulations which relate to the Local Government Finance Act 1988, especially on this day when it has become clear that the people of this country do not want that legislation and that they will throw out any government who persist in its enforcement. I should have thought that it would be a kind of wisdom on the part of the Government, and all members of the Government, to seek to withdraw as rapidly as possible from the position of supporting the Local Government Finance Act 1988. However, the Minister has put forward a reasonable case for these very minor amendments which we on this side of the House accept.

I am especially interested in the amendments to Regulations 3 and 4 which ensure that claimants are not able to include expenditure incurred by voluntary agreement in more than one compensation claim. The implication of that is that claimants for compensation under mineral workings have actually been cheating the Government and the taxpayer. Can the Minister tell us whether any cases have been brought to court for that reason, or, alternatively, can he say what evidence the Government have that there have been multiple claims made for the same item of compensation?

With that question— and I suppose I should allow the Minister a little time to reply— I must say that it is interesting to note that an arithmetical error made as long ago as five years has only now been discovered. With that exception, we have no objection to these regulations.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I suspect that it was inevitable that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would insinuate that in some way these regulations should be thrown out, possibly on the basis of recent events. However, he will also believe and agree with me that it is important to persist in ensuring that as environmental standards rise, where there is a basis for improving appearance we should be able to do so, with or without the benefit of the aforesaid Act.

In reply to the noble Lord's question, the correction is of the error concerning the inclusion of voluntary expenditure in a claim for compensation which could increase the cost to a mineral planning authority. It merely brings the regulations in line with Parliament's intentions when they were debated in 1985. Although this is a protection, no claims have been made.

I hope that in the light of that answer and my response to the exciting events so far as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, sees them with regard to other fronts, there are benefits to be gained from this Act, as from so many other Acts which the Government have brought forward.

On Quesion, Motion agreed to.