§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of Power (Mr. Roy Mason)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is just two years since the disaster at Aberfan and 15 months since the Tribunal appointed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales produced its comprehensive report. The Government made it very clear during the debate on that report that a similar disaster must never be repeated, and the Bill is so designed.
I should comment on the irony of my presenting the Bill to the House: of the many Parliamentary Questions on spoil heaps asked in the period 1959–64, I put more than half, mainly on amenity, and I also had an Adjournment debate about despoiling the countryside by tips. Following one of my Questions the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1959 circulated local authorities about spoil heaps and suggested how they could be improved, although then referring to minor works and improvements. It therefore gives me great satisfaction to present the Bill.
During the two years that have passed since the disaster, a great deal has been done in advance of legislation, and it might be helpful if I briefly reviewed the progress made in implementing the Tribunal's recommendations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will have more to say later about the extensive operations undertaken at Aberfan itself and elsewhere in the Principality since the debate a year ago.
First, let me deal with the steps taken within my Department and by my predecessors. On 1st November, last year, two Orders came into force amending the Mines (Notification of Dangerous Occurences) Order, 1959, and the corresponding Order relating to quarries. They require that any movement of material, or any fire, or any other event indicating that a tip or settling pond belonging to a mine is or is likely to become unstable, must be reported to Her Majesty's Inspector of Mines and Quarries for the district. Even that is quite an advance. 1138 Many is the time when we in mining areas have glanced anxiously at smouldering muck stacks near our villages.
The House will be relieved to know that no serious incident involving loss of life or serious injury has been reported since the new requirements came into force. In fact, 56 incidents were reported and, as is customary, fully investigated by Her Majesty's Inspectors. In fact, only 21 needed to be reported under the Orders. I am glad to say that appropriate action has been or is being taken in every case to ensure that the tips concerned will not constitute a hazard.
The second formal step taken was the appointment, as recommended by the Aberfan Tribunal, of a Tip Safety Committee, whose terms of reference and constitution were given to the House on 20th March. This small committee of highly qualified engineers under the chairmanship of Mr. F. R. Bullen has met three times so far and will meet again within the next fortnight. It has visited coal mine and china clay tip complexes. It has got down to work on a number of problems. It is preparing notes to help local authorities to identify instability in tips, which I hope will be a great help to them in carrying out their functions under Part II of the Bill. The Committee is also co-operating with the National Coal Board, whose code of tipping practice will in due course be studied by the Committee. The experience of the Committee will be of great value to the National Coal Board, to Her Majesty's inspectors, and to me. The Committee is taking particular interest in and carrying out the review of the research work done in different fields relevant to tip safety.
For well over one hundred years inspectors of mines and quarries have been dealing with the safety problems in the mining and quarrying industries. Special crash courses have been recently instituted at universities and technical colleges to extend the inspectors' knowledge of soil mechanics. This has improved their ability to deal with questions of tip safety and to carry out inspections of tips in the course of their normal duties. In addition, a new small but highly qualified branch of civil engineers has been formed in the Inspectorate to deal in depth with tips problems requiring a more expert approach.
1139 The Mining Qualifications Board, which I appoint, has been looking into the wider question of training in soil mechanics and related subjects for those engaged in mining and quarrying. The co-operation of universities, technical colleges, the Institution of Mining Engineers and the Institute of Quarrying will ensure that engineers in these industries will in future receive instruction in soil mechanics as part of their normal training.
The steps taken, and being taken by the National Coal Board in regard to tip safety were outlined in the debate last year. There has been no loss of momentum. The work in identifying, watching and dealing with tips that may present a hazard, and the training of the men who manage the tips continues. I have already mentioned the code of practice which the Board is drawing up to govern its tipping operations, and work on it is, I understand, well advanced.
Although we can never be wholly satisfied in a matter of this kind, the overall position appears to be under control. All concerned are conscious of the hazards which mine and quarry heaps can present and considerable effort is being devoted to ensure that risks are reduced so far as practicable. Comprehensive surveys are being made of all tips which might be thought to present a hazard, and steps are being taken to put things right wherever there are grounds for anxiety. The Bill now before the House will fill the gap in our legislation and provide the sanctions and formal powers that are at present lacking.
The Bill is designed to deal with all accumulations of solid or liquid refuse from mines and quarries. Part I is in effect an extension of the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, and deals with all tips whether working or not, associated with mines and quarries at present subject to the Act and as such under the supervision of H.M. Inspectors of Mines and Quarries.
Part II of the Bill is concerned with tips belonging to mines and quarries which have been abandoned and are no longer under that supervision. The provisions of each Part, are therefore, somewhat different though the objective is the same—to eliminate hazards arising from the sort of instability which caused the disaster at Aberfan.
1140 Part I of the Bill requires that all tips belonging to active mines and quarries shall be made and kept "secure"—the best word we can find to describe the kind of stability and safety we hope to achieve for accumulations of solid or liquid refuse which are being, or may be, added to the tips in the course of mining and quarrying operations. It gives me wide powers to make regulations to this end, as regards such matters as the land on which tipping may take place, the keeping of records and plans, including geological maps, and the making of tipping rules.
Following the precedent of the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, the Bill imposes specific duties on managers and owners of mines and quarries. Very broadly, the manager of a mine will be responsible for the security of active, that is working tips, associated with his mine. Other tips are the responsibility of the owners. The Bill also extends the powers of H.M. Inspectors of Mines and Quarries by enabling them to obtain information, and have tests carried out to check the security of a tip, and gives them the same powers as they have under the 1954 Act to have matters put right if a remedy is required for an immediate or apprehended danger.
Disregard of the provisions of Part I of the Bill will, as is the case with the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, be a criminal offence, and may involve up to three months imprisonment in addition to or in substitution for the penalties laid down in the Act.
Part II of the Bill is differently constructed, since it deals with tips which have ceased to form part of the mining and quarrying industries. It covers the many thousands of tips belonging to abandoned mines and quarries from earliest times—the chalk heaps made by Stone Age man in his search for flints, the spoil left by the Phoenicians in search of tin, and the large pit heaps made before and since the Industrial Revoluttion. Many tips are no longer recognisable as such; they have been overrgown with vegetation and have long formed part of the landscape. Others are more recent. But with the passage of time, most of these tips have become increasingly stable, thanks to natural consolidation. The surveys that have been carried out since Aberfan indicate that only a very 1141 small proportion could present any hazard to members of the public. But because nothing can be certain, we have felt it necessary to give local authorities powers to identify and deal with any tips that give grounds for anxiety and to make provision for Exchequer grants.
In exercising these powers, a local authority will be acting both in its traditional rôle as the body responsible for the general welfare of its constituents and as the body best able in practice to do the job. Powers under this part of the Act will be given to the Ministers responsible for the activities of local authorities—the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, who already have the machinery needed to deal with grant questions. The powers which the Bill will confer on local authorities are powers to obtain information, to enter land and carry out tests to determine whether a tip constitutes a hazard by reason of its instability.
§ Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
Does the Bill apply only to tips? Can it also be defined as applying to ancient mine shafts, because this is our greatest problem in Cornwall? It is not just tips which cause great danger and hazard but also shafts.
§ Mr. Mason
This applies only to mining and quarrying tips, those active and those abandoned. It does not apply to mine shafts. I understand that we have powers to deal with that anyway, especially if they are still under the authority of the National Coal Board. There may be abandoned mine shafts and it might be difficult to trace the owners, for what responsibilities they have. This applies to mine and quarrying tips only, and does not cover, in order that I may save the time of hon. Gentlemen who may wish to speak later, refuse from the steel industry, the chemical industry or any other industries, which are mainly covered by the Factories Acts.
I was saying that the powers which the Bill will confer on local authorities are powers to obtain information, enter land and carry out tests to determine whether a tip constitutes a hazard by reason of its instability. If it does, there is power for the local authority to require the owner to carry out remedial operations, 1142 or, if the authority prefers to do the work itself, it may do so. The cost of such remedial operations, and of any damage caused by them, will fall upon the owner of the tip, but the Bill also provides that the owner or the local authority may recover the whole or part of these costs from other persons whose action may have contributed to the unsatisfactory condition of the tip.
The Bill thus imposes liabilities which could be considerable in some cases. Accordingly extensive provision has been made for appeals to the court, as regards the need for remedial operations and the apportionment and amount of costs. It will be for the court to make up its mind where the burden ought properly to fall in the light of the criteria set out in the Bill. On the principle that prevention is better than cure the Government hope that local authorities will identify cases of potential instability at an early stage, when the costs of putting things right by such means as improved drainage will normally cost little in relation to the potential liability that could fall on a tip owner if a tip slide occurs. But, recognising that an owner or a contributor might be a small man, who could not face the cost of extensive operations which could conceivably be needed, the Bill gives power to the planning Ministers to make grants towards the costs they would not otherwise recover. Each case will, of course, have to be treated on its merits, and it is impossible to attempt to deal adequately with the hypothetical cases.
That is the scheme of the Bill—an extension of the Mines and Quarries Act to deal with tips forming part of the mining and quarrying industries, and a supplementation of the Public Health Act to deal with others. As the Aberfan Tribunal pointed outSuch dangers as arise are almost invariably in respect of active working tips".The mining and quarrying industries are acutely conscious of the dangers that these can cause and are making strenuous efforts to minimise them. The provisions of the Bill, the advice of the Tip Safety Committee and the increased powers of H.M. Inspectors should maintain and improve standards. There should be no lack of the guidance whose absence was criticised by the Tribunal. As to the other tips, I think we can be 1143 confident that local authorities will be vigilant in the interests of public safety, and that the Bill will give them all the powers they need. There should not, therefore be another Aberfan.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for the workmanlike way in which he deployed the case for the Bill. We are grateful to him for telling us the steps taken between the time of the disaster at Aberfan and the present day. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill makes it clear that the major reason for the Bill is the implementation of the recommendations of the Tribunal's Report on the Aberfan disaster. It is almost certain that the Bill would not have seen the light of day had the Aberfan disaster not taken place.
On the Statute Book there is a long list of legislation going back as far as the end of the 17th century. In this legislation, although tremendous attention was focused on the danger in the pit and at the pit face, in none of it were tips specifically referred to. It will be claimed, rightly, that the Bill improves and clarifies the duties of those operating mines and quarries and that if its provisions are carried out future disaster cannot and should not take place. But it is clear from the Tribunal's Report that all the duties and the general practice were known before the disaster.
The Aberfan disaster occurred as a result of human failure on the part of a number of people in various ways. When the Bill has been passed—we shall try to improve it in Committee, but we shall support it and speed it on its way to the Statute Book—the safety of future generations in situations such as that which obtained at Aberfan will still be in the hands of individual human beings, capable or incapable of doing their duty, and it will depend on the character and responsibility of these individuals. In such a large organisation as the National Coal Board, it is doubly important for men at various stages of authority to know and to live up to their responsibilities and duties.
I agree entirely with what was said in the debate on the Tribunal's Report by 1144 my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), namely, that the Chairman of the Southwest District, Mr. Kellett, a much respected technical officer, was not allowed by the Chairman of the National Coal Board to give evidence before the Tribunal I must say again, because it underlines my point, that it shows the failure of Lord Robens to recognise that his district chairman was an important cog in the chain of those in authority in the Coal Board and that he should have given evidence. I repeat that it is a continual sense of personal responsibility among those in charge at all levels which will achieve the aim of the Bill, which hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see passed.
The Tribunal made some scathing recommendations about the failure of members of the Coal Board. This matter was debated as long ago as October, 1967—over a year ago. One of the objectives of the Bill is the final removal of the tip complex at Aberfan. The House may remember that we on this side strongly pressed the Government at that time to remove the tip complex completely. They were not in a position to commit them selves to saying that they could go as far as removing the whole complex. No one felt the matter more deeply than the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales, because he had great responsibility as Minister of State at the time for helping the people of Aberfan in their distress. Those of us who went to Aberfan after the disaster and then left know far less than he does about the personal problems and tragedies in the village. We respect the way in which he and his predecessor acted in this awful affair. Nobody is more pleased than he that the Bill has been introduced.
While acknowledging that some of the tip complex at Aberfan has been reshaped I must record our regret that the necessary legislation has taken some time to come forward, although the Minister could, rightly, answer by saying that this is one of the first Bills to be brought forward this Session. We hope that when winding up the debate the Secretary of State will say a little more about how far the Government have gone towards completely removing the Aberfan tip complex.
1145 The aim of the Bill must be to save human life, whether the threat comes from the tip of a working mine which contains solids or liquids, or overgrown slate quarries in North Wales, or from the disused quarries and lead mines referred to a moment or two ago in other parts of the country. We believe that there is scope for widening the Bill to embrace some of the hazards which exist not just in tips, but in holes which present dangers in other parts of the country. This was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) during the Minister's speech.
Ours is a small country, with a rapidly increasing population. Every day our young people seek more avenues of adventure. It is in this wider field that the Bill should try to save life and we should widen its scope. This is underlined in a letter which I, together with other hon. Members, received from the Urban District Councils' Association, in which it asks for consideration to be given to the question of chemical tips. The Minister may, rightly, say that this is a Committee point which he will consider. I hope that he will do so.
There is a curious omission from the Bill. There is no specific mention anywhere in it of the Coal Board. I see that other hon. Members have noticed that. It is curious considering that the whole object of the Bill is to avoid a repetition of a disaster which was the Board's responsibility.
Secondly, the Bill repeatedly provides that it shall be the duty of the owner and of the manager of every mine and of the owner of every quarry to do certain things. Why does it refer merely to the owner of every quarry? Why does it not refer to the owner and manager of every quarry? No doubt there is a simple answer to this point, and we should like to know it.
In hindsight, with the horror of the tip slide at Aberfan still in mind, it seems almost incredible that the legislation on the Statute Book includes no provision for the safety of tips. However, I am told by those with experience of the industry that the answer is that there had been no loss of life from tips for over 100 years and that the more obvious dangers to life lay in the pits, and the mortality figures throughout the 1146 years have shown this. It was for that reason that successive legislators concentrated on the workings themselves.
As I have said, the disaster two years ago was caused by a combination of human failure in a sphere in which the common practice of mine owners and managers had proved entirely adequate in the past. But there was no previous legislation on tips. As the Tribunal's Report points out, in Finding III, on page 131:There is no legislation dealing with the safety of tips in force in this or any country, except in part of West Germany and in South Africa.It could be said, therefore, that those of us who sit in the House now, and who have sat in it at other times, bear a very small measure of responsibility for the lack of that legislation.
There are present several hon. Members who have personal responsibility for coal mining and other industries. There are those who have coal mining constituencies, and there are those who have themselves either worked in the pits or played a notable part in the mining industry. I look forward to hearing the contribution by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde, who has considerable experience in this field.
I want to make one or two brief comments about Part II of the Bill. It makes no provision for the clearing of tips on the ground of improvement of amenities. It may be argued that this would open up a huge vista of expense. I can imagine the gentlemen in the Treasury shaking in their shoes. But in his opening remarks the Minister rightly prided himself on the part which he has played in previous debates with regard to the amenity aspect of the problem.
For many years ahead, as our population increases and as land and open country are subjected to further claims by a multiplicity of national and local demands, the removal of tips will not be limited merely to those which are shown to be dangerous. If I am right about this, there is all the more reason why the large number of small owners who have disused pits on their land should be actively considered during the discussion of the Bill. Legislation that we now pass in respect of disused pits in Part II could well be the foundation for future action 1147 on the amenity side of the tip problem. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind and understand why we shall continually ask for assurances that individual owners will be allowed and encouraged to play their part in removing tips. In Part II we should consider the possibility of actively encouraging individual owners.
It seems to me that when Richard Llewellyn Lloyd wrote his great book, "How Green Was My Valley" the accent, rightly, went on the word "was". Those valleys were once green and lovely, as were Scottish and English mining areas before the coming of the Industrial Revolution. They can be green again provided that we take a long-term view of the remedial work that is needed. It is a huge job but not an impossible one.
The transport element in the removal of tips is a very high one. There are only two instances, in my view, where tips can be relatively cheap to move. The first is where a new motorway or some such work—a barrage, perhaps—is so close to a tip that it can be removed. The second is where the mineral content is high and can fetch a price which will wholly or partly pay for the removal, or even make a profit in certain cases.
Although the local authority must have the primary rôle here—I do not deny that at the same time individual owners—I admit the difficulty of tracing some of them—should be actively encouraged to move tips. In this respect, planning permission should not lightly be withheld from them by local authorities. On page 6 of the Explanatory Memorandum a case is given of a grant given by the Government to a local authority to take remedial action in respect of a tip which belonged to a private owner.
When we see the amounts of money with which we are concerned—£30,000 is the figure given in that part of the Memorandum—I think that we should also consider that it would be right for the Government, while recognising the major rôle of the planning authorities, to allow grants for private owners as well as for local authorities. In spite of what the Minister said in one part of his speech, I cannot find a provision in the Bill for this to be done. If I am wrong, I should be happy to be corrected. As I say, the local authorities will be actively 1148 concerned with this problem, but, wherever possible, we should help individuals not only to deal with danger but to improve amenity.
There is one final point which I make in conclusion. Many people abroad think of Wales—I am speaking particularly of Wales, at the moment—as a country of coal tips and slag tips. This can be very damaging to our country from many points of view, including tourism. We ought to be at pains to make clear that the desolation of the pit tips and the slate quarry areas of Northern Wales is confined to a very small part. If we can widen the scope of the Bill and make clear that we are going to great lengths to improve amenity, I am sure that this will be beneficial.
We welcome the Bill, we look forward to further contributions from both sides of the House, and I give the Minister the assurance that we shall not in any way delay the passage of the Bill to the Statute Book.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydfil)
I shall not detain the House very long, because there is no doubt that a great deal will be said about the Bill in Committee.
I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that I have caught your eye, because, as my right hon. Friend the Minister stated, the appalling disaster at Aberfan occurred in my constituency, and I live in the shadow of its consequences every time I am at home.
I hope that the human effects of the disaster will not be regarded as having gone by and the disaster as just an unpleasant incident in our industrial history. Last weekend I spent the greater part of two days among the people of Aberfan. They do not need to tell me how they feel. I can see it. I can also see the consequences of the appalling disaster which is affecting the lives of some of my constituents in that tragic village.
Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the immediate extent of the tragedy. When it happened that October morning, just over two years ago, 116 little children were killed, and 28 adults, most of whom were known personally to me and some of whom were my intimate friends. I dare not go over the individual tragedies 1149 of this or that home that I know so well, but there is just one reference I want to make so that the House may be reminded of the importance of the effect of the Bill.
A friend of mine, a very popular young man in the teaching profession there, had not left his home more than 25 minutes before the whole of his house was destroyed and his wife and two children buried within it. I shall not give many of these instances; they are very painful to me even to this day, but I must mention just one more, of a charming, happy little home from which the mother had just gone out to do a little shopping and within minutes the house was demolished, and all they had in it, and she lost her husband and their two young children. I could multiply these tragedies if I reflected upon them and remember them, and I cannot help but remember them.
I hope that my right hon. Friend and those who, with him, drafted the Bill will remember that this tragedy was the result of the sheer recklessness of the owners in the past and, it must be said, of the considerable indifference of the present owners. I could elaborate upon that, but would take up much more time than I wish to this evening.
However, there are aspects of the Bill, which leave me far from satisfied, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will have something to tell us about them at the end of the debate. One of them the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) has already referred to I do not like, perhaps because I do not fully understand it, the position of the local authorities under the Bill. I should like to get an absolutely straight answer to this question. By the Bill they are given wide scope to act, to work and, incidentally, to spend a lot of money. Will they be fully repaid for the work which they do?
We should not put too much reliance on what are known as experts in soil mechanics. I have said before—I do not know whether I have said it in the House—that a person can be an expert in soil mechanics in Surrey or Hampshire, or one or another of the largely agricultural areas of the country, but he must know a great deal more than mere soil mechanics if his knowledge is to be useful in a coalfield such as ours 1150 in South Wales, with its deep, narrow valleys, and steep hillsides which have been covered by millions of tons of debris from the collieries.
It is not merely a question of soil mechanics there. One must know the extent to which coal has been taken and about the pits. One must also know something about the exact geology of the districts where they are. One should be fully informed to what extent, if any, there is debris underground, perhaps undetected, or to what extent it has been stowed scientifically.
Our South Wales coalfield is notorious for its refusal to stow what the collier calls "this rubbish" at the coal face. Already, vast subsidence has started in that coalfield, and there is more, unfortunately, to come. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) can say a great deal on what has happened with subsidence there.
I want my right hon. Friend to make it abundantly clear to what extent the local authorities will have to spend money which is not to be repaid by the Government. We are entitled to get an answer to that immediately.
There is another thing I should like to be told by my right hon. Friend, because he and I had talks about it several weeks ago—not, I am sorry to say, very happy talks. Are the Government still determined to take from Aberfan £250,000? If so, how can I accept any assurance by my right hon. Friends that the local authorities will be fully repaid for the money they are expected to spend under the Bill? It is a cruel thing to take that money from that village after that appalling disaster, which appals even to this day. My friends and others, the finest experts we can get, are changing its immediate environment to help those who have experienced such tragic losses, to help them to overcome them and to take an interest in the new world which is growing up there. Yet the Government have come in and said, "Do not carry on with that £250,000", while that nightmarish, ghastly tip still overhangs Aberfan, and possibly will slaughter more people in the future.
I have had to mention this because there is a good deal of feeling about it in my constituency. I hope that I may have answers to the two points which I 1151 have put. To what extent are the local authorities which have some very dangerous tips in their areas expected to spend the moneys of the people in trying to make those tips safe? Have now the Government abandoned the idea of taking, wholly illegally, wholly by sheer blackmail, £250,000, which we want so that we can make a new environment for those stricken people in Aberfan?
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Colonel C. G. Lancaster (South Fylde)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) in what he has said; he has an intimate knowledge of what happened at Aberfan which I do not possess. Although our discussions are of great importance to South Wales, they are equally important in all parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), in opening the debate, welcomed the Bill, and so do I, although I deplore, as do all other hon. Members, the occasion of its coming before us.
It may be wondered why, for generations, there was no legislation on dirt tips. There are two reasons for this. In the first instance, it would have been, and indeed still is, excessively difficult to draft legislation to cover all the geographical and topographical variations in the location of tips. Today, there are fewer tips, certainly fewer active tips, than there were, and it would have been exceedingly difficult to draft satisfactory legislation; and this must be recognised by all Governments.
The second reason is that the Mines Inspectorate had never pressed for legislation. It took the view, rightly, that past experience had shown no reason why there should be legislation. As my hon. Friend said, research shows that before the Aberfan disaster there had never been a fatality caused by dirt tips, and during my short speech I will endeavour to show why that was.
Before starting a tip a colliery undertaking had to have regard to a number of important aspects. The ground had to be unbroken, and there had to be no streams or springs nearby. Springs are not, as was sugeeted in the evidence given by Lord Robens, in the bowels of the earth; they are on the surface, and both springs and streams had to be 1152 avoided. The ground had to be reasonably level, and great care had to be taken in the tipping. Tipping had to take place in such a manner that the angle of repose was not disturbed, and a great deal of trouble had to be taken about variations in the spoil tip as between dry soil and effluent. Soil mechanics also had to be considered.
In addition, there was the general practice of the industry, which was one reason why no fatality had occurred until the Aberfan disaster. I am certain that that disaster could and should have been avoided; make no mistake about that. The general practice was perfectly clear and simple. A number of men worked on the dirt tip under the supervision of a charge-hand. Mechanical contrivances were also under his general supervision. Above all, he had two tasks to perform, and if he did not perform them he was dismissed, and rightly so. He had to report immediately if he saw any unusual disturbance or slide in the dirt tip, and he had to report the appearance of water.
The colliery manager had to go up the tip every month. Probably the under-manager would go up once a fortnight and the colliery manager once a month, to make certain that these regulations were being carried out, but, more particularly, to decide where the spoil would be tipped in the ensuing period. On those occasions he would point out to the charge-hand any part of the tip which might be worrying him, and tell the charge-hand that he must watch the tip at that point and report any movement to the surface manager, or, in a small pit, the surface foreman, who, in turn, had to pass on the information to the colliery manager. That was the practice everywhere, not just in the East Midlands, where I worked.
Over a period, management have come to me from different parts of the country, and they were all familiar with this procedure. Two of my management, after nationalisation, went to South Wales, one as chairman and one as chief mechanical officer, and they both told me that they had passed on this practice.
In great measure it was because of this practice, one with which the Mines Inspectorate is familiar, that disasters have not occurred. The Inspectorate played a part in this. It was responsible 1153 for the mechanical devices used on the tips, and if a mine accident occurred the colliery owner was under statutory obligation to comply with the Board of Trade regulations and report the accident. At that point the Mines Inspectorate came in and took appropriate action.
Hon. Members who took part in the passage of the 1954 Mines and Quarries Act may wonder why tips were not dealt with on that occasion. There were two reasons. One was that we were dealing in that Bill with the extractive side of the industry and, secondly, neither the Government of the day nor the Mines Inspectorate considered that it was necessary to deal with tips.
Now this ghastly accident has happened, we are confronted with this Bill, and, as I say, we welcome it. May I add one word of caution. We should be ill-advised to take the attitude from Aberfan onwards that tips are immensely dangerous things; they are not. What happened at Aberfan was, as my hon. Friend said, the fault of several indiduals at various levels, and that can happen even despite legislation.
In the last resort, it depends upon whether or not the regulations are carried out. It may mean that people who do not carry out the regulations will go to prison, but it was precisely the same in the old days; people did not go to prison for it, but unless the regulations had been carried out fatalities would have occurred.
It may be suggested that in the old days the colliery owners would not have done so because buildings on ground would have been affected and compensation would have to be paid, but that would not be fair, since the same principle has been carried on after nationalisation.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
The hon. Gentleman is implying that there were no serious lip slides before Aberfan. Is he aware that the Report mentions tip slides in 1939 at Cilfynydd, and in 1944, at the No. 4 tip at Aberfan? It was fortunate that no one was killed as a result of these serious tip slides.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I am aware that there was a slip there two years before. A point I pressed during the debate on the Aberfan disaster was that Mr. Kellett, 1154 who dealt with that slip, was the very man who was not called by the Tribunal to give evidence. There were accidents, but there has never been a fatal accident. Although there is always an element of danger, it would be unwise to overemphasise it.
Strict regulations will be brought about by the Bill, and there should not be any great danger in the future. The disaster should not have occurred. It could have been foreseen. It has been suggested that geological conditions and the like contributed, but geology does not come into it, though topography does. That disaster was caused by negligence on the part of the Coal Board and its servants.
I like the Bill. It is a step in the right direction. If, in Committee, we turn it into a really good Bill, it will be, I hope, to the eventual help of the National Coal Board and, indeed, all those who work in mines or quarries.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Mr. Speaker, I request the indulgence of the House to introduce myself. I am the new Member for Bassetlaw, and I am very honoured to be here. I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech.
Bassetlaw was represented by the Right Hon. Frederick Bellenger for about 33 years. In that time, he became very well known and liked in the constituency. Eventually, his popularity was acknowledged just before his death, when he was made a Freeman of the Borough of Worksop.
In Bassetlaw, a very varied constituency, the main industries are mining and agriculture. Currently, about 6,000 miners are employed there, and many more retired miners live there. Obviously, the subject that we are debating is one of great concern to them.
Fortunately, it is a mining area which is developing. The most modern mine in the country, Bevercotes, is in the constituency, and, although there are geological problems there, we expect a very long life for it. One mine, at Firbeck, is closing at Christmas, though I am glad to say that it is not due to a shortage of coal or to economic reasons, but merely because of the presence of gas in the seam.
1155 The modern mines in my constituency give rise to an interest in tips and their safety because they will be producing material for tips for many years to come. At Manton, extensive experiments have been conducted to grow vegetation on tips and so improve their visual appearance. This is very important from the point of view of attracting new industry, because, in a mining and agricultural area, where more and more mechanisation is taking place and there are fewer opportunities for school leavers, new industry must be attracted. In that connection, we await eagerly the Report of the Hunt Committee, but that does not mean that nothing has happened in that direction in the past.
If we hope to attract new industry to an area, potential industrialists must be convinced that there is no danger from tips and that something can be done to make them less of an eyesore than they have been for many years. We have a flat terrain in Bassetlaw. There are no slopes, as there are in Wales, and there have been no problems of tip safety. At Harworth Colliery, an overhead conveyor has been constructed, and wastage is carried in large buckets to the tip. It has been found necessary to develop an industrial site in the area and, though it is unsightly to carry slag across it by cable, if we can convince potential industrialists that there is no danger they will be reassured. In time, we hope to be able to make the site more attractive to industrialists and find some other way of disposing of the slag.
The problems of mine and tip safety and of clearing derelict sites are very important to Bassetlaw, and I am pleased to have been able to make my first speech in this House on the subject.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you, my right hon. and hon. Friends and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for being patient with me not only during this speech, but during the past three days in the House. I have received a great deal of help from everyone.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
In accordance with the custom of the House, it is my pleasant duty to congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) on his maiden speech. Having heard him, may I say that it is not only a duty 1156 but a pleasure to do so. Certainly he will win his way into the high regard of the House if subsequent speeches of his are as brief. He has not taken long to take the plunge since his victory at the by-election. It is often said that the best thing to do is to take the plunge early, and he has followed that advice. He chose a subject about which he knows a great deal and which is close to his heart.
There is a good story about a rather bumptious and young new Member who was bold enough to approach the great Sir Winston Churchill to ask when he should speak. He was astonished to be told by Sir Winston, "Never." On asking why, Sir Winston replied, "It is better that Members should ask why you do not speak than why you do." Having heard the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, I am certain that that advice would not be tendered to him. We look forward to hearing him again on subjects on which clearly he can contribute a great deal to our debate.
I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House were pleased to hear his kind references to his predecessor, the late Fred Bellenger, who for many years was a genial, respected and popular Member. We were very pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman speaking about him so feelingly.
If I may turn now to the Bill, I am sure that we all agree that few Measures could have such universal approval as this one. The House has a debt to pay to the people of this country, because in 1954, when the Mines and Quarries Bill was being considered, I do not think that tip safety was mentioned. If it was, no one suggested any kind of Amendment to that Bill. Despite the great expertise in the House on this subject, it was not appreciated that tip safety was a matter which should be considered as needing urgent attention. It was the dreadful tragedy in Aberfan which brought the matter home to us. Now, there is universal agreement on the need for such a Bill as this, and clearly it is to be welcomed.
I think that the important provision is Clause 3, and in that connection I agree with what the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) said during the Aberfan debate, when he pointed out that there had been a great danger of 1157 whittling away the responsibilities and duties of the mine manager. Always, there must be someone in charge, and that responsibility is in no way limited by advice which he may have or control which may be exercised over him by a group or area manager. In a mine, just as on a ship, someone has to carry responsibility, and it is right that it should be the manager.
Professionally, I have been involved in matters concerning mines for many years. I think that it was one of the great mistakes in the evolution of the Coal Board seemingly to take away certain responsibilities from the mine manager. If I judge the situation aright, that trend has been reversed to some extent, and certainly in this Bill responsibility for a coal tip and its safety is placed firmly on the shoulders of the manager. He can call for advice from the group or area, and I am sure that it is always available to him, but there can be no doubt where the prime responsibility lies.
In accordance with hopes already expressed in the House, I hope that the Bill is what might be regarded as a first instalment.
We are concerned about the amenities of these tips. I am always astonished when I go to any mining area at the fantastic amount of energy that must have gone into that area in turning out these tips. It is a comment on the enormous creative activity that went into the Industrial Revolution. The mining areas of Wales, Scotland and England, which are now in considerable decline, played an enormous part in establishing the prime position of this country industrially in the last century and at the turn of this century. In debates on Welsh matters, as the Secretary of State knows, I have repeatedly argued that in the last century and at the turn of this century the mining areas contributed far more to the general economy of the country than today. This is an economic fact.
But we have paid a heavy price for that fantastic energy in that fantastic era of industrial creation, by the presence of these coal tips. We never thought, with all the scarring we would have, that we would eventually pay the terrible human price that we paid at Aberfan. As a society we owe it to ourselves and to our children to repair these scars. I hope that the Bill is a first instalment of 1158 a general programme to get rid of them where there is any possibility of danger. In Aberfan, the psychological scar deserves to be healed, whatever the cost. Even £3 or £4 million is small compared with the wealth which has come from the earth at Aberfan and of which the whole community has had the benefit.
There should be a national campaign to restore these areas to their former greenness. Looking at some of the valleys in Wales I always think how beautiful they must have been. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said that he did not have the same problem, because the land around his constituency is level. But when I look at the valleys in Wales I always think how beautiful they must have been. I am sure that with modern techniques and determination they can be restored to their former beauty. The community has a duty to see that this is done.
I am sure that the Bill enters upon its Second Reading in the House with the blessing of Members on both sides.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
The Bill, arising as it does from the report on the Aberfan tragedy, makes it difficult for those of us from South Wales to be completely objective. I have every sympathy with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies).
I would refer briefly to the Aberfan tragedy. I was born in Aberfan and received my first education in the school which was destroyed and in which one member of my faimly lost his only two children.
At the outset I pay great tribute to the personal interest which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took in this matter, particularly in the latter stages when he persuaded those responsible to release the money to contribute towards getting rid of the tip.
I pay an equally sincere tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for the deep humanity which he showed in dealing with the problems of this deeply troubled village.
I must differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil. Whether the people of Aberfan contribute or not, the most important thing is that this dreadful reminder of their sorrow must be 1159 got rid of. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) pointed out, we must deal with the psychological scars as well as the physical ones. I know from my own family how deep are the psychological scars in this village.
The Bill will receive a general welcome in the House. It will be particularly welcome in South Wales because of the topography of our valleys, with houses clustered around the collieries and the colliery tips either on the fringe of the built-up area on a precipitious slope or, in some cases, dumped in the middle of the built-up area, as in my own village which achieved television fame four years ago when the whole thing went to fire. For a couple of months on television we saw pictures of the green and red ten-foot-high flames which, standing above and looking down, reminded me of Dante's Inferno. In moments of wild imagination I sometimes dreamed that at the bottom I could see the shrivelled souls of the coal owners who originally put the stuff there.
We have had to live with this problem for a very long time. One place in my constituency has a very great distinction: it has the biggest tip of colliery waste in the whole of Europe—probably in the whole world—and it stands like an obscene monument above what was once a very beautiful valley.
Although hon. Members have pointed out that there have not been disasters before on the scale of Aberfan—indeed, there have been instances of loss of life—there have been great social disasters arising from these tips—flooding of houses with mounds of slurry carried down, the destruction of furniture and the blocking of roads and sewers—and huge sums have had to be paid by local authorities to deal with these matters. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery mentioned the loss of amenity in what is still a very beautiful area of Wales.
I would draw attention to one or two points in the Bill about which I am very enthusiastic. I hope that the Bill will be a first step only in a general attack on the problem. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil, I am concerned about the financial side to local 1160 authorities. When this dreadful tip went afire in my own village, the content of lethal gas in the atmosphere was about 1,000 per cent. greater than the level necessary to kill. A section of the village had to be evacuated as a matter of emergency. The local authority had to meet the bill, and it never got anything back.
I am equally perturbed that the delegation of powers to the local authority is yet again a piece of permissive legislation. The authority is defined as a county or borough authority and it may or may not delegate these powers to the district council. In South Wales, particularly, the district councils are nearest to the problem. They live with it continually. In South Wales a great deal of money is being made out of a second exploitation of the first exploitation. People are washing old colliery tips to retrieve the volatile content. They are making a great deal of money out of it and again wrecking the landscape. Of course, if they have to obtain planning permission—and they do not always need it if they do the job for the Coal Board—they have to restore the land.
I think that it will be sensible to have another look at this to see whether we can get responsibility back to the lower levels. We talk enough about participation in this House. There is a piece of direct participation by people who have lived with the problem all their lives. While I do not want to animadvert about local authorities, we all realise that there are county authorities and county authorities. Where one authority is only too glad to delegate powers given under this permissive legislation, side by side we find another authority is very hard in its attitude.
I, too, hope that the Bill is only a first step. The basis of this Measure is security. I hope that there will be a second stage, when we can make an imaginative approach to the whole business of industrial scars, and consider, in particular, my country with its glorious valleys. Sometimes when I look at it, and in my imagination get rid of the industrial scars, I see some of the most desirable commuter country that I have ever seen. I welcome the Bill, but I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the points which I have raised.
§ 7 20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
A moment ago I almost anticipated being called to speak, and I crave the indulgence of the House and that of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) in what I have to say.
The House has approached this vital problem with great care, and very seriously. While the debate has been going on I think we have all become aware of the serious consideration which hon. Members can give to this problem. I listened with great respect to the speech of the hen. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), who reminded us of that tragic day of the Aberfan disaster. I think that he was right to do so, because it is that which precipitated the Bill. I welcome the presentation of this Measure so soon in this Session, it having been announced only a week ago in the Gracious Speech. I value, too, the contribution of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, who spoke with great feeling and knowledge of this subject.
I welcome the Bill, with its proper accent on safety, the attention that it draws to the danger of building tips, and also to the danger which may be present in disused tips. I am sorry, however, that no mention is made of the danger of quarries. In certain instances the extractive industry leaves behind a positive danger in the quarry itself, and I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind. Not far from my constituency there is a dangerous area, Beachy Head, but in Kent, along the Thames estuary, there are equally dangerous areas where men have quarried for years for chalk for the cement industry.
I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), and also by others, that the Bill considers the problem of danger from mines, but does not consider the question of amenity. This is something which we must impress on the Minister, and consider in Committee when we are dealing with the problems of tips resulting from mining and quarrying.
It may not be recognised that in my corner of Kent I could be described by some as a typical miners' M.P. It is not always remembered that in the quarter where I have my constituency of Canterbury there is an outcrop of four 1162 mines, one in my constituency and three in that of Dover, and all these mines have tips. Admittedly they are on flat ground, and, therefore, do not constitute a serious danger, but they are an eyesore. They are less than 50 years old, and are continuing to grow. I hope that we shall consider the appearance of our tips, as well as the danger they present. In this industrial age of great progress, I think we should ensure that we progress both industrially and culturally. It is a pity that in concentrating on industrial progress we often overlook what we leave behind as a result of that progress.
I think that we should consider the appearance of our towns and our countryside. After all, we take great pride in town planning. Earlier tonight I was glad to see present a Minister from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and I hope that my thoughts will be conveyed to him. We have recently won an international award for the planning of Cumbernauld, and we are justly proud of that. I could quote many examples of towns which are very near winning an award such as that won by Cumbernauld.
We plan our roads, too, not only from the point of view of safety, but to achieve something of beauty as they cut across the countryside. Recently I drove down the length of the Ml, not having been on it for some time prior to that. I joined it near Chesterfield, and I was amazed at the beauty of the countryside for 50 or 60 miles south of that area. I had not noticed this beauty before, because I had always used old roads which ran through what I can only call the waste lands of the industrial North and Midlands of the nineteenth century. We must not allow these tips to remain as eyesores.
I am sorry, too, that the Bill does not put an obligation on quarry owners to reclaim land which they have quarried. I know that we are talking about the mountains of refuse which result from the extraction of coal—and I have mentioned the dangers of the quarries—but I think that we must consider the problem from the amenity point of view. I think that quarriers should have an obligation to restore the land after they have used it. I know that many quarry owners feel that they have an obligation to reclaim land, or at least to make it a valuable addition to the countryside after 1163 they have worked it. I know, too, that in many cases the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, before granting a licence for quarrying, stipulates that the land must be reclaimed and restored after use, but what I am concerned about is the waste of land in areas where there are tips.
This afternoon I was attracted to an observation by Lord Robens last week when he was addressing a conference of planners at Brighton. He referred to a frightening quantity of 150,000 acres of land being rendered useless by industry. This is a backlog of land rendered useless, largely by the extractive industries, over the last 150 years.
More serious is the observation which I found in this week's Country Life, concerning the restoration which is taking place today, which it claimed was not keeping pace with the new encroachments. It said:Lord Robens's figure corresponds exactly with an estimate given by J. R. Oxenham in Reclaiming Derelict Land, published in 1966. This expert accepted 150,000 acres as merely 'an attempt to measure the backlog which has accumulated during the past century'. Taking into account the activities tending to increase the area, he considered that 'there may well be more dereliction within the next 30 years than has accumulated during the past century'.That is the end of the quotation, and the end of my observations. I give that quotation because it should have an important bearing on our thoughts as we deal with the Bill. I now merely affirm my strong support for the Bill. I will do what I can to hasten its passage on to the Statute Book.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
This is a non-controversial matter, and we shall all be in almost total agreement with the sentiments expressed by hon. Members on both sides. I could not agree more with what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) said about restoration and reclamation.
I welcome the Bill, and express my appreciation to both my right hon. Friends—one of whom has addressed the House already and the other of whom will wind up the debate—and to the Government for the expeditious manner in which they have brought the Bill forward. It is my duty to say those things because there 1164 are a number of coal tips in my area, one of which recently started to move, thereby causing great anxiety.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Power has said that trouble is invariably caused by active working tips. I have a theory that many tips which are now 40 or 50 years old are reaching a stage at which trouble can arise. The tip to which I have referred already was last tipped upon 50 years ago. It still has trees between 50 ft. and 100 ft. high on it. We should look more closely at tips which are not actively working, as well as keeping under observation those which are.
One consolation to be derived from the occurrence at the coal tip to which I have referred is that it provides a direct lesson in how to tackle an emergency. It is gratifying that the Government have accepted almost in total the conclusions of the tribunal suggesting legislative action. There are one or two points to which I should like to refer, which I hope can be considered further in Committee.
Safety is the overriding factor for consideration, but other factors are also worth remembering. Reclamation is important, as is amenity, especially in areas like South Wales, where land in the valleys which can be used for housing, industry and recreation is very scarce. Unfortunately, too many industrial scars remain in some mining areas. I agree with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) that there is much too much talk about the so-called ugly nature of the South Wales valleys. Nevertheless, some scars remain.
Those who have been brought up in these areas have become so familiar with their surroundings that they forget that they cause inhibitions among those who visit the areas infrequently. I therefore stress the importance of programming the removal of unsightly tips as well as dangerous ones, for amenity reasons as well as for the provision of extra land. Some old tips have become moulded into the natural contours and are no longer unsightly; indeed, some have increased the natural beauty of the area. They have become grassed over, and trees are growing on them. Only a little attention is needed to make such tips things of beauty.
1165 It is important that local authorities should be able to operate on a system of priorities in dealing with these tips. They should not worry about those which in no way detract from the natural beauty of the area, so long as they are not dangerous. When a local authority grants planning permission for the removal of a tip certain conditions ought to be laid down besides the normal ones. The most important condition concerns the time taken for removal. If tips are being removed by the efforts of only two or three men it is impossible for the work to be completed in even five years; the work could go on for 10, 20, or even 30 years. The two or three people working the tip are more concerned with commercial considerations, taking the stuff away when they need it so as to make the best profit.
In the general supervision of tip removal I suggest that the officers of the National Tip Safety Committee should have power to assist local authorities in enforcing the observance of certain conditions. This would be of considerable assistance to local authorities. I know that the Committee is considering a standard code of practice, and the question of time should form part of that code.
Clause 2 of the Bill defines the expression "tip". Under the present definition an accumulation of waste material of this kind can be dealt with only if it owes its origin to a mine or quarry. Hon. Members on both sides are aware that there can be other accumulations which are not covered by the Bill because they do not arise from the workings of mines or quarries. For example, there are tips of chemical waste. The Bill should also cater for these.
Clause 11 provides that county councils may delegate their powers to county district councils. I do not know what the Parliamentary draftsmen are up to here. This is a clear case where powers should be given directly to county district councils. This problem is a local one. County district councils have to live with it. I expect no trouble in Glamorgan, because relations between district councils and the county are fairly harmonious, but trouble could arise between other counties and county districts, especially in respect of subsection (4)(a) and (b). I mention this only so that hon. Members can appreciate my point. I feel that 1166 this is a matter in respect of which most county councils would wish to abrogate their responsibility.
I am a little perturbed at the possibility of Part II presenting a problem in respect of the responsibilities of local authorities. If an owner cannot be traced, or knows nothing about his tip being made safe, the local authority will have to use its default powers. If it is subsequently shown to be dilatory, technically speaking, and a serious accident occurs, the local authority will be blamed. Acceptance by local authorities of liability must be conditional on their having the services of the Mines Inspectorate for reports on the condition of disused pits.
In a sense, Clause 25 is one of the most important Clauses. What is to be the extent of the grants? I have not been involved in the Aberfan issue of the national fund and how much should be contributed, but I am certain that in most mining districts of South Wales anything short of a 100 per cent. grant would be of serious consequence to the finances of the local authorities there—of such consequence that it could slow down the action we all want to encourage.
I have referred to this matter before in reference to the making safe of a tip in my constituency. I do not propose to repeat my remarks, except to say that in this case a local authority, with the full knowledge of all concerned, stepped in immediately to avert a very dangerous situation. This happened not so many months ago. After that had been done, there was much argument and much feeling about who was to pay and what grant the appropriate Department would allow. I believe that that was a scandalous state of affairs; and that such experience, if repeated, could produce hesitation on the part of local authority officials and councillors when immediate action was necessary. I do not say that it would, but bitter experience could produce inhibitions.
It is nonsense to quote in aid other calamities where the Government contribute and the local authority is called upon to bear some of the expenditure. There are two factors to be borne in mind in the present situation. First, the tips are there, and were deposited there many years ago. They are not natural phenomena, but a national heritage, even 1167 though undesirable. They are, therefore, a national responsibility. Second, the cost of removal could be considerable. The cost at Aberfan is a case in point.
Since the cost of removing one tip could be of such magnitude, what would be the cost of removing several tips? A local authority might take several years to remove the tips, and the total cost could be very considerable. A local authority contribution of 10 per cent. of the cost would be far too high. It may sound extravagent on my part to expect local authorities to get a 100 per cent. grant, but I have listed my reasons for asking for it. In other respects, I give a hearty welcome to the Bill.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
Memories of Aberfan are clearly with us this evening, and we were sharply reminded of that tragedy by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), but the Bill does not apply solely to Wales. It applies, also, to the whole United Kingdom, and my present purpose is to ask the Ministers whether they could not slightly widen the scope of the Bill to include shafts. If we had a Bill "to make further provision in relation to tips and shafts associated with mines and quarries and to prevent disused tips and shafts constituting a danger to members of the public" the Bill would be a more embracing and useful Measure than it will be without the inclusion of the word "shafts".
Lord Robens, talking at the conference in Brighton, about tips and derelict land, said:It is worth noting that the county with the most dereliction is not Lancashire or Glamorgan, but Cornwall.This has not only the vast excavations of china clay, which litter 30 sq. miles around St. Austell, but also the remains of tin and copper-mining…It is strange to realise the poisonous squalor in the midst of the most romantic landscape in England.A Cornishman would not like his county to be said to be in England, but these were the words of Lord Robens.
It is hard for many hon. Members to recognise that in parts of Cornwall it is still possible to walk only a few yards off a main road and find an unfenced mine. All Cornish boys and girls, and this includes my own children, are taught 1168 to be careful where they walk, but this does not apply to visitors. It has been said that Aberfan was the first tip disaster, but it is a not infrequent occurrence in Cornwall for a fatality to occur alongside a main road when a young person falls down an unfenced mine shaft. The problem could easily be dealt with were the word "shafts" to be added.
The Minister of Power told me that there were other powers available for dealing with the type of problem I have in mind, but I do not think that he was exactly right. This Bill deals predominantly with safety, and other Acts deal not with safety but with derelict land. The Local Government Act 1966, the Industrial Development Act 1966, and certain parts of the National Parks Act 1949, are directed to the aesthetic or economic improvement of derelict land. As far as I am aware, this Measure is the first we have had dealing specifically with safety, and I want briefly to refer to this existing legislation.
First, under Section 20 of the Industrial Development Act, the Board of Trade has the power, where it is expedient in the Board of Trade's view, to contribute…to the development of industry in that area…and take steps…enabling land to be brought into use or of improving its appearance…?and also to take action…if it appears to the Minister that the land is derelict, neglected or unsightly…That Act applies only to development areas.
In the Local Government Act 1966 we read that where a piece of land is derelict according to the Ministry criteria but does not satisfy the Board of Trade criteria—in other words, the criteria in the Industrial Development Act—a 50 per cent. Revenue grant may in some cases be available under Section 9 of the Act. It is clear that the Local Government Act only empowers the Ministry to give a grant for the rehabilitation of derelict, neglected or unsightly land. In some cases disused shafts fall within the type of site for which such grants are available, but the application is still only to derelict or unsightly land.
Several hon. Members have felt that the scope of the Bill should also cover 1169 amenity and dereliction. I believe that that aspect is covered by the Local Government Act, but that Act does not cover the question of safety, which is what the Bill deals with. The National Parks Act, 1949 gives the Government power to make 75 per cent. capital grants in the National Parks, again for derelict land.
The financial cost of what I seek would be extremely limited—I doubt whether it would be more than £10,000 or £20,000.
§ Mr. Mason
I know that I was hazy in my reply when the hon. Gentleman intervened. To clear his mind, I should tell him that abandoned mine shafts are dealt with in Section 151 of the 1954 Act, which makes failure securely to fence an abandoned shaft a statutory nuisance under the Public Health Act 1936. That Act is administered by the local authorities.
§ Mr. Nott
I am very glad that the Minister gave that answer before I completed my speech, because it still does not cover the situation I am trying to describe. I have not fully explained why, and I should now like to do so. There are, I know, powers to impose a statutory penalty on somebody who fails to fence a mine shaft. But the problem in Cornwall, the oldest mining area in the United Kingdom, is that in normal cases ownership of the shafts cannot be traced, because mineral rights have been passed from hand to hand over hundreds of years. This applies to the majority of mine shafts which are alongside main roads, and which are dangers to any person stepping out of a car or having a picnic on the moors.
Therefore, the burden falls on local authorities, since there is nobody else with the responsibility or ownership. The local authorities say that they do not have the revenue or the grants to fence these shafts adequately. If the Government could include in the Bill powers to give a grant to local authorities and require them to fence those shafts where the ownership cannot be traced, we should overcome what is a grave and serious problem in parts of Cornwall.
I hope that the Minister will deal with this point in winding up the debate.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member 1170 for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) on his maiden speech. I am sure that his brevity will commend him to both sides of the House, and probably make him a firm favourite with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and those who occupy the Chair.
In common with every hon. Member who has spoken, I welcome the contents of the Bill in the main. At the same time I endorse the sentiments of many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have expressed their concern that derelict land and tips should be reclaimed not only where they are dangerous but from the amenity point of view. This is very important to me, representing as I do a very old industrial area like Rhondda.
It is important to move them for amenity reasons when they are ugly and unsightly, for safety reasons when they are a danger, and because in many cases they become a positive disincentive to industrialists who might otherwise enter the area.
But it is understandable that the Bill should concentrate on the dangerous aspects of certain tips, because it was born out of Aberfan. It is strange to think that until 21st October, 1966, very few people outside South Wales had heard of Aberfan, and many inside South Wales had not heard of it. But now Aberfan is a name known throughout the world because of the dreadful happenings of that day.
The Bill cannot do anything to undo the terror and tragedy of Aberfan, but what it can and should do, and what we shall seek to make it do, is to ensure that future generations do not suffer any repetition of the events of Aberfan. That is what we owe to those children whose lives were snatched away from them, and it is just about all that we can do as human beings, but it places a very heavy responsibility on us. It places a heavy responsibility on the Government and the people who advise them in introducing the Bill; it places a heavy responsibility on the House to see that each Clause is critically examined to ensure that there is no recurrence of Aberfan; and it places a responsibility on the nation to ensure that funds will be made available to implement many of the proposals in the Bill, because at the end of 1171 the day there must emerge a piece of legislation that will enable us to say, "There will be no more Aberfans".
There are two small points on which I should like reassurance. I may be mistaken in my reading of the Bill, and if so I apologise in advance to my right hon. Friend. The Tribunal of Inquiry recommended the establishment of a National Tip Safety Committee. This was suggested by Professor Bishop and his colleagues and endorsed by the National Coal Board. The Committee would advise the Minister in the exercise of his responsibility for the safety and inspection of all tips. It may be that we are to have such a Committee, but, if so, would not it be better to write it into the Bill? The Inquiry Report envisaged a responsible rôle for the Committee to fill. Whilst the present Minister of Power might agree to such a Committee, he will not always be in that office, and it would be such an important body that provision for it should be put into the Bill from the beginning.
Clause 1 talks of requiring the Minister to give general powers to the end that every tip must be made and kept secure. Clause 5 enables the Minister to make regulations requiring mine managers and quarry owners to make "tipping rules". Such rules and regulations about tipping give the Minister tremendous powers and responsibility. In that connection he would be helped by a National Tip Safety Committee, which was provided for in the Bill and was not dependent on the views or feelings of the holder of his office. I hope that he will give us his observations on the matter.
I wish to refer next to the difficulties of local authorities in connection with tips which are still in use. Paragraph 250 of the Report referred to the strong and repeated warnings made to the National Coal Board by the local authority of Merthyr Tydfil and the repeated assurances that all was well which were made by the National Coal Board to the authority. The Tribunal viewed the difficulties of the Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council with considerable sympathy, and produced Recommendation XIV, which says:A local authority should have access to plans for tipping and reports on existing tips and, if not satisfied with them, should have 1172 a right of appeal to the Minister, who might appoint an independent expert to conduct an examination and make recommendations.I cannot find this specific type of recommendation in the Bill, and I should like to know my right hon. Friend's views on this. When local people are disturbed or worried about tip stability or possible dangers, which may be real or imagined, they do not go to the Minister first nor to Members of Parliament or the National Coal Board. The first people they go to see are the local councillors, who are the first in the firing line for all such complaints. Therefore, it is reasonable that Recommendation XIV should be implemented, so that the local authorities not only have access to tipping plans and reports but have the right of direct appeal to the Minister.
Those are the only two points on which I want extra information. It has already been said that there is no political or other opposition to the Bill. We all want it, and we all want it quickly, but, more important, we all want it to do its job. We should be in some danger if we allowed it to go through without subjecting it to the most critical examination so that we really make sure that the Government, House of Commons and nation have really learned the lesson of Aberfan.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones), because it seems to me that he is the first speaker in the debate to put his finger on some of the points in the Bill which are not perhaps altogether good.
In saying that, I want to make clear that I welcome the Bill. I think it right to say that it springs from a deep-seated national resolve that we shall never again experience such a tragedy as Aberfan. I am not one who would say that we can necessarily cure everything by legislation, but if we are to have legislation it is our responsibility to ensure that it is as good and effective as it can be. It is on this aspect that I have doubts about the Bill in its present form.
I was disturbed by a number of things said by the Minister. To begin with, he drew a distinction between tips which derive from mining and those which derive from industrial processes. I come 1173 from a constituency which claims to include the oldest industrial area in England, and we have many of the old tips mentioned in the debate. It would often need an expert to say what their origin was. We also have the problem referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) in that the ownership of many of the tips is unknown. It does not seem to me that all these situations have been provided for in the Bill. It does not seem important in a matter of this kind to make these subtle distinctions between the origins of potentially dangerous tips.
Surely, if the Bill is to be effective it must do two things. First, it must impose, without any doubt or qualification, the duties and responsibilities considered necessary to avoid a disaster of the kind in our minds. Secondly, it must make sufficient financial provision for what may need to be done.
The Bill contains 38 Clauses and 4 Schedules, and in almost every Clause after Clause 1 we find powers given to local authorities and elaborate rules laid down as to who must pay—whether an owner is to be liable, whether a local authority is to be liable, whether somebody else is to be liable—and all sorts of bureaucratic provisions for regulating all these situations. It seems to me that in the labyrinth of the Bill the essential point is lost that if we are to avoid this kind of tragedy there must be clearly defined responsibilities and we must clearly define who is to do what.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) suggested that often it was the local council rather than the county council which had the most intimate knowledge of these things and might have the primary responsibility. I am a county council member and would be the first to agree that it is not easy for a body as large as a county council to have immediate and intimate knowledge of all the tips in its area. But wherever liability is imposed, it ought to be clearly imposed. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State for Wales would tell me whether he is satisfied that the point is covered by the Bill. Do the county councils, which I gather are the bodies upon which the ultimate responsibility is now to be laid, have the necessary technical knowledge, and can they be expected to have it, to keep themselves informed 1174 about potential dangers? If they have not the necessary technical knowledge, surely it ought to be the duty of the Minister, through his experts, to keep his Ministry informed about potential dangers and have power to serve on the responsible local authority mandatory instructions about what needs to be done. If we do not provide that by legislation, it seems to me that the responsibilities will not be defined and that things will simply be allowed to carry on.
I speak with some concern on this subject because in my constituency I had about five years ago, in connection with my county council, to investigate the situation of a very ancient tip that was considered to be potentially dangerous. It was estimated that if an emergency occurred the cost of the immediate remedial works to prevent a disaster would run into six figures and that the cost of a final job might easily run into seven figures. When faced with liabilities of that kind, any local authority can be excused for not wishing to rush into remedial works which would impose such liabilities on the rates.
This brings me to the second point which is not adequately dealt with in the Bill, and that is financial provision and allocation. If it is true that the Bill is the result of a deep-seated national resolve to ensure that such tragedies do not happen again, surely we do not just leave it for the Caerphilly, Aberdare or Merthyr Tydfil local authorities to make the financial provision. Surely it should be a national matter and we as Members of Parliament should be able to say to the taxpayers, "We look to the whole body of taxpayers and consider ourselves justified in asking you to meet the provision to ensure that such a situation does not happen anywhere else in the country."
But when one looks at the Bill—this is all that I have been able to find—one finds that Clause 25, dealing with finance, simply says that where local authorities have incurred expenditure the Minister may make grants. What encouragement is that to a local authority to deal with a situation in its area? I appeal to the Minister seriously to consider putting much greater strength into the Bill. It would be deplorable if the Bill were to leave us—a considerable document as it is—primarily an enabling Bill or a window-dressing Bill and one 1175 which is not adequate even to lay down the responsibilities and the financial provisions which may be essential for preventing another such disaster.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I apologise to the Minister of Power for not having been present when he made his opening speech in the debate. I had to be elsewhere in the House. I wish to participate in the debate because the subject is of great importance to my constituency and one to which I think it right that we should give detailed consideration.
I have very considerable sympathy with many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More). I think that when we come to the Committee stage we shall have to examine these points most carefully, in particular the financial provision, already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), taking into account the difficulties with which local authorities have to contend in Wales in other respects and also the difficulties with which they have to contend at this particular moment.
I would point out to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales that this is particularly so in the next two or three years, when we are awaiting decisions on local government. Many of us wish to see these decisions carried through with the utmost speed so that the responsibilities may be absolutely clear. But in such circumstances it is particularly necessary that we should ensure that the local authorities have the maximum incentive to do the work.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare illustrated very well, there is a disincentive in a sense for them to do the work. It is not sufficient to say that the local authority ought to have the paramount interest in doing the work. If it has not got the full powers and financial backing to do it, it is not easy for it to embark on the work. We must try and clear up that matter in the Bill.
But, even more important in a sense, we must clear up the question of dividend responsibility which still remains. I therefore ask the Government—and I think they will be agreeable to the request—for an extensive Committee 1176 stage in which we can look very carefully at all these matters.
As a Member of Parliament having to deal with some of these problems after the Aberfan disaster, I must confess that they presented the most difficult problems I have ever had to deal with as an M.P. Of course, in my constituency the effect of Aberfan was bound to be considerable. We have a tip at Cwm. A school stands in a very narrow valley underneath the tip, which is still being operated. If there had been a slide of the tip, the school would have been in jeopardy, It was natural that the people of Cwm should have been extremely alarmed by the situation. The councillors and M.P.s concerned have had an extremely difficult situation to deal with. We have had to steer a course between dangerous complacency and the creation of alarm.
I have the utmost sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) in the difficulties he has had to contend with. He has, of course, dealt with them with great determination and skill, and the people of Aberfan and of Merthyr Tydvil owe a great debt to him for the way in which he has dealt with the problem. I say that as his neighbour.
I do not think that anyone outside can dogmatise about the way these problems can be dealt with. In my constituency, we still have a situation, to some degree, in which many mothers have kept their children from school because they would not be assured that absolute safety was provided. It was a very delicate matter to deal with. We had at least seven or eight meetings in Cwm in order to discuss the question and to provide the guarantees for which the mothers asked and to ensure that immediate steps were taken to provide for the safety of the tip while, at the same time, trying to allay the natural alarm which had arisen. It was an exceedingly difficult problem.
One of my main reasons for speaking is that I wish to pay tribute to the way in which the National Coal Board has dealt with this matter. It has had a rough time in many other places and many of the criticisms made of it are legitimate. In the Aberfan Report, many of the criticisms were well-founded. The Report critised the way in which the Board made its appearance before the Tribunal. I do 1177 not mitigate these criticisms. They stand on the record.
But, having said that, it is only fair to add that, from my experience since Aberfan is in my constituency, the Board has dealt with the problem with great efficiency, determination and care. I say that partly because of what the Board has done, partly because of the persistence of its efforts and partly because I have talked to the officials responsible. I have found them to be dedicated people who have worked night and day to try and ensure the safety of my constituents. It is, therefore, only proper to pay tribute to them.
As I have said, we have held meetings in Cwm to discuss the problem and I hope that those meetings were effective. I believe that the only way to have dealt with the matter was for officials of the Board to come and explain, in detail, technically, what had been done and what their opinion was. First-rate officials came from the Board. They explained the technical difficulties. Many of them were so technical that they could not be understood by ordinary people—they certainly could not be understood by me. Nevertheless, the officials explained in detail and they came at a critical moment.
One of the mothers who had withheld her children from the school—and I think she had every natural reason for doing so and one can understand her feelings—said, "I have heard all the technical explanations but my question is simply this: is it safe to send my children to the school?" If there had been any hesitation in the answer of the official, the alarm spread throughout Cwm would have been disastrous. But he answered straightly and coolly. He gave the fair and clear answer, "Yes. It is safe to send your children to the school." That was an answer given responsibly by people who had worked night and day to ensure that the tip should only be worked if it was safe.
Personally, I owe a great debt to the officials of the Board and I acknowledge it. I think, too, that the Ministry of Power should receive acknowledgement for its assistance. Of course, it is the duty of the Ministry to deal with such matters efficiently, but it should be stated that it has been efficient. There has been no neglect on its part. It has dealt properly with an extremely difficult task.
1178 I re-emphasise what has been said about the inadequacies of the Bill. Of course, we want the Bill, but we also want some of its deficiencies to be examined during its passage through the House. We also want further measures beyond it to deal with other questions of amenities in the valleys.
Here again, I do not wish to depreciate what has already been done in my constituency. Reclamation work has been undertaken in recent months which can be of great advantage to us. I am eager to give thanks for what has been achieved in this respect. We have now started really to get a move on with the problem, so I am not making this speech in a spirit of carping criticism. We still have a lot more to do, however.
I was interested, also, to read the statement by Lord Robens the other day on these matters, and of how he thinks that the whole question of amenities in the valleys should be dealt with on a more extensive scale than is the case, perhaps, in the Bill. We should examine his proposals with the utmost care to see whether we can go forward along those lines as well. At any rate, let us consider whether his proposals are better than the Government's. Let us look at them fairly and discuss them fully.
Wales has been most unfairly treated in this sense compared with the rest of the country—or at least we have not yet had our fair deal. I was brought up in Cornwall, whose problems were described by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott). I am all in favour of assisting Cornwall through the Bill as well as Wales. I spent much of my youth wandering around the mineshafts at Kit Hill and nearly fell into one or two. Perhaps some people wish that I had done. But that is no excuse for not blocking them up. Cornwall's industrial position was built on mining, but anyone comparing Cornwall and Wales can see that, in Wales, the problem is far bigger, and we have every right to demand that there shall be a 100 per cent. national response.
This is one of the main demands we are trying to press and it should be the aim, in a measurable period—over the next ten years, as Lord Robens has indicated—to clear up this mess. Of course, we may not be able to make the valleys as beautiful as they were before, although 1179 the valleys are incomparably beautiful even as they are. But if we can carry through this work in the next ten years, making it clear that this is what we intend to do and that nothing will stop us, I think that we shall have achieved something of which we can all be proud.
We can do so while we have to deal with these dilemmas. Do not let anybody think that the dilemmas are not very great. In Cwm itself there is the dilemma which in a sense was to be found in Aberfan. It is that the people in Cwm want to see the tip made safe, but they also want the pit to be working, and it is no good telling them that one problem can be solved at the expense of the other. Do not let it be imagined that these problems are easy to solve.
Whatever may be said by some hon. Members opposite, for generations nobody cared very much about the desecration carried on in Wales. Nobody could go through those valleys and say that some regard was paid to their desecration. But now there is an entirely different approach. The Bill is one part, but I want to see the rest of the programme developing. I wish the Secretary of State the greatest success in carrying it through as speedily as possible and making it clear to the people of Wales that we are determined to do this job thoroughly.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Before coming to the content of the Bill, I should like to add my compliments and congratulations to those already paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) on his maiden speech. He is not only the Member for a constituency not far from mine, but he is a personal friend and colleague in Sheffield, where he is well known for his cogent and forceful contributions to debates on public matters there, and I am sure that he will have much to contribute to our debates.
The trend of the debate has been almost uniform, namely, a welcome for the Bill, but suggestions that it is much too narrowly drawn and fails to cover matters which it might well have covered. I particularly welcome the speech of 1180 my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and the cogent comments of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) on the problems of amenity and questions of dereliction, points which have been made by some of my hon. Friends.
It has been said that 150,000 acres of land are derelict for one reason or another. I have seen it suggested that the figure is 99,000 acres, but the difference may be due to the difference between the United Kingdom as a whole and England and Wales. What may not be generally known is that 3,500 acres a year are being used up by new industrial tipping and that the problem is expanding rather than diminishing. Figures given to me by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as recently as 1964 and 1965 show that only 2, 000 acres a year are being reclaimed. In other words, we are losing the race.
I am, naturally, particularly concerned with the area to which my constituency is adjacent. My constituency lies on the edge of the greatest and richest coalfield in England, the South Yorkshire coalfield. In Yorkshire and Humberside generally there are 10, 000 acres of derelict land and it is estimated that 200 acres are laid waste each year by colliery spoil and mineral waste. From an answer to a recent Question I discovered that in 1967–68 only 105 acres were reclaimed. In that area, too, far from making good any of the dereliction of 150 years, we are still losing out on the current rate of dereliction, and a great deal of it is due to mineral and coal waste.
Several hon. Members have pointed out that there are forms of waste other than tipping from collieries, quarries and mines. There is also the problem of chemical waste and that of the disposal of pulverised ash from power stations. In a report of the Yorkshire and Humberside Planning Council it was pointed out that one power station produces annually 100,000 tons of pulverised ash, which has to be disposed of somehow. I know that the Electricity Council is doing a great deal of scientific and technological research into using this waste as a raw material, but I understand that not all of it can be so used and there is bound to 1181 be some overspill which has to be disposed of and which creates a serious tipping problem. The Report of the Planning Council refers to thestultifying effect of large tracts of derelict land falling especially heavily on the small communities of the Yorkshire coalfied.The remedy proposed in the Bill for the specific problem of tips and waste from collieries is to lay additional burdens and responsibilities on local authorities. I have grave reservations about that, reservations which have been voiced by many hon. Members. First, do these authorities dispose of the necessary technical expertise to deal with this problem? This is not a matter of fault or blame, but simply a fact. Do local authorities have the technical advice readily available to enable them to make safe, or otherwise deal with, tips and spoil heaps? Other hon. Members have dealt with the financial problem and I shall not go into that because to some extent it is part of the whole question of the financing of local authorities.
Another problem is the physical and geographical problem. The best solution to the disposing of a particular spoil heap or a particular form of waste may be to use it to fill up or blot out some quarry or hole in the ground elsewhere, but if that hole in the ground does not happen to be in the same local authority area, there is probably nothing the authority can do about it. What is needed is not a process of clearing up or making safe on a local basis, but something on a much wider basis.
There is also the problem of the political will and energy to do it. The figures which I have quoted for the failure to keep up with the pace of existing dereliction demonstrate that for one reason or another—and I am not prepared to say what reason—local authorities do not have sufficient energy or drive, or perhaps not enough money—and it may be as simple as that—to deal with the problem of spoil heaps, waste and dereliction. All the evidence and records make it seem unlikely that they will deal with the problem successfully.
It may be a little unkind to say so, but there is evidence that some local authorities are contributing to the problem, as is shown in a special study of derelict land which was commissioned by the Yorkshire and Humberside Planning Council. 1182 Speaking about domestic and industrial waste, the Report said:The responsibility for disposal is widely dispersed among the various local authorites and individual firms, and the siting of numerous small tips has been determined more by casual factors of ownership or availability than by the suitability of the site for tipping. The result is to spread dereliction and unsightliness where a rational approach to the problem would enable such waste to be used constructively for the elimination of existing pockets of dereliction.That may be a special case, but it demonstrates the limits of strictly local effort to deal with the problem of dereliction caused by spoil-heaps and tipping.
A conference of local planning authorities in the Yorkshire and Humberside area, in April of this year, admitted that this was a national rather than a local problem. To some extent the Government have accepted that this is a national problem by the awarding of special grants, of 50 per cent. or 85 per cent. for clearing up industrial dereliction. What worries me about the Bill is that it seems to be extremely narrowly drawn in terms of the danger which it seeks to combat.
It particularly defines stability, but there are other dangers from tips, dangers to health, dangers from vermin and from dust. The Minister may say that these dangers are already covered under existing legislation, but I wonder whether this piecemeal approach is sensible.
I want to draw attention to the lines along which remedies might be found. We already possess two national agencies which might be used to supplement or perhaps replace the efforts of local authorities. The first is the Land Commission, which could be used to acquire derelict areas or massive spoil heaps. If a local authority did not have the resources to gain financial control of these areas, the Land Commission could be asked to acquire them with a view to clearing them up.
The second agency is the Open-Cast Executive of the Coal Board. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale has referred to the possibility of using the Coal Board. The organisation in the country with the greatest expertise in the reclamation of derelict land is the Open-Cast Executive, which has been spending £1 million a year on the reclamation of land over the past few years, and since 1953 has 1183 cleared up no less than 83,000 acres, something close on the total I quoted earlier of outstanding dereliction in the previous century.
I believe that it should be possible, within the Bill, to make use of these agencies to clear up, or stabilise, or to make some real impact on this appalling problem of industrial dereliction with which we have been faced as a result of centuries of neglect, and which has been brought to our minds, forced upon us, in such a stark and vivid way by the terrible tragedy at Aberfan.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
I begin by apologising to my right hon. Friend for not being here during his speech, but other activities made it impossible. I represent a mining constituency and one cannot help but realise how important this question is. The Bill deals primarily with the safety of tips. However, we are not only dealing with tips; we are dealing with the whole question of amenity. While it has been brought out that there are various Acts enabling local authorities to deal with the problem, to some extent it is also clear that the situation will be a little lopsided if we have a Measure designed to deal primarily with the safety aspect, which does not correlate other questions to do with bings or tips.
I hope that in Committee it will be possible to examine this problem to see if there is a way of correlating these subjects of amenity and safety. Spoliation and dangers to health have been referred to. In my area, for years the method of tipping the Redd and the stone from the mines was to dump it into the sea. Now an area of six miles which, when I was a boy was a lovely golden beach, where we used to swim and play, has been spoiled. In the 1921 strike, the miners hewed with their own hands a swimming pool on this stretch. But because of tipping into the sea that beach is completely destroyed. There is no sign of it for five or six miles.
This creates terrible problems for local authorities in the area. This was the murder of an amenity. It would cost millions of pounds if we had to reclaim this area. An area of great beauty has been destroyed. Problems of sewage 1184 and health were created. We do not want now to argue about why this was done, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) pointed out, for many years we had in this country people who did not care about how other people lived. In my constituency, I have tips which are caused not only by coal mining but by shale mining. Largely because they are present, there is a depressing atmosphere throughout an area which has suffered from the contraction of the coal mining and shale industries.
I wish that it were possible that we could have provided in the Bill for some form of national agency which would be responsible, not only for ensuring that tips were safe, but, in many cases, for trying to take them away altogether. I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has done magnificent work in getting rid of bings in many areas and trying to create better living and amenity conditions. But the problem is gigantic, and we must start trying to solve it.
I have had experience as a housing chairman of trying to obtain a building site in a mining area. The only place which we could find was a bing. We proposed to get rid of the bing and to build 80 or 100 houses on the site. The bing belonged not to the Coal Board, but to private enterprise. When we negotiated with the private owner, he suddenly found that he had something valuable; he had an asset. I do not wish to go into the question of the planning Acts, but it was hon. Members opposite who altered the legislation to ensure that land value was based on the current market value rather than the existing use value.
I do not know what the cost of land on which a bing was situated would be if it were based on existing use value, but the county council had to pay the owner the existing market value for the land, and we had to remove the bing. To our chagrin, we had to pay for the refuse which we removed. This was absurd. This is why we need some form of national agency to deal with these matters. It is wise that the Coal Board is not mentioned in the Bill. One hon. Member opposite said that in some cases it will not be possible to trace the owners. 1185 I realise that. But we must put it to the taxpayers that this issue must be faced.
I welcome the safety provisions in the Bill. Thank goodness, we do not have in Scotland problems such as those of Aberfan, although there is one bing in my constituency which causes me concern. We sympathise with Aberfan in its problems, which sparked off the introduction of the Bill. But, having taken care of the safety aspects, I hope that in Committee hon. Members will look at the wider problems of amenity to make sure that the tips and quarries are obliterated so as to give the people in the mining areas much better amenities and a better way of life. I warmly approve the principle of the Bill.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
May I start, as I am certain the whole House would wish me to start, by congratulating the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) on his maiden speech. Few hon. Members can be as fortunate as he was in finding a subject which gave so natural an opportunity for him to make a maiden speech so early in his Parliamentary life. He exploited his opportunity very ably, and, with no suggestion of condescension, may I praise the pleasant manner in which he addressed us. Modesty is one of the characteristics which is universally welcomed in the House. There is no doubt that he showed in his speech exactly those qualities which the House welcomes. May I pay my tribute, too, to Mr. Fred Bellenger, whose place the hon. Member has taken. Many of us remember working with him over the years and recognise the work which he did not only for his constituency but for the House.
On this side of the House we have the greatest sympathy and regard for the people of Aberfan and in no way do we wish to belittle the tragedy which has befallen them. But this is not just a Bill concerned with Aberfan. It goes much wider than Wales. We are attempting to legislate to ensure good management and safety. It therefore follows that the Bill has been welcomed by all sides of the House.
I wish to refer, in particular, to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), who has a lifetime of experience 1186 in these matters. I hope that we shall be able to draw on his knowledgee in the later stages of the Bill. The entire House would benefit from that. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) set the right tone for the debate and was no doubt welcomed by all sides of the House.
I have an immediate criticism to make of the Bill. The Minister of Power claimed some credit—and, indeed, all credit is due to him—for his work as a back-bench Member in endeavouring to improve the amenities in pit areas. He will not, therefore, be surprised when I say that we are particularly disappointed that some of the amenity aspects concerning tips have been omitted from the Bill. It would have been easy for the Minister to include them. We were promised the Bill in the last week of October over 12 months ago, so that the Government cannot claim that there has not been time to consider these matters.
May I add my comment, following some of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) and Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), when they were considering the factors involved in tip dispersal. It is not only in respect of amenity that this is important to the country. There are thousands and thousands of acres occupied by these tips. Even if only a small section of these could be properly dispersed that would add considerably not only to land use but to land values, and even of land owned by public authorities. One looks, for example, at some in Stoke or elsewhere in the Black Country, where there is engineering ability to disperse the tips. We should look, when in Committee on the Bill, into the possibilities of being able to cope specifically with that type of problem.
I am worried about the need under the Bill for technical and engineering specialist knowledge on such subjects as mining, geology, soil and the removal of soil. Specialisations which are the particular responsibility of the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate will not be found with the local authorities, and yet under Part II local authorities are specifically given powers to take action. In no way am I attempting to criticise either county councils or other local authorities, but, after all, no local engineer has ever had 1187 to consider some of the engineering problems which this Bill will place, as a responsibility, on the smaller local authorities.
Obviously, when there is an emergency everything else must be swept to one side, but where remedial action is required by a local authority I consider that the views of the Inspectors of Mines and Quarries should be obtained. What I have in mind as a suggestion is that, before the service of any notice under Part II by a local authority for remedial action, or before any action is taken on remedial work by or on behalf of a local authority, the local authority should obtain the agreement of the Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries to the specific work in question. This would provide a single controlling factor on behalf of the Government.
I believe this makes sense. It would be most acceptable to industry, which is, obviously, concerned, and has close contacts with the Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries. It would also be a sensible and efficient way of making the best use of resources. No doubt, it would cut down wasteful expenditure which might arise if a number of local authorities had to get specialist evidence or had to go to consultants. Moreover, it would allow a local authority to continue to be able to obtain the help of the Inspectorate with exploratory testing. I know that this is a view which is taken by many of the quarrying interests, because they feel that it would allow the continuation of the sort of control they have been used to. It would go some way to meeting the point made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) when he said that we should not place much responsibility on soil mechanics or engineers. I am certain he would go along with placing responsibility on the Inspectors of Mines and Quarries, for whom all of us have a considerable amount of praise.
I turn to the grants. Many hon. Members have felt particularly concerned about this. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) stressed it particularly. Clause 25 says:Where remedial operations are being or have been carried out in relation to a disused 1188 tip by a local authority, the appropriate Minister may "—I stress that "may"—with the consent of the Treasury, make grants to the local authority…and so on. I suggest to the Minister that he could meet the wishes of all hon. Members by using the words "the Minister will", not "may"—"the Minister will make grants". This is the obvious and natural way to do away with the doubt and consternation which has been shown today by many hon. Members. It would also meet the wish of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that there should be no disincentive to local authorities to act. The Bill then would be not just an enabling Bill, it would be a Bill to ensure action.
May I again be slightly critical and ride my hobby horse? It seems to me that the Bill enhances the mystique and language of the civil servant, the lawyer and the Parliamentary draftsmen. It endorses the approach that, wherever possible, we must say in the most complicated jargon what could be said without difficulty in plain English.
May I read Clause 3(1):It shall be the duty of the owner and of the manager of every mine and of the owner of every quarry to take such steps as may be necessary for securing that he is at all material times in possession of all information relevant for determining the nature and extent of any steps which it is requisite for him to take in order to discharge efficiently the duties imposed on him by or by virtue of this Part of this Act.How much more simple to say:Every owner or manager of every mine or quarry always shall have available the information necessary to meet his duties under Part I of this Act.That is 22 words instead of 82, but perhaps that is asking too much and is interfering with restrictive practices with which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is concerned.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. He must recognise that these words follow a certain Section of the 1954 Act, and have already been legally interpreted. Because they have been legally interpreted in a certain way it is much easier to follow the same words.
§ Mr. Emery
I have been asked to withdraw. Perhaps the hon. Members on the Front Bench will listen to what I have to say. I went to great trouble with legal friends of mine to ensure that these words, as such, had no legal interpretation at the moment and, therefore, there is no reason whatsoever why they should stand in that form.
§ Mr. Emery
I am surprised that that suggestion should be made.
May I ask a question concerning the leaving out of the duties of the quarry manager? In that Clause, and it was that Clause to which I referred specifically, the quarry manager does not have the same responsibilities and duties as the manager of every mine. Reference is made to the owner and manager of every mine, but not to the owner of every quarry. When I was investigating this with my legal friends, in order to back up what I said earlier, I was informed that there is no legal reason in this sense why the quarry manager should have been left out. I was told by quarry managers earlier today that they feel that the information relevant should be something with which they have to deal. Therefore, I wanted to enlarge upon it specfically because it struck me as a matter of principle with which we should deal.
I make the point jovially that it would appear that the Minister needs power in the Bill personally and unaided to move mountains. That has not happened since the days of Allah. In Clause 2(3)(b), he has power to say that a tip is not a tip. it would appear to refer to a tip which is not an active or closed tip. Therefore, if it is taken out of this part of the Bill and made a disused tip, which is not a tip for the purposes of Part I, presumably it becomes a tip for the purposes of Part II. This is quite important for the interpretation of action which we might wish to take in Committee, and it would be helpful to have some explanation of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) are concerned with the dangers of open quarries, chalk in the case of Canterbury, and the greater safety of disused mineshafts 1190 on derelict land in Cornwall. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives was answered twice, but he stressed that his point was not covered by the 1954 Act, and that is so particularly when the owner cannot be traced. If the Bill deals so definitely with matters of safety and can be extended to cover that subject, we may be able to take up an extra point.
I am very much concerned, as a matter of principle, that the right of entry in anything other than an emergency in Clause 18 should not be on the basis of a mere 24 hours' notice. That is an unnecessarily short period of notice, especially when one remembers that notice can be served by post. After certain debates in the House this week, it may be that the notice would not arrive before the inspector or other person wishing to enter.
The power of entry in an emergency is absolute, and we support that completely. However, as a matter of principle, any entry after the service of notice should be made in co-operation with the owner. I would have thought that a period of notice of seven days or, at any rate, 72 hours should be substituted.
Then, why is natural settlement, in Part II of the Bill, not dealt with in Part I? We have specific references to it in Clause 36, but it must be a matter of great concern in any judgment on the stability of a pit. As specific reference is made to it in Part II, I cannot understand why it is left out of Part I.
Certain people are concerned lest there is need to redefine legally the word "refuse". As I understand it, from the quarrying point of view, according to the present Ministry interpretation, overburden in opencast operations is not regarded as refuse. However, because of the responsibility for refuse set out in the Bill, the High Court definition of 1890 will not be adequate. This is a matter of concern to a number of people, and I give notice that we may have to reconsider that point.
Referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), I think that we all fully understand his worry about the movement of tips in his constituency. It seems, therefore, that this is the basis for all of us wishing to hurry the Bill along.
1191 Finally, why in the Bill should the local authority have the power to act except as a matter of emergency—and we take the matter of emergency as always being primary—before the owner has been given the right to put his own house in order?
Clause 14, affected by Clause 17(1), seems to give the local authority the option of either requiring the owner to act or to act itself and then obtain reimbursement. If there is to be this option, I do not see why it should be this way round. I accept that in many instances it is impossible to trace the owner. If that happens, 21 days after the service of a notice the power automatically reverts to the local authority. Therefore, if there is to be an option, particularly when the grant factor is taken into consideration, it should first be given to the owner. He should not have to accept that his house must be put in order by the local authority and that he cannot do it himself. This seems a major point of principle. There may be a simple answer, but I was unable to find it. I raise the matter for that reason.
The debate has clearly shown that there is no opposition in principle to the Bill, but it is quite evident that it needs considerable amendment and improvement. In nearly every speech from both sides of the House some form of improvement has been suggested. We wish to see further amenity considerations brought into the Bill. In Committee we should like to have further consideration given to tip dispersal. We should like to define the obligation and make mandatory the fact that grants will be given to local authorities. We will try to deal with these matters by moving the necessary amendments in Committee. In the meantime, we are delighted that the Bill should proceed as quickly as possible.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. George Thomas)
I join with the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and with others who have spoken in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) on his maiden speech which we were privileged to hear tonight. It is always a great day in the life of any hon. Member when he first addresses this honourable House, and my 1192 hon. Friend acquitted himself with distinction. I know that we all look forward to hearing his sound common sense again. I am glad that he is sitting on this side.
The debate has covered a great deal of ground and in many ways it has been very moving. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Power was a Yorkshire miner before coming to the House. I am the son of a Rhondda Valley miner and I lived for years under the shadow of a mighty tip in Trealaw, Rhondda.
I therefore feel that it is fitting that those who have their associations with the mining industry should be associated with getting this Measure through the House, or at least with introducing it for its Second Reading tonight. At the time of the Aberfan disaster, apart from our grief and horror at the entire tragedy, everyone involved had one vow on their lips, "This shall never happen again", and tonight the House takes a major step to ensure that that vow is honoured.
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) for his personal references to me earlier in the debate. When I listened to my hon. Friends from Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies), Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), and Aberdare (Mr. Probert), I was very deeply moved. No one can cast his mind back without feeling sick at the experience those people endured, and which everyone with feeling shared.
I believe that all people who live in the shadow of tips have a right to expect this House to give them security in their homes. It seems incredible, but it is true, as the hon. Member reminded us earlier, that the Report pointed out that there was no legislation on the safety of tips.
This Measure is the first legislation directed to securing the safety of our people against the movement of any tip in the land. It was a shock for me to learn, when that Report came out, that there had been no legislation dealing with the safety of tips, except in West Germany and South Africa. Except in some details, and in the use of some alternative means to secure the same ends, the proposals of the Tribunal of Inquiry have either already been accepted and put into operation or are covered by the Bill.
I shall seek briefly to answer some of the main points which have been raised 1193 before I turn to the South Wales coalfield, where, obviously, we have special problems.
The question of amenity has been raised by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Everyone who knows the valleys of South Wales, or the other local coal mining areas of the country, wants to see the tips removed and derelict land cleared, but I think that tonight the House has under-estimated the powers which already exist for dealing with amenity and derelict land. The Derelict Land Unit, in the Welsh Office, has already approached 70 local authorities to seek to stir them into effort on the clearance of derelict land. The authorities have become enthusiastic, and the grants are generous. At the moment, grants of 85 per cent. are being received by those local authorities which have embarked on the clearance of derelict areas.
The House must remember that this Measure is the answer to the Aberfan Inquiry, and is directly solely to the question of safety. I do not deny that other questions which have been asked are important, but we are here concerned with honouring our word about the safety of the tips, or rather the safety of the people who live in the shadow of them.
I was asked why the managers of quarries, as well as the owners, were not involved in the Measure. Both Opposition Front Bench spokesmen drew attention to this point. I understand that under the 1954 Act there is one manager of a mine, and he has to have statutory qualifications. The management of quarries is different. A quarry manager does not at present need qualifications; indeed, there may be more than one manager, and the quarry owner has power to exclude matters from a manager's control. Jurisdiction is, therefore, divided in that field. Since Part I extends and is to be read with the 1954 Act it is consistent with the earlier Act, which places responsibility for quarries mainly on the owners. No doubt that matter can be pursued further if hon. Members still have their doubts.
The South Wales coal mines are situated in more mountainous country than is any other coalfield in Britain, and many of our tips are piled on steep hillsides. Part II of the Bill is based largely on our experiences in Wales since the 1194 disaster, for we have naturally been actively engaged in providing adequate safeguard measures. Welsh local authorities, at the request of the Government, have inspected pit heaps not owned or operated by the Coal Board, and their priority has been to identify any which might prove a threat to life or property.
In a number of instances they drew the Government's attention to tips that might prove to be dangerous, but as these tips were mainly in the ownership of the Coal Board, in accordance with the Tribunal recommendations we left the Board to take the necessary action.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), whom I was glad to hear pay tribute to what the Coal Board has done since the disaster. Heaven knows, there was a terrible indictment of the Board at the Tribunal. But we all ought to acknowledge that since that terrible disaster nobody could have done more, or shown more eagerness, than the Board has to see that it is never repeated. Since the moment of the disaster it has been all out to ensure that every possible safeguard for its tips is provided.
My Department, which, under my predecessor, set up the Derelict Land Unit soon after the disaster, has worked in close co-operation with local authorities and the Coal Board. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the vigorous and widespread activity of the unit has not brought to us instances of potential danger on a considerable scale. The main stimulus for clearing tips—which we have been doing—has been the desire to remove ugliness and provide sites for industrial, housing and amenity purposes. Only in two instances dealt with by the unit has the threat of potential danger been a significant factor in what was done. These were the Gelliceidrim Colliery tip, in Cwmamman, and the Graig Ddu tip, in the Rhondda.
Because of the element of potential danger the Gelliceidrim tip was made the first priority of our newly-formed Derelict Land Unit. The work done by the Cwmamman Urban District Council, with the help of the unit, has pushed back the black heaps from the vicinity of the houses which they had overshadowed for decades.
1195 The House will be interested to know also of the action which is being taken about two closed tips—that is, tips no longer used but which are linked with collieries that have not been abandoned. The Lewis Merthyr tip at Trehafod, Rhondda, and the Spion Kop tip at Cefn Brithdir, near Bargoed, are both immense and ugly tips standing on or above steep mountain slopes over buildings. Neither of these tips gave any specific evidence of instability, but the local authorities concerned, in co-operation with the Derelict Land Unit and the Coal Board, have promoted schemes under which the coal recovery firm working on the tips will take the discarded shale further away to a flat site on the mountain top out of sight of the villages.
§ Mr. Hooley
I can well understand my right hon. Friend's deep and immediate concern with Wales, but the Bill applies also to England and Scotland. Does any body which is comparable to the Derelict Land Unit at the Welsh Office exist for England or Scotland?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that, through the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, local authorities in England are active. If they are not active in my hon. Friend's area, I suggest that he calls upon them.
Disused tips are scattered in their thousands in mining areas. Under the Bill local authorities will have powers to ensure that none becomes dangerous. I must give examples from South Wales because South Wales has a more dangerous problem than has any other part of the United Kingdom. That is why the Bill has become necessary. Our experience in South Wales has provided only one instance of a disused tip, and that not in the ownership of the Coal Board, which has shown serious instability since the Aberfan disaster. That was the tip referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare; the privately-owned Craig y Duffryn tip in the Mountain Ash urban district. It rests on the slopes of the other side of the ridge which separates the Taff Valley and Aberfan from the next Valley. Movement in this tip early in 1967 caused much anxiety, and remedial action was undertaken. In the context of Part II of the Bill, Craig y Duffryn is a classic case.
1196 A detailed survey undertaken by the Coal Board since the disaster has shown that in the United Kingdom there are about 2,000 colliery tips owned by the Board—between 400 and 500 active, and the rest closed or disused tips. In Wales, the Board owns about 100 active colliery tips and about 400 others. There are nearly 200 more disused tips not owned by the Board. The Board has identified those of its tips which could constitute a danger to the public if a slide occurred, and is systematically investigating them with the help of consultants, and, of course, putting remedial work in hand where necessary.
The hon. Member for Hereford asked me to bring the House up to date about the Aberfan tips. It may not be generally known that the Coal Board has done a very great deal from the time of the disaster onwards, and at considerable cost, to ensure the stability of the complex of seven tips built up in successsion on the hill side above Aberfan.
There were seven tips there. The disaster tip No. 7 was virtually removed in the months after the disaster. The area of hillside over which the avalanche poured was cleaned up and sewn with grass. The tops of the uppermost tips, Nos. 4 and 5, have been removed more recently, and much of their dominating appearance has gone. Anyone now travelling up past Aberfan sees the difference. Drains have been laid and maintained, though some of these were inevitably of a temporary character. They had to be put in whilst a final scheme for the complex remained uncertain.
The Coal Board and the Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries have been fully satisfied from an early stage in the progress of these extensive works that the tips no longer constitute a danger to people in the village, although they might, until final works are completed, cause nuisances and, not surprisingly in this tragic village, anxieties. They may not constitute a physical danger, but I know from my contacts with the people of Aberfan that they constitute a pyschological, emotional danger.
I announced at the end of July that the Government and the Coal Board had decided to remove the material in the complex to the flat top of the mountain at a cost then estimated to be about £1 million. The effect will be to produce 1197 a hillside landscape showing no sign that tips ever stood there and so to remove, as far as any physical works can, the memory of the disaster. I realise that nobody and nothing can really remove the memory for the people of the village or the rest of the country.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in heavy rain a great deal of that tip streams down to the main road? I tried to make him and his office aware of this, and that coal is now being mined on the side of the hill where the tips are. I have emphasised, and must do so again, the dangers arising from subsidence where hillside tips are concerned.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend has already been assured by me, and I assure him and the people of Aberfan again, that the Coal Board has given its word that it is not working under this tip.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
That does not reduce the danger. May I tell my non-mining right hon. Friend that if subsidence takes place on each side of that tip because of the coal being mined, there exists a most unstable foundation to those tips, and disasters can happen. They have happened in the past.
§ Mr. Thomas
We are all anxious to see these tips removed. The Coal Board has been working hard on the technical detail of a scheme to achieve the moving of the tips. It hopes very soon to receive the scheme from its advisers, and then I hope to receive it from the Board. The scheme will then be fully and carefully explained to the representatives of the people of Aberfan.
The preparation of a scheme of this sort is a big and complex task. I ought to tell the House now that large-scale moving of tip material will not be practicable during the winter months. I believe—[Interruption.] Perhaps before I conclude I ought to deal with the question of finance.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I rose a moment ago to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question at the same time as his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) rose. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House about the disposal of: he existing tips? The Merthyr Vale Colliery is still in action; it is a working colliery. Can he tell the House 1198 what will happen under the new scheme with the spoil coming out of the pit? Will that also go behind the skyline of the moutain? Perhaps he is not in a position to say anything about it at the moment.
§ Mr. Thomas
I will get in touch with the hon. Gentleman about where the material is now being tipped. I promise to do so in a very short while.
The question of grant for authorities has been raised. The intention of the Bill is that the main responsibility must fall on the owners of the tip. The intention is deliberately to leave the percentage of grant flexible so that we shall be able to treat each case on its merits. That is the intention, and that is why Clause 25 is worded as it is.
§ Mr. Emery
Before the right hon. Gentleman comes to his conclusion, might I ask him to deal with the point that I raised with him about the mining inspectorate in relation to local authorities? Also, I do not see, in spite of his desire to be elusive about grants, why the permissiveness should not be changed—the "may" being altered to "shall". The amount of grant would then still be open for decision.
§ Mr. Thomas
But it may well be that no grant will be necessary, that the full responsibility will lie on somebody who can be traced and who ought to pay for it. That is why we must be flexible. We do not want to put on the taxpayers a burden that properly belongs to individuals. I do not think that individuals ought to get out of their responsibilities. That is the reason for the flexibility.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am talking about tips now, not shafts. Where the owner cannot be traced, and there is a definite danger, action will have to be undertaken, and the local authority has a responsibility. It will be advised. Local authorities will be able to call on the full expertise of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries.
I should have thought that every county council would have a highly qualified civil engineer on its staff. I 1199 should be very surprised if any county council had not got one. He will also be able to get the advice and co-operation of the Inspectorate. [Interruption.] It is no good trying to deal with these matters by question and answer now when there is shortly to be a Committee stage. I have explained that the financial provision has deliberately been left flexible.
The local authority will, no doubt, turn to the Government when the owner cannot be found. I believe that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) will discover that local authorities, by and large, accept, knowing how they are dealt with on questions of derelict land, that they will have a fair deal in this matter.
We keep faith tonight not only with the Tribunal of Inquiry, but also with those who live in the areas where there are tips and slagheaps and, as they are called in Scotland, bings, which have caused anxiety. I am confident, from what has been said tonight by hon. Members on both sides, that they are all equally anxious to see the Bill on the Statute Book and I hope, therefore, that the House will give it a Second Reading now and that the Committee stage will be dealt with in a constructive way.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).