HC Deb 02 August 1951 vol 491 cc1622-3
57. Mr. Kenyon

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he has now completed his examination in consultation with the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners Association of the further steps to be taken to improve the technique of restoration of agricultural land on which opencast coalworking has taken place so as to minimise the loss to food production; and, if so, with what result.

Mr. Champion

Yes, Sir. Those consultations have taken place, and in addition to improvements in the machinery for effective supervision of the restoration work itself, including the arrangement for site meetings between all the interested parties, improved standards of restoration will be brought into force as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made.

The main improvements are, first, that the area on which the topsoil will be separately stripped and preserved for re-spreading will be extended so as to include not only the actual excavated area but also any of the requisitioned land expected to be substantially damaged by the movement of vehicles and plant; second, in deciding to what extent subsoil should be stripped and replaced the distinctions hitherto made between arable and grassland sites will be abandoned; and, finally, after the completion of the soiling operations the sites will be maintained under the supervision of the agricultural Departments for a longer period of special agricultural treatment with a view to ensuring that the land is handed back in a condition in which it can be satisfactorily farmed under the ordinary rules of good husbandry.

In Scotland, the responsibility for restoring opencast sites rests of course with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and he joins with my right hon. Friend in commending these arrangements to the House, as we have to the agricultural industry, as a real advance in restoration policy which, we consider, goes as far as is reasonably practicable in harmonising the vital and continuing need to win opencast coal with the no less vital need to safeguard the agricultural productivity of the land.

Mr. Tom Brown

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the correct method is adopted when the workmen begin to remove the overburden of the soil in the initial stages of working an opencast site?

Mr. Champion

I gather that a promise to consider that point has been given both by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power.

Mr. Brown

So there will be some improvement?

Mr. Champion

We hope so.