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Column 545O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Reid, Dr John
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Jack Thompson and
Mr. Jim Dowd.
Question accordingly agreed to .
Mr. Deputy Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House congratulates the Government on the reduction by 36 per cent. in the numbers of Non-Departmental Public Bodies over the last fourteen years as well as on the gains in value for money that have been achieved through the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering in local government and the Competing for Quality initiative in Whitehall ; rejects the proposition that contracting for services implies loss of accountability ; welcomes the continuous improvement in the quality, value for money and responsiveness of public services not least through the implementation of the principles of the Citizen's Charter ; notes that this Government's establishment of the Audit Commission and the increased powers and independence given to the Comptroller and Auditor General have led to more effective control of fraud and waste ; and applauds the Government's continuing commitment to high standards in public life.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has been reported on tonight's BBC news that the Foreign Office has confirmed that it is concerned about apparent statements by the Malaysian Government concerning the freezing of trade between Malaysia and Britain. There are other unconfirmed statements about diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Britain in the context of inquiries in Britain into the financing of the Pergau dam project and the abuse of British aid. If that news is accurate, it is very serious for British trade and for the jobs of the people of this country. As British interests are at stake to such an extent, should not we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary-- if not this evening, certainly tomorrow--to clarify the situation?
Before Ministers or any other members of the Conservative party point the finger at the media or at the Labour party, let them think about this further example of the abuse of power by a Conservative Government.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : The Chair has received no information whatsoever about whether there is to be a statement. No doubt Ministers will have noted the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I support the request for a statement tomorrow. However, I give notice that, irrespective of whether it is granted, the motion of which my party has already given notice for next Tuesday will take these latest developments into account.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House of Commons has an annunciator system, but recently there seems to have been inadequate notice of statements. The statement that has been requested for tomorrow is extremely important--in fact, vital. I am sure that our relations with Malaysia involve textiles-- something that would affect my constituency. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can ensure that, if a statement is to be made tomorrow, sufficient notice will be given on the annunciators. I very much hope that you will use whatever influence you have to encourage the Government to make a statement. Hon. Members should have sufficient notice to enable them to be present, bearing in mind the fact that Friday tends to be a rather specialised day on which attendance is somewhat thin.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the Leader of the House is in his place, does not courtesy demand that he indicate that the Government take this matter extremely seriously and that he will ensure that a statement is made in the House tomorrow? It is very discourteous to fail to provide this information now and to leave hon. Members to obtain it, possibly on the annunciator system, at some point tomorrow. Surely in respect of a matter as serious as this, the Leader of the House should come to the Dispatch Box now and tell us what is happening.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Michael Brown.]
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : First, I declare the fact that my house lies within 300 m of the workings of the gravel extraction that I am about to discuss. May I also, by way of introduction, say how grateful I am to Madam Speaker for selecting this subject, which is of vital and immediate concern to people in my constituency.
On 2 February my hon. Friend the Minister sent to the lawyers representing Redland Aggregates Ltd. a letter indicating that he was "minded to approve" the inspector's recommendation to refuse planning permission to about one third of the application to extract gravel on a huge site of approximately 800 acres north of Hertford. However, he has shown his willingness to grant permission to extract gravel on the remaining two thirds of the site.
The implications of the planning application are that the ancient town of Hertford, which has been represented in this House since 1215, and the villages around it will be surrounded with active working gravel pits--all located in the green belt. I propose to hand to the Minister this plan showing how the proposed gravel pits--marked in blue--will surround Hertford.
The planning application has major implications for my constituents' quality of life and economic prosperity, such as loss of amenities and the devaluation of properties, and the people of Hertford are profoundly disturbed by the application. If it is surrounded with active gravel workings, the town is likely to atrophy and even decline for the foreseeable future--probably within your lifetime, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the Clerk who is speaking to you. You will be dead, I will be dead and many people in Hertford will be dead before the so-called temporary application is resolved. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Minister did not adhere to the protection that the inspector who advised him suggested should be built into the planning approval. He has succumbed to the bullying of the applicants--the gravel extractors--by removing one of the crucial protections provided by the inspector.
My hon. Friend the Minister is continually advised by his officials that gravel extraction and opencast mining are a temporary phenomenon. In this case, the inspector was impressed by the fact that the objectors pointed out that the so-called restoration-led extraction period could be 30 years or longer. She therefore suggested a minimum rate of extraction and a timetable for restoration, which would have reduced the extraction period to about 17 years. In a letter, my hon. Friend declared that timetable to be "impractical"
I suggest that it is impractical because of the bullying of the gravel extractors and the pressure that they have put on him. My hon. Friend also said in the letter that the Secretary of State would expect the extractors to use their "best endeavours" to achieve that objective. You know about the best endeavours of gravel extractors, mineral workers and miners better than I, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Minister is therefore intending to leave to the tender mercies of the gravel companies the length of time that they will take to extract and restore the gravel workings.
Column 548Will my hon. Friend reflect on the social disruption that the extraction will cause? During the undetermined extraction period the town of Hertford and its surrounding villages will have to live under the blight caused by the permission. Many of them will have to live for the rest of their lives in the middle of a gravel pit, in homes with a much-reduced value, and they will be unable to sell them. New family formations will be inhibited. My hon. Friend is a family man with children. He will know how important it is for a family to live in an area where children can enjoy their normal activities. My hon. Friend who represents the Whips' Office, the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), will not understand such problems, but I know that he will none the less be sympathetic to them.
People will have to bring up families with the twin dangers of heavy, dirty lorry traffic on the roads and the dust, noise and dangers inevitably associated with opencast mining, for that is what it is. My hon. Friend will know that children wandering into gravel pits are in grave danger of a variety of deaths and injuries in those circumstances. The whole area will be affected.
Let us examine the environmental pollution. The environmental protection provided for in the application while the extraction takes place--which will be for more than 30 years--is only the same as that associated with smaller applications, which can legitimately claim to be of a temporary nature, although in our area temporary can mean in excess of 45 years.
There is no provision of cycle tracks to replace the roads used by children at present. There is no imaginative footpath system to replace that lost during the mining period. The lost visual beauty and outdoor amenities cannot be replaced, but a more considerate mining company might assist with the provision of fishing ponds in the river, as there used to be before mining extraction, or playing fields and pavilions in the villages. Without those amenities, the villages will decline and descend into slums. There is no provision for planting screening trees or hedges to help to mitigate the loss of amenity. Nothing has been changed to take account of the long time foreseen in the planning application.
There is not even a cast-iron guarantee, which has always been assumed, that there would be no dumping or filling with material imported into the area by the mining companies which might not be non-putrescible waste. But who will check it and make certain it is non-putrescible waste? There should be no waste at all, but I do not believe that that will happen.
Let us look at the enforcement of the planning application and the rules that are supposed to be agreed. My hon. Friend said that he would examine them in great detail and find out how they will be enforced, but there is no effective enforcement.
As this is a so-called restoration-led application, that restoration has to be enforced. A detailed section 106 agreement is proposed, to cover a long period, to ensure that restoration takes place and that some aspects of the mining are mitigated. However, there is no requirement on the gravel company to post a bond so that money will be available to undertake any work that the company fails to carry out, or to put right anything that goes wrong such as landslip or illegal dumping in the pits.
Those safeguards are being considered by my hon. Friend's review of the mining planning guidance. He is awaiting the opportunity to introduce an order, if he can find parliamentary time, given the Opposition's refusal to