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Lord Campbell of Croy: I have put my name to the amendment. My noble friend has explained its purpose admirably.

I am concerned about permissions for extracting ironstone, which is a narrower subject within the terms of the amendment. Those permissions were mainly in Northamptonshire, other parts of the Midlands and Lincolnshire. The permissions are now out of date and superfluous as regards ironstone, which was used in the steel industry but has not been needed since 1979. The local environment is much affected and could continue to be affected if action is not taken.

The ironstone has lain below other minerals, chiefly limestone and clay. Those had to be removed before the ironstone could be extracted. The permissions allowed that, but since ironstone has no longer been needed those other minerals are those which are being extracted. The permissions now have the effect of allowing the extraction of substances which were not the objective at the time the permissions were granted. That time was soon after World War II, when ironstone was essential for our steel industry, especially in the area of Corby. That was 40 years ago and more. Those permissions were reserved for central government, which took the decisions, not local authorities.

In those immediate post-war years, the urgent requirement to assist the development of our industries, including steel, meant that the conditions attached to the permissions did not have as much regard to environmental considerations as would be normal today.

The permissions extended for many years and are not due to expire until 2042—nearly 50 years' time. In the meantime, heavy lorries are causing damage and operations are encroaching on villages. While observing fully and correctly the conditions—which are lax—the mineral companies are causing problems to rural villages and communities. Those troubles are likely to increase. Furthermore, there are few, if any, requirements to restore the land after use. That laxity seems very strange today, but it was not strange in the early 1950s.

I know that the Government's views on ironstone are similar to those which I have just expressed, because they are set out in the press release and discussion document which was issued to local authorities in the spring of last year. I hope that I am pushing at an open door in the case of the past mining of this particular mineral, which is no longer needed or extracted.

I have every wish to encourage and assist the minerals industry, and there is no shortage of suitable sites for extracting those minerals which are still needed. I understand that the local communities are not opposed. It is a matter of bringing the system up to date, especially in respect of the environmental arrangements.

Providentially, last week the CBI sent me its latest publication, Living with minerals. In that document the CBI says that:

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    "the UK minerals industry is now a creative and sensitive agent in the conservation and restoration of the environment —our common heritage. While mineral extraction by definition involves a permanent depletion of a natural resource, in land use terms mineral working is compatible with the principles of sustainable development. Mineral companies accept their special responsibility to follow best practice. They work to integrate mineral development with conservation, to maintain natural wildlife habitats, and, where desired and practicable, to return land to a natural state".

It seems therefore that the operators will understand what is needed now—it has just been described—as opposed to over 40 years ago and will co-operate.

The simplest reform with regard to ironstone—I commend it —would be to revoke the permissions on a future date giving all concerned plenty of time. However, companies which are interested could apply in the meantime for permission to extract minerals such as limestone, clay and other substances. Their workings would then be re-established on a proper, modern basis. I understand that revocation would require primary legislation. The Bill presents that opportunity; the primary legislation is before us.

The amendment covers a much wider field than the problem relating to ironstone to which I referred. We shall listen with attention to what the Minister says in reply. However, I understand that the Government agree that the ironstone permissions should be revoked. Why wait? It might be two, three or even more years before other primary legislation can be introduced.

I have not found it easy to draft an amendment for revocation neatly and correctly. The Government could certainly draft and table an amendment to the present Bill if they wish to save valuable time. I hope that at a later stage, or in another place, a government amendment will appear in due course.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Howie of Troon: I am sorry to detain the Committee. I know little about ironstone. The subject has been argued persuasively by my old colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. However, the amendment goes much further. I have been approached by the British Cement Association and the British Aggregate Construction Materials Industries to oppose the amendments. I have no doubt that the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, and my noble friend Lord Williams have separately received the same information as I have. I shall, therefore, not dwell on it in any detail at this late hour. However, the amendments are the only items among the proposals before the Committee which seek, single-mindedly, to damage an industry—the extraction of aggregates industry.

The permissions already granted to those industries represent their assets. The retrospective nature of the proposals in the amendments are, I believe, out of order. The two proposed amendments are potentially extremely serious for the aggregates industry. In their different ways they both attack the asset base and the economic generation of the quarries. This is an important point. No other land use whatever is subject to retrospective withdrawal of planning permission without full compensation and, as I understand it, no element of compensation is proposed in the amendments before us tonight.

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In terms of the asset base of the companies involved in the aggregate extraction industry, the mineral in the ground is the tangible asset, the security against which capital investment is justified. If we reduce the life of the mineral from 60 to 30 years, the asset base of the companies would then be affected, with a likely consequential effect on their ability to undertake the very environmental propositions which are demanded. The removers of aggregates already accept the duty to restore the environment to as near the condition as that in which they found it. It will not be quite the same but will be rather better than a hole in the ground.

All that remains for me to say is that for some time discussions have been in train between the Government and the industry. They are continuing and it would be quite improper to pass amendments of this kind at this stage before they have reached a conclusion. I hope that the Committee will turn the amendments down.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: The Committee would not wish me at this late hour to make a speech, but I wholeheartedly support the amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. Of particular anxiety is the removal of large quantities of stone from some of our most beloved parts of the country for use often in building motorways and other constructions where substitute materials could be used. It is one reason again for welcoming the slowing down in the road programme that perhaps not quite so much in the way of crushed rock and stone will be needed to build up our roads. I merely wish at this stage to record that I wholeheartedly support the amendment.

Lord Desai: I support the amendment and wish especially to correct the impression given by my noble friend Lord Howie on what capital assets and values are about. Earlier today we heard some interesting fallacies about the polluter pays principle. People spoke as if the fact that one cannot identify one polluter or that the polluter did not anticipate consequences lets the polluter off. I do not think that that is true. We must take the view that the aggregate industry and whichever firms exist have in the past polluted and not paid the proper cost, when most of them made excess profits. From that point of view their current asset values are inflated. To the extent that we say that the rules must be complied with, the amendment would force the market to take account of the appropriate costs of correcting for pollution, which have so far been neglected. So rather than being harmful to the industry, I agree that asset values will fall, but the problem is that asset values are currently exaggerated. They will return to their proper values. After all, that is what we want.

Lord Howie of Troon: The last thing I wish is to disagree with my noble friend because he knows much more about economics than I do. However, he has overlooked the fact that the aggregate industry is already involved in putting back into the environment at least as much as it has taken out. The current discussions between the industry and the Government are intended to accelerate and increase that progress.

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I hope we are not going to have a dialogue at this late hour. My noble friend is never wrong, but on this occasion he is not wholly right.

Viscount Ullswater: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Addison for raising the environmental issues relating to old mining permissions and to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for raising the problems of the ironstone permissions. The Committee will understand that these are not easy issues to resolve. They have concerned the Government for some time and I should like briefly to tell the Committee of the steps my department has taken so far to facilitate reforms.

After the success of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 in dealing with the problem of interim development order permissions granted between 1943 and 1948, we turned our attention to other old mineral permissions granted in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. We followed the issue of an options paper in 1992 with a series of reform proposals in March of last year. That paper, The Reform of Old Mineral Permissions 1948-1981, attracted a considerable response and a summary of the views of those who wrote to us has been deposited in the Library.

Subsequent to those responses, departmental Ministers and officials have conducted a series of bilateral meetings with environmental and amenity groups, with the different operational sectors of the minerals industry, with the ironstone landowners and the minerals planning authorities. Those meetings have been generally constructive.

These are very important issues which the Government have a long-standing commitment to take forward as indicated by our consultation paper on proposals for change last year. It is a complex matter, as our discussions this evening have indicated. It is complex to get the right balance between the rights of those who hold long-standing valid mining permissions and the proper protection of the environment and amenity. I shall want to give the most careful consideration to these amendments and to the other representations that have been made in response to our consultation exercise and to make a statement on the Government's conclusions on Report. In the meantime, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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