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Lord Northbourne: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 239B to 241 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 241A:

Page 54, leave out lines 18 to 47.

The noble Lord said: It is with the greatest pleasure that I move Amendment No. 241A, which comes from the Opposition. We have listened to all kinds of arguments from the other side of the Committee and I wish to put forward an argument on our own. The Committee will be aware that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships' House has looked at the Bill and reached certain conclusions. I refer the Committee in particular to paragraph 8 on page 2 of the report. The committee points out that the memorandum from the department justifies the negative procedure under the new Section 78H—which is a Henry VIII power to increase a fine at random—by stating that the power,

However, the new section does not state that that is the purpose.

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee accordingly draws the attention of the House to new Section 78H(3) in Clause 54. That committee would be happy if the Minister were to give an undertaking which could be referred to in the courts. As a result of Pepper v. Hart, undertakings by Ministers can be referred to—

Viscount Ullswater: I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord but I wonder whether he is addressing Amendment No. 241A, which leaves out lines 18 to 47, or whether he is addressing Amendment No. 242, which changes the resolution of each House of Parliament.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I was under the impression that I was addressing Amendment No. 241A, which leaves out new Section 78H. However, on the advice of the Minister, I shall look at that. Yes, I am addressing Amendment No. 241A. That leaves out, as the amendment on the Marshalled List points out, a clause which is to be inserted, the rubric of which reads:

    "Offences of not complying with a remediation notice".

The section is new Section 78H. The subsection of that section to which the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee took exception is Section 78H(3), which the Minister will find at line 31 on page 54. Therefore, my remarks are relevant to the report of the committee and, indeed, to what I have been saying hitherto.

The report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee states that the section as it stands

    "does not state that this is the purpose",

that is, to keep the real value of the fine constant,

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    "and the House may consider that the Minister should be invited to give an undertaking on this issue, which could be invoked by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments if the power were used to increase the real value of the fine".

That is what your Lordships' Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has said. That is why I move the amendment; in order to obtain such an undertaking from the Minister.

The Minister may think that I am referring to something else. The noble Baroness has tabled an amendment which relates to the same report. I am referring specifically to Clause 54 and the words which I say in my amendment should be left out. We need an undertaking from the Minister along the lines which the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee asks for. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendment No. 242, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has added his name.

I am making the same point. The amendment seeks to provide a greater safeguard in the application of subsection (3) of new Section 78H and to seek an affirmative resolution in the case of an order to increase the maximum amount of the fine. It would clearly be helpful if the Minister were able to give the undertaking which the noble Lord seeks as to the purpose of the use of the power being to keep the real value of the fine constant. If the Minister were able to give that undertaking, it could be invoked by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, if the power were used.

Viscount Ullswater: Perhaps I may be permitted to address Amendment No. 242 in the first instance. That may answer the question, about which I have become rather confused.

Amendment No. 242, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, would impose an affirmative resolution procedure on any order made by the Secretary of State to increase the maximum level of fine for non-compliance with a remediation notice in respect of industrial, trade or business premises.

The provision which this amendment seeks to change has also attracted comments from the Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers, who described it as a Henry VIII clause. In our memorandum to that committee, the Government stated that our intention in providing a power to raise the level of the fine was to ensure that the real value of the fine can be left constant. I am happy to confirm on the record in your Lordships' House that that is indeed the Government's only intention in respect of that power.

However, in the light of the obvious anxieties over the operation of this particular power, I am happy to accept Amendment No. 242, and to have the power subject to an affirmative resolution procedure, although we shall have to come forward with a consequential drafting amendment to Section 161 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 later in your Lordships' proceedings. Having said that, I could address myself to other points contained in the

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1468

amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. However, I believe that what I have said may have satisfied the point for him.

12 Midnight

Lord Campbell of Croy: As the only member of the Select Committee on delegated powers present in the Chamber (which has the duty of drawing attention to such matters), I was very glad to hear the response just given by my noble friend the Minister.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I find the situation very odd. The Minister has just agreed with what the Select Committee requested. Indeed, he went further than that: he not only agreed with what the Select Committee asked for, but he went on to say that that should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I am perfectly relaxed about that fact. It does not bother me. However, I should have been perfectly happy with an undertaking from the Minister that the point of Section 78H was to keep the real value of the fine constant. But, if the Minister likes to go further, then that is his problem. I am just rather surprised and taken aback by his response.

Nevertheless, if the Minister is willing to go further, I shall wish to draw attention on Report to paragraph 9 on page 2 of the report of the delegated powers scrutiny committee as regards other matters for which the committee might prefer the affirmative rather than the negative procedure to apply. I have not done so to date, but in the light of the Minister's remarks I shall certainly grasp one-and-a-half loaves rather than half a loaf. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 242:

Page 54, line 47, at end insert:
(" (5) No order shall be made under subsection (3) above unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

Lord Harris of Greenwich: I should like to say a few gracious words to the noble Viscount for having accepted my noble friend's amendment. The fact that he has done so will be widely approved by Members of this Chamber.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 242A to 245A not moved.]

The Earl of Lytton had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 245AZA:

Page 58, line 45, after ("practitioner") insert ("or as a receiver of land (not being an insolvency practitioner)").

The noble Earl said: I should just like to say that I very much appreciate the response that the Minister gave earlier. On that basis, I shall not move the two amendments tabled in my name.

[Amendment No. 245AZA not moved.]

[Amendment No. 245AZB not moved.]

[Amendment Nos. 245AA and 245AB not moved.]

Clause 54, as amended, agreed to.

Viscount Addison moved Amendment No. 245B:

After Clause 54, insert the following new clause:

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1469

("Old mineral planning permissions

. After section 22 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 there shall be inserted—
"Old mineral planning permissions.

22A.—(1) For the purposes of this Act "old mineral planning permisssion" means any planning permission for development—
(a) consisting of the winning and working of minerals; or
(b) involving the depositing of mineral waste,
which was deemed to have been authorised after 1st July 1948 and before 22nd February 1982.
(2) Any person with an old mineral planning permission to win or work minerals or to deposit waste shall, within 5 years of the date of the coming into force of section (Old mineral planning permissions) of the Environment Act 1995, apply to the relevant mineral planning authority for approval of the environmental conditions to which the permission is subject.
(3) An old mineral planning permission shall—
(a) if no application for the registration of the permission is made under this section, cease to have effect on the day following the last date on which such an application may be made; and
(b) if such an application is refused, cease to have effect on the day following the date on which the application is finally determined.".").

The noble Viscount said: The above amendment and Amendment No. 247B tackle the environmental problems created by old mineral planning permissions granted between 1948 and 198l, and prior to the 198l minerals Act. I am aware that these amendments are widely welcomed outside the Chamber and have the support of several environmental groups as well as the Countryside Commission.

I highlighted some of the problems of old mining permissions in national parks at Second Reading, but the issues go much wider than this. It is clear that some of our finest landscapes and wildlife sites are now threatened by minerals extraction which was given the go-ahead 30 or 40 years ago, when concern for the environment was much less than it is today. Many old mining permissions are out of step with the environmental standards now required of new permissions, and also of the pre-1948 permissions—the so-called interim development orders—which have recently been updated as a result of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991.

These permissions are therefore anomalies in the mineral planning system. They often lack proper working conditions such as noise limits and frequently contain no requirement for the restoration of sites. By operating to lower standards than those applied to other mineral planning permissions, they also introduce distortions in the market. Many of these permissions are currently in operation and it is estimated that around the country 1,600 old permissions currently lie dormant, creating an environmental time bomb waiting to go off. Some of the worst problems lie within our national parks. There are believed to be at least 118 non-active sites across the national parks. In the Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast there are 24 million tonnes of rock reserves waiting to be worked at currently dormant sites, amounting to nearly half of all rock reserves in these two national parks.

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It is widely recognised that these old mineral planning permissions are in urgent need of review. The Government have already made a number of welcome statements outlining their commitment to tackle the issue and to introduce the legislation needed to improve the situation. This commitment was most recently reiterated in the consultation paper on the review of old mineral planning permissions issued by the Department of the Environment last summer. We should not forget, however, that this issue was recognised as urgent by the Stevens Committee nearly 20 years ago and the Government have promised action since their first environment White Paper in 1990.

Amendment No. 245B would introduce a statutory time limit of five years for mineral operators to register their old mineral planning permissions with the mineral planning authority for the approval of modern working conditions. This issue was originally tackled in the 1981 minerals Act, which placed a statutory duty on mineral planning authorities to review mineral sites in their area. The measures set out in that Act have failed, however, as they establish no time limits on this duty. Consequently very little progress has been made in reviewing damaging permissions.

My first amendment, by requiring mineral operators to register their old permissions with the mineral planning authority for review within five years, would ensure that real progress could be achieved. The Government's recent consultation paper on reviewing old mineral permissions indicated their support for the introduction of a statutory time limit along the lines set out in my amendment. I hope my noble friend the Minister can give this amendment a fair wind.

My second amendment tackles the problem that many mineral planning permissions remain valid for too long. Currently, permissions granted before 1982 are valid until the year 2042, or 60 years. It is widely acknowledged and accepted by the Government that this period is too long. The purpose of my second amendment is to shorten the period until 2012 —30 years. It should be recognised that under current legislation a mineral planning permission granted in the 1950s could be valid for nearly 100 years! During this time the weight of importance attached to the environment, changing attitudes and the needs of society are likely to have altered greatly. In addition, a site could remain dormant for years and years and be reactivated with no notice, much to the concern of local residents and with potentially serious environmental consequences. It is now generally accepted that this is an overly generous period and that 30 years should be ample time to allow any investment to be recouped. Any mineral remaining in the ground after the investment had been written off would not have significant value and could not have significant value until further investment had been committed to mine and process it.

I believe that the amendment strikes the right balance between reducing the time for which damaging old mineral permissions may remain valid and allowing ample time for mineral operators to secure a return on any investment. It is therefore a reasonable approach to

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1471

this difficult issue and would greatly help to reduce the lurking environmental threat posed by old mineral planning permissions. I beg to move.

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