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Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene and I shall certainly be swift about it. Does he agree that the experience of people such as my constituents and people in areas such as Selby is not good when it comes to ministerial or British Coal decisions ? Wintersett and North Featherstone, which are the only country areas in my constituency, are currently the subject of an opencasting proposal. That proposal has outraged the community.
So we have a principle of compulsory access to all minerals. We have built into the Bill a series of safeguards over and above the compulsory rights order as it exists at present, but we accept that the present system cannot
Column 377continue ad infinitum, so we have time- limited it : if no further proposals are made by the Government, the CRO powers will definitely fall away in 1999.
We feel strongly that we need to have a proper review of compulsory access to all minerals and that we should not continue to treat coal separately from other minerals. That is because there is no inherent justification for treating coal separately. We need a review because many interests need to be considered, including those of landowners, farmers, tenants and the various minerals industries. We enter that review with an entirely open mind.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : I am obliged to my hon. Friend as, I think, the only Member of Parliament who happens to own a coal mine. If Opposition Members come to Fife--they are more than welcome to dine with me and stay with me--I can show them what has been achieved when opencast mining has finished around us : it is a vast improvement in the landscape, on which I place great importance.
Mr. Eggar : My hon. and learned Friend has an extremely valid point. In other parts of the country--forgive my sense of surprise--there are examples of good restitution of opencasted mines. In view of the assurances that I have given that we shall have an open review of the powers, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and Opposition Members will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Before we move to the vote, I hope that the Minister will answer the question that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about what will occur with the Arkwright opencast development now that the new measure is before us. It is based upon an arrangement that the people in the area will be relocated and given new homes. Is that arrangement guaranteed for the future ?
Mr. Eggar : I think it is the first time that I have seen the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) coming to the rescue of the hon. Member for Bolsover, who seemed not to be paying attention. I can inform both hon. Gentlemen that British Coal's commitment to build a new village--including a social centre, houses, shops and a pub--is formalised in an agreement with the local planning authority and would be binding on any successor or transferee.
Mr. Alexander : I should like to thank my hon. Friend for his contribution to the debate. I am not entirely convinced by his argument--no doubt he will not be too surprised to hear that--but I am well aware and mindful of the fact that there will be a further and perhaps more wide- ranging debate on the subject in another place. Bearing in mind that fact, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
there shall be a presumption against opencast mining and'.
(aa) to the extent of the environmental impact of the proposal on the area ;
(ab) to the balance of costs and benefits of the proposal ; and (ac) to the existence of current opencast mining operations or any such operations as have ceased within a period of five years immediately preceding the date of the application, within a radius of five miles of the proposed site of operations.'.
No. 10, in page 48, line 10, at end insert
(aa) to environmental considerations prescribed in relevant local plans ; and'.
No. 42, in page 48, line 10, at end insert
(ab) to the desirability of avoiding nuisance to nearby residents in the form of dust, noise, vibration, lorry traffic, visual intrusion or loss of amenity, and the need to respond to the expressed concerns of those residents regarding the proposed development ; and'.
No. 63, in page 48, line 10, at end insert
(3A) A person who formulates coal-mining proposals shall be required for the purposes of paragraphs (aa) and (ab) of subsection (2) above
(a) to prepare a full environmental impact assessment, and (b) to prepare a full cost-benefit analysis.'.
No. 62, in page 48, line 24, at end insert
(c) to formulate proposals for the compensation of land owners affected by the proposal for any loss of value on their property if sold during the period of opencast mining.'.
Mr. Ashby : Much of the debate in respect of compulsory purchase has taken place during the debate on previous amendments. I did not speak during that debate, but I must say that I can never understand why compulsory purchase orders did not end yesterday--I see no reason to have them in any sector, except in cases of national emergency. That is the stance I have always taken and always will take. Although I am speaking to amendment No. 60, the gravamen of my case against compulsory purchase and the strengthening of the environmental aspects of compulsory purchase are to be found in my amendment No. 61. I will be seeking the strongest assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister, and if that is not forthcoming I know that I and some of my hon. Friends, as well as some Opposition Members, will seek to divide the House on that amendment.
We have had too little debate about opencast mining during the passage of the Bill, yet it has become the single most important aspect of all coal mining. It is rather sad that we reached this part of the Report stage as late as 9.30 this evening and I know that many of my colleagues wish us to proceed as speedily as possible. However, this is a subject which we could debate for one whole day. All hon. Members who have opencast mining in their constituencies know how horrific it is and how it causes dirt and filth. They will also know that opencast mining affects those-- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker : Order. I hope that conversations will be carried on quietly. The hon. Gentleman is having difficulty in speaking to the amendment, and some of us are interested in hearing what he has to say.
Column 37910.15 pm
Mr. Ashby : I am grateful, Madam Speaker. It is difficult. All of us who represent areas in which there is opencast mining know how dreadful it is and how it affects our constituents. Opencast mining is the single most important issue in my constituency where there are not only applications for opencast mines but such mines already exist. An opencast mine affects not only the immediate locality but the area around it. Some people believe that my constituency is in danger of resembling a lunar landscape. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) hit the nail on the head. For too long, British Coal has had the most enormous powers which stem from the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 and have continued under successive Acts. Those Acts mean that we--the people who live in the area and who object to planning--have to prove that opencast mining should not take place. The burden of proof lies with us--we have to prove that something which has a devastating effect on the character of an area and which lowers the value of property should not take place.
It is an insult that a company such as British Coal should be allowed to say that it wants an opencast mine in an area because it believes that it is in the national interest. Without a by your leave, the matter goes before the local planning authority which is terrified of British Coal and starts finding reasons why it should be allowed to proceed and, in any case, it is up to the objectors to prove that it should not be allowed to proceed. The burden of proof in this instance should resemble the law in other aspects of our life. If a company does something that will destroy an area and lower the value of its property, the burden of proof should be on that company to prove that it should be allowed to proceed.
When the planning application has been made, the full extent of the environmental impact of the proposal should be considered. There should be a full environmental impact assessment--nothing less will do. It is no good my hon. Friend the Minister saying that it is a matter for the planning authority, because all the Acts covering the coal industry deal with planning and, in respect of the burden of proof, favour the Coal Board. It is therefore absolutely right that the planning aspect of opencast mining should be dealt with in the Bill.
One of the problems is that planning matters are often dealt with in various sections of various Acts. The hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) spoke about the Department's problems in deciding on the legal ways of objecting. It is a minefield, if I may make a slight pun. It is very difficult for legal advisers to decide how to frame objections because they have to consider the provisions of so many different Acts. Perhaps the necessary grounds should be set out in the Bill.
When making a planning application, it is absolutely essential that a full cost-benefit analysis is undertaken. The costs and benefits of any proposal must be examined and must include the need for and price of coal, the cost of extracting it and the environmental cost to the area. It is essential that it should be built into this part of the Bill.
Another aspect should also be built into the Bill. When, as is the case in my area, there is one opencast mine, with another such mine three miles away and another three miles away in a different direction, it has a devastating effect on the area. When an application is made, the fact
Column 380that there are opencast mining operations in the locality must be taken into account. Sometimes, one opencast mine has just ceased and, within a year of the hole being filled in--a year after 10 or 15 years of sheer hell--an application is made for another opencast mine only a couple of miles away, so there are another 10 or 15 years of hell. The mining operations move around the constituency in that way. The fact that an operation has ceased in the area should be taken into consideration when an application is made.
Amendment No. 62 states that those making the applications should "formulate proposals for the compensation of land owners affected by the proposal for any loss of value on their property if sold during the period of opencast mining."
That is very important.
I received a letter, as recently as 10 days ago, from a constituent whose house is adjacent to an opencast mine. She is in a desperate situation. She is now a single parent. There has been a divorce in the family and she is desperate to sell her property. Her property has been valued at about 40 per cent. less at the moment because there is an opencast mine nearby. She has no redress ; no compensation. She will lose 40 per cent. of the value of her property because there is an opencast mine nearby. She cannot tell the operator, "I have to sell my property now. You have to compensate me for that loss."
That is the purpose of amendment No. 62. I seek an assurance from the Minister that he will consider the problem carefully and ensure that when proposals are made they contain proposals to compensate landowners, in the event of their property having to be sold, for the loss of value during the period of opencast mining.
I have fought opencast mining ever since I became Member of Parliament for Leicestershire, North-West in 1983. Since then, I have fought every single proposal and I will continue to fight every single proposal. The collective effect of the amendments that I suggest will put right so many of the wrongs that have been done when applications have been made. We have fought and refought those applications. One of the problems of which I want the Minister to be aware is that in the past, if British Coal made an application and it was refused, another application was made, then another and another. Acceptance of the amendments would put right so many of the wrongs that we seek to right.
Mrs. Peacock : I appreciate that there is very little time left, but, having sat here since 2.30 this afternoon, I wish to spend just two minutes on this issue. Perhaps I may be excused also on the ground that I am one of the hon. Members in whose name amendment No. 42 appears.
There should be no need now for a presumption in favour of opencasting. That is not in the nation's interests when we can obtain coal from other sources. In earlier times, it was undoubtedly necessary, but much of the necessity has disappeared. We shall always have some opencast activity. I appreciate that coal obtained in that way is often needed for mixing with deep-mined coal. However, most opencasting should be undertaken on derelict land and not on open green fields. In my area of Yorkshire, it is particularly insensitive to apply for planning permission for opencast mining virtually on top of deep mines that have just been closed. Communities there could hardly be expected to welcome such a move.
We should try to ensure that planning permission for opencast activity is granted in respect of derelict land only.
Column 381Certainly the few green fields in the valleys in my area, where there is a great deal of industrial activity, are relied on for leisure, and they should not be put to mining use. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give me some assurance in respect of this matter.
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : Opencasting and planning are inextricably entwined, but it is a great pity that we have to deal in a coal debate with what are essentially planning issues. I asked during the Second Reading debate, as I have done repeatedly following business statements since then, for a separate planning debate to discuss these issues. Alas, that has not materialised and this debate is necessary.
I am not automatically opposed to opencast applications. Last year, together with Opposition Members and the Leeds council, I sponsored legislation to enable a massive opencast development to cure a serious problem of dereliction in my constituency. I accept that where there are infrastructure developments, such as major roads that are undermined by old mine workings, there is a need for opencasting. The land has to be graded and levelled so that the road may be built.
But, just as there are circumstances in which opencasting is acceptable, equally there are circumstances in which it is not acceptable. At present, my constituency is being plagued by a succession of unsuitable opencast applications in respect of the area around the town of Garforth. These put at risk the whole of the planning environment that has been built up for that town. We are attracting world-class, world-quality investment, and the last thing that investors want is an environment shattered by opencast mining on the most sensitive green belt in the entire Leeds area.
I seek three things. The first is the ending of the presumption in favour, in the national interest, of opencasting. The second is recognition of the fact that environmental factors should be decisive in determining opencast planning applications. The third is a provision for local authorities to be able to set the environmental criteria for opencasting, preferably in the local plans affecting their areas. Local people should be able to decide what is right. As it is late, I shall go into no further detail, save to say that it is interesting that when we are discussing opencasting it is now the Labour party which wants to bring the debate to an end quickly. On all other occasions, Labour Members want to talk indefinitely. There is great uncertainty about whether the three principles that I have mentioned will be enshrined in the revision of minerals planning guidance note 3. I hoped that these issues would be clarified before the Bill left the House. Unfortunately, they have not been. Thus, the amendments are necessary.
Mr. Eggar : I listened with extreme interest to the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) and for Elmet (Mr. Batiste). I was not at all surprised to hear them speak very passionately on behalf of their constituents. Indeed, they have been very vociferous in making their concerns known to me over the past few months.
Column 382I should like to pick up in particular a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet. This is a matter for planning procedures. The Bill has nothing to do with environmental regulation or with safety regulation.
My hon. Friends have an ideal opportunity to make their points to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Environment, and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. As they know, consultation is currently taking place on MPG3. I am sure that my colleagues will pay particular attention to the three points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet. I suggest that my hon. Friends pursue the matter in detail with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, who will doubtless wish to take careful account of the views that they have expressed on behalf of their constituents. The Bill, however, is not the right vehicle in which to introduce the change that they so earnestly desire.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed : No. 61, in page 48, line 10, leave out and' and insert
(aa) to the extent of the environmental impact of the proposal on the area ;
(ab) to the balance of costs and benefits of the proposal ; and (ac) to the existence of current opencast mining operations or any such operations as have ceased within a period of five years immediately preceding the date of the application, within a radius of five miles of the proposed site of operations.'.-- [Mr. Ashby.] Amendment negatived.
Amendment made : No. 31, in page 60, line 25, at end insert (1A) References in this Act to the treatment of coal in the strata shall be taken not to include references to any operations which (a) are carried on in relation to coal in or to which any oil or gas that exists in its natural condition in the strata is absorbed or adsorbed ; and
(b) are so carried on wholly for the purpose of winning or getting that oil or gas ;
and in this subsection "oil or gas" means oil or gas within the meaning of section 9 above.'.-- [Mr. Eggar.]
Amendment made : No. 44, in page 139, line 21, at end insert The Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979 (c.33)
. In section 28(1) of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979 (interpretation), in the definition of "overriding interest", after paragraph (eg) there shall be inserted the following paragraph "(eh) insofar as it is an interest vesting by virtue of section 7(3) of the Coal Industry Act 1994, the Coal Authority ;" .-- [Mr. Eggar.]
Column 383Order for Third Reading read. -- [Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's consent, on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Mr. O'Neill : I am conscious that we are straining the good will of the House ; hon. Members anticipated a vote considerably earlier. We have been debating the Bill since 4 pm, and in that time we have covered a fairly extensive area. We have dealt with concessionary coal and trade union rights following privatisation, we have discussed the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, the latest stage that has been reached in the pensions debate and, in the past two hours, we have discussed, at some length, issues raised by subsidence and opencast mining.
It would be wrong to say that Opposition Members have been successful in regard to any of those issues. Perhaps, if some of the Conservative Members who have spoken today had secured the permission of the Government Chief Whip, they might have been able to speak in Committee and obtain some victories. In that event, the Government might have had to come here tonight to seek changes of their own. The vast bulk of the amendments that we have debated were tabled by Opposition Members, although there is a fair amount of agreement across the Floor on some environmental questions.
We are still opposed to the Bill. We consider coal one of our greatest national assets ; we believe that British Coal and its research departments have succeeded in developing technologies that make coal easier and safer to win than at any time in our history. Moreover, we now have coal that can be burned in coal-fired power stations in a way that is not only environmentally friendly but capable of more thermal efficiency than ever before. That is a testament to the success of public enterprise : in its years of public ownership, the coal industry has been able to achieve safety levels that are without parallel anywhere in the world.
In this connection, it should perhaps be repeated that in 1946, when coal was nationalised, it was commonplace for men working in the British coal industry to die every week. Every year, 1,000 men died in the coal industry. Every day, three men died, so one miner died in every eight-hour shift every working day of every year. The current figures are a fraction of that. They are still too high, but they have reduced because of the safety measures and the industrial procedures we now adopt and, more than anything else, because the hand of profit no longer lies across the industry as it did before public ownership.
We do not believe that a privately-owned coal industry will have learned very much from the past. We expect that the cowboys and fly-by-night operators will be operating not just opencast but deep mining, if they can satisfy the Coal Authority. The criteria of the Coal Authority are nothing like as strict as we would like. The Labour party is not simply opposed to the Bill ; it is also committed to the reintroduction of public ownership of the coal industry. We believe that the coal industry can be safe only when it is in the people's hands and only when miners are employed as public servants.
Earlier tonight, the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) said that he was unique in
Column 384the House as being the only Member of Parliament who owned a coal mine. As always, the hon. and learned Gentleman was wrong. Everybody in the House still owns the British coal mining industry. Coal is a fuel of the future with a technology that will take it beyond the simple purposes of burning. I spoke last week to the last Labour Minister for coal, Alex Eadie, the former Member of Parliament for Midlothian. He repeated something that I have heard him say many times-- that coal is one of the most valuable assets we have ; it is too valuable to burn. There are far better uses for it. I doubt that Britain will have a coal industry under private ownership that is capable of taking advantage of the technical opportunities and of meeting the desperate environmental needs that could be alleviated by exploiting clean coal technology.
We believe that the industry has a future, but only in public ownership. When Labour returns to power with the support of the mineworkers and the people dependent on the industry we shall restore it to public ownership and ensure that it is a safe industry for people to work in producing the fuel that the country's long-term energy needs will require. That is why I ask my hon. Friends to vote against Third Reading.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Since Second Reading, the Bill has been changed only by minimal Government amendments. The past two days of debate on Report have shown that, however strong the arguments, the Government will always refuse to accept the need to amend the legislation to deal with fundamental issues raised on both sides of the House. Yesterday, we debated the duties and responsibilities of those who may take over the pits to protect against mine water flooding. Today, we have had consensus across the House on the importance of having a presumption against opencasting and for protecting underground mining rather than developing opencasting. There was no adequate guarantee on subsidence or that rights and liabilities will be upheld. There was no adequate answer on CISWO and the welfare interests of mining communities. There was no guarantee about the future of British Coal Enterprise. On all the specific matters on Report there have been no concessions from the Government, however logical the arguments. The fundamental reason why the Bill should not receive a Third Reading is that the Government are trying to sell off the industry without any security for coal. The reason is the same one for which they were criticised on Second Reading. They did not come to the House willing to put coal securely in the context of the energy industry and to review that industry. Instead, they have considered the coal industry on its own, piecemeal and not within the context of the taxation system.
There has been no energy review or review of the nuclear industry. We still await that. Neither has there been a review of the subsidy of nuclear fuel and the consequent advantage that it has over coal. We have had no guarantee that we will try to find the best environmental strategy for the energy industry. There has been no review of the future of electricity generation. Until the Government realise that they are not dealing competently with energy--for example, by producing a strategic energy policy, which is
Column 385their duty--and that energy, taxation and all our assets must be considered and decided together, they do not deserve support in this place or outside it.
The Government are trying to pull off a speedy sell-off, with no security for coal. As an energy strategy that is irresponsible and is a betrayal of those people in the coal industry who have contributed to Britain being an energy-rich, energy-efficient and
energy-prosperous country. For that reason, I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will join other Opposition Members and, I hope, some Conservative Members in opposing the Government as we have opposed them at earlier stages of the Bill.
Mr. Barron : I rise for a few minutes to take up one of the major issues that will result from this privatisation Bill. For many years, the Government believed that the size of the British deep-mined coal industry had to be reduced dramatically. That policy has greatly damaged employment prospects in coal mining and in the service industries and has caused many hon. Members problems. Thousands of young people have not had the opportunity to go into the mining industry that I and many other people had when we left school many years ago.
The last phase of the closure programme started in October 1992, when the Government announced that they would reduce the number of pits to that envisaged in the Rothschild report, although it was denied that that was the intention when the report was first leaked in 1991. At that time, the Minister for Energy and the President of the Board of Trade laid great store by the fact that anyone who lost his job would be protected by the announced redundancy payments. I questioned the Minister in February and he replied :
"The Government is prepared to fund the current redundancy terms for miners until 30th April 1994, and where redundancies are proposed before 30th April, for so long as the consultations with the unions on any such proposal continue."
That statement--I hope that the Minister will listen--has thrown the British Coal work force into confusion. Last night, I spoke to Stan Robinson, who works at Kiveton colliery in my constituency, which is one of the 12 market-tested pits that Conservative Members thought that they had saved. He told me that on 20 January the work force heard from senior management that it had four different options for the future of that colliery. Two would involve the colliery continuing to produce coal until 1995, one would involve it producing coal until early September 1994 and the fourth option was that the mine would close in April.
The House will know that, for some people, enhanced redundancy payments can mean additional sums of up to £17,000, yet two months after the consultation meeting at Kiveton colliery the work force have had no definite statement of British Coal's intentions. British Coal can rightly be accused of being guilty of mental torture of the work force.
Maltby colliery in my constituency is to restart production in September. Originally, it was to be mothballed. More than 100 British Coal employees appear to be left with the choice of accepting redundancy, within the terms of the Minister's reply to me, or risking losing the chance of that enhanced redundancy payment if they wait, and a different employer makes them redundant after the
Column 386industry is privatised. Are the Government prepared to inform British Coal that people who remain in the industry after April will have the enhanced redundancy payments that they currently enjoy protected ? It is grossly unfair that people whose interests Conservative Members voted to protect in 1992 and 1993 will have a gun held at their heads again over the next six weeks.
What are the implications for the British Coal part-time workers who have been made redundant of the House of Lords ruling of 3 March ? Most of them were women who worked as cleaners or canteen staff. The European Court of Justice states :
"According to the case law of the Court . . . the concept of pay' within the meaning of Article 119 of the Treaty comprises of any consideration, whether in cash or kind, whether immediate or future, provided that the employee receives it, albeit indirectly, in respect of his employment from his employer, whether under a contract of employment, legislative provisions or made ex gratia by the employer."
In the House of Lords judgment of 3 March, Lord Keith of Kinkel expressed this opinion :
"The provisions of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, whereby employees who work for fewer than 16 hours per week are subject to different conditions in respect of qualification for redundancy pay from those which apply to employees who work for 16 hours per week or more, are incompatible with Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome".
Will the Minister tell me and the hundreds of part-time workers made redundant by British Coal whether they now qualify for some of the enhanced redundancy payments made to mineworkers over many years ? I hope that the Minister can answer. I hope also that Conservative Members will put pressure on Ministers who said that they would protect the interests of British miners undergoing the restructuring phase. They are not. Those workers will have a gun at their heads for the next weeks. It is disgraceful that they still do not know whether they will forgo tens of thousands of pounds if they hang on to the unforeseen future of coal privatisation.
Mr. Hardy : The Bill is one too far. It demonstrates complete insensitivity to history and the way that the Administration are spurning the very concept of one nation--and it will not a put a feather in any prime ministerial hat. The Bill will certainly mean that all the rest of the days of this Parliament will make no difference--at the end of it, that lot will be gone.
Mr. Hood : I rise to comment on this objectionable Bill and to express my criticism of the recent cat-calling from the Government side of the House against hon. Members who wanted to make a contribution. It seems that Conservative Members are more concerned about getting home to their beds early than hearing what this Government are all about. The day will come--tragically, it may not be their generation who will suffer but those that follow--when the folly of giving the Bill a Third Reading will be realised.
Earlier this week, Lady Thatcher fainted. She will not need smelling salts tonight, because she will be really up--really pleased to see the Bill receive a Third Reading, because she came to power in 1979 to achieve what the Government seek to achieve tonight. The Bill is an insult to our history. There are no economic or political reasons for it. Mines were nationalised in 1947, not because nationalisation was a