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Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I have some sympathy, to say the least, with the amendment, although, as I understand it, the amendment would mean

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that the Coal Authority would accept the first responsibility for polluted minewater, whereas I believe that the first responsibility should be on the polluter. Maybe I am wrong about that, but that is how I see it. Therefore I should like to speak to my Amendment No. 169, which follows this and which takes a very similar line.

I raised the problem of innocent occupiers being saddled with the liability for polluted minewater on 31st January. I was given, I am sorry to say, a Sir Humphrey answer—possibly in keeping with the time of the night, which I think was 12.45 a.m.

This amendment would define and protect the innocent landowner, the one who has not been the operator or played any part in the mining activity. My noble friend suggested at col. 1481 that I was trying to protect someone who had sold his interest in the mining operation. With respect, I believe that my noble friend was misinformed. Such a person could not escape liability because of Section 85 of the Water Resources Act 1991.

As the Bill is drafted, innocent owners who find, or are told, that water is percolating through their land into controlled waters are guilty because they knowingly permit it. The polluted water could come from a mine many miles away, particularly—this is likely—as the pumps may be turned off in future in abandoned mines, if that has not been done already. I have to ask my noble friend, as did the noble Baroness, to study carefully the Government's statement on polluted water at cols. 539-542 of the report for 26th April 1994, during the passage of the Coal Industry Bill.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde then said:

    "Once the lease has come to an end the authority will be responsible for the mine as for any other abandoned mines".—[Official Report, 26/4/94; col. 542.]

Unless the Government were being mealy mouthed, that means, to me anyhow, that any pollution caused by an abandoned mine where the owner cannot be traced or is the man of straw about whom we have heard on many occasions—I see the noble Lord, Lord Morris, laughing—will be the responsibility of the Coal Authority.

I hope therefore that my noble friend will accept the amendment, or something like it, or will assure noble Lords that the innocent occupier can never be liable for polluted minewater in which he had no interest flowing across the land.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, to the danger of polluted minewater flowing under his land, because there is a real danger, now that many shafts are being filled with rock, of polluted water from lower strata coming up and being sucked into aquifers at higher levels. That may be a long-term problem.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 168, 172 and 177 and wish to express my deep and continuing disappointment at the Government's attitude toward the issue. During the debates last year on the Coal Industry Bill we received the clear impression that the Coal Authority would be

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responsible for all discharges from coal mines, and that, in addition, the date of the abandonment of the mines would not be irrelevant.

Can we take it that the seriousness of the effect of minewater pollution is not in dispute? Some of us have on numerous occasions spelt out what occurs when the pumping of minewater ceases. That is not a theory; it has already happened on a small scale in various parts of the country, including County Durham, which I know well. If it were to happen on a large scale, the outcome hardly bears thinking about. On that point, I was extremely surprised by the statement made the Minister earlier this evening—he will correct me if my impression is wrong—that only 1.5 per cent. of mine workings would be affected if pumping were to cease.

I remember that vividly—I hope that I am not doing the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell an injustice—because when that figure was mentioned, I remember him shaking his head. He is an expert on this subject. He knows the details. I suspect that that figure may be wrong, but perhaps the Minister will comment upon it when he replies. I am bound to say that, even if it is 1.5 per cent., the people affected by that 1.5 per cent. will know what it is all about. I believe that the Minister has seen some of the photographs and diagrams produced by Durham County Council, which have made a big impression on Members of the House who are interested in this issue.

The question therefore is: who is to be responsible under a privatised coal industry? The Government have given a commitment that the responsibilities for British Coal and the historical legacy of mining will be taken on by the new Coal Authority. It would be manifestly unfair if the Coal Authority were to shelter behind the exemption in favour of abandoned mines. Are the Government saying—they certainly seem to be implying—that the problem of minewater pollution has nothing to do with the mining of coal?

During the Committee stage of the Coal Industry Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said:

    "I should like there to be no doubt that so far as water pollution or potential water pollution is concerned the Government will not be content for the authority to rest on the present effect of the exemptions".

The words "will not be content" appear to be pretty strong stuff and clearly mean that more will need to be done. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, went on to say that,

    "we will expect it go beyond the minimum standards of environmental responsibility which are set by its legal duties in these areas".

Those words make the position even more clear. But there may be a sting in the tail. His next words were,

    "and to seek the best environmental result which can be secured from the use of the resources available to it for those purposes".—[Official Report, 26/4/94; col. 541.]

What if the Coal Authority states at some point that it does not have the resources to deal with minewater pollution? I feel sure that it will, and that may be a legitimate point to make. I confess that I am not entirely sure about the way in which the Coal Authority obtains all its money. What I do know is that the Government have obtained millions of pounds—£1 billion has been

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mentioned on a number of occasions—from the sale of the coal industry and, moreover, have millions more to come from the sale of British Coal Corporation land and other assets. What is to be done with all of that money? We would like to know. Perhaps tonight is an opportune time to be told. I remind your Lordships that in County Durham alone, where all the pits have been closed, pumping costs exceed £1 million per year.

At Question Time last week I said that it was disgraceful that the stocking of coal on the sites of abandoned mines should be permitted because for decades mining communities have had to put up with the dust, dirt and pollution caused by pit heaps. If minewater is allowed to pollute former mining areas that would be yet another addition to the degradation of those areas.

Coalfield communities can and do feel proud of the contribution they have made for many years to the national wealth. Accepting the proposed changes would be at least some recognition of that contribution. I wish to repeat for the sake of emphasis that the main issue, which was clearly spelt out by my noble friend on the Front Bench, is whether the Coal Authority will be responsible for this most important issue. We ought to know that, and tonight is the time for us to be told.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I do not intend to repeat what was said earlier arising from my noble friend's misunderstanding of what I said about the relative impact of seepage from metalliferous mines and coal mines. I was making the point that the substances which emerge from metalliferous mines are often more dangerous than those from coal mines. However, that is not to suggest that coal mines cannot present serious problems to our water environment. It is a mistake to talk just in terms of percentages. If rivers or parts of rivers are wrecked by seepage from coal mines, that is a disaster for that particular area whatever percentage of the total river mileage is affected. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not pursue that point too far.

I wish to repeat the question which I asked earlier. Has the Minister had time to consider, since I raised the matter earlier, the question I posed about the legal position with regard to the dangerous substances and groundwater directives? We should have some guidance as to whether or not mines are exempted from those directives because if they are not, the Government in particular should be concerned about the possibility that we render ourselves liable to challenge if we fail to comply with the requirements of those directives.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I became depressed at an earlier time when this was discussed because my noble friend on the Front Bench produced the excuse that this sort of behaviour had been going on since 1875. It seems rather odd to pray in aid Mr. Henry Davis Pochin's pleading to the then Conservative Government—or was it a Liberal Government?—or the special interests of the then Lord Londonderry that they had to be relieved of duties to keep the water clean. That is not a sufficiently good reason to produce in 1995.

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