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Mr. Sayeed: Does the Minister agree that there are considerable deposits of fuller's earth in other countries and that there is fuller's earth of especially high quality in Turkey? Does he agree that there are synthetic alternatives, which he has not spoken about at all? If the inspector decides that Steetley's application should go ahead, what advice can he give my constituents to ensure that they may do their best to persuade the Secretary of State, whoever that is, to call the application in? The idea that £2 million profit a year for a Spanish company is sufficiently in the national interest to justify despoiling the lives of people in a lovely part of Bedfordshire, as well as the landscape, is extraordinary.
Mr. Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I listened carefully to his learned and highly informed speech, in which he ranged over the scope of the availability of that mineral resource in other parts of the world. I would not want to dispute that for one moment.
On the issue of how his constituents should register their concern in the event of planning permission being granted, may I repeat carefully--I have to be extremely cautious in these matters--that I alluded to the fact that there is clear strategy provision for members of the public to register their objection to any such planning permission and for the Secretary of State to consider whether to call in applications on the basis of that expression of local concern. The statutory procedures are clearly there and, on the strength of the hon. Gentleman's representations and the basis of local feelings, I am fairly confident that full exercise of that opportunity may be made in due course, should that eventuality arise.
The hon. Gentleman also asked me about the availability of synthetic alternatives to which, it is true, I have not referred in my remarks. He will recall that I have focused on British legislation and provision in relation to scarce mineral resources. However, I do not doubt the accuracy of his observations on the matter. I hope that I am not being identified as adopting a prejudicial position by giving what, to me, is an entirely objective recognition of the facts.
To conclude, fuller's earth is a nationally scarce resource, with significant economic resources in East Surrey and Mid-Bedfordshire. The quality and specific properties of fuller's earth determine its likely end use. The country is not self-sufficient in fuller's earth; we both import and export the mineral. The planning system seeks to balance the conflict between extracting the mineral and safeguarding our natural heritage. It requires appropriate policies and mechanisms to be set out at national, regional and local levels.
Bedfordshire county council has made public its assessment of the recent planning application for working fuller's earth at Wavendon Heath South. The applicant has appealed against that decision, and the appeal is being duly processed. The House will understand that the Secretary of State's duty of impartiality means that I cannot comment further this evening.