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Lord Harris of Greenwich: Were the noble Baroness to decide to challenge the Minister's view,

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there would be no quorum in the House when the Division took place. The Chamber has now been sitting for over 10 hours. The noble Viscount will be aware, as a former Chief Whip, of the discussions in the Procedure Committee about hours of sitting of the House. I must say to him quite bluntly that it is wholly unreasonable that we are discussing matters of this importance at this time of night, particularly when we adjourned consideration of this Bill at 7 o'clock last Thursday evening.

I do not propose to press this matter any further. However, I wish it to be placed on the record that in the future my noble friends and I will not accept procedures of this sort.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I do not intend to press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Kintore moved Amendment No. 247A:

Page 61, line 29, at end insert:

("Mine operators to notify Agency of proposed transfer of ownership.

. It shall be the duty of the operator of a mine to inform the Agency of any proposal to transfer the ownership of a mine which is to, or which may, become an abandoned mine at any time after the expiration of the initial period".").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 247A, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 247D. These amendments are intended to ensure that the agency in England and Wales, (in Clause 55) and SEPA (in Clause 56) are informed about any proposed change of ownership of any mine as soon as possible after the Bill becomes an Act. We feel that there is a danger of a rogue mine owner trying to evade his future responsibilities by a quick sale or disposal. I beg to move.

The Earl of Lindsay: The amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, seeks to place a duty on the operator of a mine to notify the agency or SEPA of any proposal to transfer the ownership of any mine which is to be abandoned, or may be abandoned. The wording of the amendment will require proposals to transfer the ownership of any mine which is, or may become, an abandoned mine at any time from six months after the transfer date to be notified to the agency or SEPA. Such a requirement could add to the bureaucratic workload of the agency and SEPA without materially improving their ability to control water pollution.

I understand the thinking behind the amendment of the noble Earl. However, in our view the provisions already in Clauses 55 and 56 will significantly enhance the powers of the agency and SEPA to anticipate and prevent water pollution from abandoned mines. We do not believe that the proposed amendments make any further contribution of substance to that aim. On that basis, I invite the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Kintore: I thank the noble Earl for his answer. At this time of night, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 55 agreed to.

[Amendment No.247B not moved.]

Clause 56 [Abandoned mines: Scotland]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No.247C:

Page 62, line 35, at end insert:
("(4) This Part extends only to Scotland.").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move this minor technical amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No.247D not moved.]

Clause 56, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 57 [Amendments to sections 89 and 161 of the Water Resources Act 1991]:

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No.248:

Page 63, line 38, after ("apply") insert ("to the Coal Authority or").

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos.248 and 250 seek to ensure that somebody is responsible when mines are abandoned and by the turning off of pumps water overflows from mine workings and pollutes rivers. At present the situation is wholly unsatisfactory. If a mine is abandoned it is not clear who is responsible. We have asked questions in this House about who will maintain the pumps and keep them running. This amendment seeks to ensure that the Coal Authority is responsible for maintaining the pumps so that polluted water does not escape and run into rivers. The amendment is closely associated with Amendment No.249 and the following one that seek to change the timescale. I shall be addressing those amendments in due course. This amendment is an attempt to pin responsibility clearly on somebody to ensure that mine waters do not pollute rivers or drinking water supplies. I beg to move.

Viscount Ullswater: The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, seeks to remove existing statutory protections from the Coal Authority with respect to water pollution from abandoned mines. The amendment will prevent the existing defence against prosecution for pollution, and the existing exemption from recovery of expenses, where water from an abandoned mine is only permitted to pollute controlled waters, from applying to the Coal Authority. The removal of the defence and exemption would apply to discharges permitted by the Coal Authority from abandoned mines, regardless of when such mines were abandoned, or by whom.

We believe it to be right that the defence and exemption should be ended. Clause 57 would have that effect for all mines abandoned after the end of 1999. We have thought carefully about this change in the course of a lengthy review of the legal framework for discharges from abandoned mines and have reached several conclusions. Discharges from abandoned mines vary widely in their impact on the water environment. Some result in no pollution while others are more serious. Outright removal of the defence and exemption as

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proposed in the amendment would require the Coal Authority to seek discharge consents for all discharges, regardless of the degree of pollution, and to comply with them. That would not be justified in many cases and would place a heavy burden on the public purse.

We should not in any case distinguish between different types of mines or discharges permitted by public or private sector bodies. There is no reason to treat such discharges differently. We believe it would be wrong to withdraw suddenly those statutory protections which apply now to all abandoned coal mines for which the Coal Authority has responsibility. The Government have already said that they would expect the Coal Authority to go beyond the minimum standards of environmental responsibility which are set by its legal duties and to seek the best environmental result which can be secured by the use of the resources that are available to it. We must accept that the Coal Authority, like all public bodies, has limited financial resources. The amendments would destroy the careful balance of the Government's proposals between protecting the environment and safeguarding the public purse. Having said that, I hope that the noble Baroness will see fit to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: I find that a disappointing response. It is still not at all clear who is responsible for maintaining the pumping from mines, whether they be old coal mines or other mines. We had hoped that the amendments would ensure that responsibility was clearly defined. However, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but reserve the right to return at the Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.45 a.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 248A:

Page 63, line 38, leave out ("if the mine in question") and insert ("to the owner of any land unless he was also the operator of the mine in question and that mine").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 249B, 250A and 251B. As I understand the way the Bill is written, the liability for clearing up any contamination and, indeed, stopping further contamination from a mine would rest in the end on the owner of the land. The abandoned mine could well be on adjacent land yet surface on an innocent landowner, with the liability then resting on that innocent landowner. That is clearly unjust. The amendment would exonerate the innocent landowner.

In the great majority of cases the abandoned mine will be a coal mine. As I understand it, there is a danger that it will be extremely difficult—perhaps impossible—to find anyone liable for mines abandoned after 31st December 1999, in which case, unless the amendment is accepted, the innocent landowner may well end up carrying the responsibility. I do not think that that conforms with the statement of the Minister for Energy in the House of Commons on 22nd March 1994. Having referred to the Water Resources Act 1991, he said:

    "The legislation is there in that form because when the Bill was introduced and the Act debated it was felt to be unreasonable to place an absolute obligation in respect of environmental damage on

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    a landowner who may never have been responsible for mining at all and who may have bought the land without being aware that it was undermined".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/94; col. 207.]

That principle applies equally to contaminated land. I beg to move.

Viscount Ullswater: As I indicated, Clause 57 removes the statutory protections for discharges permitted to flow from mines abandoned after the end of 1999. We have proposed that change because we believe that the existing framework is anomalous and treats discharges from abandoned mines differently from all other discharges. The amendments would maintain the defence against prosecution for pollution of controlled waters and the exemption from cost recovery by the agency where water is only permitted to flow from an abandoned mine in the case of landowners unless they were the operator of the mine and the discharge was a result of the abandonment of the mine.

In putting forward the provisions in Clauses 55 and 57, we have tried to strike a balance between protecting the environment and creating a regime which is workable. My noble friend's amendment would introduce further anomalies and would also make it a simple matter for mine operators to avoid their responsibilities by selling mines on abandonment to another person who could then benefit from the maintained protection. I am sure that my noble friend did not intend that effect, but I think he should consider the wider repercussions of the amendment and I therefore ask him to withdraw it.

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