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Lords Chamber

Volume 416: debated on Thursday 22 January 1981

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House Of Lords

Thursday 22nd January 1981

The House met at three of the clock ( Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Derby):

The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Privatisation Of Nationalised Industries

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they envisage to encourage the return of public sector industries to the private sector.

My Lords, during 1980 Royal Assent was given to Bills enabling the Government to dispose of shares in British Aerospace, British Airways and the National Freight Company. Legislation is now before Parliament to enable the British Transport Docks Board, Cable and Wireless and major British Rail subsidiaries to be privatised. The Government have also announced that the forthcoming legislation on the future of the British National Oil Corporation will propose powers to enable the public to have a direct equity stake in BNOC's North Sea business. Currently plans for the return of British Aerospace to the private sector are well advanced. The timing of this sale and other disposals is dependent on a number of factors including market conditions, but the Government's intention is to press ahead at the earliest opportunity.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that very satisfactory Answer and for the assurance that he has given. Is he aware that Britain has the largest trading public sector in the free world, and that in the current year this public sector is borrowing £3·1 billion from the taxpayers of this country? Is it not, therefore, in our interests to reduce the size of the public sector and increase the size of the private sector which is carrying it? Also, can he assure the House that we have no intention of dropping any of the proposals for privatisation which were included in our manifesto and which he has re-announced this afternoon?

My Lords, I agree that this is a very large and disproportionate share, due to previous nationalisation policies. We have, as I said, made good ground, because in 1979–80 receipts totalled just under £1 billion as against a target of £1 billion. They were £997 million as against a target of £1,000 million. Given the deepening recession, I think that that was a good earnest of our intentions.

My Lords, despite the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, I hope the noble Earl will be able to assure the House that no precipitate steps will be taken to dispose of industries which might be disposed of too early, and therefore not at a proper value. Perhaps the noble Earl can give the House some indication of any steps the Government have in mind for disposing of the shares of British Airways which, if disposed of in the near future, would be sold at very much less than their true value?

My Lords, on the specific point of British Airways, the Statement of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in your Lordships' House on 13th October explained that, in view of the present difficulties in the international civil aviation market, it was clear that it would not be possible to launch a successful flotation in 1981. Privatisation, like nationalisation, must take place against a proper background of the right market conditions. But, on the noble Lord's general point, the vast majority of privatised shares in this arena go into the British capital markets; so I do not think that the national question is very widely affected.

My Lords, would my noble friend give some indication to the House about the compensation which was promised in the Conservative election manifesto to the shipbuilding companies, which were confiscated by the previous Government?

My Lords, I sympathise with the direction of my noble friend's question, but I would need notice of it. If he cares to put down a Question for Written Answer I will, of course, answer it.

My Lords, has not much of the so-called nationalisation of industry, which was referred to in the Question, been very largely due to the failure of private enterprise itself?

My Lords, I really think it is time that we perhaps broke away from the concepts of nationalisation on the one side, and private enterprise on the other. Our objection is that it is totally grotesque for such a large proportion of British activity—including very significant and satisfactory activity—to show up on the public borrowing requirements and obligations of central Government. That is not the way most of our successful competitor economies work. We see no reason why it should continue and its record has not been good.

My Lords, can my noble friend comment on the apparent anomaly that when demand is down in the private sector prices normally tend to reduce, whereas in the public sector—certainly, in the nationalised or monopoly public sector—prices almost invariably increase? Is this not some encouragement to him to continue with the private sector taking over these roles?

My Lords, with all his experience, my noble friend has put the matter much more succinctly than I did. The difficulty of having so large a proportion of one's activity, economically, in the public sector is that it is very unresponsive to fluctuating conditions and that has been a very great problem for successive Governments.

My Lords, from the Tory Party's point of view, is not this de-nationalisation an admirable way of distracting attention from the fact that the Government have dismembered and mutilated most of private industry?

Would the noble Earl not agree, in contrast to what was asserted by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, that Britain has by no means the largest public sector in Western European countries? I can think of two countries—Austria and Italy—whose public sectors are a considerably larger proportion of the total; and that may be true, also, of France. Secondly, would he not agree that the advantages or otherwise of having publicly-owned basic industries cannot be decided on such absolutely facile, or almost facetious, aspects as whether or not their investment is part of the public sector borrowing requirement?

My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, has ever suggested that the current high rates of interest, which we all regret, are in any way facetious. These current high rates of interest are largely due to the necessity of Governments going on to the money markets to borrow, not least because of some of their obligations in this field, thereby crowding out the capacity of private sector industries to borrow at more reasonable rates. It is this kind of imbalance that we wish to redress, not for any doctrinaire reason. I am certainly one who thinks that there should be close co-operation between central Government and the large industries of this country. But I see no reason why central Government should be, as it were, the principal banker of such industries.

My Lords, has not the noble Earl been a little disappointed by the Government's failure to reduce the number of private enterprises which have had to be rescued by public money? Is it not a little ungraceful that they should be still complaining about their lifebelts?

My Lords, the obligations or necessities on central Government to see many industries through this recession were dictated well before this Government came into office. I do not think there is anything novel about that. But while I am thoroughly in favour of people in difficulties, where possible, being nannied through a recession, once they are through that is all the more reason to privatise them once more.

My Lords, could I ask the noble Earl whether, when talking in sums of billions, he is using the English billion or the American billion? The American billion is only £1,000 million.

No, my Lords. I am afraid we have given in to the transatlantic custom. When we say £1 billion we mean £1,000 million.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that his statement that we ought to escape from the conception of the public sector on the one hand and the private sector on the other is the most intelligent statement that I have heard in this House for a long time? Is he further aware that the worst thing that could happen to this country would be to be too dogmatic about the future organisation of industry?

My Lords, a bouquet from the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, makes my day.

My Lords, what is to be the fate of the thousands of companies which have gone into liquidation within the last two years? Is there to be any rescue operation? Many of them employed a great deal of labour and were an important part of the economy of the country. Is not this a more profitable field of discussion than a purely ideological discussion of the kind we have had up to now on this question?

My Lords, I contest the noble and learned Lord's view that I have been conducting an ideological discussion. Quite apart from the relevance or irrelevance of my own ideology, I do not think that Question Time is the appropriate place for that. All of us very much regret that companies are forced into liquidation, either as a result of recession, or as a result of petro-currency, or as a result of the inevitably tight money squeezes which come upon all Governments after a long inflationary period.

Defence: Force Improvement Programme

3.12 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will repeat the assurance given on 15th July 1980 that the purchase of the Trident missile system will not prejudice major force improvements previously agreed.

My Lords, the Government remain determined to improve both conventional and nuclear forces.

My Lords, while recognising the extreme care which the noble Viscount's present and former colleagues in the Ministry of Defence exercised when announcing their recent cuts, is it not a fact that but for the Trident programme they could have had that £200 million saving, the RAF their communication aircraft, and the Hawk trainer? Although the noble Viscount's colleague, the Secretary of State, was extremely sophisticated in his presentation of the Statement earlier this week, he was much less than clear on two items upon which I should like clarifica- tion. The first of these is the Sea Eagle. Could the noble Viscount say what his colleague, the Secretary of State, meant when he said:

"I cannot say at present that Sea Eagle will necessarily continue for all time"?—[Official Report, Commons; 20/1/81; col. 157.]
No one imagines that the Sea Eagle would go on for all time. But does that Statement mean that this project will go on to the production phase? Secondly, when the Secretary of State said that large sums will be spent on various aircraft, including improvement of our Harrier, does this mean that the Mark 5 Harrier will be bought?

My Lords, let me first say to the noble Lord that as both my right honourable friend and I tried to explain on Tuesday, when making the Statement in both Houses, these so-called cuts are not cuts but a trim of what was going to be clearly more than planned expenditure. I do not think that is so particularly funny. If you find, as I said on Tuesday, that the prices of sophisticated weapons systems have escalated to a major degree and that you are keeping up your increase of expenditure in real terms, in terms of constant prices, then you are not cutting. What you are doing is ensuring that you do not overspend your plans by an amount which you cannot afford. That was the purport of my right honourable friend's Statement on Tuesday. But I do not want to dwell on Tuesday.

In relation to the £200 million trim of the budget which my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in November of last year, the degree to which Trident has any bearing on this is very small indeed. As the noble Lord knows probably better than I do, Trident comes on stream, following the decision, pretty slowly, and the build-up will be gradual. So the main reasons for the overspend and for the necessary trimming of the budget have nothing whatever to do with Trident. The reasons for the planned budget looking as though it was likely to be overspent were clearly stated on Tuesday, and I do not propose to repeat them today.

My right honourable friend's Statement, which I repeated on Tuesday, covered the Sea Eagle and I cannot add to the words used. The Sea Eagle, at present in the research and development phase, will continue. All aspects of the defence budget—this huge budget involving £5 billion per annum—have to be reviewed every year against their technical progress and against the latest estimates of cost. There is nothing new about that. More, therefore, cannot be said on Sea Eagle.

Turning to the Harrier, the excellent British development which the Americans have taken up, again the noble Lord knows better than I do that the choice between the American AF8B and the GR5 is still under review.

My Lords, what do the Government imagine will be the likely reaction of President Reagan if, as hinted in the Statement on Tuesday, under pressure of economic circumstances we fail to achieve all or some of the improvements mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, at the same time devoting £500 million annually to a project which adds nothing substantial to a general scheme for Western defence led by America, in the absence of which we shall obviously all be at the mercy of the Soviet Union?

My Lords, the estimated £4½ billion to £5 billion over the 15-year period of the capital costs of Trident approximates to 3 per cent. of our defence budget. That is approximately in line with the cost of Polaris during the capital cost period. The operating costs are also comparable. We see the Trident and the nuclear deterrent part of our defence programme as being part of a total programme which has been well explained on many occasions. If your potential enemies in the Alliance have a vast preponderance of conventional forces which are increasing, in my view the importance of the nuclear deterrent is self-evident.

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that we are not untouched by the day-to-day questions of defence? The noble Viscount mentioned the word "trim". Where this hurts most is in the day-to-day running of our defence forces. Because of the cutback, or the trim, or whatever the noble Viscount likes to call it, the petrol allowance for the Territorial Army, or ships being unable to go to sea, is worrying us more than any of these highfaluting questions of major equipment. Surely the noble Viscount must be aware that even a sausage-making machine needs to be used from time to time so that its operators can be trained.

My Lords, if the noble Lord will study the Statement issued by my right honourable friend yesterday, I think he will find that there is a balance of stress on the importance of the vital new weapon systems and of the men of the Army and the Territorial Army, which I also referred to yesterday.

My Lords, I suggest that, as we have been 18 minutes on two Questions, we might move on.

My Lords, I do not think that 18 minutes have been devoted to this particular Question, which is a very important one.

My Lords, I said that we had spent 18 minutes on two Questions. There are two more Questions to come and there is a lot of business to come afterwards. I think we should move on, if the House would agree.

My Lords, with respect, may I press this matter? There are many skilled people in this country engaged on projects who want to know what their future is, and I am inviting the noble Viscount to give some assurance that in two particulars—the Harrier development programme and the Sea Eagle—it will be a question of longer-term development. Can he give some assurance of that kind?

My Lords, I cannot go further in reply to the Question that the noble Lord has tabled today. If he wishes to table a particular Question in relation to those two particular and very important systems on another occasion, I will do my best to answer, within the limitations that I have already made clear to him.

British Rail Subsidiaries: Restrictions

3.22 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what further plans they have for removing restrictions on British Rail subsidiaries so as to allow them more freedom to operate commercially.

My Lords, the Transport Bill, which received its Second Reading in another place on 13th January, contains proposals that the Railways Board support, to remove four of British Rail's non-rail subsidiaries from the public sector—Sealink, hotels, hovercraft and non-operational. Although there are at present no firm plans to introduce private capital into the board's other subsidiaries, the Government believe that there may be a role for private investment here, especially in British Rail Engineering Limited, and this is an issue which we shall be considering with the board at a later stage.

My Lords, while welcoming these proposals to allow British Rail to raise cash by the sale of some of its non-rail subsidiaries, may I ask my noble friend what assurances he has that every effort will be made to ensure that the sum so raised will not be wasted upon such things as over-manning or excessive wage settlements, but that these sums so raised will be spent upon maintaining the maximum railway network efficiency possible and also, incidentally, maintaining the jobs that will go with that?

My Lords, the proceeds of disposals will go to the Railways Board as owners of the businesses. These will, however, form one element of a financing forecast which the board will submit to the Government. It is not possible to say at this stage what effect this will have on the board's external finance limit in future years, but I think the board's continuing effort towards increased productivity is itself the answer to my noble friend on the question of over-manning.

My Lords, although I appreciate that the whole question of the subsidiaries will be debated when we have the Transport Bill in this House, does the criticism about operating commercially apply to Sealink, which according to the last published report in 1979 had a surplus which was 13·5 per cent. on capital, and the Rail Property Board, which according to the last report of 1979 had an operating surplus of 79 per cent. on capital? Is this the reason for the transfer to privatisation (shocking word!) and would it not be advisable to leave the Property Board with British Rail so that they could take the advantage of income from appreciating land values?

My Lords, it is true that taken together these businesses have been profitable in recent years, but before we go into a full debate on it on this occasion I think we might leave it until the Transport Bill comes to this House. In so saying, I feel that we may have different figures from Sealink for the current year.

I think it is our turn! My Lords, while agreeing in principle with the sale of subsidiaries which will bring useful capital to the Government, may I ask whether the noble Earl is aware that the British Transport Hotels in particular have a very high standard of service to the public, in which tourism plays a great part? When the Government are negotiating the sale of such hotels, will he do something to ensure that the standards are maintained and the assets are not stripped?

My Lords, I am delighted with the intervention of my predecessor. I join with him in saying how good we think British Transport Hotels are. However, as he is well aware, they are in need of quite a lot of capital expenditure and perhaps this is the moment to think of getting rid of them.

My Lords, would the subsidiaries include the private operation of branch lines which are no longer used by British Rail?

My Lords, arising from what the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said, to whom I was very glad to defer, may I ask the noble Earl what is to be the future of the hotel at Gleneagles which, although it is owned by nationalised industry, is without doubt one of the best hotels—possibly the best—in the whole of the British Isles?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on part of his remarks. At the moment I do not know the ultimate conclusion because it has not been arrived at.

My Lords, can the noble Earl say that, while it is possible for the British Railways Board to sell capital assets to the private sector, it is also going to be possible for the British Railways Board to borrow capital from the private sector?

My Lords, that is rather wide of the Question and I should like it to be tabled as a separate Question.

British Rail: Scottish Services

3.27 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that the main line railways to Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness and on the West Coast to Oban and Mallaig will not be closed.

My Lords, I am not aware that the British Railways Board have any intention of proposing the closure of these lines. But if they do propose closure, and there are objections from users, then the final decision will rest with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. My right honourable friend has made it clear on many occasions that he is not prepared to see substantial cuts in the passenger railway network.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for his reply, which has reassured me considerably. I tabled the Question because I saw an article in the Sunday Times about three weeks ago predicting that this might happen. As I think it would be absolutely disastrous for Scotland and for anybody who travels in Scotland, I was determined to put down the Question in order to make quite sure that the noble Earl was going to say what in fact he has said, and I am very pleased.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether we can take it from his reply that Her Majesty's Government realise that the closure of any one of these lines would do irreparable damage to the economy of Scotland as a whole?

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord's remarks will be taken into account in any decision.

My Lords, while joining in the welcome for the reassuring nature of my noble friend's reply, may I question him in particular about the West Coast lines, which are my local lines? I should like to ask him whether he is aware that there has been considerable rumour and public speculation lately that the Oban line may be scheduled for closure, and even the Mallaig. Would he not agree that it is vital that an early decision should be reached by British Rail, and if the Government are to intervene, will he take that point on board?

Secondly, may I ask the noble Earl this question: if there is an approach from British Rail signalling that they wish to close this particular line, will Her Majesty's Government have particular regard to the inadequacy of the A.82 and the A.85 main roads to cope with the extra road traffic generated? Finally, if the closure is proposed, would my noble friend ensure that particular regard is had to the effect upon tourist revenue in the area, bearing in mind that British Rail's Golden Rail holidaymakers alone probably accounted for something like the occupation of 10,000 bed nights in the Oban area in 1980?

My Lords, I think I cannot but repeat the first sentence of my original Answer; that the Government are not aware that the British Railways Board have any intention of proposing the closure of these lines. I do not think I can be asked to comment further on a newspaper report. I should like just to say that in the excellent transport debate that we had in this House yesterday my noble friend Lord Bellwin said in the course of his speech that it is the Government's policy that a passenger network will, for the foreseeable future, remain broadly the same size as at present, with no substantial closures.

Animal Health Bill Hl

3.30 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is a strict consolidation, bringing together in one Act legislation primarily concerned with the entry and movement of animals in circumstances which might result in the introduction or spread of animal diseases. There have previously been consolidations of such legislation in 1869 (with amendments), 1894 and 1950. If your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills in the usual way. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read 2a , and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

English Industrial Estates Corporation Bill He

My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Like the last, it is a strict consolidation measure, dealing this time with the law relating to the English Industrial Estates Corporation. Again, if it is given a Second Reading, it will be referred to the Joint Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read 2a , and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

Town And Country Planning (Minerals) Bill Hl

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment
(Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Ever since 1947, mineral working has, in the main, been subject to the same planning controls as other forms of development. It is perhaps somewhat surprising that a system which was designed to control the spread of urban development has worked so well for so long in its application to mining and quarrying, for these differ from other forms of development in two important respects.

First, mining operations are not like the erection of a building, in that they can go on on the same site for a very long time indeed—there are some mines and quarries in operation today which were worked in Roman times. The consequence of this is that, although everyone may have been content with the way these operated when they were first opened, the greater concern with environmental matters today means that such quarries may be being worked in an unsatisfactory manner. There is therefore a need for regular review to see that modern standards are met.

And yet, secondly, although workings can go on for a long time, they are essentially a temporary use of land, and what is more, they are of a destructive nature. Therefore, the effects on the land need to be repaired, and preparations need to be made for an acceptable after-use. Much current dereliction has arisen from inadequate or non-existent restoration after mineral working has finished, and we need to ensure that present workings do not contribute to dereliction in the future.

In the early 1970s, both local planning authorities and the mining industry were expressing increasing concern about the adequacy of the current system to cope with a rising demand for indigenous materials, particularly the supply of aggregates for the construction industry. Local authorities were worried in particular that conditions attached to planning permissions granted in the early years of planning legislation were not sufficiently stringent, and also that they did not have enough powers to apply and enforce modern conditions. On the other hand, mining and quarrying companies were concerned that planning authorities did not understand their problems, and, in particular, that the authorities did not give sufficient weight to the importance of long-term planning, or to speed in handling planning applications.

In order to study these problems, the Government appointed, in August 1972, the Committee on Planning Control over Mineral Working. I should like to pay tribute to the chairman of the committee, the late Sir Roger Stevens, and his three colleagues, for their extremely valuable work, and their thorough and comprehensive report.

The report of the committee was published in February 1976. It contains some one hundred recommendations, which have been discussed in some detail with the local authority associations, the mining industry, amenity bodies and others with an interest in the extraction of minerals. Government Circulars were issued in 1978 by the Departments of the Environment, Industry and Scottish Development and by the Welsh Office, setting out which recommendations it was intended to implement.

The changes which the Government propose to make fall into four categories. First, there are a number which require primary legislation, and these are of course the subject of this Bill. Before I describe these in more detail, I should like briefly to mention the other three kinds of action we are proposing to take, because I believe the implementation of the Stevens Committee recommendations should be looked at as a total package. Some of the parts of the package—in particular the primary legislation—will be of particular assistance to the local planning authorities, while others will be of greater benefit to the industry; but overall the complete package will lead to an improved legislative framework, in which planning control can operate over mineral workings, and to a streamlined and more efficient system, which will pay due regard to the long-term planning needs of the mining industry.

The second part of the package consists of amend- ments to the General Development Order. For reasons which I shall explain later, it is not sensible to proceed with these until the Bill has received Royal Assent.

Thirdly, the Government propose to issue a new edition of the memorandum which is colloquially known as the "Green Book", but which is more correctly entitled, The Control of Mineral Working. The last edition was produced as long ago as 1960, and a new edition has been universally requested—indeed, it is one matter on which the Stevens Committee, industry, local authorities and environmentalists, are united. Good progress is being made with the preparation of this text, and I hope that draft chapters will be available for consultation very soon now. A printed version will be produced after the legislative changes have been enacted.

Finally, the Stevens Committee recommended that every effort should be made to formulate and refine national policies for individual minerals, and to reconcile these policies with each other, and with national policies for other land uses. Following the report entitled Aggregates: The Way Ahead, of the committee chaired by Sir Ralph Verney, the Government has been working with county councils in England and Wales, and representatives of the quarrying industry, to develop regional guidelines for aggregate minerals production, and to ensure that the national demand is met and that inter-regional flow arrangements are adequate to cater for shortfalls in certain regions. Again, good progress is being made, and I very much welcome the co-operative spirit in which these discussions have taken place. In Scotland, an alternative form of aggregate guidelines has already been prepared in consultation with the industry, and subsequently issued. Although the Government feel that certain changes in the law arc necessary, it is equally important that local authorities and the industry work together in developing long-term planning policies which pay due regard to the environment, and in setting these out in development plans.

I turn now to the provisions in this Bill. If some of the clauses seem familiar to your Lordships, this would be unsurprising—similar ones were included in the first version of the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill, which was introduced in your Lordships' House in December 1979. The No. 2 Bill introduced in the other place omitted these clauses for reasons of parliamentary time, but the Government announced their intention to proceed with them as soon as an opportunity could be found. This Bill has therefore been introduced at the start of this Session, and I hope we can make rapid progress with it. The clauses it contains are similar to those in the earlier Bill, with the differences that Scottish provisions have been included, and the proposal to modify enforcement notice procedures in respect of mineral workings has been dropped, at least for the present.

Clauses 1 to 17 of the Bill apply to England and Wales only, and, with one exception, relate solely to planning control over mineral working. Clause 1 of the Bill brings under planning control the removal of material from mineral waste tips. At present there is an anomaly, in that extraction from a small grassed-over tip is subject to planning control, since the tip has once again become land, while planning permission is not required to remove material from large bare tips of mining waste, such as are found in areas of the country like Cornwall, West Yorkshire and South Wales, since legally such tips are not land but chattels. In many cases, it is uncertain whether planning permission is needed to remove material from such tips, because of the degree of revegetation. Clearly, the working of these tips after a long period of inactivity can be very environmentally disadvantageous to the local communities, and this clause will allow the local planning authority to decide whether such working should take place, and, if so, what conditions should be attached to the planning permission.

As presently drafted, the clause goes further than necessary, since it would mean that planning permission would be required, for example, to move minerals or mineral waste within the quarry or mine site, even if this was required as part of processing the mineral, or to remove material from temporary waste heaps. It has been drafted in this way because it has been found impossible to draft a clause suitable for primary legislation which would distinguish between uses which should be brought under planning control and those which should not.

It is the Government's intention to introduce a new clause in the General Development Order which will in certain specified circumstances permit the removal of material from a mineral working deposit. The GDO permission will include all movements from mineral stockpiles as part of storage, processing or removal, and also the removal of material from mineral waste tips, provided such material has only been deposited within the last few years. There may be other cases that will be permitted by the GDO.

Clause 3 is one of the most important in the Bill. It places a duty on mineral planning authorities to review current mineral workings in their areas and also those at which operations have finished within the last five years, or such other time as the Secretary of State may, by order, prescribe. It also requires them to make certain orders, which I shall be describing later, if they consider it appropriate.

Because of the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the Government consider it is most important that local authorities should keep mineral workings in their area under review and should have the power to take appropriate action. However, because of the pressing need to reduce local authority manpower, we do not feel it would be right to insist upon mineral planning authorities reviewing all sites in their area within any fixed period. Such a time constraint would inevitably lead to pressure for more staff in at least some counties and, as the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill makes clear, we regard it as essential that the requirements of this legislation must be undertaken within existing resources. I believe that mineral planning authorities can and will set out their own sensible priorities for reviewing sites in their area within the resources available to them, and I am fully confident that the implementation of such reviews and the subsequent orders will make substantial improvements to the environment both while mining operations are taking place and afterwards.

Clause 5 is a major attempt to achieve better restoration of old mineral workings for agriculture or forestry so that the land achieves a higher quality and greater potential for future productive use. At present, planning authorities can put conditions on a minerals planning permission requiring topsoil and subsoil to be stripped from a site before mineral working commences, and such materials to be stored separately. Replacement of these can be required, either as part of a scheme of progressive restoration, or when mineral working has finished. But that is about all. After having been disturbed and stored in this way, soil is unlikely to be in very good condition for growing either agricultural crops or trees, and what is probably required is a period of intensive care, under the guidance of agricultural or forestry experts, which will gradually improve the land quality.

This clause will therefore allow authorities to impose conditions on a minerals permission in certain circumstances, requiring the operator to carry out a programme of agricultural or silvicultural management for a certain period after the soil has been replaced. The clause provides a maximum period of five years, but there is provision for the Secretary of State to alter this by order if it proves inadequate or to set different maximum periods for agriculture and forestry. Because of the need for specialist expertise in after-care, mineral planning authorities will be required to consult the appropriate Government departments or agencies both before imposing such conditions and while monitoring the operator's compliance with them.

Clause 6 is concerned with the length of time for which mineral working is permitted to continue. At present many minerals permissions have an undefined life, and therefore there is great uncertainty as to whether working has permanently finished, and thus whether the land should be restored ready for another use. On new permissions, the Government are encouraging mineral planning authorities to consider carefully just what the life of the working should be and then to specify this in the permission. In doing this they should take full account of the operator's long-term needs for security of supply, if he is to undertake adequate capital investment, but also all other planning considerations in the area. However, in the hopefully few cases where they do not do so, this clause provides that such permissions will automatically have a life of 60 years. There is also a power for this period to be changed by Parliament. As far as existing minerals permissions are concerned, those without a definite life will automatically end 60 years from the coming into effect of this provision.

Clauses 7 to 9 deal with the order-making powers being made available to mineral planning authorities. The equivalent compensation provisions are in Clauses 11 to 16. Clauses 7 and 8 are extensions to existing powers, while Clause 9 introduces two new types of order. Clause 7 is consequential upon Clause 5 and permits authorities to impose an aftercare condition when modifying a minerals permission.

However, if no planning permission exists then it is not possible to make a modification order using Section 45 of the 1971 Act. There are a number of circumstances in which mining operations may be going on without an express permission—for example, the quarrying may have begun before 1947 and no planning application was made at that time, or one was made but never determined under the provisions of the General Development Order. Where there is no permission there are no conditions on operating the quarry or on its restoration. Clause 8 seeks to remedy this by extending Section 51 of the 1971 Act so that mineral working becomes a use of land. Conditions, including restoration and after-care ones, can then he put on continuing to use the land for mineral working.

Clause 9 introduces two new types of order for use where mineral working has already ceased either permanently or temporarily. The first, which I shall call a Section 51A order, after its new position in the 1971 Act, will allow mineral planning authorities to prohibit the resumption of mineral working. At the same time they will be able to require compliance with any existing restoration and after-care conditions, and to impose certain new requirements. The order is only available to authorities if mineral working appears to them to have stopped for at least two years. Once an order takes effect a new planning permission is required before mineral working can restart.

The order which I have just described is for use when mineral working appears to have come to an end permanently and where it is then desirable to turn the land to some new beneficial use. But there may be occasions on which mineral working has stopped—either because of a temporary lack of demand for the product or for other reasons—but is likely to resume at some time in the future. In these circumstances, the mineral planning authority may wish to have the site tidied-up while working is in abeyance, and also may wish to see certain steps taken to avoid the area deteriorating. Another new type of order, termed a suspension order, is therefore being introduced to provide powers to do this. The procedural steps and compensation arrangements are similar to Section 51A orders except that only one year of no working is necessary before the order can be made.

Clauses 11 to 16 deal with the complicated subject of compensation. At present, if a local planning authority makes an order modifying a planning permission for mineral working, then the operator is entitled to compensation for any abortive expenditure, loss or damage incurred. The Stevens Committee recommended that operators should not be automatically entitled to claim compensation for loss resulting from modifications made as a result of a review, and in discussions with the industry on this recommendation there was a measure of agreement that the operator should bear a reasonable amount of the loss or damage in each case. The difficulty is, of course, in deciding what is reasonable. The basic principle we have in mind is that for each mine or quarry a threshold should be set in relation to its annual output and expected life. If the loss or damage arising out of the modification is less than this threshold, then the operator should bear it all and no compensation will be payable. If, however, the loss or damage exceeds the threshold, then the operator should receive, in compensation, the excess over the threshold.

The setting of such a threshold is a difficult exercise, and indeed different thresholds may be needed for mining and quarrying and for different types of order. My department issued a consultation paper on this in September last year, and responses are still being considered. Because of the complexity of the issue, we do not believe it would be right to include the details of the threshold in this Bill, but instead we are proposing a power in Clause 15 to make regulations which will provide when compensation is to be payable—that is, what should be the threshold, and the basis on which compensation is to be assessed when the threshold is passed. In addition, by making this the subject of regulations, a measure of flexibility will be provided, so that the formulae can be updated from time to time. However, the Government recognise the vital importance of the compensation provisions to both the industry and local authorities, and therefore it is proposed that the regulations should not come into operation until they have been approved by your Lordship's House and in the other place.

Clauses 18 to 30 contain provisions equivalent to those in Clauses 1 to 16, but applied to Scotland, with certain small differences. First, mineral planning applications north of the Border are treated in the same way as applications for other forms of development; that is, they are handled by the district authorities in the first instance. Regional authorities have powers of call-in when a planning application raises issues of regional significance, and, therefore, depending on the circumstances, a minerals planning application may be determined by either tier of planning authority. The new powers contained in the Bill are therefore being given to all planning authorities in Scotland, rather than to just one tier.

Secondly, under existing administrative arrangements not directly paralleled in England and Wales, planning authorities in Scotland already consult the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland on planning cases affecting agricultural land, including restoration following mineral working. It is considered unnecessary, therefore, to put planning authorities in Scotland under a statutory requirement to consult on after-care conditions.

Finally, certain other changes are necessary, because of the differences between Scottish land law and that in the rest of Great Britain. My noble friend Lord Mansfield will be replying to the debate, and will be happy to expand upon any of these points.

The only point I should perhaps mention about the remaining provisions of the Bill and its two schedules is that none of the provisions will take effect on Royal Assent. Many require subordinate legislation to be passed before being brought in, and the commencement order provision will allow different provisions to be brought in at different times.

My Lords, I hope I have not bored you with too long an exposition of what is, by all accounts, a technically complex Bill. We shall no doubt need to examine carefully in Committee many of the details of these provisions, but today I commend the Bill to you, on account of the fundamental principles it is striving to attain—the operation of mines and quarries in a way environmentally satisfactory to this day and age, and the achievement, through adequate restoration performance, of a satisfactory use of the land when mineral working has come to an end. It is perhaps a truism, but one which I believe is worth repeating, that minerals can only be worked where they are found. The Government's aim in this Bill is to provide an enhanced legislative framework within which planning control over mineral working can operate. We look to mineral planning authorities, and the industry, to work together responsibly to meet the nation's continuing requirement for minerals at the least environmental cost, and I feel sure that this Bill and the other measures I have mentioned will be beneficial to that process. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a —( Lord Bellwin.)

3.55 p.m.

My Lords, I think that this is the first time that I have been in a position of welcoming a Bill moved by the noble Lord the Minister. I very much welcome this Bill and consider that it is environmentally probably the most important piece of legislation or work concerned with minerals that we have seen since the 1947 Planning Acts. It certainly does a great deal more for the environment than the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations that we debated the other night. I should also like to thank the Minister for his very clear exposition on the content of what really is a very complicated and technical Bill.

When these provisions were withdrawn from the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 1) Bill we on this side of the House expressed great dissatisfaction that such useful and non-controversial proposals as these should be withdrawn, and we were only persuaded not to seek their reinstatement in the Local Government Bill by assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, that the provisions would come before this House in the next Session of Parliament. With hindsight, it should certainly turn out to be positively beneficial to have had these proposals withdrawn from the original Local Government Bill, because it is ironic that, had the Local Government Bill remained in its original form—in which case it would have been even more massive than it was when it appeared as the No. 2 Bill—the minerals clauses would, despite their importance, have received scant attention, for they were a relatively minor part of a highly complex and controversial Bill.

If we are to have the enormous amount of legislation which we get from all Governments now, it seems that it is better for us to break it up and have a series of small Bills rather than these large, unwieldy Bills which, when they become Acts, are certainly never satisfactory. I speak not solely from the political point of view when I say that.

I hope that the proposals will receive proper consideration. The passage of time has also meant that drafting and printing errors, which were so frequent and distracting in the Local Government Bill, have largely been eliminated from this Bill. Therefore, I hope that that will make the task of all of us easier in the next stages.

In welcoming the reappearance of these proposals before your Lordships' House, I must add that I hope the equally non-controversial planning enforcement clauses, which were also dropped from the No. 1 Bill, will soon be enshrined in a further Bill. I hope that at some stage the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will be able to give me an assurance about that, even if it is by way of a letter or even in the Prince's Chamber. I should like to know about that.

While welcoming the general principles of the Bill, we on this side of the House are very concerned that little is being done to deal with the historical dereliction which still scars the landscape of many areas. How much longer must people continue to live with the derelict sand and gravel workings around Heathrow or with the derelict slate quarries in North Wales? Many of these operations, not only there but in different parts of the country, were often started before the 1947 Planning Acts and, therefore, no planning permission was needed for them at the time. We should like to see some statutory reference to this in the Bill. Although the Minister may argue that with resources as restricted as they are at the moment it would not be possible within a short period to bring any such provisions into operation, nevertheless the fact that provisions are on the statute book means that we do not need further legislation or more of these wretched regulations, with which we seem to be snowed under, in order to set the wheels in motion. In other Acts we have seen provisions brought into operation when it is possible to do so by reason of time and resources.

I also appreciate that ultimately the resolution of these problems is a matter of finance; and local authorities, who have the prime responsibility in this field, have, as we know, been faced with massive cutbacks in resources and are also subject to the arbitrary financial controls introduced in the Local Government Act. At present local authorities, whose overall capital expenditure is tightly controlled, are having to make extremely difficult and unenviable choices between capital spending on derelict land and other equally or more important capital projects.

Until by their actions as well as by their often written intentions central Government both understand and accept the financial needs and problems of local government and recognise the positive contribution they make to the economic wellbeing of the country, then the environmental improvements—and they are important ones—which this Bill seeks to encourage will be introduced only gradually and piecemeal. It would be a great pity if the very good intentions that run right through this Bill were in fact delayed in execution because of lack of motivation on the part of central Government.

I am also very concerned that many of the proposals in the Bill can be implemented only upon the issuing of detailed regulations. I really have to say that this is becoming a far too common, and a very worrying, feature of this Government's legislative programme. It is all very well to say in a statute that the Secretary of State will make regulations referring to this, that and the other, but we all know that with the pressure of business on both the Secretary of State and on Ministers what in fact happens in the end—and this is no discourtesy to the Civil Service, the officials who work very hard on these matters—is that we are having government by regulation rather than by statute which can be examined by both Houses of Parliament.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the House is clearly informed of the Government's detailed intentions while the Bill is going through this House; and I hope that that was what he meant when he talked about the consultation paper which would be available on the compensation clauses and the regulations, and that this means that we shall in fact know what is going to be in the regulations, because they are as important as the different clauses which are now before us in the Bill. I should like an assurance on that today. Noble Lords will remember the problems we had in considering the Government's proposals to introduce charges for planning applications when no detailed information was available about either how such charges would be levied or upon whom. Indeed, even now that information is not publicly available. Let us make sure that in this Bill, which really is not highly controversial, we all have that information.

The basic principle of the Bill, which we strongly support, is to make sure that there is effective long-term control over mineral workings, so that in future there will be, first, sufficient minerals for the needs of this country; secondly, orderly development of mineral reserves; thirdly, a minimum environmental impact at any one time—this is extremely important, and I am sure we shall come back to it in Committee; and, fourthly, rapid restoration once extraction has ceased, which is of equal importance.

The Government have recognised that the way to ensure that these different goals are met is through the planning system. We would therefore resist-and I hope that the Government would do so as well-any move to take mineral workings outside the mainstream of planning control, or to dilute them in any way. The basic principles of planning are accepted, I believe, on all sides of this House. One of the most important features of the system for encouraging and controlling development is the provision whereby, once granted, planning permission lasts for only five years unless the local authority renews it.

The operation of this rule ensures that mineral deposits are worked in an orderly fashion as part of an overall scheme and not according to the whims of many different operators with their obviously conflicting interests. There will, I fear, be moves to lift the five-year rule for minerals. I very much hope that the Government will join with us in resisting those moves if in fact they come forward. If they are not resisted then, as the number of planning permissions for mineral extraction build up, any hope of orderly development and everything that goes with it will disappear. The basis of long-term mineral planning will be totally undermined—if your Lordships will excuse that pun—and we shall be left with an increasingly random set of permissions to extract minerals, which may be valuable capital assets for the operators but which will become a series of time bombs in the environment which could explode at any time and with devastating effect.

I realise that the relaxation of the five-year rule was advocated by the Stevens Committee, which I believe was set up by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is to speak later in this debate, but after careful consideration the Labour Government came to the conclusion set out in Circular 58/78 that this was not right. Anyway, local authorities already have the discretion to vary the five-year period if they see fit.

There are three key areas of this Bill which I particularly welcome. Clause 3, as the Minister pointed out, is extremely important, since it places a duty on every mineral planning authority to undertake, at such intervals as they think fit, reviews of all mineral workings in their area which are, or have been, carried out in the previous five years. Secondly, the Bill allows mineral planning authorities, when granting or reviewing planning permissions where restoration is a condition of the permission, to impose in addition an extremely important after-care condition. This will require that land be specially treated for a period not exceeding five years to make it suitable for use for agriculture or for forestry. The placing of such a duty on operators would help to ensure that reclaimed land does not rapidly deteriorate once mineral operators have left the site. I think there is even an argument, which certainly many environmental groups have and will be putting forward, for in fact increasing that period.

Thirdly, one of the major problems in derelict land reclamation is the problem of inactive sites where operators either will not admit to having finished working or intend to delay resumption of working for several years. if this Bill is enacted, local authorities will be able to require that sites which will be inactive for a long time must be tidied up, and therefore will be able to remove the right permanently to extract any further minerals; and they will be able to have the land restored to the standard set out in the original planning permission. So long as the procedures are not too long, too complex, too drawn out or too expensive, then these proposals will have a substantial and beneficial impact on the environment.

There are detailed matters in the Bill which we will wish to take up at Committee stage, including the definition of "minerals", but I shall not pursue them now on Second Reading. However, we are concerned about the proposals for compensation when planning conditions are varied. At present the proposal is that the mineral operator should make a contribution towards improved restoration up to a maximum financial ceiling. With inflation, such ceilings are always in danger of being overtaken. It might, I suggest, be preferable for operators to be required to pay for an agreed national list of minimum improvements which should naturally be part of good quarry practice. Once such a procedure is agreed in principle—and I understand that talks are taking place between local authorities and the mineral operators on this—then the scheme should be administratively simple and effective. But I believe it is essential for local authorities not to be inhibited from implementing it by heavy compensation implications, otherwise the whole thing will fall down.

I am also aware that unnecessary burdens should not be placed on industry, particularly in the present economic climate. In fact, all this Bill does is to extend the practices adopted by the best operators to all existing mineral workings. In assessing any financial implications for industry, it should also be remembered that when land has planning permission for mineral extraction or is currently being worked for minerals or lies derelict after operations have ceased, it is land which is removed from other productive uses.

The present Secretary of State always appears much concerned to ensure that our land resources are used to maximum effect. I therefore understand why he wishes to make sure that land is not taken out of use for longer than is absolutely necessary. He will also be aware that where land lies derelict after mineral working, it can blight the surrounding area and substantially reduce the likelihood of economic regeneration. In addition, it is essential of course that we should be creating an agreeable environment in areas where mining and quarrying has stopped. By the greater use of derelict land grants, which I understand even now are not used as much as they might be, much could be done, along with allocating, even in the present economic straits, enough money to create a balance between industry and the care of the environment.

I am worried that some existing sites are likely to be worked indefinitely. I appreciate the clause in the Bill, to which the Minister referred, putting on a limit of 60 years, but 60 years for many people might as well be indefinitely. If one takes the case of a working which has been in operation for, say, 30 years, working perhaps on and off, and then adds 60 years, that is bringing the time up to very nearly a century before anything can be done about the situation. An area can be so completely blighted that it must be possible to take action, not necessarily to stop operators taking out the minerals but to make those operators take out the minerals as quickly as possible, and in my view that is essential.

In one important respect the provisions of aftercare have been improved since the No. 1 Bill, as the requirement in this Bill is that land he brought
"to the required standard when it is as nearly as possible restored to the condition in which it was when it was last used for agriculture".
This improvement will go some way to making sure that when agricultural land is reinstated, it is not markedly inferior to the land that was there previously. Unfortunately, these provisions, in Clause 5, extend only to land for agriculture and land owned by the Forestry Commission. I should like to see them extended—I am sure many noble Lords share this view—to cover land for recreation and land for visual enjoyment, in fact land involving the protection of our environment. In doing this we must protect the great scenic beauty we have in this country, remembering that it is not only for the enjoyment and welfare of our own people but for the many tourists who visit areas where there are quarries and mines.

While I welcome the proposals on suspension and prohibition orders, I am worried lest the completion of the procedures will take too long. Moreover, once a suspension order is confirmed, an operator can give 28 days' notice and then resume work on the site, and the local authority will be unable to do anything about it. However, these are some of the points we can go into further in Committee.

This is a Bill which at present has some teeth; they could be sharpened but they are there. It would be catastrophic if attempts to blunt, cap or draw the teeth were successful. Obviously those operators who have implemented the high standards which are publicly encouraged by the various mineral industries will not seek to do that. I am sure that all operators must come to recognise that the Bill is indisputably in the national interest and that to the good operators it poses no threat whatever.

I shall be particularly concerned if bogus administrative justifications are put forward to lengthen the time necessary for the implementation of the procedures in the Bill. The various times specified, particularly on suspension and prohibition orders, are reasonable compromises. Indeed, if anything, they are rather too long and are certainly longer than the times put forward by the Stevens Committee or in the Government Bill of 1979. Any further extension would only undermine a Bill which all responsible organisations concerned with minerals and the environment must support.

The Bill shows that central Government trust local authorities to do a job and to do it efficiently and effectively. It will not be of any service to local democracy in this country if suggestions are made that local authorities, in close consultation with industry and central Government, are incapable of preparing long-term plans which balance the need for minerals with the protection of the environment and the quality of life of those who live close to extraction sites or the transport routes from them. There will, as I say, be many detailed points we shall wish to make in Committee, but in principle we on this side congratulate the Government on bringing the Bill to the House and recommend giving it a Second Reading.

4.17 p.m.

My Lords, the two comprehensive speeches we have just heard have covered a great deal of the scene, so I shall do my best to be brief. I too welcome the Bill on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches. The Government have done a good job, particularly because they have had pressures on them from two sides—from the mining companies and from the preservationists—and they have managed to secure a number of really intelligent compromises. It seems to me that, on the whole, our job here, and indeed in another place, must be to see that those compromises are not upset on either side, whichever way our sympathies lie, be they more with one or the other.

It is a balance between the interests of the mining companies and the preservationists, but of course that is to say it is a balance between two different parts of each one of us, between us as consumers who rely on the health of the mining companies for the prosperity of this country to a large extent and for valuable raw materials, and our wanting to see an unspoilt countryside but a countryside also which can produce the maximum amount of food. As I say, the Government have done a good job with the Bill. They had a good report to work on, and for that we are extremely grateful to the people concerned. As we know, we have over the years in this House seen a lot of bad legislation come out as a result of rather good reports, but this appears to be an exception and in many respects an improvement.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, we can be particularly thankful for the power which remains in the hands of local authorities. It has not been a marked facet of this Government that they have been content to leave power in the hands of local authorities, so we must be thankful that this measure is an exception, and my party thoroughly approves of that. It means that there will not be a uniform application of the various principles across the country, and that is quite a good thing. There will be a uniform framework—that is what the Bill is in favour of setting up—but much of it will be in the hands of the local authority, which will make its own judgment. Quite obviously there will be a very great difference between what local government may do in areas of great natural beauty, where there is very little mining, and an area such as St. Austell, with its concentrated clay mining. It is quite right that there should be a difference between the two.

There are notable problems in the St. Austell area, as everyone who knows about that part of the world is aware. There are the enormous slag heaps as well as the fine dust which, in high winds, can penetrate absolutely everywhere. There is the problem of how to dispose of the enormous amount of waste. However the clay pits provide work, they provide prosperity, and on the whole the local community is happy with the situation, and the county council, which is the local mining authority, can be relied upon to see that a proper balance is kept between trying to get rid of the worst of the damage to the environment while at the same time doing nothing that would harm the prosperity of a vital industry.

I believe that local councils can deal with that kind of situation and make decisions along those lines in a way which a Whitehall department, no matter how good it is, is not able to do. I believe that the situation I have just mentioned relates to a notable part of the Bill and that is one reason why it is a good piece of legislation.

Noble Lords who are taking part in the debate, and who have been known to be due to take part, might have received differing submissions from various bodies on both the conservationist side and the mining companies' side about some of the problems in the Bill. In particular I would draw the attention of the House (as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, did) to the question of timings in the whole procedure for clearing up dereliction at the end of operations. As the noble Baroness said, this has already been a matter for compromise within the Government and the various Ministries concerned. The report said one thing, the Government have listened to other people and have come up with a compromise. As has been suggested, there may be attempts from both sides of the House to try to change the timing. We take the view that far the happiest and safest course would be to keep the compromise which has been arrived at after such difficulty in the Government departments, and certainly we should resist any move to alter that in either direction.

Having said that, I should like to turn to one or two detailed questions, and I apologise to the noble Earl for the fact that I have been unable to give him notice of these points. I did not know until yesterday afternoon that I was to make this speech, and so I have not myself had much notice of the questions. I have looked as hard as I could at the Bill and the various problems, and have come up with one or two points that I do not quite understand. The first has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. Why is the five-year after-care condition restricted to restoring land for agricultural and forestry use? What about leisure pursuits? What about alternative uses? Surely this definition should be widened.

Secondly, it seems that a mining company will be able to delay the winding up of a site by not applying for a certificate of completion. Is there not a case for the mining authority to have power to direct the company to apply for a certificate of completion if it seems that the company is dragging its feet?

My next question relates to Clause 3, page 2, line 40. I must confess that, having looked at the clause and having referred to the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, to which it makes reference, I am not entirely clear about what is meant by the words "relevant period". It seems to me that this might be a matter of some importance where disagreement might arise.

I turn to another phrase which seems to me to be very ambiguous, and I should like to learn more about the Government's thinking on its interpretation. It appears in Clause 9, on page 9, at line 24, as well as on page 11, at line 38. There is the question of development having been carried out,
"in, on or under the land to any substantial extent".
"Any substantial extent" is a very vague phrase, and it seems to me that this, too, could give way to considerable argument, and perhaps we could make an effort to tighten it up.

The last of my detailed questions concerns Clause 15, on page 21, and relates to imposing changes in the rate at which minerals are extracted. This is part of the entire question of when compensation can or cannot be paid. According to this part of the Bill, if the local mining authority gives instructions that minerals should be produced at a rate less than they have been in the recent past—a lessening of the rate of extraction—the mining authority would be responsible for paying compensation at the full rate. Is not this provision open to manipulation? Indeed, I understand that in the past something of that kind has happened. If there is a hint that the mining authority is to take action, might not irresponsible mining companies—and there must be one or two; do not let us pretend that there will be none—considerably raise the rate of extraction so as to obtain maximum compensation? Is there any safeguard against that and, if not, can we not include one?

Those are detailed points, but I think that it may be as well to ask questions now on these matters of uncertainty, rather than wait until the Committee stage, when we could try to put them right if the answers we have received prove unsatisfactory. I shall quite understand if, because of such short notice, the noble Earl prefers to correspond with me rather than answer the points directly at the end of the debate today.

I wish to close with another plea, which duplicates one made by the noble Baroness. I refer to the regulations regarding payment of compensation when restoring land. I think it is now common ground that everyone would wish to see the regulations published before the Bill has its Third Reading—and preferably before its Third Reading in this House. I have had indications that on both the mining side and the amenity side people are anxious that that should happen. We on these Benches, as well as noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench, are keen to see that happen. When appealed to, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, sat there looking sphinx-like, which did not appear too hopeful, but I hope the Government will consider this. It is quite clearly very important.

It may be embarrassing to publish them, because in a sense I suspect that that is when the real argument will happen; but it is right that if there is going to be a real argument between two sides in this matter it should be an argument conducted rather on the Floor of Parliament than in an unseemly wrangle when not much can be done about it afterwards. I think we really would not be doing our duty if we passed this Bill, as good as it is, without seeing those regulations and having some debate about them, so I hope, indeed, we shall have them by Third Reading.

4.31 p.m.

My Lords, I must start by saying that in preparing my contribution to this debate I have been advised by the Confederation of British Industry, and many of my remarks will therefore take the opportunity to put to the House the points which industry has to make on this Bill. I should like to join with those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Beltwin on the very skilful way in which he introduced this Bill, and the clear way in which he explained it to us. Perhaps I might also congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandford for having set up the Stevens Committee, from which it all stems.

As I understand it, the principal aims of the Bill are to introduce after-care of land after mineral working has taken place. I would digress at that point to say that I think the use of the expression "after-care is most unfortunate". It rather reminds one of maternity cases, or perhaps probation. If only my noble friend could find another name without having to make too much amendment of the Bill, I am sure it would be helpful in the long run, so that it was not a joke—because I do not think this is a joke. The other point, as I see it, the other main aim, is to impose a duty on planning authorities to undertake reviews of mineral working sites.

There is no objection from industry in principle to those aims, but we are much concerned at the provisions within the Bill to allow both the Secretary of State and local planning authorities the opportunity to implement certain powers in a way which could, probably unwittingly, have serious economic consequences for mineral operators. It is in those two areas that we are particularly concerned. An example of such provisions relating to the Secretary of State is giving him power to make mineral compensation modifications by Statutory Instrument without providing for any limitation of such powers within the Bill itself. I would have thought—and I shall be proposing amendments later on—that one could spell out rather more tightly just how far the Secretary of State could go in this respect within the main Bill. Here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that all these tendencies to legislate by regulation are to be deplored if they can possibly be avoided, but it comes as somewhat a matter of amusement to me that the noble Baroness should make these remarks because in my recollection the Government of which she was such a notable and important member legislated by regulations far more than anybody else. However, we agree, and it is nice to think that I am agreed with the noble Baroness because that is a very rare event, as your Lordships will know.

Another example (and I am only giving examples at this point) of the excess powers within the Bill relates to the local planning authority and concerns the time limits relating to starting work. The Stevens Committee, in its paragraph 19.7, recommended that with certain specified provisos, which are accepted by industry, there should be no limit on the time within which mineral working must be started. As your Lordships will be aware—and the noble Baroness referred to this—the Stevens Committee report was commented upon by the Secretaries of State in 1978 in comments which were not quite as welcome as was the original report itself. In commenting on the report the Secretaries of State, without saying why, stated that they did not see sufficient cause for leaving the time of starting entirely open, subject only to the maximum life of the permission.

This opinion is reflected in the relevant parts of the Bill and in the current practices of local planning authorities. There are good reasons why, in this respect, and in most of their other recommendations, the Stevens Committee were right and the advice given to the Secretaries of State was questionable. So from what the noble Baroness has said it seems that perhaps Ministers put in some of the provisos rather than relying on the advice given them. Very briefly, an application for mineral working is never made unless the operator is certain the minerals exist and can, at an appropriate time economically, be worked. In this respect the situation is very different from other sorts of planning application, because the authority can be certain that at some suitable time the working applied for will be carried out.

Industry is happy to accept control on the order in which deposits are worked, but feel very strongly that planning approvals for minerals operations, once given, should not be withdrawn after some arbitrary time limit. In addition to this reasonable certainty that working will at an appropriate time take place, an important business factor is that suitable land for mineral working comes on the market only relatively rarely and has to be purchased when it is available. After that, the operator will work the land as soon as it is economically most suitable for him to do so. As stated in the Department of the Environment's own guidance to local planning authorities, which is quoted in paragraph 7.12 of the Stevens Report, mineral undertakers often need to make their plans a long way ahead, and local planning authorities should adopt a similar time-scale.

The guidance also said that sometimes it may be necessary to take account of mineral reserves even though they are unlikely to be wanted for periods even longer than the accepted normal 60 years. These references indicate that in 1971, when they wrote the guidance to which I have just referred, the department saw clearly the need to allow up to 60 years' maximum life of permission, or even longer, before work starts. Under a different Government, in 1978, the department seems to have changed its mind, and indeed the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made it clear why this was so. I would suggest to your Lordships once again that Stevens was right and Lady Birk was wrong.

To sum up, mineral extraction is a very long-term exercise. Indigenous minerals are part of the wealth of the nation and should be husbanded with as much care as other aspects of the environment. Full cognisance must be taken by central and local government of the need for productive industry, especially private enterprise, to conduct its affairs in as economically advantageous a fashion as practicable. That is the key point, and that is the point that I rather suspect the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, tend, not to overlook but not to give full weight to—the need for economic operation of commercial operations.

My Lords, I do not have my notes with me; I have sent them to Hansard. But I remember distinctly that I felt strongly about it and emphasised it. I said clearly that I thought that the needs of industry and productivity and being able to work—and I used the phrase, "in a difficult economic climate"—were important; and that one had to find a balance between industrial needs and the environment. I do not think that one could have said it, even in a much longer speech, more clearly and emphatically than that.

My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me but of course she said that. I agree that she said that; but, taken in the round, she said a lot of other things which negated the value of that particular contribution in her speech. When she reads it she will find that out.

There is one other point which has been drawn to my attention by my noble friend Lady Elliot, and that is the use of minerals by farmers for their own purposes, not exploited commercially, which has hitherto been exempt from planning control. It seemed to us when we were looking at the Bill before my noble friend Lord Bellwin made his speech that in Clauses 1 and 18 of the Bill this exemption might be overridden. However, my noble friend Lord Bellwin said that Clauses 1 and 18 relate particularly to tips and, clearly, from the tenor of his remarks, he was not thinking of farms using minerals on their own land for their own purposes. He went on to say that the general development order was in some way going to give guidance on that; so perhaps this is not something which in the end will be a matter of importance.

But it is, I think, reasonable for farmers who have, say, sand and gravel deposits on their land to be able to use such deposits, particularly if they are not selling them or explointing them commercially, for example, for building roads. It would seem reasonable in that sort of situation that they should not be subject to planning control in the same sense as other types of mining—although it is hardly mining in the way that I have described it—require to be within the terms of the Bill and of the Stevens recommendation. We therefore may find ourselves putting down amendments if only to elucidate more clearly from my noble friend Lord Bellwin that he has no intention of subjecting farmers unnecessarily to new forms of planning control. Finally, the points that I have made, and others of a similar nature will be the subject of amendments which we shall bring forward at the Committee stage.

4.42 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to say a word of welcome to this Bill and to congratulate my noble friend on his very lucid exposition of it. I have to declare an interest as chairman of the regional planning authority for London and the south-eastern region, which is particularly interested in the getting of aggregates.

I should like to congratulate my noble friend and the Government on finding time for this small, technical Bill. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that it is a very useful Bill. It does not seem a glamorous one but it has far-reaching public implications, and the Government are to be congratulated. Also to be congratulated, certainly in the field of aggregates, is the entirely new look in the DoE on aggregates generally where the policy of the past was, if I may call it so, one of masterly inactivity—just leaving the local authorities and operative industry to fight it out on the ground while the DoE kept as clear of the matter as they could. There is now a much better look there and a realisation that all must work together as partners to get these essential minerals.

I pay tribute to the Stevens Report and also to the Verney Report, which is particularly valuable in the field of aggregates. I use the words "great public interest" because the fact is that my remarks are directed primarily to aggregates. No building work can take place without aggregates, no road and no building can be built without aggregates, principally sand and gravel but also clay and chalk. But all extraction—that is to say, digging—of any of these aggregates inevitably destroys the local land amenity and therefore arouses strong public opposition in the localities concerned. The south-eastern region of the country with, I suppose, something like one-quarter to one-third of the total population of the nation living in it, experiences this problem in the most acute form.

In 1976, our maximum year, we used some 58 million tons of aggregates. It is rather less now. The supply from the region was only some 49 million tons, and that included eight million tons of marine dredged, which is limited. We had to import from the south-west and the East Midlands the additional nine million tons. This basic imbalance is bad enough, but it is greatly intensified by the fact that the few remaining gravel- and sand-bearing sites in the south-east are invariably lands of high agricultural value and high amenity value, much of its alongside the rivers. Therefore, the degree of public opposition to the extraction of what remains is very great.

The main purpose of the Bill, as my noble friend has rightly said, is really to ensure better restoration. My word, that is a proper purpose! I warmly support him in it. And the thought here is that the powers of the county planning authorities should be strengthened to enable them so to specify the conditions of extraction and restoration that land is speedily and fully restored to its original condition. I would add—and I am sure that my noble friend knows this; and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, must remember it, too—that public opinion in these localities is extremely hostile to further mineral extraction, for the obvious reason that people must put up with noise, mud, dust and traffic for years while all this is going on. But if full restoration can be assured then they may become reconciled to it at the end of the day by the local authorities or, perhaps, on appeal.

Technically, as my noble friend has indicated, full restoration is possible. The standard of restoration can be reached by careful advance planning. It is possible to arrange for extraction to take place in phases, in strips, on a particular area so that, after the first strip has been worked, while the next strip is being extracted the first can be restored so that the area which is open is reduced to a minimum and restoration goes forward as quickly as possible.

There is no great difficulty in preserving topsoil, subsoil and overburden—no problem. But one of our major problems in the South-East—and, I dare say, in other parts—is to find acceptable fill, especially in water-bearing areas near rivers where lies most of the sand and gravel. Town waste is organic and is unsuitable. It causes pollution. Therefore, we must have sterile waste. I can foresee the time coming when the DoE will have to accept that it is not possible for the industry or the local authorities to bear the very heavy transport costs of bringing in surplus sterile fill from other parts of the country. Cornwall has been mentioned—china clay. There is masses of sterile fill there and it would be ideal to put in the pits that we have around London, but the cost of getting it there is so great that it cannot be done. But one of these days this problem will have to be faced. We cannot go on forever having more and more artificial lakes; nobody likes them.

Restoration and after-care is possible provided that there is careful planning and a sufficient period of after-care. That involves expert supervision and I was a little sorry that it was not possible for the Ministry of Agriculture to provide for that; and that the local authorities and the industry together must do it. That is possible, but it would have been helpful to have the Ministry taking part in it. They will give supervision to it of course, but they cannot take a part; they cannot stand the manpower drain. What is needed during this period is to build up the humus value. I see my noble friend Lord Woolley alongside me who well understands all these things.

One also has to cater for the patchy subsidence, which is inevitable in these areas, by readjusting the levels of the land drainage pipes which have been put in the ground so that eventually there is a sound piece of ground. All this can be done; it is expensive but it is essential. Even then we must remember that the Ministery of Agriculture doubt whether Class I and Class II quality land could be fully restored and therefore they are still opposed to that being opened.

So this is a formidable prospect. I am glad to be able to report that in the South-East we have the kind of partnership that my noble friend was asking for between industry and the local authorities. In the past couple of years I have been able to initiate a system of joint seminars with the industry and local authorities so that we can discuss it together. At the end of the day we are both dependent on each other and must work out a solution together. This is a much better arrangement than the running warfare of the past. I am hopeful that we shall be able to cope, but the heavy cost of this restoration is going to increase building costs because aggregates will be more expensive. The industry must get more for its aggregates. They understand that; we understand it. But of course what the industry also understands —and the seminars have been particularly valuable for this—is the intensity of public opposition, and we must be able to give the assurance that restoration is really going to be first class. There are some really very good examples indeed coming through just now where the industry has done some very good jobs. But there are far too many which look terrible.

There are two weak spots in the Bill. Some of what I am about to say is going to follow what the noble Baroness has said. The first one is Clause 3, a very important clause, which gives the local authority the power to review past consents in order to see whether conditions were adequate. In many cases they were not adequate; we all know that. There were not sufficiently strict conditions of restoration and the result is that adequate restoration will not be made. We are talking about land in process of operation in the South-East now of 10½ square miles—a big area—so we want to make sure that it is going to be right when it is finished. So I welcome the clause, but the aspect of it that worries me here is the compensation arrangements.

I listened with great interest to my noble friend explaining this concept of a threshold up to which the industry will pay. I wonder whether the industry are 100 per cent. with this. I suppose that it depends where the threshold is put. But the local authorities are expected to pay after that. The local authorities simply have not the money now for them to make this contribution, and it is no good pretending that they have. My noble friend must give a substantial grant if this review is to be effective. It is most important that it should be effective. Apart from anything else, a good many of the decisions for planning consent were given on appeal with the conditions attached laid down in the past by the DoE or their predecessors, so they have a specific responsibility. I hope that my noble friend will be willing to look at this particular point again.

The other point which is weak is a further matter to which the noble Baroness referred, about past dereliction. We in England have in the South-East no fewer than 26 square miles of derelict past workings. They are appalling. They are absolutely useless for anything. A lot of them have old machinery hanging about in them: sodden, useless land. They really are an eyesore. They hang like millstones around the necks of the local authorities and the industry, because local people will not believe that new extractions will be properly restored when they see these appalling areas of devastation all round. This problem must be tackled. I have made strong representations to my noble friend and his colleagues in the DoE. They accept that it must be tackled but they explain that there is not the money now. I accept that, as the noble Baroness does.

I think that this Bill—which is so good in every other wa—yshould contain the principle that the Government should be committed to a survey of past dereliction with a view to a start being made on a 10-year programme which will eventually restore these areas when the funds are available. If that were done it would give people confidence that something is eventually going to happen. Unless a provision of this kind is made we are seriously handicapping the consents which we must have to open up the remaining areas where sand and gravel can be found. I hope that my noble friend will be willing to look at that again. I shall be very tempted to put an amendment down on the Committee stage to ask my noble friend to do this. With those two criticisms, I warmly welcome this Bill, which is a most valuable step forward.

4.56 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I also welcome this Bill. I should like to congratulate my noble friend on the very concise and clear way in which he has introduced it. I intervene in this important debate with some hesitation, particularly when I follow my noble friend Lord Nugent who speaks with such a great number of years of experience in this matter. Quite rightly, as I see it, in our small country with very considerable mineral resources we need to watch very carefully, review how we handle extraction and what steps we should take to ensure within the reasonable capabilities of present techniques the practical restoration and after-care—and I use that word despite my noble friend's comment on the term—of the land affected, without putting too heavy a burden on the extractive industries, and without also its resulting in a situation where some important minerals may actually become sterilised.

That no doubt is to over-simplify what is a very complex matter. I recognise the immense amount of effort that the Government and the department have taken to work on it. As I see it—and I think that this is borne out by other speakers who have also contributed this afternoon—there are three main areas of interest affected. If I may I will call them three potential lobbies. They can prove antagonistic and therefore a balance is so important. There is the interest of the extractive industry itself; but that interest carries with it a very considerable responsibility to a far wider range of other industries and therefore it is not merely the interest of a small industry. It is much more important than that. There is the interest of agriculture and forestry, and there is the environmental and amenity interest. In some respects I find that I can wear all three hats at different times, which makes it rather difficult. I can see therefore very clearly the force of the arguments that any of these three can put forward. But it is the first, the interest of the industry, that I shall perhaps come to emphasise more at the end of what I want to say.

So far as amenity is concerned, no one is more sensitive than I am to the importance of keeping the beauty of our countryside as unspoiled as possible. It is a treasured part of our national heritage which attracts visitors from all over the world. It is enough for me to prove my sincerity in this by saying that I live in the centre of what I like to regard as the premier national park, the Lake District. I hope I am not being provocative by saying that. Also, I am vice-president of the Friends of the Lake District, which acts in Cumbria on behalf of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. I am therefore very fully aware of the force of their amenity arguments.

As regards the agricultural and forestry lobby, my family owns a very modest property in the Lake District which is very close to old copper and lead mine workings, where I understand deposits underground still exist and which, given the right economic climate—that is, a suitable climate of demand and world prices—could well be attractive to new operators to develop or to seek to re-open. Indeed it is only a very few years ago that a Canadian company came there and was interested in opening a copper mine very close to where I live but, for one reason or another which I need not go into, that project was not proceeded with. On the other hand, another mine which is equally close did start work and is working now, extracting zinc and copper concentrates and barytes. That little mine does no harm to anyone and in fact I am pleased to feel that I may have given them a little assistance in one way. I say "Good luck" to them. However, these very small parochial examples do indicate how agriculture and forestry interests can have legitimate fears as to mineral development, and I think they emphasise the importance of adequate planning control, restoration and after-care, which is what this Bill is all about, as I understand it.

That leads me to say something about the third lobby: the mineral industry itself. I have no interest to declare in this. I have never personally had anything to do with the industry except very indirectly when, before nationalisation of the steel industry, I happened to be a director of that ill-fated company which we all know of, Consett, where we mined the ganister used for the flux we required in the furnaces.

On the other hand, I have been intimately associated with manufacturing industry for most of my working life—a very wide range of industries too—and I have become well aware of the vital need that industry as a whole has for all sorts of mineral projects, ferrous and non-ferrous, as well as all sorts of building materials, which must be regularly available to industry, hopefully at consistent prices.

The first question, therefore, I must ask is, are these three lobbies, all of them with ostensibly justifiable claims, being fairly treated? I recognise from what my noble friend and others have said that at any rate the Government have done their best to keep a fair balance, but I suspect that over the years—going further back than this Bill—the agricultural and, more recently, the forestry and amenity lobbies, have been heard longer and louder than the less glamorous extractive industry lobby; so that the bias has, perhaps unnoticed, gone against that industry and therefore against and to the disadvantage of its far wider areas of responsibility. After all, it is manufacturing industry which relies to no small extent on our indigenous minerals, whether for processing work or for our buildings to work in, and it is industry which is surely the main wealth-creating activity and which has to pay for so much of everything else we need in our complex way of life.

That leads me to my second question. I must ask: Does this Bill add to or diminish the many obstacles—not merely planning obstacles—that a would-be applicant for planning permission to win and work minerals has to contend with already today? I should be surprised if my noble friend was not aware of would-be developers perhaps from overseas—and I have already mentioned a Canadian company—having been, as it were, driven away because of these obstacles. The great question seems to me to be whether the Bill helps to remove uncertainty of availability, and uncertainty of availability of permission to operate where it is economically appropriate.

Like other noble Lords, I accept in Clause 6 the 60 years' duration. That may be fair and practicable; but it appears towards the end of that same clause that the 60 years can be varied to a shorter period. That, my Lords, disturbs me. I hope that my noble friend Lord Mansfield, when he replies, will refer to Clause 6 where it says that 60 years can be varied for a longer or shorter period.

The mineral extractive industry can be very capital-intensive. It is obviously a very speculative industry. On the one hand, it needs to be able to plan ahead but, on the other, it must be able to retain a degree of flexibility in its plans to meet changing circumstances, changing demands and changing price levels. There may well be occasions when it would be prudent for an operator to close a mine or to defer opening or re-opening a mine, so long as he can feel free from any doubt that when the right time comes he can look on that mine as a reserve and use it again and be quite certain that it will be available to him. Certainty in this context is immensely important and, without it, it may well be better for an operator never to embark upon an acquisition when the opportunity arises, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said, rather rarely in the market.

For the same reason I am a bit apprehensive about the time limit of two years in Clause 9—a time limit that comes into operation if no development appears to have taken place within that time. It may have been the operator's deliberate policy to take the opportunity of acquiring a mine, realising that he cannot use it but also realising that the time will come, perhaps after two years or five years, when it will become a very important reserve in his planning. In some respects I have been encouraged by my noble friend Lord Bellwin on this point in the way he presented it, but I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, will perhaps say a little more later about this question of certainty for the operator as to where he stands for the future. Having said that, I welcome the Bill and I hope it goes through speedily.

5.10 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to welcome this Bill, which will make a great contribution to the future of the British landscape. In the mid-1970s, there were some 121,000 acres in England which were affected by mineral workings, and only three-quarters of that area was subject to restoration conditions. It is the principle of after-care conditions that is particularly welcome, and the first question must be to ask whether the remaining quarter—that is, some 32,000 acres which escape the conditions at the moment—can be brought into this legislation.

There are only one or two points which I should like briefly to mention and they relate mainly to Clause 5. Probably, the most important interest involved in any restoration is the surface owner, who will have the problems of subsequent management after the land is restored, and the greatest interest in the appearance of the site along with the adjacent owners and farmers. Yet there is no provision in the Bill for the planning authority or the Ministry of Agriculture to consult the surface or adjacent owners regarding after-care. There is, indeed, inadequate provision for the planning authority even to consult the Ministry of Agriculture and this itself is surely a serious omission.

A surface owner can of course impose a condition of restoration in a mineral lease, and failure to implement may give rise to a claim for damages. But were planning law to admit, as it does not at present, consultation with owners as to the terms of restoration conditions, the power to ensure performance of agreed after-care treatment by both the planning authority and the owner would be strengthened, duplicating the planning requirement with the conditions in the mineral lease. For all the reputable mineral working companies, there are always the "fly boys" who will work an area and either just fail to comply with the spirit of restoration conditions, or even go bankrupt and leave the job in a mess.

One way to deal with this is to secure a performance bond, but this will be heavy on the mineral lessor and reduces his ability to trade profitably. I should like to see a provision in the Bill to require progressive compliance with after-care. This would simply mean that the mineral developer would have to work in phases and restore phase 1 while developing phase 2, and he would not be allowed to start phase 3 till phase 1 was totally restored. Perhaps the Government would consider the advisability of writing something like that into the Bill.

Under the Bill, restoration has to be to agriculture or forestry. This point has already been made by other speakers. Yet there may well be occasions when both the surface owner and the authority would prefer restoration to, perhaps, a golf course, rough terrain for a motor-cycle scramble, an aquatic playground or some other non-agricultural use. Again, the agreement, co-operation and consent of the owner are paramount. But would the Government agree that uses for amenity and leisure should be included along with agriculture and forestry?

With regard to the working of old and exi sting mineral waste tips, there is considerable scope for gradual removal of slag heaps for in-fill or for building farm roads. Over a period, tips could be greatly decreased and tidied up. These partial removals should not require planning permission. The removal is desirable, there is even a grant to do so and any heap, or part of a heap, that can be removed as opportunity occurs can only be beneficial and should not require the expensive process of planning. What would be the position where a small proportion of a large tip was required for fill? It would be both economically and practically impossible for a developer to give after-care treatment to the whole area. This Bill will be likely to sterilise tip heaps from gradual and beneficial removal. There should be relaxation from planning for partial removal of old and bare tips.

Finally, with regard to restoration for forestry, this is the first occasion on which "forestry" has been defined and the definition is given as,
"the growing of a utilisable crop of timber".
Particularly in these days of conservation lobbies, it might well be that the restored land could be better used for shelter belts, amenity or other forestry use. It is, therefore, necessary that the term "forestry" in Clause 5 should be able to be widely used and not confined to pure timber production.

5.15 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps I should say that I am a creature, a trident, like my noble friend Lord Rochdale, with land, agriculture, mining and industry in his blood in equal parts. My noble friend gave us an extremely balanced view on this issue and made some important points with regard to the great importance of our extractive industries. I must declare an interest, as the chairman of a small, privately owned china clay company, working and owning minerals and quarries in Cornwall. I also have leases out to well-known mining companies and, at the same time, I obviously have a great love of the landscape, like all in this Chamber. Therefore, it may be that what I say will perhaps be more on the mineral operatives' side than on the side of the others.

First, may I say how much I welcome the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on the Liberal Benches, who said such complimentary things about our china clay industry in Cornwall? That is an example of close co-operation in the restoration of tips which should be copied with great care by other bodies in the country. If our little industry—and it is not really a little industry, because it is the leading industry of its kind in the whole wide world—closes down, the potteries will have to close down and the paper industry will be most seriously affected, as will our exports, because until quite recently, with the coming of North Sea oil, we were the leading exporters of raw material from England.

With those general remarks, I should just like to say that I have been closely counselled by our China Clay Council, which plays an important part in our industry in guiding us through the maelstrom of legislation which affects us at all times with ever-increasing magnitude. I am, of course, delighted that this Bill has been separated, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said at the start of her address, from all the other mammoth Bills from which we so often have to suffer in this House.

May I briefly discuss a point which worries us in our china clay industry? It may be thought to be a Committee point rather than a Second Reading one, but I do not think it is, because it carries implications which affect the whole Bill. As my noble friend said, this Bill is mainly a restoration Bill, but it is not that entirely. Sir Roger Stevens's report, to which tribute was rightly paid this afternoon, and the consultation paper from the department in June 1979, have led to this Bill which is in front of us. There is much good in it, but some of it is worrying. As has been mentioned, it is most important—I cannot overstress this—for mineral undertakings to be certain as to their rights and permissions over the whole of their future life. In our little industry our reserves will go on for 100, 150 or perhaps 200 years before they are worked out. No company in its senses would dream of taking up a mining licence for only five years when heavy capital expenditure is planned. Modern mining expenditure is enormous. You only have to find out how much it costs to sink a yard, a foot, or a fathom, as we call it in Cornwall, of shaft for that point to be made good.

The re-enactment of Section 41 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971—that section has not been repealed by the Bill—requires that the development of an undertaking must begin within five years from the date of the granting of planning permission, unless otherwise agreed with the planning permission authorities. The Stevens Committee advised against this legal limitation being placed on the time within which working must start, on the ground that if permission for mineral working covers a definite area which has a definite place in the operator's programme and the programme has been made available to what they call the consultative minerals committee—in this case the planning authority—there is no need for this five year legal limit. Noble Lords will see that in Clause 3 there is the safeguard of a review at intervals of undertakings. Despite this, the Bill reaffirms the principle that development must begin within five years or planning permission may lapse.

The effect of this clause is that the working of mineral reserves is put at jeopardy through uncertainty. Certainty in mineral undertakings is most important. Consent to the working of reserves will have been given in the original permission but the working may well have to be re-assessed by the company in the light of a possible, or even probable, trade recession, or a change in the market. The five year period, therefore, will have to be breached. Mineral reserves have to be proved, often in detail, by hard rock drilling. This is a most expensive process. Companies will have to do this far ahead of the mine or quarry development that is envisaged, whenever cash is available for the purpose. Such development could be put at risk by unreasonable planning authorities. I am glad to say that in Cornwall our planning authorities are extremely knowledgeable and cooperate well with the mining industry. The old saying is: "Scratch a Cornishman and you'll find tin in his veins". In other parts of the country, however, there may be difficulties when unreasonable planning authorities insist on the five year period and the provisional permission then lapses.

Despite all his other commitments, I hope my noble friend will find time to look again at this point and that it will be possible for him to remove this five year limitation. Because of all the other safeguards in the Bill, it is hardly necessary.

5.26 p.m.

My Lords, we are greatly in the debt of the Stevens Committee and the Verney Committee for the advance that is represented by the Bill. I should like to express my particular thanks to them. It was nine years ago when I was Minister in the Department of the Environment and responsible for these matters that it seemed to me that two things needed to be done. The first was a review of the procedures by which mineral working was controlled. I appointed the Stevens Committee to carry out that review. The second was to take steps to look a little further ahead and see what kind of resources the construction industry would need in the 1980s, the 1990s and at the end of the century, where they were going to be found and how they were going to be taken to where they were wanted. That was the job I set the Verney Committee to do.

I congratulate the department for now harvesting the fruits of the labours of those two committees, for applying very considerable drive and skill to these matters and for bringing forward this legislation with the agreement of the local authority associations and the planning departments in particular, with the industries very close to almost complete accord as to how matters are to be handled in the future. I congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward the Bill now, having secured further improvements to that version of it which was incorporated in the Local Government Bill, Mark I.

The issues are these. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has made the first point: that we are an island too densely packed, with too many demands on the limited land that we have, for any amount to be lying about, in a mess, under-used, under-productive and unenjoyed. On the other hand, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone has said, we cannot afford to overlook or neglect the very considerable variety of indigenous mineral resources which lie underneath that land. To make sure that we are doing as well as we possibly can, the reviews provided for in Clause 3 are a very welcome innovation.

When my noble friend replies I wonder whether he could indicate if there will be a requirement—I hope there will—that before embarking on any review in the area of any particular mineral planning authorities there will be consultation with the district councils. The primary responsibility lies with the counties, and it is right that it should. But one would not want them to embark upon a review without consulting the district councils who are responsible for the control of most of the rest of the development in the area.

I am concerned and worried, as is my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, as to whether the Government are being realistic about the capacity of the staffs of the mineral planning authorities and the resources of those authorities to make a proper job of these reviews and to face up to the costs which will be involved and the compensation which will have to be paid. Perhaps my noble friend could say whether the county councils were consulted about their ability to start this operation and, if they were consulted, what they said in reply and whether the Ministry of Agriculture are satisfied about the capability of their staff to do what is required of them.

This is important because, although at the moment it is up to the local authorities to decide how often to carry out these reviews, so that they need do no more work than they think themselves capable of doing, it will not be long before the EEC directive on environmental impact assessment is in force and that is very likely to lay down mandatory conditions for the review of industries and operations which have the massive impact on the environment that mineral working does. Therefore, by that time it will not be an optional matter for the mineral planning authorities to be properly staffed; it will be a duty under EEC legislation.

I welcome very much Clauses 11 to 16 of the Bill which provide for a progressive tightening up of the conditions under which mineral working is operated, as procedures and technology permit that to be done. My noble friend Lord Bellwin started by pointing out to the House—and he was right to stress this—that most of the development control which is done under the planning system is the control of projects: one-off building operations in which a house or a factory is put up according to a plan which is produced to a planning authority. They give their approval for that and there it is—a static item in the environment. Obviously, it it is appropriate that if the local authority changes the conditions after giving permission for something of that sort, then compensation should be payable to the applicant. What we are concerned with in mineral working is permission for a project—the establishment of a quarry, the setting up of the equipment, the building of this and that; but we are also giving approval to a process, and a process which goes on to the detriment of the environment and inconvenience to a lot of people living round for many years.

Most industrial processes are controlled by a general establishment of conditions which are progressively tightened without compensation. That is the way in which the Alkali Inspectorate used to work and the Clean Air Inspectorate now works; the way in which the Health and Safety Executive works, and the way in which the regional water authorities work. They progressively tighten the environmental conditions and industry is not entitled to compensation for having to comply with them. So it is appropriate in this Bill that we should have a mixture of some things which will attract compensation and other things which will not.

It is generally assumed that the imposition of conditions on industry incurs costs. With the permission of the House, I should like to quote extensively (but not too extensively, I hope) from a speech which I heard made yesterday in the presence of my right honourable friend Mr. Tom King, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. I am one of a panel of judges which makes awards to business and industry for particularly enlightened attitudes towards the environment. These awards were being made yesterday at the Royal Society of Arts and this is a quotation from a representative of a firm which has a quarry of silica sand in Cheshire who won one of the awards. The speaker started by explaining the long confrontation and battles between themselves and the Cheshire County Council, going on for many years and then he said—and I am now quoting verbatim:
"In 1969 Cheshire County Council published their 'Draft Policy for Sand Workings in Cheshire'. This coincided with our own timing for planning the new works on the Eaton Hall Estate near Congleton.
"Eventually, we were granted permission to extract sand from this site for a period of at least 20 years, provided we complied with the many conditions imposed to protect the environment. At first sight, these conditions appeared to be totally unrealistic.
"We had to agree to restrict the dust emission level to less than one tenth of previous practice. We had to agree to restrict the noise from the plant to an extremely low level. We had to agree to site all the classifiers and stockpiles some 50 feet below the normal ground level. We had to agree to use an electrically operated dredge to extract the sand from below the water-table. And so the list went on.
"We quickly came to the conclusion that a conventional plant lay-out and design couldn't possibly meet these conditions. It took two years of research and a tour of works in America and Europe in the search for new technology … before we were finally able to set down our proposals.
"Prior to commencing any work at all on this site, we presented a full set of plans and drawings to the newly formed residents' committee from the nearby village of Eaton. The frank and open discussions with the committee resulted in several modifications and did much to allay their fears and suspicions concerning the impact we were to have upon their environment.
"Our choice of the drying and cooling system, which we modified to suit our own requirements, resulted in a 50 per cent. saving of the fuel oil required and enabled us to achieve dust emission figures approximately 60 per cent. below the permitted maximum. These results played an important part in negotiations between the Alkali Inspectorate and the Technical Committee of the Silica and Moulding Sands Association which led to new national standards for the silica sand industry.
"A theoretical study of the noise problems indicated the necessity for the installation of acoustic control equipment which has enabled us to restrict the noise level from the plant to approximately that of a public library. The County Council Mineral Planning Committee has since adopted these figures as a standard for all future sand processing plants in Cheshire. We've subsequently received permission to operate during the night, which has enabled us to achieve greater output without increasing the size of the plant and its visual impact upon the environment.
"As a result of siting the classifiers and stockpiles below ground level on the quarry floor, we've been able to reduce pump and motor sizes by taking advantage of an abundant natural water supply from the adjacent lake.
"The necessity to use an electrically operated dredge led us to develop an almost automatic system of quarrying with savings in operational costs".
This is the important conclusion:
"In fact, many of the onerous conditions that were imposed have assisted us in achieving significant technical and financial advantages in the efficient design and operation of the plant".
That leads me to say that the flexibility in making provision for compensation ought to be a flexibility which allows the mineral operator to pay the planning authority for doing them a good turn by so concentrating their minds on the process that they have been able to introduce economies from which they have taken a positive advantage. I think there is a good deal of that in the whole compensation business.

I should like now to turn briefly to Clause 5 and to welcome, with others, the after-care conditions. I think the main factor to bear in mind here is the complete distinction that arises according to whether the topsoil has been stockpiled or not. If the topsoil has been stockpiled—and, of course, under any modern conditions given today it certainly should be, and usually is—then I do not see any difficulty in reaching normal agricultural yields and normal forestry yields after restoration, and I would hope that the after conditions would require it. There is not a lot of evidence but there is enough in a number of cases of restoration after opencast mining and deep mining that where the topsoil has been stockpiled for 20 or 30 years and then put back properly with suitable drainage and looked after for four or five years, or sometimes not more than three or four years, normal local agricultural yields can be achieved.

I would hope—and here I agree with the brief provided by the National Farmers' Union—that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would be actively involved, and they have not, in my experience, in a number of instances in the past where they should have been. If the topsoil has not been stockpiled it is totally unrealistic, in my view, to contemplate normal agriculture or normal forestry, and in that case the appropriate treatment is to restore the land for some form of amenity, put bushes and shrubs and trees on it, which will not produce an economic crop but will make the site attractive and contribute to the landscape. I agree with all those noble Lords who have said that this clause must be amended to allow of that possibility and to make it possible for the planning authorities to prescribe that kind of condition.

The only other things I want to speak on very briefly are suspension and cessation orders. I think on Committee we want to consider shortening the waiting period; and the duration of the planning permissions, where again on Committee I think we want to cons der shortening the period also. Generally speaking, I should like to join with others and very much welcome the Bill.

5.42 p.m.

My Lords, I must first declare an interest as I am the chairman of a company with substantial mining and quarrying activities within the United Kingdom. I consider the purpose of this Bill to be highly commendable and most of it I am only too happy to support. The purpose is—as indeed was the purpose of the Stevens Committee on which much of it is based—to reconcile the needs of the environment and the needs of industry, not a particularly easy task.

As I understand it, the core of the agreement which was reached in discussions with industry depended upon the understanding that there would be the grant of longer-term planning permissions, in return for which the industry accepted that there could be modifications of the non-fundamental conditions attached to planning permissions without full compensation being paid. Indeed, my noble friend the Minister in his opening speech, in which he expounded the Bill with such clarity, did refer to the fundamental condition, the understanding about there being long-term planning permission. Also, my noble friends Lord Rochdale and Lord Falmouth have made similar remarks about the need for being able to look well ahead in one's planning. Many of these mineral operations involve enormous capital expenditure, not just in the opening of the quarry but the processing plant that goes with it, such as kilns costing £6 to £10 million each, railway sidings, special loading facilities and the like. It is therefore essential that those mineral operators should be able to look well ahead to security of the permission for their source of supply; it is also essential for the downstream industries being supplied to be assured that a long-term supply is coming from the mineral works.

The Stevens Committee in their report said that planning authorities should be urged to consider the national interest alongside the local considerations in considering the length of planning permission to be granted. The Bill is strangely silent on this, and it is a very important point because it is the quid in the quid pro quo, the understanding between industry and the department that there would be long-term planning permission given, provided that flexibility could be negotiated to make non-fundamental change of conditions without paying full compensation. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some assurance on this and perhaps be able to assure us that something might be introduced into the Bill to make clear the intention that there will be long-term planning agreements and the national interest will betaken into account by planning authorities. There must inevitably be some conflict between planning authorities and the national interest; planning authorities are focusing primarily upon the needs for their locality, and the large operations that may be desirable for the national interest are less likely to commend themselves to them or their electorate or indeed their ratepayers. That is my first point.

My second point relates to the compensation provisions or perhaps the lack of them in the Bill. I agree with what the noble Baroness, and indeed my noble friend have said, that this Bill leaves extremely open what compensation basis will be adopted. I hope my noble friend will be able to give us some assurance as to what we are likely to see in the regulations before this Bill comes before the House again or at the time that it does so.

There has been a consultation paper—indeed two. The content of those is somewhat disturbing to the mineral operators and the mineral industry. The latest consultation paper suggests that the mineral operators will receive no compensation on a loss of 20 per cent., or if it is a large operation 10 per cent., of the value of their minerals every five years, and that is a very significant and serious penalty. It applies to existing workings where the capital has been invested and the investment decisions made on the basis of the present law, that full compensation will he paid for any interference with or modification of the planning permissions.

There is perhaps an even more serious point which arises from the consultation paper, and again I hope my noble friend will be able to say something about this. That is that the consultation paper appears to limit the compensation, if any is payable, to the cost of carrying out the further work that is required to be done by the modification of the planning permission. Under the law as it stands today compensation is payable, if planning permission is modified, not only for the costs incurred in carrying out that particular work but also for the loss that the mineral operator suffers from being placed under further restrictions.

The consultation paper is silent on the question of loss; it limits its indication of compensation, and indeed very reduced compensation, to the costs of carrying out the particular work. I cannot believe that my noble friend intended to place such heavy charges on essential industry. Massive capital investment has been made in existing mines and quarries on the basis of the existing law, and some of those workings would become quite uneconomic if they were then subjected to modifications, restrictions and the like and were not entitled to any compensation for the loss or the costs they incurred as a result. Having said that, I support the Bill; I believe it is right to get the proper balance between industry and the environment. I hope my noble friend will he able to give me some reassurance on the two major criticisms I have made.

5.48 p.m.

My Lords, this has been an interesting and indeed wide-ranging debate. We have heard a variety of views on the problems raised by mineral working and on the new provisions to meet those problems being proposed in the Bill. These proposals are complex, but they reflect a simple purpose, which is to provide within the present planning system more sensitive and more flexible measures than are now available to deal with mineral working and its impact upon the environment. The variety of points which have been raised this afternoon reflects the magnitude of the task which faced the Stevens Committee when it came to consider this whole question. I should like to associate myself with the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Bellwin, and indeed others, to the thorough and painstaking work of the late Sir Roger Stevens and his committee. I should also like to reiterate the point which was made by my noble friend, and indeed other noble Lords, that consideration of these problems is very much a question of balancing a number of potentially conflicting interests.

The Stevens Committee Report recommended a package of measures, and while those which are now embodied in the Bill would seem by and large to be giving greater powers to planning authorities, they must be seen in the context of the package as a whole. Taken together with the recommendations which do not require primary legislation—the proposed amendments to the General Development Order, the updating of advice on good mineral working practices and the co-operation between planning authorities and mineral developers on long-term policy—they will constitute valuable improvements to the system which will then be able to take better account of the needs of minerals developers as well as of the concern of planning authorities for the proper planning of their area as a whole.

I accept that this is not the time to be adding significantly to industry's burdens. The Bill does not do that and, indeed, no real allegation that it does do so has been made this afternoon. It provides a framework which will give some planning authorities additional powers to deal with those recalcitrant operators who just do not meet their environmental responsibilities; the good operator has nothing to fear from the provisions of the Bill. The considerable dereliction arising from past mineral working is all too powerful evidence for the need for increased powers, and I am confident that with the increased co-operation between planning authorities and the industry these powers will be used reasonably and to the benefit of society as a whole.

My noble friend and I will consider most carefully all the points raised by noble Lords. I shall deal with some of them in a moment; in the case of others they will be taken away and either my noble friend or I will reply to them after consultation. Of course, your Lordships will have ample opportunity to debate the detail of the Bill at the Committee stage—and, if I may say so without being too offensive, a number of points which have been raised are really Committee points. But, at any rate in order to facilitate consideration of the Bill in Committee, I am glad to be able to say that copies of Notes on Clauses will be available in the Printed Paper Office, I hope, within the next few days, and in any case well before the start of the Committee stage.

Before I go on to deal with some of the detailed points which have been raised, I must say a few words about the way in which the Bill applies to Scotland. Although the Stevens Committee was appointed by the previous Conservative Government—indeed, by my noble friend Lord Sandford, in effect—it reported in 1976 to the Labour Government in which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, played such a prominent part, The provisions of the Bill are not, I fancy, a matter of party political controversy. But, the differences in political circumstances are relevant to Scotland, since the then Secretary of State for Scotland in 1978 prefaced his response to the Stevens Committee Report in effect by saying that so far as primary legislation was concerned its proposals would be for consideration by the proposed Scottish Assembly. Events, of course, have moved on since that time.

Be that as it may, the present Government have carefully considered the question of the application of the committee's recommendations to Scotland and have decided that basically the same provisions should be applied to Scotland as are being applied to England and Wales. The problems in Scotland are perhaps somewhat smaller in scale, since conflicts between the needs of mineral development and other land uses are less acute, but they are the same in substance. In addition, many mineral operators conduct their business throughout Britain, and it is therefore desirable that legislation in this area should, so far as possible, be identical on either side of the Border.

In spite of the bulk of the Scottish clauses, therefore, which is due largely to the need for separate references to the Scottish legislative background, the provisions of the Bill in relation to Scotland are identical in substance to those in relation to England and Wales. What differences there are simply reflect the difference in the legislative and administrative arrangements in force in Scotland.

I should now like to turn to one or two of the general points that have been raised. I think that there may have been some misunderstanding about the effect of the Bill so far as time limits for mineral working are concerned. The Bill does not impose a blanket limit of 60 years on the life of new mineral permissions. The 60-year limit will only come into play where planning authorities do not exercise their discretion to set a longer or shorter life. Similarly, it does not interfere with planning authorities' discretion to set the appropriate period within which mineral working must start following the grant of a planning permission.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone complained, if that is the right word, about what I might call the "five-year period". Planning authorities have the power to prescribe a period other than five years—either longer or shorter—before the expiration of which working must have begun. Local planning authorities are encouraged to discuss industry's needs and take its views into account when considering when development should start. To adopt my noble friend's suggestion—which would be to exempt mineral working from the prescribed period—would lead to uncertainty as an operator would have a valid planning permission, but there would be no control on when he would actually start working. Such uncertainty about our commencement or recommencement of working has led to many of the detrimental effects of mineral working on the environment which the Bill is seeking to alleviate. Therefore, at present we are not convinced that mineral working should be treated differently from other forms of development in this respect.

I come now to some of the more particular points which were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, asked for an assurance that the enforcement provisions in the original Bill will be reintroduced. The facts of the matter are that the Government are looking at the enforcement of planning control generally and not just in respect of mineral working. If, in due course, it appears that further measures are necessary, then they will be introduced. But I hope that so far as mineral working is concerned the provisions of the Bill, in particular the new orders, will do much to improve land restoration.

The noble Baroness and also—in an unholy, but I hope short-lived alliance—my noble friend Lord Mottistone, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and others, complained, in effect, about the proposed regulations in relation to compensation which are due to be published and then eventually pass into law. 1 appreciate that if is fair game to say that every Government pass regulations in a way which cannot be properly questioned or supervised by Parliament and that therefore, to that degree, the democratic processes of our country are being polluted. T think that everybody says that in Opposition. But, as regards these particular provisions, I wish to point out that we are aware of the fundamental importance of the modified compensation provisions to the concept of the Bill.

As has been said, a consultation paper was issued in September 1980 to local authorities, the industry and others with an interest in the proposed content of the regulations. That is still the subject of discussion. The aim is to provide a workable formula to interpret the reasonable contribution which the Stevens Committee recommended the industry should pay. The formula is likely to be both complex and detailed and is, therefore, not really suited to primary legislation. Equally important, the formula is likely to need to be changed from time to time—in other words to be up-dated—and regulations provide a certain flexibility in this regard which primary legislation certainly does not. We do not want to impose too great a burden on either industry or mineral planning authorities. Nevertheless, because of the importance of the regulations, they will be subject to the procedures of an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses.

My Lords, if the noble Earl is moving on from that point, I should like to ask him a question about this. I take the point that the regulations have to be up-dated, but that is for the future. I want to know, quite clearly and plainly, whether we in this House shall have a sight of the original regulations—the regulations before they were up-dated or changed—while this Bill is proceeding. As I said, I am not very happy about the legislation going through and then, by Affirmative or even Negative Resolution, having these regulations put down. I think that we should know—and this has been said on all three sides of this House—what, in fact, is contained in the regulations; that is to say, the basis of the compensation.

My Lords, I had not quite reached the end of my remarks because I was going to give the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, such undertaking as I am able to give. He said that he thought the regulations should be available by the time the Bill, hopefully, receives its Third Reading in your Lordships' House. On that, I can simply say that we shall certainly try to give a firm indication of our thinking. But I must repeat that there has been a consultative paper, and a great deal of detailed consultative work has already taken place. Therefore, I do not anticipate that there will be any surprise about the regulations when they are published. Further than that I cannot go and, on reflection, I think that the House would scarcely wish me to at this particular stage of the Bill.

On past dereliction, there is already a system of derelict land grants which can be used to restore the effects of old mineral workings, such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. We do not think that there is a need for this Bill to do more on this specific matter. The Government have undertaken to reconsider a separate allocation for derelict land reclamation grant if local authority associations consider this necessary.

My Lords, if my noble friend will be good enough to give way, I can tell him now that it is not adequate. Nothing less than 100 per cent. will be sufficient.

My Lords, I take my noble friend's point. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, raised a number of very detailed points, and my noble friend or I will write to him. The five-year after-care period is needed for agriculture and forestry, because without it land is not properly restored. We do not believe that the same considerations apply to other situations, such as recreational uses. As to another point that the noble Lord raised, a certificate of completion certifies that restoration has been completed. If working has been abandoned, the planning authority can revoke the planning permission under the procedures proposed in the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone raised what I might call a vicarious point on behalf of our noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood; that is to say, the use of minerals by farmers. If necessary, the position could be covered by further amendments to the General Development Order. My noble friend Lord Nugent has already made his position plain. There have already been surveys of derelict land, and I believe that the way forward now is for local authorities to develop proposals for particular sites. We hope that the industry will wish to be fully involved in this process, and we are willing to do what we can to assist. I am all too aware of my noble friend's dissatisfaction with the level of grants which are available under existing legislation. One hopes that eventually the resources will become available to improve them, but one cannot see it for the moment.

My noble friend Lord Rochdale raised a point about time periods under the new Section 51A and Section 49A Orders. I have no doubt that suspension orders will be debated in some considerable detail in Committee. Suffice it if I say for the moment that we think we have the balance about right between the conflicting interests of the environment and the industry. But I want to tell my noble friend that the Government's mind is by no means closed on this matter, and any points which are raised in Committee will be listened to with considerable interest.

My noble friend Lord Gisborough raised six points about which he was good enough to warn me by letter in advance. In view of his courtesy, I think that I should do my best to answer them. The first question that he put to me was, in effect: Could the Bill be made to cover the existing areas of development which are not covered by after-care conditions? The answer is, yes. Clauses 7, 8, 23 and 24 empower planning authorities to attach after-care conditions to existing permissions. My noble friend then asked this. As well as returning to agriculture and forestry, can there be a return to more recreational uses, such as golf courses? The answer to that is that there may be occasions when mineral land can subsequently be put to such uses, specialist though they may be, but we believe that it would be more equitable if the new user, rather than the mineral operators, undertook the necessary preparatory work.

Then my noble friend asked whether planning authorities should consult surface owners for mutual benefit on restoration conditions. I can only answer him by saying that it is a matter which will be considered. He asked whether there should be a need to stage after-care—that was reflected in his speech; that is to say, whether one stage should not be started until a previous stage had been completed. That is a matter into which we can go in Committee, to see whether the Bill needs to be amended to cover progressive restoration.

Then my noble friend raised the point—as, I think, did one or two other noble Lords—that grants should be given to remove existing slag heaps and, therefore, no planning consent should be necessary, if heaps are worked, to remove them as opportunities arise. Of course, this is something which farmers find important. At present we believe that planning consent should be required for the removal of shale heaps, but in reaching a decision on an application the planning authority will naturally take account of the use to which the material is to be put. Finally, my noble friend raised a point about the definition of "forestry", and whether it should include amenity planting, such as shelter belts. That, too, is a matter of definition which we can go into in Committee.

My noble friend Lord Sandford suggested that district councils should be consulted on the reviews carried out under the provisions of Clause 3. We believe that the reviews must be a county council function in England and Wales, but we have provided that where a county council proposes to make one of the four orders under Clauses 7, 8 and 9, it must consult the district council if it wishes to benefit from the modified compensation arrangements. I hope that in the circumstances my noble friend will feel that this provides an adequate balance between unnecessary bureaucracy and consultation with the interested parties.

I think that that encompasses most of the points put to me, but not that of my noble friend Lord Boardman. I shall look with interest at what he said in the Official Report tomorrow. My noble friend or I will write to him, as desirable. I am very conscious that a winding-up speech on a somewhat complex and complicated Bill such as this is bound to be disjointed, but I hope that my efforts, such as they are, will not prevent your Lordships from giving this Bill a fair wind.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Ecc 70Th Report: European Social Fund

6.11 p.m.

rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on the European Social Fund (70th Report, Session 1979–80, H.L. 361).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In presenting to your Lordships' House this report on the European Social Fund the European Communities Committee have ventured to begin with a very brief history of that fund from its inception up to the present time—well, up to 1978, the latest year for which the Community's documents were available at the time of the committee's deliberations. This narrative occupies the first four pages of the report; and for much of the material in it we are indebted to our specialist adviser, Dr. Doreen Collins of the University of Leeds, a recognised authority, whose professional erudition and untiring attention to the committee's affairs I should like to acknowledge here. At the same time I would wish to pay tribute to Mr. John Turnbull, the clerk to Sub-Committee C, who bore the often vexatious heat and burden with unfailing thoroughness and indomitable good humour.

It may be that much of what is contained in this section of the report is already familiar to your Lordships—or maybe not. At least it enabled members of the committee to lay down a firm historical base for their inquiries and subsequent conclusions. My second word is of thanks to all those who gave evidence to the committee, written or oral or both. That evidence included valuable memoranda from the TUC, from the Development Commission, and, for those who are more numerate than I, from the European Court of Auditors. Especially, in oral evidence, the committee enjoyed conferring with Mr. Vredeling, the vice-president of the Commission—and we look forward to close and frequent relations with Mr. Ivor Richard—and with the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, who, in the middle of a particularly busy spell last July, enlivened and enlightened the committee considerably from his intimate departmental knowledge of these matters.

All this evidence will be found in the appendices to the report. I have heard it said in relation to documents of this kind that readers can be divided into two mutually exclusive categories; those who read the report but never look at the appendices, and those who read all the appendices but never look at the report. I dare to hope that this time there may be two, three, or even four Members of your Lordships' House who may have the interest and the conscientiousness and the perseverence to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the whole lot.

The committee then, after the historical introduction, deal with the European Social Fund in the broad Community context before going on to examine its application and use in the United Kingdom. And finally, your committee offer nine conclusions which are actually set out in the form of recommendations or exhortations.

Before I turn to a consideration of some of these conclusions, may I make one point which will be well known to many of your Lordships but perhaps not to all? The European Social Fund is not a "social" fund in the ordinary English meaning of that adjective. It is not primarily, but only secondarily or even incidentally, concerned with what in this country we call social problems. It is primarily and fundamentally a training and retraining fund, basically concerned with those problems, throughout the Community, which arise from the need to train men and women (especially young ones) for work, and to retrain for other work those who for one reason or another have lost the work they had.

There is a second general point to be made, so obvious that it is easily overlooked but basic to an understanding of the fund's operation. It is simply that between the date of the inception of the fund and the present day the whole economic picture in the states which constitute the Community has radically and disastrously changed. Since 1971 unemployment has become endemic throughout the Community, and there seems to be little immediate prospect of renewed economic growth within the Community as a whole. The background of the fund's activities has changed in such a way that the perspective of those activities must be adapted correspondingly if it is to preserve any credibility and effectiveness. This situation, I suppose, is likely to be aggravated rather than ameliorated by the further extension of Community membership.

Against that background, my next observation must be of a plainly stark and gruesome kind; namely, the underlying fact (perhaps "overriding" would be a more appropriate adjective) is that the budget allocation of the Social Fund in 1978 was 4·4 per cent. of the total estimated expenditure of the Community in that year. Without making contentious comparisons with other budget items, 1 think your committee is justified in calling 4·.4 per cent. an inadequate share for the work which the fund ought to be undertaking throughout the Community.

It is hardly surprising that this minute allocation was in 1978 oversubscribed to the tune of 93·3 per cent.; that is, legitimate applications amounted to almost twice the amount of money that the fund had available. I know that it is customary nowadays to prefix the adjective "inadequate" with horrific adverbs like "totally", "grossly", "manifestly". If I just say "inadequate", I shall stand, like a distinguished public servant under parliamentary cross-examination in 1773, astonished at my own moderation. Your Lordships will not be surprised that this point is made more than once in your committee's report. How far this gloomy situation is likely to be remedied in the near future it is impossible to say in the uncertainty, not to say chaos, which still surrounds the Community budget for 1981.

After those prolegomena, may I now, very briefly, call attention to four of your committee's conclusions, leaving to others the opportunity of filling in the gaps which I deliberately leave. Each one of these conclusions exemplifies one or other of the intricacies of the fund's nature and operations. The first concerns the problem of youth unemployment, which your committee had no hesitation in describing as "potentially catastrophic". There is, I am sure, no need for me to labour this point today, especially as it is a major concern of another committee of this House. But it must be said, bluntly and without equivocation, that unless young people receive some further education and training after they leave school a great many of them will grow up to be unemployable, especially in a future where higher and higher skills are certain to be demanded.

This is not a problem confined to any one member state; it is Community-wide and industry-wide. It is true, and welcome, that the social fund has paid increasing attention to these young people in recent years. But in 1978 the fund's provision under this heading was 31 per cent. of its budget; that is, 31 per cent. of 4.4 per cent. of the whole Community budget, which is, if my arithmetic serves, just over £100 million for these millions of young people who are at very grave risk with possible consequences nobody dares predict.

My second point is less sombre, vexatious rather than crucial, tiresome rather than desperate. It concerns simply the cumbersome nature of some of the Commission's procedures and documentation. To help intending applicants, the Commission produces guidelines setting out areas of the fund's activities, priorities which it observes and detailed criteria which govern the selection process when, as at present, applications amount to double the amount of money available. The result is a document which would effectively deter any but the most determined and persistent applicant.

Further, there are changes in the guidelines from time to time—rightly, since priorities change—so that applicants must be up-to-date and on-the-ball as well as tenacious and undauntable. The guidelines being mastered, there is an application form to complete, equally formidable and indigestible. Of course it is not easy to produce forms and instructions which cover the different training patterns and systems of 10 member states, but there is no doubt that the existing documents are in themselves a serious deterrent to the non-expert would-be applicant. It would perhaps help towards simplification of these documents if they had to be approved, as at present is not required, by the European Parliament.

My third point concerns what is rather inelegantly called the principle of "additionality". It is central to the whole concept and purpose of the fund that any grant it makes towards any scheme of training or retraining should be additional to any expenditure which the government of the relevant member state undertakes on that scheme. Broadly speaking, one-half comes from public funds in the country concerned and up to one-half from the social fund. It is not the fund's purpose to provide money which will be deducted from a member state's own proposed outlay on a scheme and so save it money. Rather, its purpose is to stimulate Governments into expenditure which, without help from the fund, they would not have undertaken.

It is of course, to put it mildly, not easy to ensure that all Governments all the time carry out this obliga-

tion in full. Let me leave it at that. But there is the further disagreeable consequence that when a government finds it necessary to reduce its expenditure in these fields, it loses pro tanto any hope of assistance from the fund. Then we are only a move or two away from the harsh fact that countries which are too poor to spend much in these ways draw less from the fund than their more affluent fellow member states, so that the more they need help from the fund the less chance they have of getting it. The principle of additionality, one might say, cuts both ways.

My fourth comment may become complicated, but I will keep it as simple as I can, even if over-simplification leads to some shortfall in strict accuracy. Each member state is required by the Community to appoint one contact organisation for its dealings with the fund. In the United Kingdom this is the Department of Employment, some of whose duties in this regard are to provide information to intending applicants, to help them in the framing of their applications, to forward to Brussels applications which are eligible and to keep in touch with the staff of the Commission.

Besides the applications which arise from the public sector there are applicants from the private sector, individual firms and voluntary bodies, who must be sponsored by some organisation or institution agreed between the Commission and the Department of Employment. In relation to the voluntary bodies, many of whom are eager to help, for instance with the education and training of migrants or the handicapped, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations has done and is doing valuable work in information, help and advice. It would seem that this work could well be extended, not of course in competition with the Department of Employment but in collaboration with it, especially in those spheres where the applicants might be more familiar with the idiom—if I may call it that—of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations than with the idiom of a Government department. It might even turn out that, in certain areas of application, the NCVO might be accepted as a partner with the department in validation and sponsorship.

This is the first time that your committee has ever examined and reported on the European Social Fund. It is perhaps surprising that such a major policy or policy instrument of the Community has not received more attention in the past. I therefore take this opportunity to raise, before I resume my seat, two questions which seem to be fundamental. The first, simply, is this: What is the point of having a European Social Fund at all? I would not presume to offer anything like a comprehensive answer to such a basic question, especially at this time, but I would offer one thought which may seem almost pitifully naïve. We arc talking and thinking and operating in terms of a European Community. In the smaller communities to which we all belong—our families, villages, streets and workplaces—we expect and almost take for granted a degree of concern from each member of that community for each of the other members. I suggest that the European Social Fund is the instrument or vehicle through which a corresponding concern may be felt and exercised in the broader context of the community of Europe to which we stand committed.

Finally, why is it in the interest of our own country that such a fund should exist? In recent years we in the United Kingdom have not done at all badly from it proportionately and comparatively with other member states. From the point of view of sheer self-interest, the fund's attractiveness to us may be reduced as other, comparatively poorer, countries join the Community. We shall certainly not cease to benefit from it, especially in those areas where we most need help. But I repeat, we are talking about a Community, and I for one should be sorry and sad to think that our interest in the European Social Fund was wholly governed, even in these hard days, by nothing but self-interest. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on the European Social Fund (70th Report, Session 1979–80, H.L. 361).—( Lord Wolfenden.)

6.29 p.m.

My Lords, it is all too well known that the European Community no longer has the popular support which as little as five years ago it seemed to possess. It now has an opportunity, if it will take it, to show how relevant the Community can be to the problems which confront ordinary people in this country, and it is only by establishing its relevance to the problems of the ordinary people that the imagination of the voters, and therefore the enthusiasm of Governments, can be recaptured. It is perhaps sad that that relevance springs from the horrors of unemployment which we are enduring today and which there is little doubt we shall continue to endure for months and probably years.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, has already indicated, the Social Fund was established under the terms of the Treaty at a time when the problems facing the Community were of a quite different order from the problems of today, and in those days it was perhaps not unreasonable that the distribution of resources in the Community should have been established along the lines which then in fact took shape.

But the Community is a moving, an alive, and a dynamic institution—otherwise it cannot possibly endure. The problems have changed so greatly since the Community was established and since the Social Fund was set up, and so it is surely reasonable and right that the handling of the budget of the Community, and the way in which the Social Fund is used, should change to meet the changing needs of a Community in which the economy and the social position of so many of its citizens have altered so drastically and so very much for the worse. Therefore this opportunity for the Community to show its relevance has to do with the way in which the Community can help to alleviate the problems of unemployment, and indeed to forestall the development of still more serious unemployment, with which we are threatened.

It seems to me that there are in particular two areas of activity with which the Social Fund is peculiarly suitable to deal, and indeed one at least of these aspects can be dealt with adequately only if it is handled on a Community scale, and if we do not attempt to deal with such problems purely on a national scale. Of course that becomes more difficult the more people forget the idea of a European Community and the more that they tend to think of it as a collection of individual nation states, each fighting to get the best possible pickings out of the Community in their own short-term interests.

The first and major contribution that surely must come has to do with what is, and since the beginning of the Treaty has been, at the heart of the purpose of the Community—the restructuring of industry. Any of us who has looked in any depth at the problem of unemployment must be convinced that, whatever palliatives are introduced in order to deal short-term with unemployment problems, the only longer-term and enduring solution is for a fairly drastic restructuring of industry in the industrialised countries as the less-developed countries become more developed and present a more serious competition, but at the same time a growing opportunity. That restructuring was of course very much in the minds of the founding fathers of the Community, and the major purpose of the Social Fund in its early days was to alleviate the pain that such restructuring would inevitably cause.

If that were necessary in the days when the Treaty of Rome was passed and when the Social Fund was set up, it is far more necessary today. It needs to be a European initiative, a Community initiative, envisaging the restructuring of the old industry on a Community scale, and backed by resources to enable that restructuring to be carried out with a minimum of hardship.

The Social Fund has been set up in order to provide for training and retraining of adults and youngsters, too. The retraining of adults is a subject that we have often talked about in your Lordships' House, but may I once again underline that there is abundant evidence that a very large proportion of people, to a much greater age than used to be so considered, are capable of retraining, of going into new work, of learning new skills, if the resources are there—both the financial resources to support them while the training is going on, and the technical resources to provide training of a modern kind which can revolutionise the opportunities to learn new skills.

So for that purpose the Social Fund was set up; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, has said, it was on a scale that was totally inadequate for dealing with the restructuring needs on which future employment prospects for the Community as a whole depend. We must urge Her Majesty's Government to put their whole weight behind securing a redistribution of resources, so that the Social Fund has more money for this purpose, and to be prepared also to see more national resources go to the Community, so that the fund can not only draw on moneys that are already there but also have available additional resources.

Linked with the problem of the restructuring of industry is the problem of the immediate alleviation of unemployment today, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, has said, in particular the alleviation of unemployment among young people and school-leavers. I would ask your Lordships, if you do nothing else in relation to the report, at least to look at paragraph 19 and to brood upon it, for it contains a horrible and terrifying message. Paragraph 19 says that 35 per cent. of all school-leavers in the Community get no training after they leave school, and it adds that it is likely that many of them will not have regular employment during their so-called working lives.

That problem is made more serious by the restructuring which we must have. Two aspects of the problem are closely interrelated. The kind of restructuring that we need will reduce the demand for unskilled people. The percentage of unskilled people in the employed population will become smaller the more effective the restructuring and the greater the move into the higher technology industries. So while the fact that 35 per cent. of school-leavers receive no training is already serious, it becomes very much more serious as we take the measures which we need to take in order to secure employment prospects as a whole. Thus we need to see that the 35 per cent. is greatly reduced and that as a Community we do not go on complacently allowing that proportion of school-leavers to have nothing that they can sell on the labour market except time and physical strength, as the demand for people with nothing but time and physical strength becomes less and less while the years go by.

This is a matter of the greatest possible urgency, and it is absurd to leave it to 4 per cent. of the Community budget, a budget which in any case is not enormous in its total. If it could be shown that the Community was really making an effective contribution to long-term employment prospects, an effective contribution here and now to cutting down unemployment among youngsters, and to seeing that there are fewer and fewer youngsters who have no skills to sell, then in popular regard the Community would rise in respect throughout this country; and we have the opportunity to press that that should be done.

There are other, perhaps smaller, matters which relate to the need to focus on that question and to take action in connection with it. As the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, has said, at present the applications to the Community all have to be routed through the Department of Employment. The Community in Brussels is accused of being excessively bureaucratic, and certainly there is some evidence to support the accusation. We do not want to compound that by being excessively bureaucratic in this country; we do not want to catch the Community bureaucratic disease. Is it really necessary that all applications should go through the channel that I have mentioned? As the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, has said, it is a complicated and frustrating business. Some of us have managed to get by, through, and under the regulations, but that requires much ingenuity. Is it not possible that reputable voluntary organisations, that schemes which have been backed by reputable trusts which are prepared to put up the money, should be able to go direct to Brussels and obtain money for what they want to do, informing the Department of Employment, so that it knows the total picture, but by-passing all the bureaucratic machinery?

Surely we want people in this country to feel that this is a popular Community in both senses—a Community which is well regarded, but also a Community to which the people in this country can have access; to which they can take schemes which at local level they believe to be valuable for the development of their local communities, and that they can go to Brussels and get backing for them. I cannot believe that, with determination, it would not be possible to open Brussels up to a far wider range of applicants without running any serious risk that resources will be badly wasted. Because it is very plain that a great deal of the improvement in the employment position is going to come, not so much from large-scale schemes developed from the centre but from a multiplicity of small schemes springing up from the grass roots, where at local level people have the conviction that there is some new work, some new activity, that they can get going. If they can get support for this, with some backing, perhaps, from voluntary organisations, by going directly to Brussels, then I believe that not only will this help considerably the unemployment position but it will have a very big effect on changing the attitude toward the Community.

I wonder, too, whether it is not possible to bring pressure to bear to modify the requirement of the 50 per cent. funding. Of course, I can very well understand why this has been laid down. There are certain circumstances in which 50 per cent. funding from the applicant country is not required. It already exists in the Community regulations; there is precedent for it. Surely it would be possible to devise schemes whereby, for areas or for groups of people where the need is very great, assistance can be obtained from Brussels without the 50 per cent. funding from the applicant country. For example, areas of very high unemployment or particular categories of youngsters might be eligible for treatment in this way. Otherwise, in many cases, especially if you are going to allow for a wider range of applications, as one would very much like to see, the ones who need it most are not going to be able to find it at all easy to get financial backing for the schemes that they want to see adopted.

In all these ways there is a great possibility for the European Community, through the extension of the Social Fund, to prove its value and its worth to ordinary people in this country. It means, of course, that the Government have got to give a high priority to getting results in bringing about changes in the Community. It will do this, of course, only if it is seen that there are the funds available to do effective jobs, to meet needs. We are in a double bind, in that there is so little support for the Community that there is very little public steam behind the idea that we should improve Community institutions, that we should give them more resources, and that in doing this we will make it a far more effective institution.

Here, it is surely for the Government to give the lead. We are members of the Community. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, has said that it is a community. It was perhaps necessary that at the beginning we should indulge in a fair amount of bickering. We have been told that that is now behind us. We do not want to draw up a very detailed profit and loss account showing how much we put in and how much we get out. We want, surely, now to come out as good members of the Community who see that it is only by working at Community level that we can solve our own problems.

6.44 p.m.

My Lords, when M. Spaak gave impetus to the idea of a European Social Fund to assist in the "re-adaption of labour", there was generally full employment in the Community and, indeed, throughout Western Europe as a whole. It is not so today. In the United Kingdom we are approaching 2½ million unemployed—as many as were unemployed in the whole of Western Europe when the European Social Fund was created. Readaption of labour meant training workers for employment and for better and more useful jobs, and the encouragement of retraining to achieve geographical resettlement. Today it is different.

The title of the fund is misleading. Its title gives an indication of social welfare, whereas the rules make it clear that the fund deals only with training problems over a relatively narrow field of categories. The report makes it clear that some urgent attention is needed for publicity for the fund and its title, so that the man in the street can more clearly see the help available from the Common Market. As my noble friend Lord Wolfenden has said, this is the first time there has been an in-depth public review of the working of the fund, which is a major instrument of European Economic Community policy. A long-term understanding of the political objectives of the fund is needed if public and parliamentary opinion is to insist that the European Social Fund should have a greater share of the EEC resources. More publicity and informed debate is needed. The European Parliament must pay more attention to the allocation of money to the fund, and its work.

For an application to be successful in Brussels it must be supported by a public authority, and then the European Social Fund will meet half the cost of the project, the remainder being met by the public authority. Here I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said about having a further look at the question of the 50 per cent. figure. It follows that if the Government engage in economies in this field then there will be less support from the European Social Fund. For example, if the Manpower Services Commission is denied funds to cover its half of the cost, less is obtained from the Social Fund. It would be inexcusable if the Government reduced its potential for retraining to meet industrial and technological change.

One of the complaints mostly made is about the complexity of the application forms. It is wrong, in my view, that applicants feel it necessary that they should go to Brussels personally to present their case. Simplified administrative arrangements ought to be considered. Since 1973 the United Kingdom has averaged 23 per cent. of the Social Fund disbursements. In 1979 we received 26 per cent. We are getting our share. Training of young people gets most of our grant. Over 50 per cent. was utilised for first-time job seekers under 25. This came under the Manpower Services Commission's Youth Opportunity Scheme.

The European Social Fund Advisory Committee is tripartite, the TUC and the CBI playing their full part. The TUC wants the fund strengthened and revitalised. Present economy forecasts suggest that the criteria for assistance be extended in particular to meet the wider training of women and to deal with long-term unemployment. Here I again support the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in underlining this particular issue. In the last 10 years long-term unemployment has increased fourfold. Today, nearly half-a-million adults have been unemployed for over a year. The fund as constituted does not help with this considerable problem. The TUC supports the proposed allocation of £7·5 million to assist in the retraining and resettlement of workers in British Shipbuilders. I hope that the Government will similarly support it.

I am sure that this House will be grateful to the many people in Brussels and elsewhere who do so much to try to meet applications from inadequate resources. Here, I would pay tribute to the chairman of our Committee, Lord Wolfenden, who guided us very expertly in this quite difficult task. Perhaps I could also mention that during our discussions I inevitably sat next to Lord Wall, who is unfortunately no longer with us. I should like to pay tribute to all the work he did on this inquiry. With many industries declining there is urgent need for more money for the fund to improve employment opportunities for workers in the Common Market and, ultimately, to improve our standard of living.

6.50 p.m.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, for putting the matter before the House in such a clear way. I should like to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for the work that she has done in the past for this committee and also for her speech today. I am certain that all members of the committee would like to join in thanks to the Clerks for their help. I want to refer to page xxiii in the summary of main conclusions. I should like to support the fact that the MEPs should study the method of working the fund and keep an interest in the manner in which the money is allocated. It seems to me very odd that neither the European Parliament nor the Economic and Social Committee is directly involved in the right to be consulted before the Council of Ministers take a major decision upon us. I feel that it is very necessary to interest the MEPs in regard to this fund because this is the only way we are going to get any attention in the European Parliament.

We discussed the question of the guidelines. We asked a question of one of the MEPs who came before us. He said that there is no parliamentary scrutiny of the guidelines as they are adapted each year. He quoted—and I am quoting him:
"The Commission is an extremely interesting animal to deal with because it is at one level Civil Service and, at another level, holder of the political initiative".
At the present time—and it has been mentioned already—applications go through the Ministry of Employment, but it is interesting to note that Greece has no funding system and I understand there may have to be a change when Greece comes in fully and also Portugal and Spain, because the guidelines cannot apply to them. I should like to suggest they may need to have an ad hoc grant. If we are going to have to change the guidelines, let us try to make them better for all countries concerned.

I am a little worried about the number of allocations that go to Government departments: for example, the Manpower Services Commission, and the Department of Manpower Services. We really have no idea what they spent the money on. There were other organisations, such as the textile industry. These are laid out in a report in detail showing what they receive and the names of the firms. Then you get occasionally the handicapped people. St. Loyes' College is an exception, being a voluntary organisation. It is stated that this is because it is very proficient and good at retraining. It would be interesting to have further details of how the money is allocated, especially in the training of women.

Also, on page 18, we are given an idea by a witness on behalf of voluntary organisations of the difficulty he had. He said that he had to fight his way through queues of enthusiastic Irishmen from voluntary organisations when he went to Brussels. But he was successful in getting what he wanted. What I am worried about is what will happen to the future of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations. I understand they have had to close down their Brussels desk and to cease publication of their Inside Europe. They can afford only one member of staff and a secretary for European affairs. Surely this is a time for this organisation to be given extra money. At present it is funded mainly on the Voluntary Services Unit of the Home Office. Could the noble Earl say whether it would be possible to approach the Department of Employment to help this admirable voluntary organisation which co-ordinates so many of the voluntary organisations in this country that are doing an excellent job. Also, there is the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas which is wholly financed by the Development Commission, and this is very successful. I mention this because I think it is interesting to note that they train new entrants and have eight different trades, varying from four years to two years in the training period. Sixty-three students are training at present and 90 per cent. of the trainees who have completed their courses have remained in their trade and have set up their own businesses.

I should like to make one or two suggestions. It would appear (as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden) that in 1978 only 4·4 per cent. of the Community budget was allocated to the European Social Fund, whereas 70 per cent. went to the CAP. I can understand when this fund was first set up that it was necessary to help with retraining of people from agriculture; but surely this amount now needs reconsideration as the industrial situation (as mentioned previously) is causing additional funds to be needed. And there is a minor point which would facilitate the working of the committee. When distinguished members from the Commission come over to give evidence and prefer to give evidence in their own language, this takes a great deal of time. I should like them to send a copy of their evidence in English. At the moment, they read it out in their own language and it has to be translated. A prior translation would enable members of the committee to consider what questions they might ask when the witnesses come. It would be advantageous both for the members from the Commission and also for the members asking questions.

There have been some successes. The Training Opportunities Scheme for all adults completing courses in 1978 resulted in some 73 per cent. being in employment three months after completing their course. For handicapped school-leavers, in the case of the Queen Elizabeth Foundation for the Disabled, it was in the order of 32 per cent. in the first three years being able to be entirely self-supporting. In my opinion, it would be advantageous for more British civil servants to have the opportunity to go to Brussels. This might help them know how the money is allocated and what is going on in other countries. Often when you want to compare one country with another and ask what is happening in Holland, Belgium or France, it is not known. It would be a good thing for them to go over more frequently so as to obtain more knowledge.

I hope that this debate will be widely read because I think it is essential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said, that the general public should know more of what is going on. I hope also—and I refer to Recommendation No. 8—that the Department of Employment will increase its provision for publicity, information and advice to intending applicants for grants from the fund. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Plant, has gone. I wanted to say that I thought that the recommendations on pages 11 to 14 by the TUC were excellent, well-balanced and helpful. Also, we have had some very constructive work by them in this regard. I am glad to end by saying that it is a great pleasure to have the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to wind up. He gave us sympathetic answers to our questions when he came before the committee.

6.58 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, for introducing this debate, as I am to him for steering us through the discussions in the committee when we were talking about the fund. As he and every other participant in the debate has said so far, the most important thing about the fund is that it should have a proper set of priorities and sufficient funds to tackle them. In this context, although we are debating the activities of the fund in the financial year 1978, none the less it was depressing to read recently that the money available to the fund for 1980 represented an increase of only 10 per cent. on its inadequate 1979 resources. But I do not want to dwell on that. I should like to talk about the lesser but by no means insignificant aspect of the fund—its administration.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, described the problem of the fund's procedures as vexatious and tiresome rather than crucial. I would put it higher than that, because unless the procedures of the fund are simple, access to it and the benefits it can supply will be too difficult for many, particularly those outside the official system, and thus opportunities will be lost. Complaints about the complexities of the fund's procedures and administration was a theme which ran through the evidence given to the committee. I accept that there is only the slightest of similarities between administering the European Social Fund and a relatively small private trust. But certainly I would be ashamed if when numbers of applicants were asked if there was any point they wished to make about the trust which I administer, unanimously they complained about its methods and procedure.

In the evidence given to the committee about the fund, the representatives of the Engineering Industry Training Board asked for a clearer set of guidelines and, astonishingly, even had to complain about the quality of the photocopied application forms they received. Mr. Smith, of the Queen Elizabeth Foundation for the Disabled, pleaded for simplicity, and a less baffling form on which to claim grants and described the quality of existing ones as a disgrace. Mr. Abbott, of the London Council for Social Service, complained about the time taken to pay grants, and the method of paying them. The last word from the Society of Education Officers was to plead for more straightforward and simple language. The CBI thought:
"the procedures of the fund could be significantly improved".
Mr. Vredeling was moved to confess that the guidelines had been rather complicated in the past.

It is not surprising that Mr. Vredeling spoke as he did, because no fair person could doubt the validity of the complaints. The new guidelines for 1981–3 are printed as an appendix to the report and have, according to Mr. Vredeling, been simplified. Even so, some paragraphs, notably in the first section, are very complicated. For example, I accept that if your Lordships read paragraph 1.4 on Weighted Reduction very carefully two or three times, it is quite intelligible, and in any case it is describing a complicated formula. It is, though, the sort of paragraph which non-experts could find very daunting. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, said, an applicant will be faced with an extraordinary application form. This is also reproduced in the report. Even if he is lucky enough to have a perfect photocopy, an applicant will conclude, as I do, that there must be a simpler way of obtaining details and costs of the projected activity—and his feelings will be certainly echoed by the typist who has to type every single letter and figure in exactly the right spot on the form.

Having filled the form in and sent it off, he must hope the guidelines are not changed while it is being considered, thus nullifying it. If he is successful, he will find that payment of his grant is by no means straightforward. If the applicant is a well staffed and well equipped Government department, with no cash flow problems, he will survive to the end of the course; if he is from a private organisation with ordinary resources, and lacks the determination of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who could blame him for falling on the way—or being daunted from setting out on the obstacle course at all? The noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, suggested that the fund's documents should be approved by the European Parliament: my own suggestion is that they be subject to scrutiny at the offices of the Plain English Campaign!

Having said that Government departments have an advantage in the application process, for those of them that do make the grade, a particular form of torture has been devised, but this is not the fault of the European Social Fund. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, made some reference to it. As the Development Commission told the Committee in evidence:
"all United Kingdom receipts relating to Government organisations go to the Exchequer instead of to the applicants".
As the Development Commission went on, this means that applicants of this kind will have gone to immense labour, yet derive no direct financial benefit. On this question, I recall an exchange on 29th October last between the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, when the Minister was asked whether money received from the European Social Fund would be used in addition to British Treasury money. The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said that it could be argued that the European Social Fund money is simply Treasury money in the first place. No doubt it could be so argued, but this thinking seems to be directly contrary to the purpose of the fund.

To return to the difficulties encountered by applicants, it was represented to the committee that much of this complexity was inevitable, given the different procedures in each of the member states. My main reason for doubting the validity of this point is that there is some evidence that the administration for pilot schemes is much simpler and easier. I have talked to two successful applicants for pilot scheme funding and been impressed by their account of speedy treatment and a refreshing lack of bureaucracy. If it is possible in those cases, could not a vast improvement be made in the procedures for dealing with the bulk of the fund? My only complaint about pilot schemes is a different point, which is that I suspect that not enough is done to publicise the results of what are often very interesting schemes. Clearly what the European Social Fund needs most of all is more resources for the vast job it has to do. I hope not only that increased resources will be forthcoming but that simultaneously the procedures for their release can be simplified.

7.5 p.m.

My Lords, I apologise to the House for speaking, but with the absence of one noble Lord who was to be the last speaker before we have the pleasure of hearing the winding-up of my noble friend and the speech from the Government, I will trespass on the time of the House for three minutes or so because this is one of the most interesting debates that we have had this week and I hope that more will be heard. Unfortunately, I probably would be right if I said that not 10 people in a thousand that you would meet in the street could define what the European Social Fund is because many of them would be looking at it from the point of view of old-fashioned social security.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, aptly, succinctly and logically said, the purpose was looking at this from the point of view of the reconstruction of industry, The noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, is an expert and has explained to the House that originally we were looking at the reconstruction of Europe at a time when, as my noble friend Lord Plant pointed out, there were less unemployed in the whole of Europe than we have today in Britain. I think first and foremost that one of the tragic facts of the world in which we now live is unemployment.

As a young student and from my experience in my Welsh grammar school, I saw young men who went up to the sixth form with me who years later had no employment. They had first-class IQs—a terrible word. But one of the sad facts which we have heard tonight is that 35 per cent. —and I will be corrected if my figures are wrong, but the general contention will be right—of the youngsters leaving school today, boys and girls, over the whole of the European Community, have no education afterwards.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, aptly pointed out again, we are in a world that is different and is reconstructing. One of the priorities of this fund should be towards the child who is leaving school. We are gradually getting rid of the redbrick and the Oxford and Cambridge university snobbery and realising the importance of the polytechnics and the technical colleges in man's modern constructive society. I should therefore like to see a change in direction in the European Community, and in Britain itself, and more emphasis being given to further education—even if it is compulsory—in regard to the technical know-how of the world in which we are now living, with the microchip and all the modern computer systems.

I mentioned yesterday that the day of muscles and shovels is moving to the day when aptitude and ability will be needed. The technical colleges can assist children leaving school and this fund should be looking at this aspect. My Lords, I promised to speak for three minutes and my three minutes is up. I am grateful to the House for allowing my short intervention.

7.8 p.m.

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, and indeed to his committee for having produced such a comprehensive report on the operation of the Social Fund during 1978. I am sure your Lordships will appreciate the tremendous amount of personal endeavour that had to go into examining the numerous regulations governing the fund, the amendments that have taken place to those regulations, and indeed the somewhat complex evidence that came before Sub-Committee C when they were advising the committee on various aspects of the Social Fund.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, correctly pointed out, the name "Social Fund" gives no real clue as to its significance. It is fundamentally concerned in Articles 4 and 5 respectively with labour retraining and resettlement, and Article 5 deals, by financial support, with the traditional difficulties in various countries which are of a structural or regional nature. It is quite inevitable that in the times in which we are now living some very considerable emphasis has been given to the necessity of helping in one way or another the growing number of those who swell the ranks of youth unemployment. The point has been well made by most speakers this evening and was emphasised in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

In approaching this question we have to take a stance. Are we directly and fundamentally concerned with the welfare of the unemployed themselves and in particular the young unemployed, or are we concerned with ensuring that the Community gives the appearance —I am using the words of the noble Baroness—of doing something or of establishing the relevance of the Community as such? Are we satisfied with that emphasis rather than with the fate of individuals, of which there are millions throughout Europe at this time?

If we are concerned with people as distinct from being concerned with establishing or maintaining the respectability of institutions, then I think we have to take a slightly different look at it because by all accounts the amount of the Social Fund of the European Community is pitifully small. In money terms it is in fact much lower than the administrative costs of the Commission in Brussels, which in 1980 amounted to no less than £421 million under Titles 1 and 2 of the Commission budget. The funds available to the Social Fund in 1978, translated into money terms, totalled £381 million, to cover the various problems supposed to be dealt with throughout the length and breadth of Europe and in particular the problems of those regions in Europe which are poorer than the remainder.

By all accounts, the amount to be spent in Europe as a whole in support of the objectives of the Social Fund is manifestly minuscule, almost derisory. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, gave a clue to its magnitude when he said it was only 4.4 per cent. of the Community budget—a smaller percentage than the administrative cost of Brussels itself and its outpost.

How, therefore, can we pretend, and indeed why should we try to pretend, that this particular aspect of Community activity is of any material significance at this time? It is not good for the people of this country that they should be deluded into thinking that in this particular respect the European Economic Community as such has anything very material to offer. Indeed, I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, for reminding me, when he referred to the answer given to a question by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, that it was, after all, in effect recycling Treasury money.

On going through the guidelines for the operation of the Social Fund—and I refer here to document C.116 of the 19th May last—I invite the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, to say whether there is anything in those guidelines that imposes on Her Majesty's Government any extra obligation that they would not ordinarily undertake themselves. In other words, of what value to Her Majesty's Government are the guidelines that are proposed in this document for implementation in member states? On going through them, I cannot find one particular item which must not already have been taken into account by the Department of Employment and by Her Majesty's Government. What point, then, is there in sending our own money to Brussels—we contribute roughly 20 per cent. of the European Social Fund—and receiving back 23 per cent.? I agree that we make a profit of some 3 per cent., and that is excellent: I defend it. I cannot altogether agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in matters of this kind and I am quite sure it would make the Treasury Bench blench if they were persuaded that the profit and loss in these matters did not really matter. The Treasury cannot talk with a forked tongue. It cannot apply profit and loss considerations for internal consumption within the country, as it is doing at the present time, and then invite us to ignore them overseas. That will not do.

I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, when he asked the first of his last two questions: what is the point of the fund? I would agree immediately that if the European Community were to give to social affairs generally the same kind of priorities that it gives to agriculture there would be some point in the fund. Already, as I am quite sure the noble Lord is well aware, the resources of the Community are nearing the limit imposed upon them by the VAT percentage enshrined in the Sixth Directive, and an increase in own resources beyond that I per cent. can be made only by the unanimous agreement of the member states. From what one reads in the press, it would not appear very likely, in view of the stated stance of our fellow member, France.

Indeed, I believe that the right honourable lady the Prime Minister has given no positive indication of this country's willingness, for own resources purposes, to go beyond the 1 per cent. limit imposed by the treaty; but at the same time expenditure of Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Community budget on agriculture now occupies some 75 per cent. of Community expenditure. There was some hope at one time that that percentage could be brought down; indeed, when Mr. Peter Walker took his initial look at the Common Agricultural Policy he was almost tempted to echo the words of the right honourable lady the Prime Minister that the conduct of the Common Agricultural Policy was almost insane. But since that time there has been a moderation in attitude by the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, who now envisages a gradual transition over the next five years. But of more immediate importance, there is the next price review, in May of this year, and nobody knows which way it will go.

One thing is for certain, that the funds of the Community which are available for the Regional Fund and for the Social Fund will be squeezed and squeezed. Is it not better, therefore, to see the existing social fund for what it is; not for what we should like it to be? Is it not far better to echo the words of the former President, Mr. Jenkins, himself, who recently described the Community as being essentially the Common Agricultural Policy with a few peripherals?

We have a choice. We can either make the Community into a living and vibrant thing, by extending the scope of its activities beyond its central core, which is the Common Agricultural Policy, or we can stop pretending that it has any validity whatsoever over and above what Governments themselves are prepared to do about the other social and regional problems, with which the Community is supposed to deal.

I put it to the noble Earl, as a matter of administrative practice, avoidance of complication and elimination of waste, upon which Her Majesty's Government have set very great store, how can he justify, on the basis that this is already Treasury money—and the words are the noble Earl's—that applications go, first, from private organisations or voluntary bodies to the Department of Employment for processing, then on to the Commission, then after that for review by the Consultative Committee, consisting of six from each member state and then back to the Commission again, with ultimately, at some time, payment back to the United Kingdom of what was Treasury money in the first place? How can that be justified? I do not think it can be.

I am not saying that the day may not come when the Community functions as a community, as distinct from functioning as a mere shield for the Common Agricultural Policy, when it may be possible and, indeed, desirable to have these things on a massive scale. But so long as they are merely tokens—and I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, will agree with me that, at the moment, they are tokens only—we should not pretend to the public at large that they are any more than tokens. Otherwise, the public will never forgive us for misleading them.

This report is in very great detail and it has been most skilfully and carefully drawn up. I cannot help feeling that any noble Lord who reads through it very carefully, bearing in mind the budgetary strictures that I have seen fit to make—because we have to bring these things out into the open here, and there is no point in having a pretence—will substantially agree with me that we are not concerned with the preservation of the image of an institution. We are concerned, fundamentally, with the welfare of people.

7.25 p.m.

My Lords, I very much welcome the chance that this report gives for us to debate the operation of the European Social Fund. It is, as many noble Lords have said, a relatively little known part of the European Community's activities, and other aspects of Community policy and expenditure normally attract rather more notice. Therefore. I believe that the committee has done a really useful job in its report by illuminating the fund's activities for the benefit of a wider public. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, and his colleagues have gone to a very great deal of trouble to get information and views from those who really know about the operation of the fund. And, if I may say so, the report seems to me to be an excellent example of the kind of study in depth which this House does particularly well.

On behalf of the Government, I should like to thank all those who worked so hard—the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, especially—and to congratulate them on their good work. May I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, and the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for their generous remarks about myself. Also, I am delighted to think that the phrase "the Wolfenden Report" may now shine in a rather wider or more useful context than earlier.

I naturally want to concentrate my remarks today on the main points raised by the committee in their report and, of course, on some of the additional points that have come up in the course of the debate. However, before I do that I want to make a few general points about the Social Fund and the United Kingdom's interest in it. As the excellent historical summary at the start of the report shows, the fund goes back to the Treaty of Rome which originally set up the European Community. It reflects the recognition at that time that a dynamic economic community would need to tackle problems of unemployment and changes in patterns of employment, at least in part, at the level of the Community itself.

I must say at this point—I shall come back to some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, with some of which, to his surprise, I agreed—that the much feared Common Agricultural Policy was in its inception, to some degree, a social, employment and retraining fund and, as such, it was successful. Its problem is not in its success or its inapplicability to Europe. Its problem is in its lack of success and its inapplicability to Great Britain. Of course, it is a major cornerstone of our policy to smooth out that difference, but it takes time. Therefore, these are important objectives. The report also makes clear that the Social Fund, despite its slightly misleading title, which I regret, is thus concerned almost exclusively with employment and training matters. That is why I myself, rather than my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, am dealing with it tonight. It does not extend to providing assistance for schemes of social welfare more generally—though I know that some people regret this. It is, therefore, very important when discussing the fund that we always keep in mind these limitations in its scope.

Over the years since we went in, the United Kingdom has consistently been a net beneficiary from the fund. This has justly reflected the scale of the employment and other problems which we face. Over the years, we have secured an average about 23 per cent. of the fund. Last year, 1980, we were allocated a total of £135 million—that is, 22.7 per cent. of all allocations—for a wide variety of employment and training schemes. These ranged from large national programmes, such as the Youth Opportunities Programme and the Training Opportunities Scheme, down to much smaller projects run by voluntary bodies, as well as individual companies and local authorities.

But given the way in which the fund currently operates—in particular, the absence of fixed national quotas and the excess of eligible applications over available resources—it is never possible to predict accurately from year to year exactly what we shall be allocated. We naturally hope that the fund as it develops—and we want to see it develop—will continue to give as substantial support as possible to the task of resolving the United Kingdom's problems and pre-occupations. The rules are, in fact, due for review by the end of 1982. That review will have to consider the implications of further enlargement of the Community, whether the fund's current priorities are likely to remain appropriate in the late 1980s, and whether changes in the way the fund is administered are required in the light of its rapid expansion. I very much hope that this review will put the fund on a basis which will allow it to play an increasingly important role in the affairs of the Community in the years ahead not least, because of its connection with what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, called the inevitable restructuring of industry—inevitable, but none the less painful for that, as she herself reminded us.

May I come to the point of the size of the fund's budget, which virtually all noble Lords mentioned. First, the committee has in its work highlighted the gap, which has been persistent in recent years, between the level of eligible applications for assistance and the resources available to the fund. In percentage terms, that gap was narrower in 1979 and 1980 than it was in 1978 but it has nevertheless remained substantial. The Government have no doubt that spending on employment, industrial and regional policies ought to take up a significantly higher proportion of the Community's budget than it does at present. As the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, pointed out, this is particularly important in the context of the economic problems facing the Community in the 1980s. We have therefore supported the expansion of the Social Fund.

I must add a note of warning. The scope for this is not unlimited except as part of our wider policy of obtaining agreed restructuring within the Community budget itself. The scope is not unlimited because the United Kingdom taxpayer contributes towards the cost of the fund as he does towards other Community policies. We cannot therefore let things rip at Community level while pursuing policies of public expenditure restraint domestically. Other member states who are in much the same position as ourselves in this recession take this view as well.

An additional factor in the next few years will be, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, reminded us, the 1 per cent. VAT limit which will impose an absolute ceiling on Community expenditure. That will make it all the more important for the Community to consider its priorities within the budget. It is realistic therefore to assume that for the foreseeable future it will be necessary, as it has been over the last few years, to find some way of determining priorities among applications. Of course this is very difficult and of course the fund is faced with a variety of competing requests for assistance from different groups of workers and individual countries which at present it is not possible to reconcile completely. The committee's report recognises this, implicity at least, in recommending, to my great pleasure as the Minister responsible in this field, that in particular priority be given to the problem of youth unemployment.

I was rather surprised that my noble friend Lady Vickers, whose speech I very much enjoyed, had no idea what the MSC spend all the money on. Under the policy direction of Ministers they spend it on the Youth Opportunities Programme, on the other special programmes, on training. Lady Vickers mentioned women in this context. Very large numbers of women in the United Kingdom benefit from schemes which secure support from other parts of the fund. For instance, in 1980 the Training Opportunities Programme secured an allocation of over £20 million from the fund. That was almost twice the amount allocated for special women's schemes in the Community as a whole. And 43 per cent. of those people who completed TOPs courses were women. May I also say to my noble friend that we, both Ministers and officials, do go to Brussels. I myself go a great deal, as I am responsible in this field. And we have permanent representatives in Brussels.

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that we in the Community have common problems and that we are seeking common solutions. The noble Lord will be well aware that it is a cornerstone of our entire foreign policy to try to get these budgetary inequities sorted out. Where the noble Lord and I perhaps part company is in that, though the imbalances within the Community's budget, for the historical and other reasons of the period of its development that were earlier mentioned, are a cornerstone of our foreign policy, we do not think that the European idea, the European venture, or the sheer sound practicality of our training and tariff relations with the Community are limited by the problems we have on the budget, problems which, the Government are proud to say, they have gone a very considerable way—further than any previous Government—towards solving.

May I say another word about youth unemployment. As I said, I am glad that to a significant extent the pattern of spending from the Social Fund indicates that this has come to be a special priority. In 1976, when provision was first made for schemes for young people, the percentage of the fund's budget going to such schemes was only 16 per cent., whereas in 1980 it was almost 40 per cent. That is a priority which the Government wholeheartedly share. Within the limited resources available to us for employment and training programmes in this country, for two years running, we have found scope for major increases in the size of the Youth Opportunities Programme. The Social Fund has contributed substantially towards the cost of this, providing allocations of over £47 million for the Youth Opportunities Programme this year. As the noble Lord, Lord Plant, reminded us, that is out of a total of £71 million for young people's schemes in the United Kingdom. I very much hope that this support from the fund for our efforts will continue and grow. I am sure that the fund must continue to regard support for young people as a major priority because, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, reminded us, this is a restructuring problem which we all share, regardless of individual differences of policy.

I now turn to the question—I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, that it is an inelegant term—of what is termed "additionality of social fund expenditure". May I take this chance to explain to your Lordships the Government's approach to this issue. In deciding between competing priorities for public spending, account is taken of the extent to which assistance might be available from the Community. The general effect of this assistance is that programmes can be sustained at a higher level than would otherwise be the case, but this in turn implies that the Government cannot simply add the money received from the Community to the resources they have already decided to make available for such programmes. To do so would be contrary to the basis on which the programmes had been decided and would drive a coach and horses through any of our attempts to control public spending and keep down the public sector borrowing requirement in order to lower inflation, lower interest rates and release resources for industry to invest and create more permanent jobs.

A further point is that the United Kingdom makes a large contribution—this is at the core of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington of the order of 20 per cent. towards the cost of the Community budget as a whole. It needs therefore to look for a contribution from that Community expenditure to offset the cost of national programmes if our borrowing is not to be further increased. That again is a central core not only of our economic but of our entire foreign policy. This policy of non-additionality is one which has been applied by successive Governments to receipts from the Community. While this is a general rule, there are some exceptions. In the case of the social fund, assistance towards the costs of programmes run by organisations outside government, notably by voluntary bodies (and some of these have been mentioned), is genuinely additional to the money which has been put into the project from other resources, including resources coming from the Government themselves.

Much mention has been made of publicity. In the light of the Select Committee's recommendation we will do what we can to see that the fund is better known and understood among potential applicants. My department's staff are always ready and willing to provide information and advice about the fund. I was naturally pleased to read the generally favourable account the committee had of the work done by my department in this respect. I am also pleased to be able to say that a new and I think an improved version of the explanatory booklet which we issue about the social fund will be distributed in the next few weeks to a wide variety of organisations which have some potential interest in the fund. I will see that this is laid before the House as well.

May I come quickly to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations. I have already touched briefly on this subject but there is an element of genuine additionality in the resources that voluntary organisations can receive, through the conduit of my department, from the fund. We have welcomed the work and we join with the report in praising the work of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations in keeping the voluntary sector abreast of development on the Social Fund, and were glad to co-operate with them in the provision of information about the fund. I very much hope that this fruitful relationship will continue, and I myself have had the benefit of hearing the NCVO's views on the operation of the fund within the last few months.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, has suggested that the NCVO might, in respect of certain applications, be accepted as a partner with the department in validation and sponsorship. As I pointed out, we arc responsible for the submission of applications from the United Kingdom, but I would be pleased if the NCVO found itself in the position of being able to extend its own role as a first port of call for voluntary organisations, or perhaps it would be better to call it a clearing house in that regard. I hope that also answers the point made by my noble friend Lady Vickers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and others raised questions about the work of my department as the sole channel for applications. As indicated in one of the appendices to the minutes of evidence, all member states have nominated only one or two agencies through which applications are transmitted to Brussels. This is in line with the rules of the fund, reflecting the Commission's need to limit the number of organisations they have to deal with, rather contrary I think to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—that is, to slim down bureaucracy and the necessity for different organisations to have to sit in perhaps conflicting judgments on the quality of applications being put before them—and I think it is working reasonably well.

However, my department in no way acts as a barrier to potential applicants to the fund. One of its functions is to help and advise such organisations and we welcome any further eligible applications; but we have to be frank with organisations whose schemes stand little or no chance of success. Therefore, when we are saying "no" it is not that we, as it were, are turning down the application, hut we are advising the organisation that the way the fund is structured at present gives them little chance of benefiting from it. I think we owe it to the Commission not to waste their time by submitting manifestly ineligible applications.

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl the Minister, but I wonder whether I may have a direct answer to this question. The noble Earl has said that the function of the department is to advise. If the advice is: "We do not think that you will get the grant", is it still open to the body wishing to apply, to go ahead and take the risk of being turned down? If that is not the case, then I really do not think the word "advise" is appropriate because then it is in fact a question of making the decision.

My Lords, I think the way it works is this. The noble Baroness is right in logic in that things have to be channeled through ourselves. It might be, however, that we would advise a given organisation that they have little chance of success. If they really pressed me—and I use that pronoun advisedly—as the Minister responsible, and felt that they must "chance their luck", I certainly would not stand in their way and I would instruct my officials to process it all the same. I think that is how it would work out in practice.

I note what everyone has said and the noble Baroness in her intervention as well as in her speech has said, about direct access by applicants to the Commission. I personally think that the way we have it cuts down on bureaucracy, but I am sensitive to the feeling about this and I am quite happy to consider whether we have got it right and perhaps return to the question.

May I come again quickly to the issues about the simplification of rules. The committee's report also discussed the way in which the fund is administered. The committee recommended that the administrative procedures of the fund and especially the guidelines should be simplified. The noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, had something to say about that. I can assure the House that the United Kingdom Government have supported and will continue to support measures to these ends. I am glad to say that the Commission have taken steps to try to speed up payments, and in the last couple of years they have introduced a new system of advanced payments. They are also reviewing application forms to see whether they can be simplified. My department seeks to give applicants as full information as possible on the time which an application is likely to take to be decided and on any subsequent procedures. Again I refer back to our new guide which T laid before the House, because I think that will give a clearer picture of what is required. Again on the issue of duplicating bureaucracy, I was pleased to see from Mr. Vredeling's remarks and submission that he says that the United Kingdom is among the best in the speedy submission of claims for payment.

My Lords, I have done my best in the relatively brief time to cover, so far as I can, all the main recommendations set out by the committee in what I regard as a most valuable report. As I and other speakers have made clear in the course of this debate, the fund's rules and structures are due for review in the not too distant future. It is too early, of course, to say what new ideas may be forthcoming from the Commission. It is for them to make the proposals in the first instance. Nevertheless, in the light of experience we shall be considering what changes and improvements can be made to the fund which would improve both its operation and our essential interests. In this context the ideas and suggestions in the committee's report, as well as in this debate tonight, have been most pertinent, and I can assure your Lordships that we will give them most careful consideration in preparing our own position for this important review.

7.47 p.m.

My Lords, I think we have had a useful debate. Naturally I could have wished that there had been a more populous attendance, but I think this has done something towards one of the desiderata that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned, of bringing this whole business about the European Social Fund in its context in the Community to the notice of the great British public, who know so little about it and I think ought to be encouraged to know more. I hope it is just possible that this evening we have added one element to the publicising of this operation.

There has been a considerable measure of agreement in the comments that have been made—of course not totally unanimous, as one might expect. But at any rate I think contributions of great value have been made and I hope we may have provided some ammunition for the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in the good fight that I know he is fighting, both in London and in Brussels. We hope that we have helped him a little in that.

Finally, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have attended this evening, especially those who have spoken, and to add my own very warm personal thanks to my colleagues on Sub-committee C and my colleagues on the Select Committee itself. With those very sincere words of gratitude, I resume my seat.

On Question, Motion agreed to.