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Column 714shall be a sum equal to the annual borrowing cost for that year of the market value of the rights conferred by the compulsory rights order in relation to the holding.
(2) For the purposes of this section the market value of any rights conferred by a compulsory rights order shall be equal to the amount which, as at the date of entry, would (apart from the order) represent the fair market price, as between willing and independent parties, for the grant of those rights by a person entitled to grant them and for the period for which the order is to have effect. (3)(a) In calculating for the purposes of this section the fair market price for the grant of any rights, regard shall be had to any entitlement to compensation which may arise, otherwise than by virtue of section 17, under any of the provisions of this Act.
(b) Where the holding is subject to a tenancy under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, the fair market price shall be calculated on the assumption that the holding is available for occupation with possession and in any such case the fair market price shall be apportioned between the freeholder and the tenant according to the respective value of their interests.
(4) For the purposes of this section the annual borrowing cost for any year of any amount ("the market price") is the aggregate sum would fall to be paid in that year by way of payments of interest and repayments of capital if the market price had been borrowed on the date of entry on terms which
(a) required interest to be paid and capital to be repaid by way of the relevant number of equal annual instalments ; and
(b) provided for interest on outstanding capital to become due immediately before the time for the payment of each instalment, at an annual rate equal, as at the date of payment, to the rate prescribed under section 35(8) of this Act ;
and in this subsection "the relevant number" means the number of years for which, when it was confirmed, the compulsory rights order was to have effect.
(5) Nothing in section 17 of this Act shall confer any entitlement to compensation in respect of the annual borrowing cost of any amount representing the value of any person's interest in coal.
(6) Where the period for which a compulsory rights order is to have effect
(a) is extended under this Act, section 178 of this Act and this section shall have effect in relation to the additional period as if the rights conferred for that period had been conferred by a new compulsory rights order ; or
(b) is terminated at an earlier date than the end of the period for which the order was made for any reason, the outstanding payments of the annual borrowing cost, being the outstanding repayments of capital and the payment of interest calculated in accordance with subsection (4)(b) of this section, shall become payable on the date of early termination.' .'.
Government amendments (c) to (m) in lieu of the Lords amendment. Lords amendments Nos. 38 to 48 and No. 50.
My right hon. and hon. Friends recognise the concerns that have arisen about such developments and their environmental impact. As the House will know, Ministers have been reviewing the planning guidance--mineral planning guidance note 3--and have conducted a wide-ranging public consultation exercise. This afternoon, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning announced his intention--in the light of the responses that he has received--of removing the reference to the national interest in MPG3.
Column 715I am sure that that announcement will be widely welcomed, and I consider it a useful clarification which will help to ensure that the guidance incorporated in what has up to now been MPG3 is seen to be fair by all parties. My colleagues will finalise the guidance as soon as possible.
Mr. Simon Hughes : I thank the Minister for alluding to answers given this afternoon. Presumably he means the answers given to two questions on the Order Paper. Can he--through his officials or his parliamentary private secretary--ensure that hon. Members can at least have sight of the answers, which must have been published by now and must be in the building somewhere, during the debate ? This is clearly an issue central to the discussion that will follow over the next hour or so.
Mr. Hardy : If the reference to the national interest is to be removed from MPG3, why do we have to maintain until the end of the decade the right compulsorily to acquire other people's land for the purposes of opencast mining ? Presumably that right was introduced in what the Minister regards as the national interest. If the Government have recognised that the national interest has changed and are removing reference to it from MPG3, why do we have to go ahead with the compulsory purchase of private land by private business ? It is completely hostile to the principles that are supposed to motivate Conservative Members.
Mr. Gunnell : I understand that there has been a press release this afternoon. It might be helpful if hon. Members could see the comments that have been made, as they may range a little wider than the answer to the parliamentary question.
Mr. Eggar : I shall do what I can to ensure that the text of the answer is available. It might be for the convenience of the House if I try to make arrangements for it to be placed in the Vote Office. I apologise for its non-availability. I understand the concern. Lords amendment No. 37 provides for compensation based on market values. We have accepted the principle that lies behind that amendment, but we have sought to table a practical and effective replacement for it.
Our replacement amendment makes it absolutely clear beyond any shadow of doubt that the assessment of market value must be based on the fact that the nation owns the coal. We believe that the amendment should not in any way transfer the value of the coal to the landowner either directly or indirectly. Our view on that is absolutely clear. That is why we have some reservations about the amendment to our amendment (b) in lieu, tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). The effect of the omission of subsection (5)(b) of our amendment is to transfer a considerable amount of the value of the coal to the landowner. We have always made it clear in
Column 716discussions on this issue that the coal belongs to the nation and not the landowner. Although we have always been open to discussions about a fair market value for the surface land, we have not been willing to discuss, as part of the Bill, the transfer of the value of the coal to the landowners.
Other differences between the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Waterside and for Harborough relate to the way in which the annual payments are calculated. We have gone for a fixed rate of interest rather than a variable rate. We think that that is more straightforward. Given that the average length of time involved in such activities is about six or seven years, that is not an unreasonable approach. Sometimes landowners will gain, and sometimes they will lose, as the variable rate rises and falls.
Another minor difference is that we have used the words "due allowance". The amendment tabled by my hon. Friends uses the words, "regard shall be had". Our calculation is much more precise. It might be helpful if I put on record a number of important aspects. It is important to know that compensation will not be paid in respect of any interest in the coal simply because, as I have said, the landowner does not own it. It is firmly established that the coal in the ground, just like petroleum and some other special minerals, belongs not to the landowner but to the nation. That must be material to the determination of the market value of rights to occupy land for the purposes of coal extraction.
Equally, no compensation will be payable for any opportunity to win work or get coal arising as a result of interest in or ownership of the land. That is a straightforward consequence of the fact that the landowners do not own the coal. To do otherwise would devalue the ownership of the coal and could transfer a significant part of its value to the landowner. That part of our amendment is consistent with the principles established by the important decision of BP v. Ryder in 1988. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) referred to that in a previous debate.
There has been some discussion about whether the move towards a market value approach for compensation is likely to be more beneficial to the landowner. The annual payments under the existing code take account only of the existing use of the land, whereas the market value determined on the principles of the amendment would be capable of taking into account any alternative use of the land other than coal extraction, in so far as the alternatives might reasonably be thought to affect the market price of the rights to use the land. The result of the move towards the market price is that we have lost some certainty. In reality, the compensation that is determined in individual cases may be better than under the old system, or it could be the same or may even be worse. That will now be a matter for the market valuation of those rights as determined in the light of the principles that I have outlined.
It is clear that the Government do not accept the amendments passed in the other place that relate to compulsory rights orders. Contrary to the view held by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), we believe that compulsory rights orders are properly controlled in that they are subject to the agreement of the Coal Authority. As an individual operator, one cannot insist on a CRO without
Column 717the agreement of the Secretary of State. That must be the right way forward. The CROs come to the end of their period automatically in five years. In the meantime we have agreed to undertake a joint valuation, together with other minerals, to consider the way forward.
The short answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Wentworth is that, if we do not have CROs in place, the existing right of the state to own the coal could be negated by a landowner who refused all reasonable offers to exploit his coal. I say "all reasonable offers" because of the severe restrictions on the CROs.
Mr. Clapham : The Minister talked about CROs running for the next five years. As he knows, the capacity of the deep mines is such that they can easily fulfil their contracts with the two generators. So why is there a need to maintain a capacity of 17 million tonnes of opencast mining when we should be looking to decrease that capacity to no more than 5 million tonnes ? Surely, if we did that, there would be no need for CROs.
Mr. Eggar : Future projections of the level of opencasting are critically affected by the need to acquire planning permission, which has always been the effective regulator of opencasting. I am not caricaturing the debate in which the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) and others have been involved, but they see the planning procedure as the regulator of the amount of opencast mining. [ Interruption. ] Some activity on the Opposition Benches suggests that the answer to the question has been circulated.
Mr. Eric Clarke : The Minister says that it is for the planning authority to give guidance and, in effect, be the policeman of planning applications, but the planning authorities refuse many applications, only for them to be granted on appeal by the Secretary of State, particularly the Secretary of State for Scotland. It seems that applicants are given a nod and wink and told, "If you don't get it passed by the local authority, it will be passed by the Secretary of State." That is no way to run a country, and certainly no way to run the coal industry.
Mr. Eggar : I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the outcome of some appeals. I do not have the statistics at my fingertips, but a considerable number of appeals are turned down. Most hon. Members, if not all, accept that we must have an appeal mechanism. They like the system when an appeal favours their constituents, but dislike it if the decision goes the other way. The important thing is the change in MPG3--an area that the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South, as a fair man, will recognise that we have addressed in the national interest.
I hope that I have described the reasoning behind the Government's amendments, why the amendment tabled by my hon. Friends does not meet with our agreement and why we do not feel able to agree with the Lords amendment on CROs.
Mr. O'Neill : We thought that amendment No. 37 would enhance the Bill as it would go some way towards allowing deep mines to compete fairly with opencast by ensuring that opencast operators paid full compensation when obtaining compulsory rights orders to extract coal against a landowner's wish.
The criteria on which compensation should be based were not those adumbrated by the Minister, that somehow
Column 718landowners have a claim of right to ownership of the coal--that is vested in the nation, which we accept--but, first, where a loss to business carried out on the land would arise ; secondly, where other values resulting from undisturbed ownership of the land such as amenity and sporting use would be endangered ; and, thirdly, that account should be taken of disturbance caused by opencast mining, including dust, noise and general disruption. As drafted, amendment No. 37 covered those factors by referring to the market price paid by operators for access to similar sites and the price paid by operators to obtain access to land on the same site owned by other landowners. Without such compensation, there is less incentive to reach an amicable settlement with landowners, and opencast coal production is given artificial assistance in production which is denied to other mineral extraction processes, including deep coal mining.
You will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is a fair degree of cynicism surrounding the planning mechanism. We all know how, times without number, opencast developers have made applications in the certain knowledge that if they do not win with the local authority they will certainly win with the Minister, and that even if the application goes to a public inquiry the Minister will find in favour of opencasting. In some respects, it must be said that the national interest provision of MPG3 was largely meaningless and perhaps not the best way of proceeding.
The Government say that somehow Lords amendment No. 37, which commended itself to Cross Benchers, the Opposition and the serried ranks of landowners, is unworkable and that therefore the Government amendments are necessary. They say that compensation should not be available for general disturbance. Many of my constituents have had to put up with opencast mining and have considerable experience of the disturbance caused by dust, noise and general disruption. Such disturbance often arises from the carte blanche that is offered by ministerial diktat to insist that opencast mining goes on and that no provision is made for the legitimate concerns that local authorities would seek to reflect in a qualified acceptance of a planning application. A local authority may choose not to reject an application out of hand but to impose controls that we would regard as a reasonable defence of people's rights, yet we are told that such controls are not necessary as they cover matters of a different character. We do not accept that that recognises the ownership of the coal by landowners. We recognise that in some instances compulsory rights orders will be necessary.
Under amendment No. 38, we recognise that they might be necessary for large operations and for markets that cannot be satisfied from another source. Coal mines adjacent to electricity power stations produce coal that needs some form of sweetening which can come only from other sources. More of our deep mines are being closed, for whatever reason, thereby denying access to reserves of coal with the sweetening potential. On occasions, it will be necessary to have certain opencast development. We do not rule out opencasting completely, but it must be subject to the most stringent conditions possible. That is the thrust of amendment No. 38. A landowner who has refused a reasonable offer for access to coal should have the chance
Column 719[Mr. O'Neill]
to protest, but we would not wish opencast to have an advantage over deep mining where all other things were equal.
The two amendments address several concerns that have been expressed throughout the passage of the Bill. There have been repeated references to and discussion of opencast, the problems that it creates and the difficulties that we have encountered with it in our own areas. Indeed, those concerns found a ready echo in the dying moments of Report stage, just before Third Reading, when Conservative Members almost rebelled. They went as close as they could to the brink, but then they fell back on their own side, into the arms of the Government. They had tabled the amendments, but we had to move them because they chickened out at the last moment. It would appear that this evening, at or even beyond the last hour--the amendment is starred and might not have been selected--another attempt is being made. Yet so far as I can see, one of the Conservative Members whose name is attached to the amendment is not even in the Chamber. I am sure that he realises that we have reached the appropriate stage in the handling of the Bill and that he ought to be in his place, but he still has not arrived.
We regret the Government's approach. We think that the House of Lords achieved a substantial improvement to the Bill which would have afforded a degree of protection far greater than the sop offered today by the Secretary of State for the Environment. We believe that opencasting will be a continuing and accelerating problem in the months and years ahead, especially with a regulatory authority as weak as the Coal Authority to look after this country's coal reserves.
For that reason, we oppose the Government's intention to disregard the Lords amendments and we give notice that at the appropriate time we shall go into the Lobby to resist it.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : The rudeness of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) about my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) does him no credit, especially as my hon. Friend may well support much of what the hon. Gentleman has said. That is not the hon. Gentleman's best point. I should explain to him that my hon. Friend has been chairing two Committee sittings this afternoon. He has been to the Door of the House, but owing to other commitments he has been unable to be here, so I am afraid that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and other hon. Members will have to listen to me instead for a moment or two.
Mr. O'Neill : No gratuitous offence was intended, but it is up to the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) to establish his own sense of priorities. On an issue of such significance, and at this stage in the passage of the Bill, I should have thought that his priorities would lie here rather than elsewhere.
Mr. Garnier : I shall not detain the House further by having a spat with the hon. Gentleman across the Floor of the House. I want to advance some arguments rather than to have a row, because those may produce some answers from my hon. Friend the Minister of State, a man whose integrity and intellect I respect and admire.
I shall deal briefly with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside and myself to the Government amendment. It suggests a
Column 720different form for new clause 15A. My first argument is about our proposed new subsection (3)(b) which, as hon. Members will see, would constitute an addition to the Government amendment. I shall not read it out, because it is on the amendment paper, but I shall explain why my hon. Friend and I--and, I dare say, others--find it of importance. We note that the Government have still not addressed the concern for landlords where the holding is let. At present the compensation is due to the person who occupies the surface for farming--that is to say, the tenant --yet the compensation covers greater losses and interests in the land. A reference should be made to ensure that the market value is assessed on the basis of vacant possession, to recognise all interests and to apportion between the landlord and the tenant in relation to their interests. As I have opened my remarks in that way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it will not surprise you to hear that I am a co-opted member of the Rutland and Leicestershire committee of the Country Landowners Association, and sit on its parliamentary and legal sub-committee in London.
My second point relates to the proposed new subsection (4)(b), which deals with interest. Our complaint here--or at least, our concern--is that for compulsory rights orders covering seven years or more, the imposition of a fixed rate of interest from the outset could work unfairly. I acknowledge that my hon. Friend the Minister dealt with that problem to some extent, but when the market value is to be repaid in instalments over several years the payments should reflect the arrangements that the owner may have made following the making of the order. We suggest that interest should be paid at the rate prevailing at the time of each instalment.
My next point relates to our proposed new subsection (6). Again, I shall not read it out as it is on the amendment paper, but one can see that it is an enlarged version of the corresponding part of the Government amendment. Our complaint is that provision should be made for all outstanding sums to be paid if the order is ended early for any reason. In the open market the parties would accept such provision in their freely negotiated agreement, but that does not happen under the compulsory rights orders arrangements in the Bill. We suggest that the arrangements should be incorporated into the Bill to ensure that the person against whom the order is made is paid the full market value of the rights.
I now come to what may be the most contentious aspect of our proposals--our rewriting of the proposed new subsection (5). Our amendment sought to remove the Government's proposed new subsection (5)(b), which refers to
"any amount representing the value of any opportunity arising by virtue of an interest or right in or in relation to any land to obtain or make use of any rights to win, work or get any coal." That flows from the preamble in subsection (5) :
"Nothing in section 17 of this Act or this section shall confer any entitlement to compensation in respect of the annual borrowing cost".
I have a preliminary point to make about that : the English in proposed new subsection (5)(b) is impenetrable. I have been at the Bar since 1976, and a Member of the House for a little more than two years, and I suggest that the time has come for Parliament to pass legislation capable of being understood at a glance. It should not require the assistance of hot towels and hot drinks to disentangle the English. That piece of English is appalling, and the Minister would do well to ask for it to be clarified.
Column 721By way of background, I refer the House to what the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, Lord Strathclyde, said on Report in another place when dealing with the various sorts of compensation orders and the Government's attitude to compensation : "One other obvious category of potentially reasonable request from the landowner would be for better compensation for disturbance. There may be some kind of disturbance which would be caused by the proposed workings and which is particular to the case. A request for extra compensation in such circumstances might well be reasonable. In fact, I believe that it would be eminently reasonable."
Here I interpose to say that I wholeheartedly agree. The noble Lord continued :
"A further factor I would mention is the possibility of alternative uses for the land. If the landowner has a good case that, but for the opencast development, he would be able to go ahead with a different kind of development he would naturally seek greater compensation. I believe that this is sometimes called hope' value. I do not think that it would necessarily be unreasonable for the landowner to seek compensation enhanced by the hope' value of the land, although of course everything will turn on how realistic those hopes may be. But all these matters would have to be considered in the particular circumstances, and what I have said must be taken to be just an indication of what may be relevant matters."--[ Official Report , House of Lords , 13 June 1994 ; Vol. 555, c. 1569- 70.] Unless I am being deeply obtuse, it appears that the Government's attitude to that aspect of the Bill has changed somewhat since it left the other place.
There is no dispute between the Government and myself over proposed new subsection (5)(a) ; the exclusion of the coal is understood. However, the assessment of the proper market value must take account of the purpose for which the order is made, and the physical effects of the exercise of all the rights, including the operations undertaken on the land. In other words, the assessment of value must take full account of the matters set out in sections 5(4) and 5(5) of the Opencast Coal Act 1958.
I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) is here. The factors set out in our proposed subsection (4)(b) would be taken into account by operators seeking access by negotiation, as they are supposed to do in the free and open market. To exclude such provisions will again disadvantage those who are subject to an order for the use of their land. We suggest that in an ideal world the Government's proposed subsection (5)(b) should be deleted.
Lords amendment No. 38 is most important. Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government have said that compulsory rights orders would be available only in the last resort and that an operator would have to show that an owner of an interest in the land had been unreasonable in refusing to negotiate the terms he had sought. There has been no requirement on an operator for him to show that there is a need for the coal under the land. The wish to work the coal appears to be enough.
The basis for compulsory rights orders is partly set out in the Coal Authority explanatory note. Amendment No. 38 seeks to impose strict conditions on the power to grant a compulsory rights order. Most important is the need to show that the relevant coal is needed to fill a market that cannot be met from elsewhere. If there is no need for a deposit of coal to be worked other than to profit the coal mining company, it cannot be right for any person to have
Column 722his interest in the occupation of the surface confiscated from him. If there is no need for the coal and access cannot be negotiated, the company should look elsewhere.
If the Government cannot accept the amendment, surely it would be right to firm up the policy set out on page 29 of the explanatory note to make it clear that the powers are of last resort and that there is a duty on the operator to show that it would be reasonably necessary for the coal to be worked. It should be made clear that the owner can take all such steps as would normally be taken to obtain security in the performance of the obligations under the CRO. Those are important issues which have not been set out adequately or clearly by the Government during the passage of the Bill. For the future benefit of those affected or those involved in the coal mining industry, these matters should be spelt out in the Bill or in the explanatory note. As my parting shot, I invite the Minister to see whether he can apply his mind and those of his officials to the need to firm up the explanatory note to make matters clearer. It is not my job to embarrass the Government and I do not intend to force my difficulties or dissensions to the vote. However, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to bear in mind the landed interests of this country. They are the bedrock, in so many respects, of the Conservative party.
Mr. Redmond : When speaking on an earlier amendment, the Minister said that he had heard it all before, time and again. He could probably say the same about Lords amendments Nos. 37 and 38. However, if he had taken heed of what was said earlier, there would not have been so many Lords amendments. The tragedy is that the Government have refused to listen to Opposition Members when they have sought to give guidance and to protect the national interest.
This debate concerns landowners, but does that include people with gardens adjacent to roads that will be blighted as a result of heavy lorries moving along them if planning permission is given ? The Minister said that coal belonged to the nation. That is rich coming from a Government who have sterilised millions of tonnes of coal underground and who appear to be going for opencast, which is environmentally unacceptable. In my constituency, there is a piece of land that may be used for opencast. It is owned by British Coal and rented out to farmers. I would never want that piece of land to be used for opencast, irrespective of any amount of compensation given. The area has been blighted for many years as a result of coal mining activities. I hope that the Minister will take note of that point in relation to the amendments.
We asked earlier about the importation of coal. If we cut coal imports as well as the amount of opencast, there would be less need to talk about compensation as we could go back to extracting coal from the deep mines to which we are geared and for which we have the skills.
What is the interest of the general public ? We talk about compensation for landowners, but we do not talk about compensation for the general public who will suffer as a result of the noise and pollution caused by heavy lorries. Will local authorities be compensated as they have to maintain the roads ? The side roads and country lanes were not built for heavy vehicles, so they will obviously fall into disrepair. Landowners move from A to B along country lanes, so it is perfectly proper for the Government to consider the depreciation in the standard of roads when opencast takes place.
Column 723I thank the Minister for making available to hon. Members the answers to two questions given by one of his ministerial colleagues. I hope that the Minister can clarify the following point. A local authority may have said in its long-term development plan that no opencast extraction will be allowed. Does the answer imply that if the local authority's long-term plan does not include opencast, opencast will be debarred for ever and a day ? I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify that point. The answer also refers to proper protection for the environment. Does that mean protection for the public who live adjacent to opencast mining sites ?
Mr. Simon Hughes : I rise to speak in support of Lords amendments Nos. 37 and 38. The Minister for Local Government and Planning made an announcement, which the Minister for Energy brought to the House. That announcement will be welcomed. I am grateful to the Minister's parliamentary private secretary for circulating copies of the answers displayed upstairs and in the Library at 3.30 pm. We do not yet have the new guidelines but today we have a trailer which deals with the one issue that was extremely controversial. It came up often in debates in which widespread opposition was voiced.
I know that there is also widespread opposition in the country. I have realised, when I have been in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, that the biggest single point that the local community groups campaigning against opencast have always argued is that their local applications should not be decided on a notional definition of the national interest. That point has come out in the advance notice of the guidelines, which we shall get in July. I welcome that. A nuance in the announcement suggests that the Government did not think that that point altered the basis of planning decisions. I must say, looking at the guidelines as they were before, understanding the way in which inspectors work and seeing the way in which decisions were arrived at, that it was always possible for somebody to say that a national interest was involved, and that it did not matter how environmentally destructive opencast mining was, how good the quality of the agricultural land was or how much it would impact on the villagers. It is like the argument for nuclear power stations. I welcome those guidelines going.
The case for amendments Nos. 37 and 38 has been put simply and I want to reinforce it with two statements of principle and then specifically address the reason why I hope that the Minister will, on reflection, accept the amendments. I realise that he comes here with his brief written by his civil servants, that the President of the Board of Trade has told him to stand by the brief and that his discretion may be limited at this stage. However, I hope that he is a Minister of sufficient longevity in the Department of Trade and Industry--indeed, this may be his last opportunity- -to show that he has the authority to throw away the brief and to say, "I have decided that the amendment carried with all-party support in the Lords, and moved from the Cross Benches, is an amendment to support." I challenge the Minister to stand up to the President of the Board of Trade and the civil service and to back the all-party coalition in the other place behind the amendment.
Column 724Clearly, the amendment was a good thing. We should remember that somebody could have said, no matter what the owner of the land wanted to do, "We shall override you and insist on the land being used for opencasting." Amendment No. 38 says :
"A compulsory rights order shall not be made or confirmed unless it is shown that it has not proved practicable to obtain the right by private arrangement because the owner has acted unreasonably and that"
-- there is a second condition
"the coal in the relevant land is required to supply a market which cannot adequately be met from other sources which are currently being worked or capable of being worked where a coal-mining company has secured all the relevant planning consents and has required the necessary interests in land, and"
-- a third condition
"the amount of marketable coal to be extracted as a result of the rights order being made exceeds 250,000 tonnes".
There are also alternatives to that. The Government, as has been said from the Opposition Front Bench by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), in the place of Lord Strathclyde in the other place, effectively said that the position as outlined in the amendment was perfectly reasonable and that they were willing to undertake it. This is another example of Opposition Members trying to hold the position attained by the Lords, which has said that it is not happy with the undertaking, that it wants something written into the Bill, and that it wants it to be clear-- hon. Members are saying amen to that.
Those of us who want to see amendment No. 38 retained believe that it is wrong for legislation to permit land to be compulsorily acquired. I heard what the Minister said and I accept, understand and appreciate that we are talking about the land and not about the mineral rights. Ever since my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and I came to the House, in 1983-- during that time we have both done our spokesmenship jobs on these issues-- we have made it absolutely clear that we believe in coal remaining a Crown asset and a national asset and in it not being sold off. So there is no dissent between the Government Front-Bench spokesmen and us on that point. However, we argue that there should be other conditions. First, one must ensure that, if there has been a reasonable reaction by the owner of the land, if he says that it is needed for agriculture, that there is a long- term agricultural programme or that it is high-grade agricultural land, or if it includes on its edge a site of special scientific interest or is part of an area of outstanding natural beauty, that should be taken into account.
Secondly, and most importantly--this is where we reach the national test from the other side--a compulsory rights order cannot be permitted when the argument is made that the land is not needed for opencasting because the market can be met from other sources. The argument that has been made over and again from this side of the House and that was made in the previous debate from the Tory Benches
Mr. Eggar : Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that that precise wording "met from other sources" could mean from imports ? Therefore, since all grades of coal can be imported, the effect of the amendment which he is supporting would be that compulsory rights orders could never, in practice, be implemented.
Column 725noble Friend in the other place said that he gave an undertaking that that was, indeed, the attitude that the Government would adopt, he clearly believed that that was a valid position to take. The debate in Nottinghamshire, in south Yorkshire, south of Leeds or in west Glamorgan, or in other places, about opencast mining would be relevant if the question was whether they would prefer the land to be ripped up or the coal to be imported. If that is the debate, let us have it.
Of course, it has to be a market which cannot be met adequately from other sources. For example, the best anthracite coal is from the Betws colliery in south-west Wales. Therefore, it could not be met adequately from other sources because the best source of that quality of coal is underground coal from an underground pit. If the planning inspector or the adjudicator were asked to rule
Mr. Eggar indicated dissent .
Mr. Hughes : The Minister shakes his head, but that is exactly the case. One could have an evaluation of whether it was possible that the coal could be provided from elsewhere. The argument, put simply, is that it is often in the interests of the exploiter--the company--to go in and take opencast coal. However, first, there are plenty of pits underground which we ought to be using before that ; secondly, opencast produces little work and little employment ; and, thirdly, it results in such environmental destruction that often, for decades if not for ever, that countryside cannot be returned to its original quality and state.
The argument about whether we have deep-mined coal, imported coal or opencast coal involves the way in which we protect acres and entire sectors of the country from being at risk, as they still are, from opencasting. We know, because British Coal has made no secret about it, that it has designs on huge amounts of remaining open land in certain areas of the country. The plans are there, many of us have seen them and we know how many parts of our country are under threat. We believe that, to protect what was accepted in the House on both sides--I repeat on both sides--and by many Conservative Members, which was pushed almost to the point of rebellion, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan said, in the hope that it would be won in the Lords, we must accept the amendment. One of the most destructive forms of environmental degradation, endorsed by the Select Committees, is opencast mining. We either have to say that we believe in a mining industry and in supporting it and use the existing mining resources or we say that we are not worried about environmental destruction and, therefore, it may all be opencast in future.
The Government have gone far enough down the road of closing the pits and of not making use of the best assets that exist underground. Some of us want the Government to be firm and to say that they are prepared further to countenance that, as an alternative, the country be left open to rape, ravage and violation--often, it cannot be put right--in the interests of cheap coal. I urge the Minister to use his authority, to stand up for the environment and to ensure, at last, that we support what was agreed on both sides of the House in the other place a couple of weeks ago.
Column 726member of the Country Landowners Association, that, to the best of my knowledge, none of the land in which I have an interest is coal-bearing.
Obviously, I support the principle of privatisation, but if anyone is in any doubt at all about the sheer devastation of the countryside that opencast mining can cause, he should look at the speech made in the other place by Viscount Ridley, who spelled the position out very clearly. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) also touched on that point.
As for coal supply, when there is an emergency such as a war, it is obvious that we must have an Act like the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act 1918, and that of 1920. Unfortunately, those measures were incorporated into the Opencast Coal Act 1958. As the Minister has said, compulsory powers have rarely been used by either the Coal Board or British Coal. I am therefore extremely surprised to see them being made available to the private sector. While huge devastation to the countryside might be acceptable at a time of national crisis or when there is a critical coal shortage, it is certainly not acceptable when there is a world surplus in coal. Furthermore, the production of coal does not need special compulsory powers any more than the production of any other mineral. The Minister in another place talked about the last resort and negotiations. When negotiations are taking place between a private operator and a landlord or a farmer, how can those negotiations be free and fair when, as Viscount Ridley pointed out, there is the sword of Damocles--the compulsory rights order--hanging over the landlord ? Can the Minister comment on that ?
I am concerned about the five-year period for the operation of the compulsory rights order. Surely, when a time scale is put on such an operation, there is frenetic activity during the last few months or weeks of the operation. The danger is that some of the larger private mining operators, such as Budge and Hanson, will want to ensure that they get the areas of potential opencast mining sorted out. There may well be intense negotiations, which would not be free and fair. We are talking about a fundamental principle. Whereas it might make sense for compulsory powers to be vested in the state vis-a-vis a private operator, surely it does not make sense that those compulsory powers be carried over to a private operator. An important principle is at stake. The Lords amendments recognised--reluctantly--that compulsory rights orders could continue, but they wanted to tilt the balance more in favour of landowners. That is why I am sympathetic to them, and that is why I would like the Minister to answer those specific points.