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Lord Stanley of Alderley: If my noble friend is right, I did not intend that course, but I did intend what I said—I do not believe that an innocent landowner should pay. I shall read carefully in Hansard what my noble friend has said to see whether I should return with this amendment at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 249:

Page 63, line 39, leave out ("31st December 1999") and insert ("the transfer date").

The noble Baroness said: This is a further attempt to ensure that somebody is responsible for dealing with pollution from abandoned mines. For some strange reason, although the Government are minded to address the problem, they have inserted a date which is nearly five years hence which gives people the opportunity to abandon mines or in some other way to get rid of them in the meantime without having the responsibility for dealing with the pollution pinned upon them. I do not understand why there should be such a long delay in removing the exemption from prosecution for pollution.

The amendments in the group insert "the transfer date" as the appropriate date and give a date next year. Both provisions seek to make clear who should be responsible and that that should be forthwith rather than in five years' time. I beg to move.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: I rise to support the amendment. It is most important to me, coming as I do from a mining community. The amendments seek the

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immediate abolition of the defence available to the owner of an abandoned mine under the Water Resources Act 1991 and are to ensure that that defence should not continue for another five years.

On page xiii of the introduction to the Bill, headed "Abandoned mines", the Government freely admit that the reason for the delay in abolishing the defence is to reduce the possibility of an,

    "adverse effect on proceeds to the Government"—

that is, the proceeds of the privatisation. Presumably it is believed that leasing mines would be less attractive to the private sector if the defence were removed immediately. Therefore, a five-year safeguard has been given. That is incredible. It shows a blatant disregard for the environment and the likely pollution problems caused by the abandonment of mines.

Many organisations have already expressed concern. Indeed, the National Rivers Authority in my region of Yorkshire and Northumbria has already informed me that,

    "In relation to future mine abandonments, Clause 57 of the Bill removes the existing defence against prosecution for pollution and exemption from recovery of expenses where water from an abandoned mine is permitted to enter controlled waters. However, the change would only apply to mines abandoned after 31 December 1999".

The NRA finds that incredible and supports amendments bringing the date forward to 1st April 1996.

The NRA report Abandoned Mines and the Water Environment which was published in March last year stated that in England and Wales alone 200 kilometres of rivers, streams and brooks are already affected by varying degrees of pollution from abandoned coal-mines. In the Scottish coalfield there are 134 kilometres of surface waters which are polluted from 110 discharges in the Clyde and Forth catchment areas alone. The Coalfield Communities Campaign has been very concerned about this and believes that the timing of the proposed measure is directly related to the Government's intention to maximise the proceeds from the sale of the coal industry and not—I emphasise the word "not"—to the need to protect the environment of the mining areas. It also seems relevant that the Coal Authority, which is at present continuing pumping operations in areas such as Durham and South Yorkshire where mines have already been abandoned, might become criminally liable if it stops pumping, whereas it might not if there is a five-year delay in abolishing the defence.

Neither in the Coal Industry Act nor the Bill have the Government made any attempt to clarify responsibility for environmental pollution that is the legacy of Britain's coal mining industry.

The existing abandoned mine defence ought to be abolished immediately. If existing pumping by the Coal Authority were to stop before 31st December l999, the length of polluted rivers would increase greatly and threaten rivers of national importance. Looked at in that light, it is again clear that the Government are concerned more with raising revenue than with protecting the environment.

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The Bill still fails to address the problem of long abandoned mines where pollution is occurring already. That is a problem, and a worrying one too, facing the mining communities. The legal loophole is to be removed, but only for mines abandoned after the end of 1999. There are about 23 former British Coal mines left, but dozens of pits have been closed in recent years, with all the worries about the continuation of pumping.

On abandonment, the Bill does not demand that mine operators contribute to environmental protection costs for their abandoned mines, or even to take account of the environment when they abandon a mine; £1 billion has been raised from the sell off of the coal industry. Why cannot some of that money be diverted to clear up years of unchecked pollution in the mining areas?

The Bill contains no proposals for co-ordinated action to deal with the legacy of coal mining. I ask the Minister: will the Coal Authority act as the custodian of abandoned mines, and, with the Department of the Environment, prevent and control minewater pollution? Minewater pollution, with its severity, its extent, and its occurrence, is difficult to predict, and so it needs constant monitoring to avert pollution disasters. In the coalfield areas we have had more than our fair share of environmental degradation, burning muckstacks, opencast coal mining, tipping sites and industrial pollution. That of course is where the abandonment of mines and pollution is likely to happen.

I hope that the Minister is prepared to look sympathetically upon the amendments. It is essential that we get the defence removed now, and do not wait another five years.

Viscount Mills: Given the hour, I do not intend to move my amendment. I support the principle of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon.

Viscount Ullswater: The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Mason, and my noble friend Lord Mills seeks to prevent the defence against prosecution for pollution of controlled waters and the exemption from costs recovery by the agency where water is only permitted to flow from an abandoned mine, from applying in the case of mines abandoned after the transfer date, or lst April l996 (our current intention is that the transfer date will be lst April l996). The provisions of Clause 57, as drafted, would take effect for mines abandoned after the end of 1999.

Our decision to remove the defence and exemption was taken in the knowledge that that would be a step of great significance not just as a means of improving the quality of discharges from mines abandoned in the future, but with the practical and financial implications for the current owners and operators of mines.

The effect on revenue from coal privatisation was only one of a number of issues considered in deciding that the statutory protections would be lifted at the end of 1999. The Government wanted to allow all mine owners time to adapt to the change. In addition, the

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agency will have powers to clean up or to prevent pollution if it considers that necessary under the Water Resources Act 1991.

The measures in Clause 55, which define abandonment and require mine operators to notify the agency six months before abandoning a mine, will take effect from the transfer date. They are designed to work as a precursor to the removal of the defence and exemption. However, we have taken the view that it would be right to allow those involved a period until the end of 1999 in which to adjust to the proposed changes in the existing regulatory regime because of the obvious practical and financial implications. In this way, we hope to ensure that the provisions are effective in practice. That intention would not be helped by these amendments and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw them.

1 a.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: That is a deeply disappointing response. It is not at all clear where the responsibility will lie in the next five years. It is not at all clear who will be responsible if pollution occurs. However, we shall return to the matter on Report and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 249A to 251B not moved.]

Clause 57 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 252 not moved.]

Viscount Mills moved Amendment No. 252ZA:

After Clause 57, insert the following new clause:

("Powers to require polluter to "clean up"

. After Section 161 of the Water Resources Act 1991, there shall be inserted—
Powers to require polluter to "clean up".

"161A. Without prejudice to section 161 above, where it appears to the Agency that any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter or any solid waste matter is likely to enter, or to be, or to have been, present in any controlled waters, then the Agency may, by notice, require the person on whom the notice is served to carry out the following works and operations, that is to say—
(a) in a case where the matter appears likely to enter any controlled waters, works and operations for the purpose of preventing it from doing so; or
(b) in a case where the matter appears to be, or to have been, present in any controlled waters, works and operations for the purpose—
(i) of removing or disposing of the matter;
(ii) of remedying or mitigating any pollution caused by its presence in the waters, or
(iii) so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so, of restoring the waters, including any flora and fauna dependent on the aquatic environment of the waters, to their state immediately before the matter became present in the waters,
and in either case, the Agency shall be entitled to carry out investigations for the purpose of establishing the source of the matter and the identity of the person who has caused, or knowingly permitted, it to be present in controlled waters or at a place from which it was likely, in the opinion of the Agency, to enter controlled waters.
(2) Subject to subsection (5) below, a notice under this section may be served on any person who, as the case may be—

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(a) caused or knowingly permitted the matter in question to be present at the place from which it was likely, in the opinion of the Agency, to enter any controlled waters; or
(b) caused or knowingly permitted the matter in question to be present in any controlled waters.
(3) A notice under this section shall—
(a) state that the Agency is of the opinion that works and operations are needed;
(b) specify the nature and location of the matter in question and its point of entry into controlled waters, or its likely point of entry;
(c) specify the steps to be taken by way of works or operations to be undertaken;
(d) specify the period within which those steps must be taken.
(4) Any person who fails to comply with any requirement imposed by a notice under this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable—
(a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both; or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine or to both.
(5) A notice under this section requiring works and operations may not be served on a person in respect of water from an abandoned mine which that person permitted to reach such a place as is mentioned in subsection (2) above or to enter any controlled waters unless the mine in question became an abandoned mine after 1st April 1996.
(6) In this section "controlled waters" and "mine" have the same meaning as in section 161 above".").

The noble Viscount said: I do not wish to try the Committee's patience for more than a few moments. However, I should like to obtain a brief response from the Minister to the amendment. It proposes that the agency should be able to require polluters of controlled waters to carry out clean-up works themselves. In my view, the amendment could have two benefits. The first is that it could allow more clean-ups to occur and the second is that it would provide a constant approach to polluters of both land and water.

I believe that there are already powers under the contaminated land provisions of the Bill to require the polluters of land to clean up. I beg to move.

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