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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, is it not the case that according to the figures produced by the Legal Aid Board there has been a remarkable reduction in the number of solicitors firms which will in future be available to undertake legal aid work? If the figures I mentioned earlier are remotely correct, will that not mean that in some parts of the country there will be only one firm available?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there will be a reduction in the number of firms which undertake

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legal work. However, one should not misread the figures. A large number of the firms which will drop out undertake only a small amount of legal aid work at present. I believe that 11,000 firms were referred to. Of those, only 2,000 or 3,000 undertake the great bulk of legal aid work in this country. The remaining 8,000 do some but only a small amount. A reduction in the number of those firms will not be taking that much capacity out of the legal aid system in this country.

I cannot guarantee that there will not be some parts of the country where only one firm has a contract in relation to legal aid. I believe that such firms will be few and far between. It will probably be the result of the area being geographically remote rather than anything else. Therefore, with respect to the noble Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Hunt, although the point is well made and well taken, the position is not exactly as they described it.

The point was made that there was too much focus on cost cutting and too little focus on quality. The provisions of the Bill make it clear that one of the legal services commission's focuses must be on quality. It is there as an obligation for it to consider. One can do no more in relation to it than that.

We are keen to ensure that quality is maintained. That would be achieved not just by the obligation on the legal services commission but also by the fact that firms which receive a legal aid contract will have to satisfy certain quality conditions, those conditions relating not only to management and process but also to legal ability.

In a number of respects that is quite a good thing. It will ensure, for example, that when members of the public have a problem raising a medical negligence issue they will know to what sort of firm they should go. Many firms could be confronted, quite legitimately, with such a case and, although not experienced enough to deal with it, may not be willing to pass it on. Under the new arrangements, it would have to be dealt with by a firm that was authorised to carry out legal aid work.

There are many more points that I could deal with, but those are the main ones raised in the debate. We shall have to come back to many other points in Committee. I believe that the Bill makes a genuine contribution to making justice more accessible to the general public than it is at the moment. It achieves that by giving the Lord Chancellor, the Legal Aid Board and the legal services commission power to direct more effectively the legal aid resources where they are needed most, which is not the position at the moment. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Town and Country Planning (Minerals) (Scotland) Regulations 1998

9.41 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 25th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I begin by recording my sincere appreciation for the opportunity to address your Lordships in the House for the first time. Planning matters are not part of my portfolio but, because of the importance of the minerals industry, I have taken an interest arising from my business responsibilities.

I wish to set out briefly to your Lordships the effect of two sets of regulations for Scotland, both of which pertain to minerals development. Equivalent regulations are already in force in England and Wales.

First, the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) (Scotland) Regulations are technical and non-controversial, updating existing regulations which date from 1971. Statute has long recognised that minerals development is different from other types of development. Successive planning Acts have contained a power enabling regulations to be made that modify provisions in primary planning legislation, relating to development consisting of the winning and working of minerals.

The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 contains a number of provisions which either apply to developments which involve the use of land, or apply exclusively to operational development. The nature of mineral development is such that it does not fit exclusively into either category. While the winning and working of minerals is regarded as operational development, the depositing of mineral waste is regarded as a use of land.

The purpose of the regulations is, therefore, to prescribe how the relevant provisions of the 1997 Act, relating to use of land, apply to mining operations. The regulations update the statutory references in the 1971 regulations and repeal, by omission, those provisions which are now redundant.

The regulations do not, with one exception, contain any substantive change in policy or effect. The exception is the repeal of regulation 5 of the 1971 regulations. That provided that in relation to mining operations an enforcement notice for breach of planning conditions or limitations could be served within four years of the non-compliance with planning controls coming to the notice of the planning authority. The repeal of Regulation 5 means that the time limits for enforcement action in respect of a breach of planning control set out in Section 124 of the 1997 Act will now apply unmodified to minerals development. In effect, this means that enforcement action can be taken at any point up to four years after the operations were substantially completed. That is also consistent with the principle of the arrangements in Section 74 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, which makes provision for the periodic review of all old mineral planning permissions.

I now turn to the Town and Country Planning (Compensation for Restrictions on Mineral Working and Mineral Waste Depositing) (Scotland) Regulations. As the regulations are technical, it may be for the convenience of the House if I do not go into a great deal of explanatory detail.

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The regulations update, replace and simplify the existing regulations which date from 1987. They update the compensation arrangements which apply when a planning authority exercises its powers to revoke, modify, suspend, prohibit or discontinue mineral working. The arrangements in the existing 1987 regulations are inconsistent with those which apply under a scheme originally introduced by the Environment Act 1995 for the periodic review and updating of old mineral permissions.

All modern mineral permissions have operating and restoration conditions attached to ensure that operators meet modern environmental standards. Most old permissions have inadequate operating and restoration conditions.

The Environment Act 1995 required mineral permissions to be reviewed and updated periodically. The Act provided for compensation to be paid to owners and operators only where new conditions, other than restoration and aftercare conditions, restricts the working rights. That ensures a level playing field between old and new permissions.

However, periodic reviews take place only every 15 years and planning authorities may need to use their existing order-making powers to take action in urgent cases between statutory reviews.

The current 1987 compensation regulations provide for compensation to be paid where an order modifies any existing planning condition, although the amount of compensation can be abated in certain circumstances.

The new regulations will ensure that compensation entitlements following orders are consistent with those applicable at the time of periodic reviews as introduced in the Environment Act 1995. As such, they are consistent with the existing statutory framework and do not introduce further policy changes.

Both sets of regulations have received the consent of the Treasury. They have been the subject of consultation in Scotland with all those with an interest and there was widespread support for their effect. The regulations represent a useful and timely modernisation of the planning controls over minerals development in Scotland. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 25th November be approved [Second Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston.)

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, for his excellent explanation of the regulations and I congratulate him on his fine maiden speech. We must not forget the noble Lord's major contribution to the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde, nor the great commitment that he has shown to STV and the Scottish media. What is less well known is the noble Lord's dedicated and sympathetic support for the Gaelic College in Skye, the library of which has benefited from his generosity.

I must apologise to the noble Lord because although before the debate I warned him of some of the questions that I was going to ask, another has just come to mind.

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Will the regulations have any impact on the application for the super-quarry on Skye? Can the Minister say when that decision will be made? If the noble Lord would prefer to answer that in writing, I should very much appreciate that.

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