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Viscount Addison: I am greatly encouraged by my noble friend's reply. I understand his concerns and other concerns with my amendments as they stand. But I am grateful that he has supported in principle the points that they raise. It is extremely important that progress is made before the Bill goes to the other place. With this in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 55 [Abandoned mines: England and Wales]:

Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved Amendment No. 246:

Page 60, line 40, at end insert:

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1475

("( ) It shall be the duty of the operator of the mine to publish any notice given under subsection (1) above in one or more newspapers circulating in any area that may be affected by consequences of the abandonment.").

The noble Lord said: At this hour of the night we approach the problem of abandoned mines. The matter is extremely serious, as all Members of the Committee will know. It has very great and grave consequences for the environment. The amendment in my name and in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Moran, seeks to extend the duties of the operator of the mine in giving notice of his intention to close a mine.

The Bill as presently drafted says that he shall inform the agency, and that is absolutely right. It goes on to say that the agency shall inform the local authorities, and that is right. In that way the matter comes into the public domain. But this matter is so important, and affects so many people who live round about the area of a mine, that it is right that we should try to short-cut the process by making it the duty of the mine owner to give public notice by publishing his intention in the newspapers that circulate in the area. That is the reason for this amendment. I hope that the Government will see fit to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: I rise to support the amendment. This concerns the wider dissemination of information concerning the planned abandonment of mines.

Before the passing of this Bill—that is, at this moment —a mine operator is under no duty to give any notice of intention to abandon the mine. But the wording of Clause 55 will improve the situation in that an obligation is imposed to notify the agency in advance of abandonment. That is helpful but by no means sufficient. Although this particular notification procedure is welcomed, it does not provide a procedure where other interested parties who will be directly affected by the abandonment will be so informed. Of course, I support the amendment to the effect that the local press should be informed.

But what of the owners of fishing rights? Their enterprise may well be adversely affected by a mine abandonment, the pumping of mine water likely to cease, rising mine water levels, the fear of mine water seepage and of pollution. Also, within the area of a mine closure, should not the regional fisheries committees of the National Rivers Authority be informed, thereby being enabled to take whatever precautions are necessary should they anticipate a flooding or pollution problem of the rivers or still waters of their area? I believe too that it is also sensible to alert the national office of the Salmon and Trout Association, so that its branches can be alerted in the vicinity of the abandoned mine.

The Salmon and Trout Association is the senior game angling organisation in Great Britain. It is the governing body of the sport in England and Wales. It is concerned with the wellbeing of all waters, and in particular those that hold stocks of salmon, sea trout, trout and grayling. It is the only organisation in England and Wales that monitors all applications for licences for abstraction and

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1476

consents to discharge made to the National Rivers Authority. As a result, branches in all regions are watchful for any pollution problems.

Pollution from abandoned mines is certainly a concern. Valuable salmon rivers and their stocks could be at risk. The Minister will know that the River Wear in the County of Durham is a classic example. With regard to the general area of concern about pollution—that is what everyone concerned with the environment, pollution and pure waters is worried about—I would want the headquarters of the Anglers' Conservation Association, which incorporates the Pure Rivers Society, to be informed in advance of pit closures and abandonment of mines.

The Anglers' Conservation Association is a national organisation of high repute in the angling world. Its individual membership and that of its angling clubs cater for about 250,000 anglers throughout England and Wales. It exists mainly to fight the polluters of our inland waters, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. It is the one major organisation with 40 years of experience of taking the polluters to court and making them pay, having lost only two cases in that time. Therefore, for the benefit of its membership and the wider knowledge of any likelihood of pollution problems arising from abandoned mines, the ACA too should receive prior notification of pit closures and abandonments.

I do not feel that it is sufficient for the agency, having been informed of a proposed abandonment, in its turn to inform the local authority. The matter should not rest there. As I pointed out, there are other interested bodies which need to be notified, with some of whom the local authorities will not be in touch.

The newspapers circulating in the area, having broken the news to the locals—if the Minister accepts this amendment —will help to plug some of the gap of concern. But I hope that some thought will be given to specific organisations being informed, at least those that I have mentioned. The Minister may not be able to give me a full reply at the end of this debate on the amendment, I hope that he will give the matter some thought and give us some more information at Report stage.

12.30 a.m.

Viscount Ullswater: This amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is concerned with the new requirements for mine operators to give the agency at least six months' notice of any proposed abandonment of a mine. It proposes that any such notice should be published in newspapers circulating in areas which may be affected by the consequences of the abandonment.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, exemplified the anxieties that many of the fishing interests, including the Anglers' Conservation Association, would have as regards the concept of the abandonment of mines.

The purpose of requiring mine operators to give prior notice is to allow the agency to assess fully the likely impact on the water environment of a proposed abandonment and to identify any steps which may need to be taken in order to protect water quality. The matters

31 Jan 1995 : Column 1477

to be considered will be of a technical nature. I am satisfied that there would not be any reason at this stage for a mine operator to publish a notice in the local press of a proposal to abandon a mine. In addition, this would place a further, unnecessary, burden on industry.

However, we have taken account of the need to inform local authorities in some circumstances of a proposal to abandon a mine. Where the agency receives notice of an abandonment and considers that harm or water pollution will be caused in the area of a local authority by water from the mine, it must inform the local authority of the abandonment.

I should point out that, if a consent is required for a discharge which will be caused in consequence of the abandonment, the Water Resources Act 1991 will require the application for that consent to be advertised in the manner prescribed by the Secretary of State. I know that that does not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, would like me to go. However, I shall consider carefully what he said this evening to see whether further action should be taken. In the meantime, I hope he will agree that adequate notice will be given to those concerned.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: That is an extremely disappointing reply. It does not meet any of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mason, and myself. When the noble Viscount reads tomorrow what he said in Hansard he will probably agree with me. To say that the publishing of an intention to close a mine in one or more newspapers circulating in the area is,

    "a further, unnecessary, burden on the industry",

is ludicrous. It is a most unsatisfactory reply and we shall certainly come back to this matter at Report stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 247:

Page 61, line 17, at end insert:
("( ) any county council").

The noble Baroness said: This is a simple amendment. It seeks to include county councils within the definition of local authorities. It may be that when the Bill was drafted it was assumed that there would no longer be county councils. Of course things have changed since then and the amendment seeks to include county councils within the local authority definition.

Viscount Ullswater: This amendment seeks to add "county council" to the definition of "local authority" in proposed new Section 91B. It is really a technical point. The local authorities to be informed of a proposed abandonment are those which will have functions with regard to contaminated land in Clause 54. There will therefore only be a need to inform a county council when it is the council of an area for which there are no district councils. That is reflected in the definition of "local authority" in proposed Section 91B as currently drafted. I hope that that indicates that if the county council is the council in the area, it will be notified.

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