HC Deb 03 November 1966 vol 735 cc635-8
12. Mr. Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will institute a survey and examination of all coaltips and of all discontinued colliery workings and quarries in Wales, in order to establish that in no single case is there any danger of a disaster; and if he will make a statement.

15. Mr. J. Idwal Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied that he has sufficient legal powers to compel the owners of coaltips to have these tips periodically examined with a view to maintaining them in a safe condition; and if he will make a statement.

16. Mr. Abse

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he is satisfied with the progress being made by local authorities acting on his request to inspect pit heaps not owned or operated by the National Coal Board, and that he and these authorities have the powers to deal with hazards revealed to be associated with tips on privately-owned land; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Surveys of all coaltips in Wales are in hand by the National Coal Board and the local authorities, and I am satisfied that all concerned are fully seized of the gravity and urgency of the need to check whether any of these tips are a hazard. Until the surveys are completed it is not possible to estimate the cost of the necessary measures. I am considering with my colleagues how any legal or financial obstacles that may arise in the case of hazardous tips in private ownership may be overcome so that no urgently needed remedial measures are held up. But in the meantime where a hazard is thought to exist the National Coal Board are taking remedial action. As for the longer term, it is possible that the present legal responsibilities and powers in relation to the safety of pit heaps need to be extended and as I said in my statement to the House on24th October, this is one of the important matters which will be considered by the Tribunal of Inquiry.

Mr. Gower

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Will he take note of the fact that there is a good deal of public apprehension about this matter, and to that extent will he be able to expedite this work?

Mr. Hughes

I can assure the House once again that we are fully seized of the need to be as expeditious as possible. No stone is being left unturned and we shall do absolutely everything necessary where there is any possible hazard from any pit heap.

Mr. Jones

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the local authorities involved, many of them small, have adequate resources to carry out this survey?

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Yes, Sir. The National Coal Board has undertaken to provide expert advice on request, and I am not aware that this arrangement has so far proved inadequate. If there is any reason to suppose that it is, the Government will give urgent attention to making other arrangements.

Mr. Abse

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that it is right to leave the safety of spoil heaps and tips owned or occupied by the National Coal Board to the exclusive judgment of the Board itself?

Mr. Hughes

I am satisfied that the Board is taking the most vigorous measures to avert any possibility of any further tragedy involving pit heaps under its control, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power and I are also closely concerning ourselves with this matter and will obtain further specialist advice if we consider it to be necessary.

Mr. James Griffiths

Many of these tips have ceased to be the responsibility of the National Coal Board with the closing of old mines many years ago. Many are the responsibility of land owners, sometimes more than one tip being the responsibility of one land owner. Many of the tips are very small and are situated in areas where local authorities are hard pressed for resources. Will my right hon. Friend consider the provision of financial aid by the Government in such cases?

Mr. Hughes

Yes, Sir. This is something which we are carefully considering. As I told the House on 24th October, this is a matter which may emerge from the findings of the Tribunal, and if the Tribunal feels that any interim measure is necessary it is empowered to come to me at once, and I will certainly take action immediately.

Mr. Costain

Has the Secretary of State considered the possibility of pumping this material back into disused pits? Does he appreciate that there has been very big development in the pumping of solids in the last few years? Will his Department look into this?

Mr. Hughes

That is a technical question. I am certain that what the hon. Gentleman has said is being borne in mind by the experts considering this matter.

14. Mr. J. Idwal Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will introduce legislation to empower local authorities to fill in old pit shafts within their areas which are a source of danger, and to make special grants available for the work.

Mr. George Thomas

Legislation already exists to deal with pit shafts which constitute a hazard. In July last year all Welsh local authorities were reminded of their powers relating to problems arising from unfenced mine shafts and quarries.

Mr. Jones

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Wrexham there are many pits closed more than 100 years ago and still open? I am very pleased with his reply.

Mr. Thomas

I think that my hon. Friend means that these closed pits are still accessible. There are powers to deal with these authorities, who ought to provide the necessary safeguards.

Mr. William Hamilton

As these dangers to human life were primarily caused by human greed, will my hon. Friend ask private enterprise in South Wales and elsewhere in the country whether it will contribute to a central fund to remove these eyesores from the face of the land?

Mr. Thomas

It would be very difficult to find the culprits and it would not be right to saddle other people with the responsibility of a bygone generation.