HL Deb 14 May 1991 vol 528 cc1544-58

7.40 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The promoter of the Bill is the Wakefield Metropolitan District Council which seeks consent to divert a stretch of the River Calder which flows through the Welbeck reclamation landfill site. The Welbeck site lies to the east of the City of Wakefield and is a sad testimony to the environmental ravages of mineral extraction. It is a square mile of dereliction which can best be described as a lunar landscape.

Recently I surveyed that valley wasteland for myself and from the surrounding communities of Eastmoor, Normanton and Kirkthorpe. Those are housing estates and villages, a generation of whose inhabitants have overlooked the despoliation of former pleasant countryside through sand and gravel working, clay extraction and coal mining.

Happily, environmental improvement is already under way at Welbeck. Work has begun on what is known as the limited reclamation and landfill scheme—basically, infilling and recontouring the enormous holes and tips created by mineral extraction. The possibility of realising the full reclamation scheme depends on diverting the River Calder and attracting further inert materials. The river diversion is the subject of this Bill.

The Bill's promoters, with support from all parties of the council, and in partnership with the West Yorkshire Waste Management Joint Committee, have put in hand a far-sighted land reclamation scheme. That is to utilise household waste and colliery spoil in order to create an area featuring natural contours, wooded slopes and an environmentally attractive river corridor specifically designed for local recreation and as a wildlife haven.

In considering the Bill I ask your Lordships to recall that the West Yorkshire Waste Management Joint Committee has a duty to dispose of household waste while the Wakefield Metropolitan District Council has a responsibility to reclaim land. Indeed, it is already engaged on many colliery reclamation schemes within its boundaries.

The Welbeck scheme combines and solves three problems: reclamation, waste disposal and spoil disposal. It does that in a way which economises on land, which takes advantage of the properties of colliery discard as an engineering material and which recognises the energy potential of putrescible waste through methane recovery. By going for an integrated and long-term solution, it helps ensure that resources and management skills are concentrated on achieving the highest safety and environmental standards.

Diverting the River Calder, which presently flows through the middle of the reclamation area, to a more westerly route will accelerate its restoration and re-opening as a public asset. It will also enable the creation of a landform which offers more than double the voidspace, both requiring and accommodating additional spoil and waste.

However, diversion of the river gives rise to certain legal issues, including matters of riparian and navigation rights on the affected stretch of the river and consequences such as the alteration of flows. The promoters, as a responsible public authority, acknowledge that it is appropriate to seek specific statutory authority for the works, and see the pursuit of the parliamentary Bill as the proper way to proceed and to secure a start on the diversion works.

Diverting the River Calder is not a simple task, and the proposition has not been considered lightly. It would be possible to fill and repair the Welbeck dereliction without seeking a river diversion, but that would lead to the retention of a relatively inaccessible stretch of the river, hemmed in by former mineral working tips, with insignificant recreational, ecological and aesthetic value.

Diverting the Calder will allow the creation and enhancement of a broader river and waterway corridor, richer in wetland habitat and landscape interest and more immediately available for public access and enjoyment. Indeed, by retaining substantial reaches of the former river arms the scheme will provide a net increase of almost one kilometre (0.6 miles) in the total length of riverside habitat and a net gain of approximately 10 hectares (25 acres) in wetlands.

The overall project, though currently seen as a 20–25 year venture, is geared to progressive restoration. The reclamation has been designed to start from the outside and work inwards, leaving the remaining landfill operations increasingly remote from the surrounding communities. Indeed, substantial peripheral stretches of the site have already been restored and reopened to public access. The target is to have more than half of Welbeck restored by the end of the decade; and the local authorities are well on the way to achieving that.

However, the purposes and benefits of the Welbeck scheme go far beyond reclamation and environmental improvement at Welbeck. The scheme is already set up to accommodate 7 million cubic metres of domestic and trade waste and provide a similar capacity to meet the spoil disposal needs of nearby Sharlston Colliery. The hill which can be created behind the diverted river will not only double the provision for household type wastes, but also provide for up to 25 million tonnes more spoil. The wider environmental benefits of those provisions—in avoiding the creation of a whole series of less desirable tipping schemes on green field sites elsewhere—are appreciated far beyond the Wakefield area.

Landfill is also a key to the economics and funding of the scheme—to paying for early restoration to a high standard. I will avoid precise figures as those are better defined in detail for the Select Committee; but suffice it to say that the cost of the river diversion would be of the order of £6 million, and the scheme as a whole would cost substantially more.

However, these are essentially moneys which would need to be spent anyway: by the Department of the Environment and the European Commission on land reclamation at Welbeck; and by British Coal and the waste management authorities on spoil and waste disposal elsewhere.

The project not only creates long-term jobs at Welbeck itself, but helps to sustain thousands more in the local transport, mining and power generation industries; and this is a part of the world which has experienced colliery closures on a massive scale in recent years.

Earlier I mentioned colliery spoil. This is a vital element in the plans to re-create Welbeck. It will supply the inert materials which any landfill and reclamation scheme requires to screen its operations. The Welbeck site in particular will need millions of tonnes of such material to create the new hillsides, valleys and contours which are proposed.

Fortunately, the material will be ready to hand. Spoil from the nearby Sharlston Colliery is already accepted at Welbeck. It is proposed that the volume needed for the full scheme will be brought by rail from the Selby coalfield.

When the Selby coalfield was planned—this was at the time at which I was at the coal board it was thought that it would not produce significant quantities of spoil. That was the result of the geological researches which we undertook at that time. However, the original predictions, which indicated geological conditions broadly typical of the North Yorkshire coalfield, have proved overoptimistic and British Coal now has an unexpected problem of discard to deal with. It is now envisaged that an average of 1 million tonnes of spoil will be produced per year. British Coal is seeking security of disposal for the current life expectancy of the Selby coalfield, which is up to 25 years. The 25 million tonnes of spoil which that implies would occupy some 14 million cubic metres.

The position, therefore, is this. The Bill's promoters need substantial inert materials and a river diversion to realise their ambitions of a full waste disposal and reclamation scheme for Welbeck. British Coal needs a cost-effective and environmentally acceptable means of disposing of spoil from the Selby coalfield. The proposed scheme will provide a mutually beneficial solution which will also be to the advantage of the local community.

I should now like to summarise the Bill. It authorises the diversion of the River Calder between Kirkthorpe Weir and Stanley Ferry aqueducts. It also authorises the construction of storm water lagoons and related works to secure flood storage capacity. Two arms of the redundant loop of the old river channel would be retained but the middle section would be filled in.

Part I of the Bill is formal. Part II of the Bill authorises the acquisition of land in connection with the river diversion and related works. The Bill incorporates standard provisions in relation to compulsory purchase and compensation. The area of land subject to compulsory acquisition is shown on the deposited plans. The Bill deliberately only authorises acquisition of land which is justified in the context of the river diversion itself. It does not include power to acquire additional land needed for the intended landfill operation. Powers to acquire that land are being pursued by the appropriate non-parliamentary means of compulsory purchase orders.

Part III of the Bill contains the works powers which follow the sort of provisions common in Acts authorising river diversions. Clause 31 of the Bill places the promoters under a duty in exercising the powers of the Bill to take reasonable steps to further the conservation of flora and fauna and to carry out such consultations as may be reasonably required by English nature for the furtherance of nature conservation.

With a scheme of the magnitude of the Welbeck scheme it would be surprising if there were not some objectors. Only two petitions have been deposited against the Bill, one from the Stanley Forum Committee and one from the Warmfield Company Limited.

The Stanley Forum Committee is a local residents' organisation. The members have, in fact, written to me. Their concerns relate primarily to perceived loss of public rights of way and navigation. Inevitably, public access to the site would have to be restricted while the works were in progress but it is the promoters' intention that the new river corridor would afford an improvement in terms of public accessibility, recreation and amenity as well as an improvement in terms of the environment and wildlife habitat. That would be one of the first parts of the project to be completed. The Warmfield Company is a local landowner, part of whose interests in land would be subject to acquisition under the Bill.

I commend the Welbeck scheme as an undertaking which is environmentally progressive, technologically far-sighted, and economically realistic. It deals in a balanced and integrated way with a package of difficult problems which faces the local communities, local industries and local authorities in Wakefield and West and North Yorkshire. More particularly, I commend the river diversion Bill to the House as a key measure in realising the full potential, economically and environmentally, of the Welbeck project.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.—(Lord Ezra.)

7.55 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in speaking from the Dispatch Box I must make the usual disclaimer. The Opposition do not take any collective view on Private Bills and anything I say about the Bill must be taken as an expression of my personal opinion rather than as the view of Her Majesty's Opposition.

I have certain interests in the Bill. First, the disposal of colliery spoil was one of the major concerns of the Flowers Standing Commission on Energy and the Environment which was unfortunately allowed by the Government to lapse in the early 1980s and of which my wife was a member. Secondly, I have an interest because the whole issue which causes the land around the Welbeck site to be in such a shocking state, the whole question of mineral extraction under inadequate planning and restoration powers, is one which we considered at length when we debated the Planning and Compensation Bill.

I hope that when the Bill comes back to this House the limited concessions made by the Government to restrict those planning permissions which were granted in the 1940s, and which are inadequately documented even now and certainly do not include adequate provision for control of mineral working and above all for enforcement of restoration works, will be strengthened. I hope that we shall see a better Bill than that which reached us and a better Bill than that which left us in our consideration of the Planning and Compensation Bill. Much of the damage done in parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire was caused by inadequate restoration.

The Bill offers a unique opportunity to deal both with domestic waste, which is the proper responsibility of the waste disposal authority, and with colliery spoil on a large scale. The proposal now before the House and before Parliament has been produced with considerable care for the environment with the unanimous support of all parties, not only in the Wakefield Metropolitan District Council but also in the five authorities which are members of the voluntary joint waste disposal authority. They could have objected and made their objections very clear. They appear not to have done so.

In the face of that virtual unanimity and in the face of the very restricted objections put forward I hope that the Bill will have a successful and speedy passage through Parliament.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Joseph

My Lords, before I deal with the Bill I should declare several overlapping interests. Robert Horrocks, chairman of one of the two petitioning companies to which the noble Lord referred, has been a friend of mine for many years. Months ago, before the Bill was tabled, he invited me to join the board of a company which he chairs. I did not give a firm reply as I then had too many commitments. I gather that the invitation is still open. My commitments will soon be lighter and I should indicate to the House that I shall probably accept the invitation.

Moreover, an engineering and construction company of which I am a part-time paid director and in whose parent company I own shares, might be awarded contracts in connection with the potential waste tip which the petition company owns, the future of which the Bill might affect. I further add that I am not an engineer.

I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said. I regret that he did not think fit to explore the degree to which the scheme is prudent and safe. I shall attempt to convince the House that the introduction of the Bill is premature on several counts and, most important of all, I shall refer first to the factor to which the noble Lord did not refer.

We have before us three volumes of a technical report made by highly reputable consulting engineers. The report is called the Welbeck Reclamation and Landfill Project: Diversion of the River Calder. The report makes it clear that conclusions cannot yet be reached on the prudence and safety of the project. I repeat that I am not an engineer. I only know that the consulting engineers emphasise that there is a good deal more work to be done. If any noble Lord wishes to challenge me I can refer him to examples.

I am quite sure that the promoters will be making available to the House and the Select Committee an environmental statement. That was not required by law when the scheme was conceived. Am I accurate? An environmental statement is now statutorily required. I should have thought that a local authority promoting such an ambitious scheme would have taken care to go further than the provisional consulting engineer's review which we have before us. I repeat that I expect that an environmental statement bringing together the tests and appraisals which will have taken place since the Bill was tabled no doubt, will be put before the House and the Select Committee.

I am sure that noble Lords will realise that there are bound to be doubts about the pollution risks of landfill on made ground from beneath which some of the natural strata, as I understand it, has been excavated. Since planning permission was granted the scheme has been significantly modified. It is true that planning permission for the scheme was granted in 1985 by the then Metropolitan County Council to itself before such environmental assessments were required by law. I repeat that the nature, size and location of the scheme surely warrants such an assessment being made available to the House and the Select Committee.

Therefore, my first argument for asserting that the Bill is premature is that no environmental statement and no statement offering the tests—the need for which the environmental review before us refers—have been made available. Moreover, the landfill site committee of another place is currently inquiring into the high standards required by a Euro-draft directive on landfill. The thought of allowing a 1985 approval given by an authority to itself to authorise the intake of millions of tonnes of waste into the promoters' scheme escaping without examination in the light of all that has come about in the use of the word "pollution" would be inexcusable and dangerous to the public. I regret that the noble Lord did not refer to any of these matters in what he said to us.

I now come to the second reason why the Bill is premature. In September 1990 the promoters of the Bill who are the local authority, granted themselves planning permission for the river diversion. I understand that the validity of that planning permission is considered questionable. I further understand that a judicial review has been authorised. The Bill does not seek planning permission for the river diversion. If the Bill were passed and the judicial review invalidated the planning permission, the promoters could not go ahead. Of course we do not know when the judicial review will take place nor, obviously, what the outcome will be.

I come to another reason why the Bill is premature. I want to make the point particularly to my noble friend the Minister. The noble Lord told us that the local authority has all-party support for the Bill. I have received a letter from the leader of my party on the council indicating significant government backing for the project because of the innovative way in which it seeks to tackle the problem of disposal of large quantities of both household waste and colliery spoil in an environmentally acceptable manner". It emphasises that numerous Ministers who are honourable friends of mine, have visited the site and have expressed their "support". The letter names several of them. "Environmentally acceptable" has yet to be proven. We—that includes Ministers and the department, the Select Committee and this House—must await the environmental statement and the further evidence that it will contain on a number of crucial environmental aspects including leakage and pollution, before the project can be fully considered.

There are further reasons why in my view the Bill is premature. I must weary the House for a moment with three pieces of land owned by the petitioners and which are crucial to the promoters' project. Part of the bed of the river is owned by the petitioners. The promoters have made a CPO and parallel with that they have sought power in the Bill to acquire that piece of land. If the Bill passes the petitioners will lose the land in the bed of the river which they now own with no right to a public inquiry or an appeal.

That may or may not concern noble Lords. I shall later come to the point at which that matter should worry the House. The second piece of land is the Warmfield potential waste disposal tip to which the noble Lord referred when he spoke of the land owned by the petitioning company. That land is part of the Normanton Park Estate and it is owned by the petitioners. The potential tip site has been subjected to extensive studies under the direction of ACFR consultants, the organisation resulting from the merger of Freeman Fox and John Taylor and Sons. Planning application was put in a few months ago for the development of a waste disposal scheme by the petitioners for controlled waste.

Non-determination by the Wakefield local authority, the promoters of the Bill, of this planning application by the end of April was deemed under the law a refusal of the planning application. I understand that the Warmfield company will be lodging an appeal and will seek the holding of a public inquiry before an inspector. That is a process intended to ensure an early opportunity for a full technical appraisal and attendant audit of all the issues involved including those arising from the Bill. I am led to understand that it would be extremely unusual if such a public inquiry is not granted. If in the event the promoters fail to win their compulsory purchase order there will be no case for the river diversion.

The third piece of land is extra land which is not covered in the Bill. Its compulsory acquisition is not provided for in the Bill. I am sure it is shown on the maps. It is extra land needed for the project. It is also owned by the Normanton Park Estate and indeed is part of its own scheme, the potential waste disposal site to which I have just referred. Here Warmfield company has the chance to oppose the compulsory purchase order placed by the promoters. If Warmfield were to win that compulsory purchase order, once again the promoters could not go ahead with the full project and the scheme would be truncated.

It is true, I have to say to the House, that the promoters could try to amend the Bill to include the land they need; and no doubt, if they did that, they would prejudice the rights of the petitioners, because they would then, if the Bill passed as amended, find their op position compromised at a planning inquiry.

All these issues—the judicial review of the planning permission granted to itself by Wakefield for the river diversion; the outcome of the compulsory purchase order on the bed of the river, if it were to be decided before the Bill is concluded; the outcome of the public inquiry or of any public inquiry on the deemed refusal by Wakefield of the planning application of the Warmfield potential disposal tip —are important. If they lose—in the outcome of any compulsory purchase order on the extra land needed by the Bill—then once again the House and the Select Committee will be asked to consider a Bill that will need substantial changes, quite apart from having to await the evidence of the environmental statement.

All these hearings and decisions with which I have wearied the House will be strung over months and months. Not even the noble Lord who has just spoken can forecast when they will all occur. During those months the House of Lords will be considering a Bill that the promoters may find truncated, or worse.

I have one other point to make about the Bill. The House will have noticed that the noble Lord actually took credit for what he called—I am not using his exact words—the advantage to the neighbourhood of the project being sufficiently large so that other disposal sites would not be needed. That is another way of expressing an intention to create a local monopoly, which is against this Government's policy and against European policy and, I should have thought, against the policy of all parties. It is not sensible to leave one disposal tip for controlled waste. In fact, the Bill seeks to open the door to enable the promoters to subsume by extension of their major scheme that scheme of a similar nature of the petitioner, thus potentially leading to a local if not regional monopoly for the intake and disposal of controlled waste.

In the light of all those arguments—I am sure there are many more—I have to ask the promoters via the noble Lord who has a right to reply to consider deferring the Bill. I ask my noble friend the Minister to take into account the need to appraise the risks and the pollution dangers in this large project when a full environmental statement is received and to regard such ministerial and departmental approval, as manifested in the letter to me from the leader of the Conservative group on the local council, as provisional until the implications of the environmental statement and the further tests it will embody are known.

I ask my noble friend the Minister to take into account the interests of all those who might be injured by the pollution. I am not saying that there will be pollution; I am saying we cannot make a judgment until we have the final environmental statement. I ask my noble friend the Minister to bear in mind the interests of the petitioners and to bear in mind that the promoters seem to be seeking a local or even a regional monopoly of waste disposal that is potentially damaging to the public as they are seeking to acquire a nearby competitor. I hope the noble Lord will reply to some of these points.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may refer to the statement with which he opened his speech about his connection with the Warmfield Company, of which he is not a director but of which he has been invited to be a director. He indicated, very fairly and properly to the House, that he was likely to consider favourably the invitation, which is still open.

I have looked at the standing order on declaration of interests. I say at the outset that I have no doubt, on advice taken from the Clerks, that the noble Lord was in order in everything that he said. However, I ask him to consider the fact that the Bill will take its course over a considerable time and that if he were to accept a directorship of the Warmfield Company he would come under the conditions of the Standing Order on declaration of interests. It states that it is undesirable, which in our House means out of order, for a noble Lord to advocate, promote or oppose in the House any Bill or subordinate legislation, if he is acting or has acted personally in direct connection with it for a specific fee or reward, or to vote on a direct Private Bill in which he has a direct pecuniary interest. The noble Lord is on the right side of the line but it is a very difficult line to draw. He will be aware that any change in his status as a prospective director would affect his ability in the future to comment further on this Bill.

Lord Joseph

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to say that, while I am a new Member of your Lordships' House, I really do not need guidance quite in those terms. Of course I would scrupulously obey. Had other Members been willing to take what I should have thought would be an interest from the CPRE's point of view, I should not have felt it necessary to intervene today. In fact I constantly sought other interventions, and it was only when there appeared to be a risk that there would be no debate in this House that I came before the House and declared my interest fully.

8.17 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in introducing this Bill, has explained it with great clearness and detail. I am pleased to support the Bill, and especially its environmental aspects. North Yorkshire County Council and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council are in agreement over this project.

At present the River Calder flows through the middle of the reclamation area. Diverting the river would create a much larger area for landfill. This also presents a great opportunity to enhance the environmental value of the river corridor by creating a channel which has a wide variety of sectional forms and features. By creating a greater area of landfill, the council will, in disposing of domestic waste and spoil from the coalfields, acquire more money with which to increase leisure and pleasure—in other words, recreational potential. The environment will be much improved, which is surely the desire of everyone, the outlook will be pleasing, wildlife will be protected and woodlands and other amenities such as marina basins will be created. By doubling the landfill capacity at this site at Welbeck, the local authority and British Coal will avoid having to create a whole series of alternative tipping sites on green field land elsewhere.

The Selby coalfield, which is in the North Yorkshire County Council area, has now, because of adverse geological conditions, developed a major waste disposal requirement. As the chairman of the North Yorkshire county planning committee, Mrs. Edwards, has told me, they want if possible to avoid the development of a tip on a green field site on grades 2 and 3 agricultural land. The Welbeck scheme offers a major opportunity to solve this problem and bring benefits to the Wakefield area by greening land which at present is derelict.

The British Waterways Board supports the diversion of the River Calder, stating that it will have no direct impact on existing navigation as used at present. The board supports the diversion as it allows a larger area to be reclaimed and it is currently having discussions with Wakefield Metropolitan District Council and the waste management authority to discover whether domestic waste from Wakefield can be carried to the site by barge. While the site is being restored, part of the land can be used for sport, recreation and water activities. If waste is carried by barge, the unloading facilities themselves can be turned over to recreational or marina use on the completion of the site.

The Nature Conservancy Council for England, now English Nature, welcomes the inclusion of Section 31, which imposes a duty on the council in subsection (1) to take reasonable steps to further the conservation of flora and fauna of scientific interest. English Nature also feels that the scheme shows considerable potential, following restoration, for the creation of wildlife habitats, which are scarce in the district.

I live in North Yorkshire, near York, and have seen various derelict sites around the area in Wakefield and other parts nearby. Some have been reclaimed and transformed into low, grass-covered undulations which make the areas pleasing to look at. That has happened over the past 20 or so years, during which time, as I said, there have been great improvements. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, pointed out, environmental improvements are already under way in Welbeck. Work has already begun on a reclamation and landfill scheme.

I support the Bill, as it will improve the environment and leisure and recreational activities in an area which at present has parts which are beautiful but which are spoilt by the derelict areas that surround them.

8.23 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on the clear way in which he introduced the Bill. Like the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, I wholeheartedly support the Bill. However, as Trinculo said in "The Tempest"—I hope that I have got the quotation right: Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows". I do not mean to say that this is a miserable Bill. I think that it improves not miserable land but very severely degraded landscape, but it is certainly supported by some very strange bedfellows. Apart from both being situated in Yorkshire, the city of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council and the North Yorkshire County Council have little in common either politically or scenically, yet this Bill, promoted by the former, is most strongly supported by the latter, as the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, has just said.

As noble Lords have heard from the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and also from the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, Selby waste will be used for a beneficial purpose, rather than having to be disposed of on rich agricultural land. However, in case any noble Lords may think that North Yorkshire is acting in a rather selfish way in the matter and not looking after its own beauties, I can assure them that, in the south of the county at present, power station waste from Ferrybridge and domestic waste from the Wakefield area is imported into the county for disposal at properly managed sites.

Two other agencies which, sadly, do not always agree with each other, are also strong in their support for the Bill. I refer to the two government advisers on wildlife and the countryside—namely, English Nature and the Countryside Commission. Unfortunately, it is not often that those two organisations get together. I believe that, when they do so in order to support such a scheme, there must be an awful lot in it environmentally.

I know that the Government will be neutral on the matter. However, as the two agencies which give them advice on countryside issues are actively in support of the Bill, I hope that perhaps they will, if not positively supporting it, be at least benignly neutral. I wish the Bill a Second Reading and a speedy passage through Parliament.

8.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, it is by convention that the Government take a neutral stance on private Bills and this Bill is no exception to that rule. The Government have considered the content of the Bill and they have no objection in principle to the powers being sought by the council.

As the House has heard, the Bill is being promoted in furtherance of a large scale reclamation scheme, involving a diversion of the River Calder, and the provision of substantial new landfill capacity for the disposal of municipal waste and colliery spoil. The scheme is expected to bring a number of environmental benefits to the area and the Government have already provided substantial grant-aid for some aspects of it.

However, as this is a private Bill, it will be for the Council, as the Bill's promoter, to persuade Parliament that the powers they seek are justified. I note that there are two petitioners against the Bill. They will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. The committee will be in a very much better position than we are tonight to examine in detail the issues involved, and it will have the added advantage of hearing expert advice.

I should point out at this stage that it would be particularly inappropriate for the Government to take sides on the Bill, or indeed to respond to the specific points raised by my noble friend Lord Joseph. I say that because some of the associated compulsory orders which the council has made under existing public legislation may come before the Secretary of State for determination. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it is right for the Government to maintain their neutrality in those circumstances. However, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading so that it may proceed in the usual way to the Select Committee for detailed consideration.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It is clear that those who have spoken have studied the issues with care. They have come forward with constructive proposals or with points of comment, especially in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, which obviously merit serious consideration.

I should like to refer to some of the points raised. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, talked about the effect of inadequate provision for restoration after mineral workings from which we have certainly suffered over the years. However, in regard to mineral workings such as opencast coal, I should like to point out to him that while I was at the coal board, and indeed before I took over as chairman, we reached a very high standard for reclamation, which I believe has been recognised throughout the world. These things are now much better. However, what we see at the Welbeck site is the effect of past mineral workings which have created what is a most appalling mess to look at. It must be dealt with in one way or another.

The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, raised many issues. He considered that the Bill was premature. He doubted the prudence of the proposals and the safety of the project.

Lord Joseph

With respect to the noble Lord, I said that it would not be possible to judge the prudence and the safety until we had the final environmental statement. That is rather different from what the noble Lord said.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I was just about to mention his point about an environmental statement. As he rightly said, there is no requirement for it in relation to the Bill. The promoters have already undertaken extensive environmental appraisals, copies of which the noble Lord evidently has, and have decided to consolidate and supplement them in preparation for the Select Committee. They intend to deposit an environmental statement in Parliament before the Select Committee commences its sittings. I believe that that completely answers the point raised by the noble Lord.

The petitioners have seen the detailed environmental review in relation to the river diversion which was lodged with the reserved matters planning application. Much work has been done by the promoters and they will put forward—although they are not bound to do so—a full environmental statement for the benefit of the Select Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, referred to the dangers of pollution. I am not quite with him in that respect. What are the dangers of pollution from the normal tipping of colliery waste and domestic refuse? Such material has to be deposited in controlled conditions. Therefore, who better to see that such conditions are adhered to than the waste disposal authority and the local authority? If they cannot do the job properly, who can? In my experience these matters can be handled very satisfactorily. We are not talking about toxic waste; we are talking about normal domestic waste and normal colliery spoil, neither of which is a potential cause of pollution. The only form of pollution that could be caused would be if they were handled inexpertly. I should have thought that that is the last thing that the council and the waste disposal authority would allow.

The noble Lord referred to a judicial review for the river diversion which might impede the implementation of the Bill if it were to pass through Parliament. That may be, but I fail to see why that should hold up the measure. If other developments take place, they will have to be considered in due time. What perhaps concerned me most about his remarks was that he seemed to think that there should be an alternative way of dealing with the waste and that the Warmfield Company, whose cause he was supporting, should have the facility to develop its own waste disposal arrangements.

I should like to ask the noble Lord—I do not know whether he will reply now or at a later date—whether the company has plans which would accommodate the quantity of waste about which we are talking. Does it have plans which would accommodate the amount of colliery spoil from Selby about which we are talking? That will amount to 25 million tonnes over the period. If it does not, what will happen to that waste and spoil? The noble Lord said that one reason he objected to the scheme was that it would form a type of local waste disposal monopoly. That is an odd way to put it, I must say. Does he prefer that the waste be scattered around the north Yorkshire countryside, encumbering a number of green field sites all over the place, in the interests of competition, with a total disregard of the environmental impact? That would seem to be the alternative.

Here we have a desolate site. I am sure that he has seen it. I have seen it. Anything one does for that site will be for the better. It is appalling. Here we have an opportunity to put it right; to transform it into undulating countryside with an extended waterway; to dispose, in a properly controlled manner, of the large quantities of waste which unexpectedly have arisen from the Selby coal operation; to create void space, which is badly needed throughout the country; and to dispose of domestic waste in an acceptable way.

I hope that the noble Lord will reconsider those objectives in the light of what he said. I do not believe that he presented us with an alternative. He pointed out various ways in which he thought that the measure was premature, but I did not glean from what he said that he was putting forward an alternative to deal with the pressing problems that we have been debating.

I appreciate what the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, said. As she rightly said, Clause 31 is important and shows the promoters' dedication to the concept of conservation.

The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was also kind enough to support the Bill. He emphasised the beneficial use to which the unexpected Selby waste could be put. It is, as he rightly said, a unique opportunity to make something positive out of an unfortunate occurrence. The geological faults discovered at Selby will at least yield material which can contribute to environmental improvement. I should have thought that that was an opportunity far too good to miss. As he also pointed out, English Nature and the Countryside Commission have jointly—I gather this is a fairly rare occurrence—supported the project. So it has support from on high.

The Minister was circumspect, as she was bound to be. The Government have to appear to be neutral when it comes to Private Bills. She said that the Government had no objection in principle to what was contained in the Bill. She pointed out that the Government had aided the existing improvements. The implication—without committing the Minister in any way—was that if there were to be further improvements the Government would look favourably on aiding them.

We have had a useful debate. We have heard a number of views on the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, stimulated us into thinking about the project, but I am convinced that it is one of the best and most desirable reclamation projects that I have come across in a long career of involvement in disposing of waste materials.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.