HC Deb 18 July 1963 vol 681 cc803-7

(1) In this section "mine" has the meaning assigned to it by section 180 of the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954.

(2) Where, after the end of the initial period, a person proposes to cease to make a discharge to which this section applies in a river authority area or to alter substantially the volume or rate of flow of such a discharge (whether as a result of a decision to abandon or discontinue the working of a mine or any part thereof or otherwise) he shall before ceasing to make the discharge or altering substantially the volume or rate of flow thereof, give to the river authority in the prescribed form as long notice of his proposal as may be reasonably practicable having regard to all relevant circumstances:

Provided that this subsection shall not apply where a person proposes to cease to make a discharge or to alter the volume or rate of flow thereof during the execution of necessary works or temporarily for the purpose of renewing, repairing or maintaining works, machinery or apparatus used in connection with the making of the discharge.

(3) This section applies to any discharge to a watercouse of water raised or drained from any underground part of a mine, not being a temporary discharge.

(4) Except in a case where such a contravention is due to unavoidable accident or other unavoidable cause, any person who contravenes subsection (2) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on conviction on indictment or on summary conviction, to a fine:

Provided that an offence under this section shall not be punishable on summary conviction by a fine exceeding one hundred pounds.—[Mr. J. H. Osborn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I have before me a list of companies, mainly steel companies, which use water from coal mines as one of their sources of water for industrial use. A problem has been raised. It was raised by me in Committee, and I discussed this matter with the industries concerned and suggested that they, in turn, should discuss it with the Coal Board.

The position is that certain companies engaged in the steel industry, which depend for their industrial supplies partly upon water discharged from mines into water courses, are apprehensive regarding the proposal to limit the powers to be conferred on the proposed river authorities in connection with the control of such water. The position, as I see it, is this. While mine waters are water resources within the meaning of Clause 2 and, as such, will, for example, have to be taken into account by river authorities in carrying out surveys under Clause 14, abstractions of mine water will be covered by Clause 24 and will not have to be licensed under the Bill in the case of water coming from mines.

Mine water is normally discharged into a water course or a river. A company extracting water from the river, which is relying on water discharged from the mine, is dependent upon that source of water. A policy decision to close an uneconomic mine could result in such a discharge being cut off entirely, and, in this event, any industry dependent upon that source of supply is liable to grind to a standstill. Obviously, an uneconomic mine cannot be kept open in order that water should continue to flow. Where a mine is to be closed and as a result the water supply will be cut off, the river authorities concerned should be given sufficient notice to enable an alternative source of supply to be made available.

While it may be true to say that a company taking industrial supplies in these circumstances today is subject to this risk, the general control to be imposed by the Bill in future could put a company in such a position that it would be virtually unable to help itself and would be dependent on remedial action to be taken by the river authority. Surely this is a situation which a river authority ought to have power to deal with in the exercise of its new functions.

A new Clause was tabled in another place by Lord Sinclair of Cleve, during the Report stage of the Bill. The Minister, Lord Hastings, then was of the opinion that this problem could be dealt with administratively. He subsequently referred to the existing administrative arrangements which had been made with the National Coal Board, and said that the Minister was prepared to consider adapting and amending these arrangements to cover such circumstances. As a matter of fact, nothing has been heard of what the Minister's proposal was, so a revised Clause has been tabled for discussion at this stage of the Bill.

The most important thing about the revised Clause is that the period of notice to be given to the river authority is now to be as long…as may be reasonably practicable having regard to all relevant circumstances", and provisions have been added to cover cases of unavoidable accident or other unavoidable events.

The National Coal Board has been consulted by the steel industry, and the Board clearly prefers administrative to legislative action, and while it offers to do its best to advise relevant authorities of major changes in discharges from mines, it is inevitable that it may have to close mines at short notice.

The position is that there are certain industries relying on water discharged by mines, and these mines, for very good reasons, may cease to supply water, and any industry which is cut off must have some alternative provision. The request is that that should be covered generally and not too specifically by this Clause in the Bill.

Mr. Corfield

With due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn), I do not think that this is a Clause which is either necessary for the purpose which he has in mind or desirable against the background of the principles of the Bill. My horn. Friend rightly says that a mine full of water is a waiter source for the purpose of the Bill, but that by virtue of provisions in Clause 24 it would not be necessary to have a licence to use that water if it were being discharged from the mine during the course of the mining operations.

It is clear that river authorities have, first, a duty to draw up a balance sheet of their supply of water, on the one hand, and the demand on it, on the other, and that they have very adequate powers to ensure that they get the information with regard to discharges from the mine which may affect the supply side of the water account. Therefore, the river authorities have adequate powers to do their work.

If my hon. Friend has in mind firms which are abstracting from a stream and the stream, in turn, is fed by discharges from the mine, then the firms will, of course, want a licence because they will not be directly supplied from the water coming out of the mine, and if they have a licence they will have the same guarantee, if that is the word, of continued supply as any other licence holder. If, on the other hand, they are supplied directly from the mine, then they presumably have a contract with the mineholder, whether it be the National Coal Board or some other type of mine, and I should have thought that the terms of the contract were matters for the particular industry and that any risks that the supply might be cut off would be reflected in the charges.

In any case, my hon. Friend, I think, goes a little far in saying that in all cases it would be unreasonable after a mine had been closed necessarily to go on abstracting water from it. It might be a very valuable source of underground water in certain circumstances—no doubt to a fairly limited extent but nevertheless valuable—and no doubt many industries would be able to make arrangements to continue to use that same source despite the fact that mining was not going on. For those reasons, I cannot recommend the House to accept the Clause.

Mr. Osborn

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for that reply, but I should like to ask him a question. Do I take it that if a company or industry is taking water directly from a mine, it might be administratively advisable and a good idea to arrange to have the supply put through some watercourse and obtain a licence after the Bill becomes law in order fully to cover itself in terms of the river authority?

Mr. Corfield

Perhaps it would be unwise to give advice of that sort "off the cuff". It depends entirely on whether the firm concerned is prepared to take the disadvantages along with the advantages. If it applies for a licence, it will have to come under a charging scheme. If it is getting the water very much cheaper from the National Coal Board, it might prefer to take the risk. It is not a matter on which I can advise it from the Dispatch Box, but perhaps on another occasion, and under different circumstances, the situation might be different.

Question put and negatived.