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Mr. Rogers: It is all very well to talk about the NCIS tasking the Security Service, but the problem is that the NCIS itself does not have a properly structured relationship with operational police forces. It is an intelligence-gathering agency. We have expressed strong reservations about the Bill, and I have spoken about putting the cart before the horse, because until the operational aspects of the police in respect of organised crime are sorted out, the resources of the Security Service are likely to be dissipated.

Mr. Maclean: I cannot agree. The provisions of the Bill form a discrete area of law. We are not extending the powers of the Security Service; we are permitting it to operate in a slightly different field. It is possible to do so without defining in the Bill all the details to do with the NCIS, its evolving relationship with the police, and the development of a national crime squad. We intend to deal with such matters next year if we possibly can, but the sim ple measures that we are debating tonight do not depend on them.

I look forward to a constructive Standing Committee in which we can explore the legal consequences of using alternative wordings such as "serious" or "organised", or "organised and/or serious" and so on. Having considered those, there are potentially serious legal consequences--I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rhondda for raising them--if the guilty go free because they have exploited a technicality as we in Parliament have not used the correct word. We intend carefully to explore those matters. If we can find a word that allows the House to feel that it has all the control over the Security Service that it needs and that, at the same time, does not allow unscrupulous lawyers to undermine cases, the Government will be perfectly satisfied.

We believe that the phraseology that we have at present satisfies that need. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said earlier, we believe that the term

achieves the aims on which we are all agreed. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is shaking his head. We do not want to inhibit the service's operational

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effectiveness. There is a danger that we could create a position where the service's activities would be open to endless legal challenge on the question of whether every individual action was demonstrably taken in support of a law enforcement agency, if that were in the Bill, but we shall explore that matter.

I was asked about evidence in court. Of course, the Security Service has been gearing up to give evidence in court and has been doing so. Since it has had some responsibility and has taken the lead in combating Irish terrorism on the mainland, it has worked closely and well with the police. It has learnt that, if it is to give evidence in court, it must have a police officer's skills and learn the rules of evidence. The service is conscious of the fact that, if it is to get into the court domain, much of the information that it may collect will have to satisfy the rules of the laws of evidence. It is also aware of that when it comes to giving evidence in court.

We expect that, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, the bulk of the service's work will be in using its exceptionally good analytical skills. We expect that much of it will be back-up work to the police, providing information having been tasked by the NCIS, but if Security Service officers are required to give evidence in court, they must have those skills.

A balance will have to be struck as to the secrecy that will have to be maintained, and the amount of openness that will be required in court. If the balance comes down on the side of secrecy, those officers may not be able to give evidence, which may mean that the case may not proceed, but that is no different from the position in some of the regional crime squads or in the ordinary police, where we have problems on disclosure. That is why we are taking action on disclosure.

The hon. Member for Blackburn asked about the national police squad and whether we should go for one squad or two. As the Home Secretary said, we are working through the implications of the new arrangements with the Association of Chief Police Officers. A range of possible operational models exists, but this sector will always involve co-ordination of different responsibilities. Even if we had one squad, some people would do the intelligence bit and some the operational bit. Even if there were two, there would have to be co-operation.

We do not rule out the possibility of one agency performing both intelligence-gathering and investigative functions, but no one organisation can tackle organised crime alone and I would not want to risk losing the particular strengths that the NCIS has developed in its present more specialised role. We are, however, carefully considering all those issues and I note the hon. Gentleman's marginal preference for one national squad.

The House should be in no doubt that organised crime is a menace that needs to be tackled. Organised criminal activity plays a substantial part in criminal life in this country. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said in opening the debate, the law enforcement agencies have enjoyed some notable successes in their efforts against crime. There is no room for complacency. We now need to move forward and to do more.

The Security Service has particular skills and expertise. Years of having to deal with terrorist groups has given it considerable expertise in infiltrating hostile groups and in gathering and analysing intelligence. Those are precisely the skills that can be useful in attempting to foil organised

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criminal groups. It would be wrong to deny ourselves the opportunity to put such skills at the disposal of the law enforcement agencies so that they may be used in the prevention and detection of serious crime.

The Bill will be widely welcomed outside the House. It has been warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, with a few exceptions. I believe that the British people will be pleased to learn that we are bringing in extra skilled players to support the law enforcement agencies in their work against crime. The only people who will not welcome the Bill are the criminals who will see that the Bill, together with the package of measures against organised crime to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary referred, is an indication of the Government's firm determination to maintain the attack against organised crime. The Bill is an excellent plank in our strategy against organised crime and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).


Queen's recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 50A(1)(a),

[Mr. Maclean.]

Question agreed to.

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Delegated Legislation

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Employment and Training

    That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Board) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 30th November, be approved.--[Mr. Streeter.]

Question agreed to.



That Three be the Quorum of the Committee:
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records:
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place.--[Mr. Streeter.]

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Streeter.]

10 pm

Mr. Chris Davies (Littleborough and Saddleworth): I am grateful to Madam Speaker for granting me the debate.

I should be grateful if the Minister would consider the issue I am about to put to him. A quarry, which had been worked for 120 years, devastating the landscape and creating a massive and ugly scar on the hillside, finally closed in 1980. For the residents of Newhey, an urban village of more than 1,000 homes on the edge of Rochdale, its closure can hardly have come a moment too soon.

Over the past 15 years that quarry has gradually been taken over by vegetation and many new residents have moved into the village, never thinking for a moment that the disused quarry was ever likely to reopen. They certainly never dreamt that it would be turned into a super-quarry, to be excavated far below the level of water table, not simply scarring the hillside but taking it away entirely. It is not surprising that over that period they had few fears. After the quarry closed, the land that it occupied was included within Rochdale council's green belt. It was so important and so protected that just 19 months ago, when the Secretary of State for the Environment considered the report of his inspector into an application to build an hotel on the quarry site, he refused planning permission.

It is worth noting some of the comments made by the inspector. He said that as the quarry had remained closed throughout the 1980s, a period, he said, of high demand, on the balance of probability it was unlikely to resume operations. He said that the arguments put forward by the applicants were not sufficient to overcome the general presumption against inappropriate development in the green belt. He recommended that if the Secretary of State was mindful to approve the application, he should impose conditions to ensure that consents relating to mineral extraction on the site should not be implemented.

Any reasonable person could be forgiven for thinking that this was a prime example of an ex-quarry--one which would never be worked again.

Why is it that the residents of Newhey are now facing the real prospect that the quarry is not only to be reopened but to be massively extended? What the residents here and in many other locations did not appreciate was that by trying to tidy up the problem of old mining permissions, the Government blundered into Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory, switched on the electricity and woke up the monster.

An interim development order was granted for Newhey quarry in 1947, at a time when wartime priorities for development took rather more precedence over the planning considerations we have today. Planning permissions were granted which would not be granted under more recent legislation. In 1991 the Government announced that the holders of such permissions had to apply for re-registration by March 1992 or the permission would cease to have effect. That woke up a lot of people. The result of that announcement was to transform what

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in some cases was land assumed to have relatively little commercial value--the quarries had closed, had never been worked or the IDO records were not clear and contained potential conflicts--into land which came attached to a legal piece of paper which proclaimed it as potentially worth a great deal of money.

In addition, the Department announced that once an application had been approved, owners would have just 12 months to make further applications to determine the operating and restoration conditions. The developers were first given a good shaking then, instead of the land being kept as an asset value and perhaps used as collateral or as a trading commodity, new quarrying schemes began to appear on the drawing board and take on a life of their own.

I understand from the Wildlife Trust that planning permissions granted under IDOs have been claimed at 652 sites in England and Wales, many of which have never been developed to any extent and quite a few of which are in countryside of importance to nature conservation. The list includes 87 sites in areas of outstanding natural beauty and many others that incorporate land designated as sites of special scientific interest.

The Government have provided no special protection. On the contrary, in dealing with the oldest of mining permissions they said:

The fact that over a period of 50 years local conditions, as well as public attitudes, may have changed, has made not a jot of difference.

I understand that many local authorities were not even aware of the existence of many of the permissions, so old are they, and so have not made any reference to them in their development plans. Suddenly, a new housing estate or an area designated for protection as green belt finds that a new quarry may appear in its midst. In effect, that is what has happened in Newhey. The site owners applied to re-register the IDO permission. Despite the opposition of all parties on Rochdale council, their claims were upheld and approved by the Secretary of State. That is not surprising, given the provisos built into the requirements.

Certainly, the land owners have rights. Given the comments of the planning inspector that I cited earlier, a few years ago the owners may not have realised that they held such a financial asset--but they certainly do now. In his attempt to clean up old procedures, I fear that the Secretary of State has made the owners' rights very clear indeed. What rights do the local residents have? Above all, what rights of objection do they possess? The answer is that they have hardly any rights worth having. Their community has no real protection against a development to which it is strongly and almost unanimously opposed.

No doubt the Secretary of State would argue that by tidying up the old permissions he has ensured that the quarry can be worked only after it has secured planning permission from the local authority, which will impose a requirement of modern operating conditions. However, a quarry such as this in a location such as this would not have been granted planning permission in the first place if the application were fresh and original. The local authority would have had the strongest objections to it and I have no doubt that a succession of guidance papers

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produced by the DOE over the years would have given strength to its arm and ample support for the objections of residents.

In practice, the local authority does not have the right to take the commonsense approach that would gain the approval of most residents--that is, simply to refuse planning permission. It can impose conditions on the working of the quarry, but only provided that they do not fundamentally affect the economic viability of the operation. It must take a reasonable approach. What is reasonable? Is it reasonable for work to start at 6.30 am? It may be in some locations, but the location that I am discussing is in the heart of Newhey. I well know that many residents find it entirely unreasonable.

The requirement imposed upon it put the local authority in a cleft stick. It wants to impose planning conditions that will genuinely protect the interests of local residents--but if it goes too far, it risks throwing the baby out with the bath water, of the applicants appealing and of no effective restrictions on quarry operations surviving. In effect, the planning authority has been stripped of all real powers. Mineral planning authorities have powers to change out-of-date permissions, but as they can do so only by paying substantial compensation to operators, it is not a feasible option.

The Minister may know that back in 1976 the Stevens committee pointed out that the mineral extraction industry had special characteristics and it recommended that it should have to accept any reasonable additional costs arising from the modernisation of old mineral permissions. In other words, a permission granted in the 1940s should not necessarily be considered a licence for everlasting life.

It is a shame that the Government did not take on board more of those points when they started the process of reviewing the interim development orders four years ago. Consideration should perhaps have been given to revoking some of the IDO permissions put before them. One must remember that the natural environment when the IDO permissions were granted was given much less priority than it is today. With advanced technology, the scale of operations now envisaged in many of the quarries may be vastly greater than was ever originally predicted.

In cases such as Newhey, a quarry which was in operation for 30 years after the IDO permission was granted and for almost 100 years before that, surely no one could argue that the original owners had not recouped their investment many times over.

As time moves on, it is surely reasonable to suggest that the interests of local communities should be given priority. As part of the process of modernising permissions, the Government should issue guidance to local authorities indicating the circumstances in which environmental and other considerations may be allowed to override the interests of a quarry operator.

The local authority should also have clearly defined rights to impose upper limits on the rate of output from such quarrying sites, which, as I pointed out, may be vastly increased because of the developments in technology and transport over the past 50 years and the new ways in which stone can be moved from quarry sites across the country.

Strengthening of the regulatory powers of planning authorities may affect the economic basis of some quarry operations. So be it. The owners of land for which mineral

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working rights exist for 50 years must assume and expect that changes in the approach taken by Governments over the years will affect their operations and the value of their asset. That is the risk that they take.

Perhaps it will be argued that the imposition of new conditions may conflict with the property rights of quarry owners. That is no more effective an argument than to say, for example, that if Parliament imposed restrictions on sulphur dioxide pollution from power stations, it would take away the rights of National Power--or ICI in the case of a chemical plant--to profit excessively from operations which pollute the air.

The principle that what was acceptable in 1947 will still be acceptable almost a century later--that is how long these permissions go on--simply cannot be sustained. It is not reasonable that owners should be able to demand excessive compensation for the loss in value of sites that were only given real value in the first place in some cases by a stroke of a Secretary of State's pen just a year or two ago.

The Government have acted in recent years to modernise old permissions and I do not suggest that they set out with anything other than the best of intentions. But the method adopted ignored the question of whether permission for the re-working of those old sites should be given at all. No one now would be able to gain permission to open a quarry so close to a major residential community as that in Newhey. Equally, it should not be possible to gain permission to reopen a closed quarry that belongs to another time and another age. That may have serious effects upon a local community. I hope that the Minister will tell us what action the Government will take to strengthen the rights of local residents and planning authorities in such cases.

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