HC Deb 19 March 1982 vol 20 cc601-57 9.34 am
Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes the report of the Commission on Energy and the Environment, entitled "Coal and the Environment", and calls upon Her Majesty's Government, and the National Coal Board and other relevant authorities urgently to study the recommendations of the report in order to take early action to reduce the problems of coal-mining subsidence, derelict colliery land, colliery waste disposal and pollution and the environmental impacts of opencast mining and coal transport.

This is the first opportunity that the House has had to debate the report of the Commission on Energy and the Environment, generally known as the Flowers report after the distinguished and noble chairman of the commission. I am sure that anyone who has read the report will have appreciated its thorough and balanced presentation of all the environmental problems associated with the coal industry, providing an ample basis for future study and action to tackle those problems.

It must have seemed an act of ingratitude when the Government wound up the commission almost immediately the report was published. The nation as a whole is faced with other great problems in this field—oil pollution and the effects of nuclear power development—which the commission could well have gone on to consider to Britain's great benefit. Alas, Lord Flowers and his colleagues have been sacrificed in the Government's mass slaughter of quangos.

I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Energy in the House today. I hope that he will be able to reassure us that the Government regard the problems described in the Flowers report as immensely important and in need of urgent attention and action. I hope that nobody, either in the House or elsewhere, will regard this debate as an opportunity for sniping at the coal industry or criticising the life-long service that hundreds of thousands of men and women have given, and continue to give, to the industry. Indeed, the communities which are worst affected by the environmental problems described in the Flowers report are generally the very communities where those men and women live. They are as entitled to a congenial environment as anybody else. They include many of my constituents.

As the product of a coal mining family, I speak with deep feeling that the bad living conditions to which mining people have been subjected in the past must no longer be tolerated. On behalf of all local communities in colliery areas, may I say that the philosophy of "Where there's muck there's brass" must be regarded as one of the ugliest faces of Victorian capitalism.

I remember, as a teenager in the early 1950s, visiting my grandfather who was nearing retirement after spending all his working life in the coal industry between Leeds and Wakefield. The area where he lived was being affected for the first time by colliery subsidence. Residents had to go in and out of their homes through open windows because the doors were jammed as a result of subsidence. My grandfather reflected that all that inconvenience was the result of new mining techniques. He said that those problems had not arisen during his early days in the pits when the goafs left by the extraction of coal were either gobbed up with waste or shored up underground.

All that was changed with the introduction of new mining methods, particularly the longwall face, behind which the rock strata are allowed to subside freely as the coal cutter moves forward. For that reason, in the past 30 years the problems of subsidence have occurred on an unprecedented scale. Compensation payments made by the National Coal Board have risen more than tenfold in current prices from 1969–70 to 1980–81, to £54.7 million. Those of us from mining areas know that those payments meet only a portion of the cost of all the damage and inconvenience caused by subsidence.

Even if an owner-occupier whose house suffers the effects of subsidence is not out of pocket after all the damage to the property has been put right by the NCB, there is nothing to compensate him and his family for all the inconvenience and worry or for his reduced use of the property during the intervening months, and even years. When it is first established and agreed by the NCB that a property is being affected by subsidence, the board may take action to shore up the property with unsightly buttresses and girders, and may even serve a stop notice to prevent further temporary repairs from being made while subsidence continues. Throughout that time the family usually continue to live in the house. They have nowhere else to go and they experience all the anxiety of hearing the property crack by day and, more ominously, by night.

When remedial works are at last undertaken, whole sections of the house will be out of use, with the furniture crammed into the other rooms and with living conditions severly disrupted. Sometimes there can be a long battle with the NCB to ensure that all repair items are satisfactorily completed and financial claims, such as the cost of redecoration, met. Generally, the NCB goes further in paying compensation than it is statutorily required to do, under the terms of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence ) Act 1957. However, that legislation is sorely inadequate in requiring proper redress for all the problems caused by subsidence. A house occupier who is a tenant may suffer all the upset arising from subsidence yet never receive a penny of compensation, either because the NCB undertakes all the work or because it makes all payments to the owner of the house. In particular, housewives who see their homes, often their whole pride and joy, disrupted around them are subjected to severe stress. Cases of nervous and mental breakdown have been known. The House should seek to extend the legislation so that the true costs of subsidence for home occupiers are statutorily due to them.

The disruption caused by subsidence goes wider than that. The whole pattern of community life may be upset. For example, during the past two years it has been necessary to rebuild a bridge at Knottingley, in my constituency, which carries Headlands lane over the railway. It is one of the major railway crossings in the town and provides the main link between a large new estate and the rest of Knottingley. When it was discovered that the bridge was affected by subsidence—caused by underground workings in the Prince of Wales colliery—the bridge was closed for some months to all traffic, including public bus services. The bus routes and most vehicles had to be diverted about two miles via unsuitable roads causing much congestion and long delays.

One ironic effect was that, although the bus route was diverted, the buses were not allowed to stop along the diversion and many passengers had the frustrating experience of being carried past their intended destinations until the bus reached a stop on its normal route. The traffic commissioners should investigate the possibility of avoiding such problems in future. Of course, the NCB has met the full cost of rebuilding the bridge, but not a penny has been paid to local residents for all the inconvenience or for the increased petrol consumption over many months.

I accept that it would be difficult to devise a scheme to make such compensation payments, but I make such points simply to demonstrate the wide repercussions of subsidence, which involve far greater hardship and inconvenience to local communities than the NCB meets in compensation. Similarly, widespread damage is caused by subsidence to road carriageways, with all the ensuing disruption if roads have to be closed or repaired. About one-third of a mile of the M62, right on the boundary between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse)—whom I see in the Chamber—is severely affected by subsidence.

In particular, the east bound carriageway just to the west of the busy interchange with the Al trunk road is affected. At that point, the whole motorway has visibly sagged, with the surface broken by long cracks, especially near the bridge carrying the motorway over the A645 Knottingly to Pontefract road. In due course, that whole stretch of carriageway will need to be reconstructed. Although the cost of the work will be met by the NCB, it will not cover all the inconvenience caused to hundreds of thousands of road users.

I turn to the effect of subsidence on land drainage, with all the repercussions that that may have for wide areas of agriculture. Although farmers are generally not slow to claim compensation from the NCB for loss of crops or other use of land that is affected by subsidence, many of the claims are not resolved to the satisfaction of claimants, particularly when it is difficult to prove how far the effects of subsidence extend. Similarly, the impact of subsidence on the natural and ecological environment can have unforseen repercussions, especially where the level of water in lakes and ponds is altered, or where the rate of drainage is changed. Such problems have been encountered at Fairburn Ings in my constituency and could occur at Thorne Waste, with the redevelopment of Thorne colliery.

That all goes to show that the impact of coalmining subsidence is far more extensive in the coalfields than is shown by the level of compensation paid, and by the remedial work undertaken, by the NCB.

The obverse side of the subsidence problem is what to do with all the colliery waste brought up from the holes left underground. In my grandfather's day, most of that waste was separated from the coal underground and then used to gob up the gaps. Today, with longwall mining, nearly all that waste is brought to the surface, along with the coal. The ratio of coal to waste produced in that way varies according to the nature of the coal seams and the method of working. It can vary as much as from 3.4 to 1 in Scotland, to 1.3 to 1 in North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, South Nottinghamshire and South Wales in 1978–79. Those figures are set out in the Flowers report.

In that same year 51.5 million tonnes of colliery waste were disposed of on to land tips throughout the country and 5 million tonnes were disposed of on to beaches or into the sea. It is estimated in the Flowers report that the area of land required to take spoil at this rate up to the year 2000 would equal the area of Middlesbrough. That reference is made not to alarm the people of Middlesbrough but to illustrate the extent of the problem. The problem is especially daunting in Yorkshire and Humberside, where the strategic conference of county councils submitted to the Flowers committee that over the next 20 years the communities in the Yorkshire coalfield face having as much waste dropped on their doorsteps as has been tipped there over the last 200 years. In 1979 the Yorkshire coalfield produced enough colliery waste to cover the area of the Palace of Westminster up to twice the height of Big Ben. The Flowers report states that in the Yorkshire and Midlands coalfield there may not be sufficient land to accommodate the new spoil in an acceptable manner. There is scope for using spoil to reclaim land either locally in exhausted quarries or more remotely in estuaries along the coast, but all such projects involve the transportation of the waste material with all the environmental problems to which that transportation gives rise. When spoil is left standing on tips on derelict land the use of that land is wasted and the appearance is generally ugly.

Much has been done to reclaim derelict land, expecially in South and West Yorkshire. The West Yorkshire county council has reclaimed about 521 hectares of derelict land since 1974, although the rate of reclamation has decreased recently. That figure contradicts the evidence given by the NCB to the Flowers commission. The NCB claimed that only 211 hectares of reclamation had taken place in West Yorkshire between 1946 and the end of 1979. that contradiction has to be resolved. Reclamation is expensive, and I urge the Government to accept the recommendation in the Flowers report that the level of derelict land left by Government be maintained in real terms and that the Government should consider providing additional funds for the clearance of coal dereliction in the Yorkshire coalfield. I understand that there has been a recent increase in the total amount of Government money available for this purpose, but I am not sure whether any of the increase has been specifically earmarked for Yorkshire. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us later.

The rapidly growing scale of the problems of subsidence and colliery waste suggests to me that adequate remedies may be impossible to obtain unless there is a large measure of prevention. The problems of subsidence and colliery waste are on reverse sides of the same coin. they both arise because waste spoil is taken from underground and left on the surface. The obvious practical answer to the problem is to aim to keep more of the waste material underground by what is known as backstowing.

Before the Second World War backstowing was normal practice. However, with the development of longwall mining it has gradually been neglected so that now, according to the Flowers report, it is used at only one pit in Britain, which is Park Mill colliery in the Barnsley area.

As the Flowers report describes, there are considerable technical and safety problems involved in backstowing, even when done by pneumatic methods. However, the scale of the problems that backstowing can help reduce is so large that urgent technical research needs to be undertaken by the NCB to improve the practicality, the safety and the economic viability of the technique. I know that the NCB frowns on backstowing for economic reasons, but I hope that the Department of Energy will help the board to recognise that in the long run backstowing may save money, especially if compensation for subsidence continues to mount. The economics of backstowing must be evaluated on at least a coalfield if not on a national basis. It is wrong that individual pits where coal production is less remunerative should thereby be prevented from taking such measures to safeguard the environment.

In general, the economics of anti-pollution methods need to be calculated on an industry-wide basis because the environmental problems are often greatest in the less remunerative pits. The problems of dereliction occur most in association with pits that are closed, from which there is no economic return.

There are no problems of subsidence associated with opencast mining, but the environmental disadvantages of that method of mining are apparent for all to see. Even where there are commitments at the end of operation to restore land to its former use and its former aspect, it is not always possible to ensure that the result is satisfactory. There is always the environmental desolation in the intervening years.

Opencast mining has expanded considerably since the Second World War. No doubt other hon. Members, especially some of my hon. Friends, will want to describe the problems that it involves. I merely mention that South Yorkshire county council has expressed opposition to all opencast operations.

I strongly support the recommendation in the Flowers report that planning applications for opencast coal mining should be handled by the same planning procedure as for other mineral workings, involving local authorities, and that if there is an appeal the Secretary of State for the Environment should be involved rather than the Secretary of State for Energy. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will agree that it is difficult for the general public in any area affected by an opencast application to regard the Department of Energy as an impartial arbiter in determining the environmental impact of such an application. I hope that the Government will agree to implement this recommendation of the Flowers report very soon.

The most obnoxious pollutant that results from the disposal of other waste material produced in the treatment of coal is the slurry that is left over at coal preparation plants where coal is graded and washed ready for marketing. Colliery slurry is black liquid sludge, which is either disposed of in large acreages of settlement lagoons or is transported, usually by road, for dumping in quarries.

For many years many of my constituents in Knottingley and Cridling Stubbs have been plagued by such road transport of slurry, with regular spillages on to busy roads, with all the consequent spreading of filth. It is hoped that the problem in that vicinity is nearly at an end because a new coal preparation plant has been opened at Kellingley colliery, which treats the tailings of coal washing by a method of filtered compaction so that the residue is in the form of compact briquettes, with liquid running off as water. If hopes are fulfilled with the operation of this modern plant at Kellingley, the NCB should introduce the same techniques as widely as possible to avoid the need for slurry disposal.

The final problem to which I wish to allude is that of transporting coal from the collieries to the customer. Coal transport by road is hardly ever satisfactory. Spillages create nuisance for road users and residents alike. Whatever wheel washing arrangements are introduced, vehicles invariably bring dirt from the colliery on to the highways. Often, minor roads in residential areas have to be used which are wholly inadequate for such heavy traffic.

The most acceptable form of coal transport is by water; if collieries are adjacent to navigable rivers or canals, it is also the cheapest. The economic growth of much of my constituency was based on such transport of coal from the West Riding collieries by the Aire and Calder and South Yorkshire navigations to the port of Goole where the coal was transhipped to seagoing vessels. The NCB should be encouraged to use the same methods, suitably modernised, wherever possible in the future where there is easy access from collieries to water.

The NCB's largest customer is the Central Electricity Generating Board. The transport of coal from pits to power stations is now undertaken mainly by merry-go-round railway trains. Although this certainly helps to keep coal off the roads, the environmental problems caused by the large increase in rail traffic on certain key railway routes are daunting. For example, the only feasible rail route to the Eggborough power station in my constituency and to the nearby Drax A and B stations is right through the middle of the town of Knottingley, where regular closure of the level crossing causes major traffic congestion and the noise of the merry-go-round trains becomes unbearable for residents adjacent to the railway. When the second stage of Drax is opened in the mid-1980s, the level crossings at Knottingley will be closed for one-third of every 24 hours, day and night.

A cost benefit study of alternative methods of overcoming the problems at Knottingley was completed last year by the Institute of Transport Studies at Leeds university. The initiative now rests largely with West Yorkshire county council as the local highway authority to decide the next step. Whether it proposes that a flyover be built across the railway or encourages British Rail to divert the railway south of Knottingley, I hope that the Government will consider sympathetically applications for funds to help overcome these local problems caused by the national demand for energy.

Furthermore, I strongly believe that the compensation provisions of the Land Compensation Act 1973 which are available to owners and occupiers of property close to new roads or airports should also be available to residents close to new railways or to existing railways where there is appreciably increased use with virtually new traffic. If the new traffic which can be accommodated on an existing railway were diverted to road, new roads would almost certainly be necessary and the 1973 Act would therefore apply. The Government should therefore consider extending similar provisions where there is vastly increased use of an existing railway.

These are just some of the environmental problems associated with the coal industry. Other hon. Members may wish to highlight other problems and other aspects of the Flowers report. I simply hope that what I have said demonstrates the importance of this subject for hundreds of thousands of our constituents. It is their quality of life that we in the House must constantly strive to improve.

Let us replace the outlook of "where there's muck there's brass" with a determination to get rid of the muck no less than a wish to increase the brass.

10.6 am

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) not only on his speech but on initiating this debate, which is long overdue, because this subject will have more and more implications for more and more people throughout the country as the search for energy increases.

The hon. Gentleman and I debated the problems of transportation in his constituency when I moved the Second Reading of the British Railways Bill in 1980, and I know how strongly he feels about the matter. I shall not follow him down that road, but he will be aware of my belief that, as the industrial market is now significant, the increased use of containers for coal transportation should be considered. The container could be loaded like a bunker and taken to the factory wall. It could literally be bolted on to the factory wall, with another container further down the wall to take out the ash. Eventually, 20-tonne loads of coal could be moved around without all the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman has described.

The hon. Gentleman referred in opening to the problems that communities in his constituency face, and I am sure that other hon. Members who face similar problems will wish to refer to them. The hon. Gentleman certainly painted a very worrying picture. His motion refers to trying to reduce the problems of coal-mining subsidence". Unfortunately—I shall not dwell on this—the problem will never go away entirely. As hon. Members know, the problems of directional draw, whether it be lateral or in any other way—the fact that one is taking something out of the sponge cake—will always lead to serious deformations, and I do not believe that one can entirely get around that problem, however one changes the law or the techniques used.

I wish to address myself today to a subject that may not meet with universal approval but which I believe is relevant—the whole question of planning for extraction of fossil fuel. Many of the problems that we are discussing today are the result of planning decisions taken in the past on which the communities involved were given very little opportunity to express a view.

The New Forest is a long way from Goole, but there is an attempt to search for oil in my constituency. Again, I shall not go into details. Anything that requires the disembowelling of the earth to find a natural resource creates its problems. We should ask ourselves whether we have really got our planning rules right for this type of exploitation of Britain's natural resources.

Everyone hopes that the coal industry will continue to have a bright future. There are about 190 billion tonnes of coal in place given a margin of 30 billion tonnes plus or minus. This means that there are perhaps 45 to 50 billion tonnes of extractable coal scattered around in a number of geographical locations. Some of the locations are the subject of great controversy. One is the Belvoir coalfield. There are also plans for north Oxfordshire, areas around the Cotswolds and other places where these resources can be found. Indeed, I am told that in drilling for oil in the North Sea it has not been uncommon to go through 20 and 30 ft coal measures before reaching the oil. One is in the presence, in this island, of substantial quantities of either solid or liquid hydrocarbon.

One must also recognise that the market for the coal industry, through no fault of its own, is very much smaller than it was. When I entered the House in 1964 I had the pleasure of visiting some coal mining areas with the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) who is sitting in his place. We were then discussing the possibility of keeping coal production in this country at somewhere around the 200 million tonnes a year mark. The then chairman of the National Coal Board, Lord Robens, always contended that anything below that figure was not supportable in the long term.

The situation has now changed. If one looks at the performance, even over the last year, one finds, sadly, that production was lower in the three months November 1981 to January 1982 than a year ago, but that total stocks are substantially higher—by nearly 3.5 million tonnes—than they were a year ago. I am contending that, although production is down, stocks are increasing. The reasons are manifold. The recession is clearly one of them. Better conservation is another. The fact that other forms of energy—more nuclear power and the rest—will also alter the equation is undeniable.

We have a worrying situation in which production, while it may be static or in decline, still gives rise to stocks that are increasing substantially, even at the end of the winter. When it comes to the question of looking for new coal and dipping into that colossal figure that I have mentioned, we can decide whether we should accept willy-nilly the view of the National Coal Board that it must look for coal everywhere. If any of my constituents could have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Goole describing the problems of mining in his constituency I can assure the House that this would never be tolerated in my part of England. Indeed, my constituents find it impossible to tolerate the drilling of a 6,000 ft exploratory well to look for oil.

In a sense the hon. Member for Goole and perhaps his hon. Friends have constituents who, sadly, have become acclimatised—

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

They were acclimatised.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

—or were acclimatised to acceptance of conditions that many others in this country would not accept. We must learn by experience. That experience, I contend, tells us that we must be careful before we subject other parts of the country to this treatment. A great discussion is going on about the Vale of Belvoir coalfield. The planning laws, as they now exist, create a situation where the coal industry, the National Coal Board and, indeed, the oil companies can explore seismologically for hydrocarbons. When they get to the point that they need to exploit the discovery, they have to get further planning permission.

In the case of the Belvoir coalfield, as in the case of the New Forest exploratory borehole by Shell UK Ltd., this has led to a public planning inquiry. At the end of the day, the planning inquiry listens to all the evidence and the inspector reports to the Secretary of State who, at some point, one hopes, decides what to do about the report. I am not criticising my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect, but the Belvoir report has been sitting on someone's desk for a long time. It has been sitting there because no one is entirely certain about the need to go ahead.

This brings me to the first point to which I hope my hon. Friend will give his attention. When planning applications are sought for the exploration and exploitation of natural resources—fossil fuels—the words "the national interest" are always recited. They were recited at the public planning inquiry in my constituency. Yet no one from the Department of Energy was present at the inquiry. I have no doubt that the words were also recited at the Belvoir inquiry.

The national interest is never properly defined. It is defined in the most conversational terms, of hoping that every part of the country can be explored as quickly as possible to determine the level of Britain's natural resources. But before other parts of the country are subjected to the sort of situation that has been described in this debate, there must be a clearer definition of the national interest. It might be that the national interest, for other Members' constituencies, is not served by the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about the national interest. Will he also take on board the interest of the mining community? What is needed is a firm and quick decision on the Vale of Belvoir. If we are not careful, the decline of the Leicestershire coal mines, which are now rapidly coming to the end of their lives, will mean that a large number of coal miners in Leicestershire are without jobs. Once miners leave the industry, it is very hard to get them back.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I support and understand the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman. This is the terrible clash between the person cheerfully described as the environmentalist and the man who rightly wants to see jobs in industry expand. It is necessary, however, to strike a balance. I have nothing but sympathy for people in any industry that is in decline. I do not think that this is likely in the coal industry. It is, however, important to ensure that the mining industry in this country is kept within respectable boundaries so that we do not create all over Britain the situation that the hon. Member for Goole has described.

Mr. Hardy

The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) makes is relevant for sociopolitical as well as economic reasons. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the proposals for Belvoir, if implemented, would achieve a greater measure of environmental protection for the Belvoir coalfield than applies to any other coalfield in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Hear, hear.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I take the point that the hon Gentleman makes. I know, as he does, that any plans to go ahead with the project will be based on trying, as far as possible, to leave the natural environment unspoilt. Given the provisos already stated in this debate, that will not be entirely easy. I have seen along with some Opposition Members, the Selby development. Today, everyone is thoroughly conscious of the need to protect the environment.

I come therefore to the burden of my remarks. This interest in Belvoir points up the dilemma. I do not pretend to know Leicestershire well, but 1 understand that the area around the planned coalfield development is what could be described as a beauty spot. Of course, there are many such places in Britain. One of the problems is that the National Coal Board or the oil companies can explore to see whether resources are there, although they cannot go to the next stage of exploiting the resources.

In exploration work, sometimes the standards employed by the NCB are, perhaps, not the same as those employed by oil companies—the use of blow-out preventers, and so on—when drilling into the earth's surface. I hope that my hon. Friend will reassure me that eerything done on behalf of the board in this connection meets those strict and stringent standards. Those who live in the Doncaster area will know what happened in the oil fire there. So I hope that my hon. Friend will give me that assurance.

I want to put a proposal to my hon. Friend. I said earlier that there would be more and more exploration for hydrocarbons of all sorts. That goes without saying. More exploration is currently taking place, and has been for the past 10 years, than at almost any time since the great coalfields were discovered. The cost of energy has completely changed, and as a result materials that were not previously attractive now are.

However, it is not reasonable to expect the current planning laws to take account of this problem. In planning, uncertainty is worse than certainty, because uncertainly, as we heard in the case of the Vale of Belvoir, creates worries, not only for the people who intend to develop the field, but for those who are to work there. What happens is non-planning blight, as opposed to the planning blight that we are always hearing about.

I therefore suggest that my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Department of the Environment draw up an energy map for Britain, not, as it happens, including the New Forest, where a production licence has been granted. That can never go ahead, because there is a New Forest Act 1877. However, that is someone else's problem. An exploration company, be it a nationalised industry such as the National Coal Board or an oil company, should know that if it gets a production licence and then gets planning permission to explore, it will naturally be in a position to go on and exploit. Every hole that is drilled costs approximately £½ million. In the case of an oil company, presumably that amount will come out of its profits. In the case of the National Coal Board, who knows where it will come from? No doubt my hon. Friend can tell me. A great deal of money is being invested in exploration. What is the point of exploring if one cannot exploit? That is just a waste of money, and it creates the uncertainties and misgivings of which we have heard this morning.

I may sound selfish, and I accept it, but I should like the energy map to include the Lake District, parts of Cumbria, perhaps the Cotswolds, perhaps the Fens. Certainly, I hope that it would include the New Forest, because there could then be attached to each a provision by the Secretary of State not to allow the development of fossil fuels or other mining for a period of, let us say, 30 years, except in case of war or whatever conditions were written in. It would mean that those companies that want to develop and believe that resources are there to develop would not go ahead, waste time and effort drilling holes and carrying out seismological and other tests in areas where ultimately nothing will happen. In my estimation, Belvoir is a good example of non-planning blight. We are relying on an old system that was never designed to take account in modern times of the environmental considerations that are uppermost in the minds of ordinary people when looking for natural resources. In the past, it was a question of where there is muck there is brass. That is no longer acceptable.

I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that, although hon. Members who have grave constituency problems are right to air them, there are others of us who are being drawn into the net of exploration and all that it means, and exploitation and all that that means, who feel that it is time that the Government took a firm grip on onshore exploration for and exploitation of all fossil fuels. Without it, we shall go forward in this topsy-turvy way, relying on individual inspectors' reports where the national interest is not properly described and where no one from the Department of Energy tells us what is involved, in the hope that the old planning ways will produce the answer. I do not believe that they will, and I hope that this debate will encourage the Minister to make a change in the present situation.

10.26 am
Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I have great respect for the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson). He has always been interested in energy matters, especially coal and oil, but mostly coal. I remember a long time ago when we got him to go down to look at the pits. I felt satisfaction when subsequently he was promoted. However, I cannot say that I was responsible for that promotion.

I know that the hon. Member for New Forest is trying to safeguard an area where the residents do not want coal mining. I accept that. I grew up in an area where I could see about 10 pit stacks from my back door. They were huge mountains spread over a large area of land. Some of them are still there. In those days, people did not care about the environment. Coal was pulled out of the pits, as was dirt. Dirt was pulled out because it was cheaper to do that than to leave it there. It was stacked on huge mountains. If one recalls Aberfan, one realises the insignificance attached to the safety of the people who lived there when the dirt was dumped on the hillside.

If I had the power, I should want to know what was below every square mile of this country. I should explore almost every inch, regardless of what was on the surface, because I want to know what is there and whether it is valuable. We should remember that the need for minerals and fossil fuels will increase as society progresses. Let us find out what there is in this island of ours.

Now I come to the subject of exploitation. The hon. Member for New Forest looks kindly on the areas that he mentioned. I was not happy about what my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) said. One can bring out the unhappiness created many times by the careless way in which industries of all kinds are run but when people talk about keeping dirt in the pits it is difficult for them to appreciate how costly it is unless they have worked below ground. No matter what is done in stowing and packing, if 6 ft. of coal is taken out, the surface eventually drops 4 ft. I agree that with longwall mining, where no packing or stowing takes place, the surface drops more rapidly. In my young days the men used to get the coal out willy-nilly. Whether they stacked or not did not matter. The stacking was done to maintain the roadways. In the Doncaster coalfield they stowed to try to prevent gob fires and it became very costly in the Barnsley Bed seam, which was one of the most profitable seams in the country.

If we are not careful, we shall punish the National Coal Board by making the extraction of coal more costly. Too often Conservative Members are completely opposed to nationalisation. If a nationalised industry is successful, they want to denationalise it; if it is not successful, the nation can have it.

Too often Conservative Members want to punish the National Coal Board or the principle of nationalisation. If the coal mining industry had to be responsible for keeping underground the dirt that comes out of the pit—an impossible task—the extraction of coal would be extremely costly. That is why the nation comes into it. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole did not emphasise that enough. I did not expect the hon. Member for New Forest to do so because, although I respect his views on many occasions, he sits on the other side of the House. I would agree with the development of Belvoir when it was required, but I would want to know everything about it.

In former times almost every ounce of coal was extracted regardless of the impact it had on the surface because the question of subsidence rarely arose. Property was often destroyed without compensation being paid. In coal mining, the angle of the break goes from one pillar to the centre of another pillar. Then the pillar is left. The apex of the next block of coal and the angle of break meet at the surface. Then the ground settles.

It would cost the NCB a lot of money to leave precious coal underground. One has to bear that in mind. Of course environmentalists are entitled to their views. Sometimes I wish they had been alive in my young days so that the area where I was brought up might be as beautiful as it was before coal was extracted.

Sometimes I try to block the dirt tips out of my mind and visualise what a wonderful area it must have been. Nowadays people living in areas where there might be coal or fossil fuel that could be extracted fight harder than we did in those days perhaps because we had not much appreciation of the environment. Those who were extracting the coal had a greater expectation of profit than feeling about the people who resided in the area.

When I started in the mines I looked forward to the day when, if I had the power, I would close every pit. Working underground at that time was a penalty that nobody should have to undergo. If I had the power now to create enough energy to run the country, I would look forward to the day when nobody had to go down the mines.

The miners are with us. People depend on jobs. Whether we like it or not, there is nothing to replace those jobs. There are more than 3 million unemployed. I may be criticised by some of my comrades in the mining industry, but I am speaking from the heart, athough I also bring my mind to the subject.

The damage done to the environment by the coal mining industry reminds me of the clay industry, which is rarely mentioned. When I travel by train from Yorkshire to the South I pass areas where huge holes have been left by the clay industry. They ought to be filled and levelled. Earth should be put on top to make grass fields or to grow food.

My hon. Friend mentioned the transportation of waste from the mines. If anything is transported today, the cost of doing it by water or even by rail is great because it has to be brought to the waterways or to the railways, which involves loading and unloading. I was interested in what the hon. Member for New Forest said about building containers. To suggest that the cost of transporting the waste from the collieries should be met by local authorities or by the NCB is not helping environmentalists to get their views accepted. The Government must bear that cost.

There are many areas which require to be filled in. I know the cost would be great. Probably the Minister will say that I am becoming as wild in my assessement of what ought to be done as are the people who say that the dirt should be kept in the pits. There must be greater coordination between the local authorities, the NCB and the Government. They have a very important part to play, as Flowers said, but Flowers spoke about an agency. I am not sure that that will be the way out of the difficulty. It means bringing in another organisation.

Mr. Hardy

A quango.

Mr. Wainwright

The local authorities know what is wanted in their areas but often cannot afford it. If the nation says that environmentalism shall be promoted and be made the top priority, it must consider where the environment is being destroyed and how it is to be recovered, and then that matter becomes the nation's responsibility. On such an issue every part of the country should be the nation's responsibility.

Environmental standards in Yorkshire, especially in South Yorkshire, need close examination. We must ensure that help is given to the local authorities concerned. What help will the government provide to make certain that more land is available for the dirt that must come out of the pits? We hope that in Selby little, if any, will come out, except in the coal, because the coal will be so good that we have to mix dirt with it to make sure that it is suitable for our power stations.

At several pits in Yorkshire we are in difficulty over having land convenient for our spoil heaps. We want the help of Government Departments, and I hope that the Minister will contact those that are involved.

Will the Minister hold discussions with the local authorities about the Flowers recommendation that there be an independent regional development agency, and ensure that we do not have an unnecessary additional committee? Will he allow a feasibility study to take place before any such action is taken?

There are many other questions that I could ask the Secretary of State. For example, when will he provide additional funds for the clearance of coal mining dereliction in Yorkshire, as recommended by the Flowers commission? Why should those serious environmental problems be left with the coal mining areas? If clearance is ever to be carried out, if the cost is applied to each individual pit that could make more and more pits uneconomical. However, I must reserve the argument about economic pits for another time.

I want the Minister to realise that more and more should be done to raise environmental standards in and around the mining areas. That is due to our people. They have lived far too long in awful conditions. It is time the nation realised that it owes the miners something for what they have given to this country in the past. I hope that in every move made by the Department there is close consultation with the NCB, the NUM and the local authorities. The local authorities are very important.

I hope that when the Minister replies he will say something about the points that I have raised.

10.44 am

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) in congratulating the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) on bringing this matter before the House. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Secretary of State on procuring the excellent and weighty Flowers report, which I suspect to be one of the better reports that any of us will see. It ranges so widely, because the commission's teens of reference were so wide, that I happily do not need to follow the line of any speaker, except the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who expressed toe bitterness that may be at the bottom of some of the problems that the non-coalmining areas find so hard to reconcile.

Nobody denies the vast problems left by the Industrial Revolution and by mining through the centuries. The problem for those of us, like my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, who represent greener areas, may be that we are at least as concerned to keep similar depredations away from our own land as we are to help those who have suffered them over the past centuries.

The report does not say that my entire constituency is built on low-grade coal, which has slipped across under the Bristol Channel. Happily, that coal is covered by high-grade agricultural land, so I suspect that there is little prospect of anyone looking for bits and pieces at the bottom of my garden. The danger is that we all look to our own gardens. That is understandable, but if one supports the coal industry and the use of coal as the most logical fuel—it has the longest resource life that we know of, and from it can be made so many of the other products that we need—we are very unwise, and perhaps Opposition Members are even more unwise, if we stress the problems and depredations of the past and the natural, but outmoded, bitterness of the past, which almost says "We had to suffer it. Now it is your turn." We spoke of the Vale of Belvoir earlier. There is almost a rubbing of hands.

If there is to be a general feeling of "us" versus "them", we shall, sadly, go on down the line of the past hundred years of always saying "I shall look to my own garden, where I prefer grass to mines".

Before I read the Flowers report I looked at the membership of the commission, which is one of the best and most extensive that I have ever seen for such an inquiry, embracing almost every form of fuel and transport interest. The thrust of what I have to say will be very much towards the transportation side. It may not be the intention of the Government or of future Governments to use coal as our main fuel, but I believe that we should use it in that way, and if we do it is important to consider everything in the report about the environmental problems, particularly of transport.

In a few days' time I am taking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy to North Devon, where we shall look at a coal-fired power station at East Yelland. It is a small-capacity station, but it has the great capacity to be refurbished and rebuilt inside without planning problems. It has a good labour force. Everything is there once again to bring more coal-generated power to the West Country. How sensible! The problem is how the coal is to get there. We are literally across the water from South Wales. The coal produced there may not be ideal for our use, but we have a jetty. The coal used to come across the water and be landed at the jetty. It now comes by road.

How does one annoy a village dweller? When a big coal lorry bumps over a Devonshire lane it inevitably spills coal dust, which gets on the feet and the rest of the body. Labour Members who all their lives have had the problem do not realise the fury of the agricultural world at this. We are used to having various things on our feet, because our own produce is somewhat messy on occasion. But the coal dust and the lorry that shakes the small house are different problems. The sheer illogicality of it means that public opinion will almost certainly be against the use of coal, simply because the jetty is there. The approach to it has not been dredged, and it is easier to bring the coal by road.

The hon. Member for Dearne Valley understandably spoke with great bitterness of the past. That played no part in the report but it was mentioned in several interesting and shaded ways. The problem is not that coal is not a good fuel and excellent in every way but that people are suspicious of the producers of coal and of the main conveyers over land, mainly the railways. I have referred to the "them and us" attitude. I am a shopkeeper and most shopkeepers prefer their goods to be conveyed by road because they are more likely to arrive that way.

When industrial problems arise the coal mines are flashpoint No. 1 and the railways flashpoint No. 2. That makes the most logical fuel unpopular. Opposition Members have influence in these matters and the Under-Secretary of State is well aware of the problem. If only the attitude embracing supplier and supplied that applies in almost every other commercial transaction could be adopted how much wiser and more logical would be the case for accepting the use of this most sensible of fuels.

The thrust of my argument is transportation. To make coal popular we must move it by water. We are surrounded by water. Nowhere in this country is more than 75 miles from water. It cannot be imposible to make more use of water for transportation. People might argue about the cost of dredging, but the cost of repairing and cleaning our roads must be many times greater.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

The hon. Gentleman says that roads are predominant in the transportation of coal. I should like coal to be transported by rail and water, but who will stand the cost? If the extra cost is paid for by the customer because the Coal Board increases the price of coal the mining industry will be ruined.

Mr. Speller

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We are looking at different ends of the economic problem. Coal in relatively small packets is cheaper to transport by road because a road vehicle is loaded and off-loaded once. It cannot be beyond mankind's comprehension to use the various forms of container and the clean carrier. The large clean container is better on a railway truck than on a road truck.

I am sorry to be parochial, but on Fridays we are usually parochial. In my constituency a small railway line stretches from Exeter to Barnstaple and Bideford. It carries milk and china clay and makes is ugly holes through the countryside. It could carry coal. When the East Devon power station was built it had a siding. Now that siding is totally overgrown. There are times when we all have to accept those marvellous words "social cost". This is an occasion when we have to accept them because the spin-off costs of carrying coal in terms of damage to the roads and the environment, and most of all, in terms of damage to its popularity, is such that the housewife will say "Everything is cleaner than coal, therefore I prefer everything but coal." That is an illogical attitude. In my experience of the commercial world, waterborne transport is cheaper, provided that there is a docking point reasonably adjacent to the consumption point.

I do not seek to reverse the thoughts of today's debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Goole. We should all welcome the report. Those who are interested in the future of coal as the most logical long-term fuel and base material from which to make so many things and to bring the prosperity that has been wasted over the years, should forget the wicked coal owners and remember that fashions change more than the hemlines of ladies' dresses over the years. What we think barbaric was thought normal 20, 30 or 50 years ago. If there were a clean start with clean coal we could get the industry back to its best, aided by a good transportation system using water and rail. That would make us a better nation.

10.55 am
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

At about this time the Secretary of State for the Environment will be arriving by helicopter at Pontefract park, in my constituency. I welcome his visit. I hope that when he arrives he will not have his blinkers on. If he takes off his blinkers, the first thing that he will see is the Prince of Wales colliery. If he turns a little to the left he will see the site of a coke works which has been closed for many years. It still stands, but it has had no environmental uplift or improvement since the day that it closed. I also hope that if the Secretary of State flies from west to east and over the small mining town of Featherstone he will look at the muck stacks.

The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) said that we should not look too much into the past or feel as bitter as my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). When the Secretary of State flies over Featherstone he will see that relics of the past still exist. I remember playing on the muck stacks 50 years ago. Some of the stacks were produced by a colliery which closed in 1935 but they are still there.

We played there for a reason. In those days a miner was fortunate to work down the pit three days a week because he then qualified for three days dole pay. However, the mine owners opened the pits on the fourth day, let the men go down for an hour and then flushed them out and sent them home. We youngsters were wise in those days because we knew that the miners would take their sandwiches, or snap, with them. They used to share their snap with us. While we were Waiting for them we played on the stacks. The stacks are still there. The past is still with us.

I welcome the debate and the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the problems of the Yorkshire coalfields which have been dealt with adequately by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall). I want to speak about the problems in my constituency. We in the mining areas were born among the muck. It is said "Where there's muck there's brass." I have found much muck in my lifetime, but very little brass. If there had been as much brass as muck in mining areas the problems that we are discussing would not be so severe.

We have lived with the problems of subsidence all our lives, but they are now worse than ever. When men of my age started filling coal, we had a one-shift cycle. We filled coal off the face on one shift and the support work—turning conveyers over and packing faces with waste material—was done on other shifts. At that time it was the practice in most collieries in the area to mine seams that were 3 feet or 3½ feet thick. The House will appreciate that extracting coal from such seams, with the protection of packs, minimised the problems of subsidence. There was no great outcry about subsidence in mining villages, because property that was damaged usually belonged to the coal owners anyway, and it was not wise for a miner to complain to coal owners about the state of his cottage.

The mechanisation programme and new technology allow the mining of seams between 5 feet and 7 feet thick. We are always hearing of new productivity records, which are desirable for the profitability of the industry and have been achieved by machinery working round the clock and with men mining much thicker seams, but many mining areas face severe subsidence.

The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) referred to planning blight. I should tell him that there is such a thing as blight of the mind. The Leicestershire miners who are waiting to see whether they have a future and whether they will have a job in two years are suffering from that blight of the mind. The sooner that a decision is made in Leicestershire, the better.

Vast sums have been spent at the Prince of Wales colliery in my constituency and a new drift mine has been put down. We welcome the jobs that it provides and the boost that it has given to the local economy.

Pontefract is an old town and, like other parts of my constituency, it has been ravaged by subsidence. Twenty houses on the small Nevison estate of about 70 houses have had to be demolished. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) and Penistone (Mr. McKay) can point to similar problems in their constituencies.

Subsidence does not affect only those whose properties are damaged. It has a general effect throughout an area. I shall draw the House's attention to a classic example of the problems that people have to put up with. They have no say in the matter and there is no statutory obligation on the NCB to inform them of what is happening.

The British Railways Board is demolishing a bridge in my constituency because of subsidence created by the drift mine at the Prince of Wales colliery. Some hon. Members know that when the NCB intends to mine under railway properties it must inform British Rail, which has a statutory right to purchase the coal under its property if it wishes. It seems that in the case of the bridge in my constituency there have been meetings behind closed doors between the two boards and British Rail had decided that it will not press its statutory right, and will allow the NCB to mine under the bridge.

Some of my constituents may feel that British Rail has deliberately adopted that policy in order to get a new bridge paid for by the NCB. It has resulted in all public and private transport from the centre of Pontefract and the outlying districts into three major housing estates, of 4,000 or 5,000 houses, being diverted through a residential area on roads that were not built for such traffic. They are not wide enough to take a bus and a car at the same time. The owners of the attractive houses on that route have found that, because of British Rail's decision, their properties have become virtually unsaleable and they have no comeback under the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957.

That situation will continue. I received a letter on 12 March from the local chief environmental health officer, who said: Dear Mr. Lofthouse, I am sure you will be aware that the bridge in question, which is quite close to your own house, is being demolished to make way for a new single span structure. British Rail has informed me that they intend to carry out the main part of this demolition by means of a controlled explosion which is to take place on Saturday, 27 March at, or about, breakfast time. I thought you might wish to have advance warning of this event, especially as, living near the site, the local residents may well contact you or Mrs. Lofthouse on this matter. That is the way in which people are informed that there is to be an explosion. However, it emphasises the problems that we are experiencing with subsidence in the Pontefract area.

As the House is aware, the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) introduced a Ten Minute Bill recently advocating new legislation on compensation for subsidence in the mining industry. I agreed with most of his speech but not with his contention that the greater protection of those concerned should be paid for by the National Coal Board out of its cash limits. That aspect of the hon. Gentleman's Bill is a non-starter, because the NCB cannot afford to carry the heavy extra cost that would be involved.

Apart from that aspect, I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman's Bill will not prove to be simply a debating exercise, as often happens with such Bills. I hope that it will do more than inform the press—and thereby the public—about the problems of subsidence. I hope that it will not be buried and forgotten. It is essential to have such legislation if we are to protect the people who are producing the coal and helping the economy of Yorkshire and of the country at large.

With regard to the problems of colliery waste, in my constituency there are five major coal mines, employing about 6,000 people. The area is covered with deep mining and opencast mining sites, and severe problems have arisen from their operations. There is a mine just outside my constituency which is having to transport its waste to an opencast site within my constituency. Two others, Fryson colliery and Weldale colliery, are having to dispose of their waste on opencast sites.

There is a diabolical situation developing in the Prince of Wales colliery. To enable that pit to continue producing, it has been necessary to find some space on which to tip the spoil. The NCB has made application through the county planning authority and the Department of the Environment for a further opencast site only a few hundred yards from Pontefract park.

The application for that opencast working would never have been made if it were not for the need for a hole in the ground for the spoil from the Prince of Wales mine. The coal from the mine is very inferior but, as there is not yet a decision from the Department of the Environment, the mine must still continue to work. The spoil that it is producing is being tipped on to the suggested opencast site. If the Secretary of State for the Environment gives authority for opencast mining to take place there, the spoil will first have to be removed. The problem is obvious.

It must be appreciated that it is impossible in minig areas not to have environmental problems, but every possible effort must be made to protect the environment in the old as well as in the new mining areas. It would be unreasonable to give certain assurances about subsidence at Selby and not to give similar assurances to the older coal mining areas.

I am sure that all hon. Members, whatever their political allegiance, would want to give their support to any efforts to deal with the problems that I have outlined. As we know, however, in the end it is a question of money. I hope that the Minister will at least attempt to give the House an assurance that there is some hope that the necessary help will be given. If he does not, we are simply acting as a talking shop this morning—and often, unfortunately, that is what this Chamber seems to be.

I hope that the Minister will consider the setting up of a joint committee—not a quango, as suggested by Flowers—of the county councils concerned, the NCB and the Department of the Environment, to consider the whole problem of Yorkshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley referred to South Yorkshire. I am especially concerned with West Yorkshire. The problems are certainly there and need to be dealt with urgently.

I hope that the Minister will also draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment to the problems involved. The derelict land grants, which are applicable to areas such as I have described, seem to be used in a biased way in solving city centre problems. I hope that the Minister will make strong representations on behalf of his Department and will draw attention to the fact that a lot of the money available in those grants should be used in the mining areas to assist in solving their very severe problems.

11.18 am
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) has said many things that commend themselves to me. When I return from London to my constituency I have the pleasure of driving through several of the constituencies of the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. The hon. Member talked about blinkers, and he was right to draw the attention of the House to the fact that we cannot esoape the consequences of previous coal mining activities.

Hon. Members may wonder what the representative of a steel constituency is doing intervening in this debate. My constituency is one of the largest consumers of the product that comes from the constituencies of hon. Members whose speeches preceded my own, especially that of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy). That being so, it is right that I should acknowledge the contribution made to other industries by the work force in those constituencies, because it is all too easy for those of us who do not represent coal mining constituencies to think that we are not obliged to consider the problem which we are discussing.

Everyone in every industry consumes coal, and coal is as much a fuel of the future as a fuel of the past, and long may that continue. My constituency would not exist without the contribution made by the coal industry of South Yorkshire.

As I drive to my constituency I cannot help noticing that there are social and environmental problems that have to be taken into account if we are to give the coal industry that which it deserves to ensure that it continues to produce coal at the cheapest price and in the most efficient way.

My constituency has some opencast iron ore mining. I shall not dwell on that at any length because I suspect that to do so would be out of order. But I refer to it briefly to illustrate the duty on us all to consider seriously the recommendations in the Flowers report.

The type of mining carried out in my constituency was largely opencast iron ore mining. The mines are for the most part worked out. But they enable me readily to appreciate the scar on the environment in the constituencies of hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, even though in my constituency only a small area is affected.

The recommendations of the report can be of assistance to some extent. If we are to give the coal industry a chance of a secure future, it is our duty to consider the existing position in the South Yorkshire area in terms of colliery waste. Television viewers see a considerable amount of very good advertising that is sponsored by the National Coal Board, and I am greatly impressed by it. Viewers see pictures of beautifully warm rooms heated by coal. However, it might be a good idea if the National Coal Board considered sponsoring another type of advertisement, showing consumers how the coal gets to their fires and the social and environmental cost involved to those who live in colliery and steel areas and what they have had to tolerate for many generations.

Every steel worker and coal miner will readily concede that if the day comes when there is no environmental pollution it will be an extremely sad one because it will be the day when there are no longer coal mines and steelworks, though, of course, we can all cite examples of long worked-out coal mines or closed steelworks that still represent an environmental and social cost which people have to bear. This report can point the way to the solution of some of the problems created by disused collieries and opencast mines, and I am sure that the argument applies equally to the disused iron ore workings in my own constituency.

For the benefit of the coal industry in the future, we have to accept responsibility for past costs. In the old days, coal miners grew up with the slag heaps. As a result of the last 15 to 20 years of development, some of them are features of the past. But there is still colliery waste, and it still has to be transported, stored and stacked, to the social cost of coal miners, who spend enough time in the pits during their working lives without wanting a stark reminder of their work when they are off duty.

The South Yorkshire and Humberside areas have some of the most beautiful countryside in the United Kingdom, but they are scarred. Governments, the National Coal Board and the nation as a whole are interested in consuming the coal and the price that has to be paid for it but, for the most part, only those people who live in or near mining areas are in the least concerned about the environmental consequences for many thousands of people. The hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) has done the House a service by drawing attention to this very important subject.

The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford put his finger on the main problem. If this debate is to have any purpose, hon. Members must consider the cost of putting these matters right and who should bear it. In my view, the nation must accept some of the burden. Equally, it is important for the consumer of coal to recognise that there is an element in the cost of the coal that he buys that is included to deal with the social and environmental damage caused by colliery waste and its transportation. That is why I suggest that it is not unreasonable for the National Coal Board to gear a great deal more of its advertising to educating its customers about what goes into the cost of the coal that they consume. It is not only miners' wages. It should be pointed out to industrial and domestic consumers that, in addition to the labour and capital costs of production, there is a social cost involved in coal extraction and that it should be directed to compensating the local communities. It is for that reason that I suggested a moment ago that over a period the National Coal Board should engage in a slightly different style of advertising campaign designed to point out to its consumers the social cost of coal extraction, which should be regarded as being worth while paying.

I recognise that if all the social costs of coal extraction were put on to coal consumers it would be likely to increase its price to the extent that it was no longer competitive with other fuels, and I hope always to see the day when the most natural and most important of the country's energy resources has an advantage over all other forms of fuel.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

The hon. Gentleman is changing his tune.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman accuses me of changing. I remind him that my constituency has always been and, I hope, always will be one of the most important consumers of coal. When I began my speech I said that I represented a constituency with probably one of the largest consumptions of coal in the country. I have always maintained that the steelworks in my constituency would not exist without coal.

I return to my central theme, about which the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) will probably feel happier, because he always feels happy when he parts company with me. The crucial question is the cost of putting matters right and who is to pay the cost that the House accepts has to be met. In my view it is not unreasonable for the consumer to bear part of the burden of meeting the environmental cost of extracting coal. However. I concede that we have to ensure that that increased burden of cost does not make coal totally uncompetitive with other fuels.

Who is to pay? The Government have a responsibility. The railway and steel industries also have a responsibility. The railway industry relies on the coal industry for much of its freight traffic. It should accept its share of the burden by making its freight charges for shifting colliery waste a little more competitive. Too much colliery waste is shifted by road. Road haulage charges, because of the competition in the industry, can be much lower than those of the railways. That is unsatisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) suggested that disused railways could be brought into operation to carry coal and colliery waste. No one would deny that if railways exist between collieries and the destination of the coal or the colliery waste they are the most efficient and environmentally suitable form of transport. Often they are not used because the charges are higher than the road haulage charges. British Rail should realise that sometimes it is taking advantage of the monopoly power that it believes it has over the colliery industry in such a way as to charge a price that haulage operators can easily undercut.

In my constituency BSC and the coal industry have a good working arrangement. All the coal that goes to BSC in Scunthorpe is transported by rail. The railway industry, BSC and the coal industry have a most efficient arrangement. The model should be studied by other industries. In other areas the railways are not used so much, because either lines do not exist or the railway freight costs are too high. The railway industry should be more competitive and give the NCB a better price.

I agree with what was said by the hon. Members for Pontefract and Castleford and for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) about colliery waste reclamation. In my constituency we have a large private company which is one of the biggest land reclamation specialists. The Government could help private industry, people involved in coal mining and those who have to live with the social costs of yesteryear and they could also provide jobs. They could assist land reclamation companies. The Budget proposals on derelict land do not affect the subject of our debate. There should be greater co-operation among the NCB, the Department of the Environment, or, if appropriate, the Department of Energy, and land reclamation companies. Land reclamation is an important balancing factor in the equation. It is a large industry, which could boost the construction industry. There is great potential for land reclamation, and the coal industry could be involved. I am slightly disappointed that the report did not deal with the opportunities for the greater involvement of sophisticated land reclamation companies in colliery and other land reclamation.

I welcome the report. I do not know whether I go along with the idea of a quango, but I note the comments made by other hon. Members. An organisation needs to be set up to study the problem; otherwise, it will again be buried in the heap. We should have a nationally recognised organisation, which has the Government's blessing, to bring greater public attention to the problem.

The hon. Member for Goole has done a great service by drawing the matter to the attention of the House. Opposition Members may feel that we do not always recognise the problems of colliery waste and the other environmental problems of coal mining. Let me reassure them. We are not blind when we drive through their constituencies. We recognise that many of them supply the raw materials for industries be they industrial or agricultural, and domestic users in our constituencies. We are concerned about the social costs that have been imposed over the years.

We should repay the environmental debt. But it is not possible to take the seemingly easy option and say that the Department of Energy should pay. At the end of the day, that is the taxpayer. We must consider the best way that the cost can be borne. The burden should not be wholly imposed upon the price of coal. The fuel of the future should not have to compete unfairly with other fuels.

11.37 am
Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)

I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this important debate. The environment of my constituency is probably the most seriously affected of all by coal mining.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown), on, for once, making a very helpful speech. I thought at one stage that he may have gone all the way and suggested a levy on the consumer to cover the costs of restoring the environment. But he did not do that.

The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller), who has unfortunately left the Chamber, suggested that Opposition Members who represent coal mining constituencies are living in the past and are saying that we have had to put up with coal research and development and now it is other people's turn. Wherever coal is found and developed, experienced coal miners from the areas in decline, where the reserves are rapidly running out, will go there to develop the new coal fields. That is sound economic and business sense. We will not say that we have had our share and now it is somebody else's turn, because coal miners will have to work that coal.

I am certain that if the Duke of Rutland's ancestors had discovered the coal in the Vale of Belvoir at the beginning of the century, when they owned the coal royalties, all that coal would have been out and burnt years and years ago—never mind extracting it now over the Duke of Rutland's dead body.

I have had letters from constituents from all four corners of my constituency—from towns such as Ackworth in the north-east, Cudworth in the north-west, Goldthorpe and Thurnscope in the south-west and from South Elmsall and South Kirkby in the south-east—who have had their property badly affected by subsidence. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that nearly all the cases have been resolved happily after—and only after—I referred them to the chairman of the board, Sir Derek Ezra. With all due respect to him, he has taken a kindly attitude. We have had reasonable success and a fair settlement in every case. I am sorry to say that in many cases he has had to overrule his own estate officers, whose prime job in their own minds was to protect the board's money rather than look after the people who had been affected by the mining operations of the board.

The first time that I came into contact with mining subsidence problems was when I visited Thurnscope, the home of my great friend and honourable predecessor, Mr. Alan Beaney. I am pleased to say that he is still alive at the age of 77, although he is not very well. He still takes a lively interest in the happenings of this place. I visited him only last Saturday.

When I first visited him, a block of houses immediately opposite his home, where he has lived for a number of years, had had to be demolished. Only 50 yards up the road from where he lives a further block of houses had had to be demolished. All around him, houses had to be shored up with beams and girders while they were repaired. That also happened in Goldthorpe, the next village.

That is not the whole of the problem. It is difficult to paint a picture of what happens when mining subsidence strikes without a canvas, paint and brushes. It would be difficult even with a camera. I shall try to put the House into the picture. I have never lived in a house that has suffered subsidence, but last year, on a Sunday morning, I was asked to visit the Northfield estate at South Kirkby which, not for the first time, had been riddled with subsidence over the weekend. That estate has suffered subsidence on three separate occasions as a result of three different mines working different seams under that estate. Last year was the ultimate such occasion. I am most distressed to have to tell the House that that estate of 162 houses will have to be pulled down.

Hon. Members will remember what a terrible summer we had last year. When I visited that estate on the Sunday there had been a heavy downpour of rain all Saturday following the subsidence in the early hours of Saturday morning. The first thing I met was huge pools of water, in some cases 18 inches deep. The sewers had collapsed and the water could not get away. The fire brigade, the water authority and the emergency services were there pumping away the water and trying to put in emergency sewers.

I then went into the houses. Subsidence is terrible. Hon. Members should imagine—if they can—going to bed on a Friday or Saturday night and being suddenly awoken by cracking and creaking and by the movement of the whole house. Subsidence strikes quickly and nearly always at night. In some cases people told me that they were wakened by the noises and that the bed started to move. When they looked out, the cot, with the baby in it, was moving to the other end of the room, because that end had dropped by 10 or 12 inches. The furniture also moved. As has been said, when people try to get out of their houses, they cannot open the doors, because all the door frames are twisted and the doors are jammed. When people get downstairs and put on the lights they see, in some cases, that the kitchen cabinets have fallen over and that the crockery has been broken. Once they have got over the shock they want a cup of tea.

However, they find that there is no gas for the gas stove, because the mains have broken. The next-door neighbour may have an electric cooker, but when those involved go next door to have a cup of tea, they find that there is no water because the water mains have gone. There is no compensation for the stress and strain that people suffer in such cases.

Two years ago, I visited South Elmsall, the home of Frickley Carlton Main colliery. All lovers of brass band music will recognise that name. Two years ago, in the Carlton Road area, the band started to play. I am not referring to the colliery band. There was subsidence throughout an estate and 261 houses were affected. Officials from the environmental health department and from the NCB were on the scene and the local authority had no hesitation in saying that the houses were unfit and beyond repair and in declaring it a clearance area. The local authority took on the problem of rehousing. The next logical step was to freeze the housing list. Given that very few council houses have been built in the past few years, people on the estate had to wait to be rehoused by the local authority.

Mr. Lofthouse

Does my hon. Friend agree that when houses are demolished, the NCB does not carry out any environmental work? When the houses have been demolished, the sites are just left and people have to pass by and live with such eyesores every day. The local authority does not have the finances to carry out the environmental work.

Mr. Woodall

That is right and I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. Carlton Road is in the centre of South Elmsall. The town's heart has been ripped out. The local authority has to accept responsibility for rehousing and for demolition of the properties. It acquires the properties. All those on the estate have now been rehoused.

Only a fortnight ago I was informed that the last three tenants in the Carlton Road area had been rehoused. It has taken two years to move all the people. The last three tenants lived in isolation in a block. All the other houses were empty and demolition had started on the other side of the street. The length of time that it takes to rehouse such people is heartbreaking. It is said that some good comes from bad. I am pleased to say that the Carlton Road area will be completely demolished soon. We are informed that the land is now stable and can be redeveloped. However, no one on the housing list in South Elmsall has been able to move into a house in the past two years because the local authority had to give priority to tenants from the Carlton Road area.

There is exactly the same problem on the Northfield estate at South Kirkby. Some of the houses on the estate are owned by the local authority and some are owned by the NCB. It has been the NCB's policy to sell off its houses. It does not want them. It is not really the board's job to own houses—it inherited them on nationalisation. Its prime job is to produce coal. I understand that it wants to get rid of the houses, but to mine underneath them, to wreck them and to make them uninhabitable is a terrible way of doing so. This is the problem that faces the South Kirkby local authority.

I am informed by the chief housing officer of the Wakefield metropolitan district council that negotiations are in hand with the board to determine the amount of compensation that shall be paid to the authority for the demolition of the houses that it owns. A decision will be taken soon on the amount that will be acceptable to the authority. The sum that is paid in compensation will be used for rehousing. This is a problem for the Department of the Environment and not for the Department of Energy.

When the compensation is paid, I ask the Under-Secretary of State to approach his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ask him to make money available, in addition to the money received from the NCB, so that there can be a crash building programme at South Kirkby to enable housing to take place. If the money is not made available, there will be a long wait for houses to become available in other areas.

In mining areas the villages and towns have developed piecemeal, estate by estate. The various estates within South Elmsall and South Kirkby are all little communities within communities. The estates were built in the 1920s and 1930s and those who live on them have grown up together. Their kids have gone to school together. They have fallen in love, married and raised their own families on the same estates. Some of the estates have their own football teams and play in their own local league. Hon. Members should see some of the cup ties that take place between teams in South Kirkby, when anything above the grass has got to go. It seems that the community is to be broken and scattered here, there and everywhere, wherever houses can be found, so that those who have to be rehoused can be taken from the present terrible conditions.

I ask the Minister to approach the Secretary of State for the Environment to urge him to make money available to enable a crash building programme to take place at South Kirkby. House construction could be started and completed this year, and all those on the estate could be kept together. That would enable the community spirit that has grown up over generations to be retained.

The problems that stem from subsidence form a picture that is extremely difficult to paint. I pay tribute to the county councils of North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Humberside that took part in the strategic conference and made representations to the Flowers commission, along with the 13arnsley metropolitan borough council, which made a fantastic contribution. I have in my hand their submissions to the commission, which included photographs highlighting the problems that they face. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to try to obtain copies of the councils' submissions, especially the presentation made by the Barnsley metropolitan borough council, which includes illustrations of the effects of coal mining operations on the environment.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay) is to talk about the stowage of waste underground, which is a difficult and complex problem. My hon. Friend left the coal industry a little later than I did. The problem of stowage is one of which the Minister is fully aware. The strategic conference of county councils, which first sat about five or six years ago, has examined the problem of waste disposal. It has produced all the facts and figures and has highlighted the problem of where to put the waste. The conference has produced the Pyewipe scheme. The Humberside county council was brought into the strategic conference because of the scheme. When the tide comes in at Grimsby there is a large expanse of water that extends across the estuary to Hull. When the tide goes out there is a great stretch of mud on the north side of the town. That land could be recovered by building up the banks of the river. Good industrial Lind could be made available. There is a possibility that reclamation could produce agricultural land. At the moment the land is not worth a halfpenny.

The scheme has been costed. Models have been built of the estuary to test tide flows, for example. The county councils know what they are talking about. The scheme involves the transportation of 20 million tonnes of dirt each year for the next 10 years to the Pyewipe area to reclaim an area of about 20 square miles. Unfortunately, the cost would be high. The figures that I have suggest that transporting colliery waste from South and West Yorkshire down to Pyewipe will cost between 78p and 96½ per tonne.

At South Kirby, where there is a colliery waste disposal problem, the NCB is putting colliery waste on to good agricultural land at a cost of 34.2p per tonne. It is not on to expect the NCB to accept the additional cost of transporting the waste. It would make a farce of the NCB's finances. When it comes to wage claims, it is the money that is in the tin that determines whether we have a happy coal industry or an unhappy one. The recent wage claim was resolved happily but I am not saying that that will happen in future. That will not happen if the board is saddled with the burden of disposing colliery waste at a much higher price.

Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the Vale of Belvoir. I shall mention it again because it is relevant to the problem at South Kirkby. There is a coal preparation plant at South Kirkby colliery similar to that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) at Kellingley. It handles the coal not only from South Kirkby but from three other mines—the Ferry Moor Riddings, Kinsley and Royston drift mines. All of the coal is brought to South Kirkby to be treated at that plant. It is a marvellous affair, costing £26 million, opened by Sir Derek Ezra a couple of years ago, and treats 50,000 tonnes of coal per week—with a corresponding amount of dirt to be disposed of.

Unfortunately, the NCB first laid the plans for the coal plant to serve four collieries and then applied to the planning authority to put the dirt on land that it had agreed to acquire. When the plans emerged, it was clear that colliery waste would come right up to the back gardens of a private estate built only 14 or 15 years ago in the Minsthorpe area of South Kirkby, rising to a height of 200 feet right up to the edge of Minsthorpe high school playing fields.

Naturally, local people did not take that sitting down. They formed an anti-tipping action group to pursue their objections and sent a petition to me which had attracted 7,000 signatures. That went to the Secretary of State for the Environment and we are still awaiting his decision on the public inquiry held last year, which lasted for two weeks. At the inquiry, the NCB's strong shot, or so it thought, was that if planning permission was not granted, four collieries would have to be closed with the loss of 4,000 jobs. That is just not on. Moreover, I do not believe it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) said, the NCB gave cast-iron copper-bottomed guarantees about the effect of subsidence in the Selby coalfield. My hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) mentioned the Barnsley Bed seam, which is the finest seam of coal that this country has ever known. It is 11 feet of solid coal. That is the distance from the Floor of the Chamber to the top of the canopy of the esteemed chair which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, occupy—that looks safe enough, but we will get a Coal Board deputy to come and test the roof if you wish. In order to ensure that the effect of subsidence in Selby will be as small as possible, the NCB has agreed to leave some of the coal in the seam to control the strata. In spite of that, however, the area around Selby will be lowered by about a metre.

We all know from the media of the recent terrible effects upon York of the flooding of the river Ouse. The flooding also affected villages further down the river, particularly villages such as Escrick in the Selby coalfield area. People there rightly wonder, if they can be flooded like that now, what the situation will be when the 11 feet of coal has been taken out and the land drops. Despite all the assurances given to them by one of the finest mining engineers ever known in this country—Bill Forrest, who retired last year and was in charge of the Selby project—and by his successor, another first-class mining engineer, Mr. Trevor Massey, a constituent of mine who was also my own colliery manager, people in that area are still worried about the effects of subsidence and flooding. That is only to be expected. As several hon. Members have pointed out, subsidence is a terrible problem. Happily, however, there will be no waste disposal problem with the Selby project because it is all solid coal.

In the Vale of Belvoir the public inquiry lasted many weeks. Again, to strengthen its case, the NCB was prepared to give guarantees that it would transport any colliery waste from the Vale of Belvoir to the clay pits of Bedfordshire, so the NCB can find an answer to the problem if it has to.

I have made it clear that the cost of the colliery waste problem in South and West Yorkshire must not be put on the Coal Board's finances. The Government must provide money to try to alleviate the problem. There can be new mines on green field sites. We are talking about areas of the country that have suffered for generations from huge muck stacks and now subsidence. The sympathy of the Secretary of State is required if anything is to be done about the problem.

The people of my area are good, hard-working people. They have served the industry well. They have served this country well. It is high time that the Government took on board these problems that can only be solved by their resolve and good will.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will approach his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for a decision on the Northfield estate that will permit a quick building programme so that those people can be rehoused. There should also be a speedy decision on the public inquiry into the tipping proposals by the board at Moseley Mires. This is known locally as Johnny Brown's common—land used for grazing, and part of it recently ploughed and cultivated.

Most of the farmers have agreed to sell land to the board. This is taking damned good agricultural land—open spaces that people want to see when they open their front doors and lift their blinds. They do not want to see those huge stacks. The only answer is sympathetic consideration of the problem by the Government. I hope that they will take the matter on board.

12.6 pm

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I shall try to be brief, but there are a number of important points that I wish to make. However, I shall seek not to repeat the points that my hon. Friends have already made so emphatically. Like my hon. Friends, I am gratified by the good fortune of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) in the ballot. It is perhaps a slightly doubtful honour for a good Methodist to benefit from a lottery in this way. Nevertheless, hon. Members are grateful. My hon. Friend has rightly presented his case, but it is a pity that the Government have not found time to provide a debate on an occasion when there could have been a better attendance. Hon. Members have been demanding such a debate for a long time.

I have problems in my constituency similar to those described by my hon. Friend. I welcome very much the broad recommendations of the Flowers commission. I shall not labour the detailed points. The Minister is, I believe, aware of the slight divergence of view between the county councils in Yorkshire and the Flowers recommendations. The Minister, will, however, be aware that hon. Members representing the Yorkshire coalfield and local authorities in the area feel strongly about these matters and believe that high priority should be afforded to resolving them.

Like my hon. Friends, I am sometimes concerned about the attitude of Conservative Members to coal. I always welcome the contributions made by the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson). I also welcome the useful words of the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). I was, however, a little concerned about the terms of this week's Ten-Minute Bill. As the Minister may be aware, hon. Members are worried about subsidence and feel that justice has to be done to those affected. But we recognise that the burden cannot be placed on the National Coal Board.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) will recall that long ago, when I was a young member of Wath urban council, frightful problems were encountered on the Oak Road estate in Wath upon Dearne. I remember that my hon. Friend was involved when a lady complained about the language used on the coal face about 300 ft below her dining room. I have never been sure how the lady's hearing could have been so acute, although sensitivities in South Yorkshire are remarkable. A great deal of turmoil was caused on that estate near where I live. The National Coal Board took a great deal of trouble, and a substantial amount of money was spent. If the NCB were expected to bear the full cost, it would cripple the coal industry. Thus, the community responsibility is significant.

I say that in the light of the mini earthquakes which we had in my constituency in the Wickersley area a year or so ago. They are still continuing. In fact, the Coal Board accepted responsibility after evidence was provided by the Institute of Geological Sciences, which I believe is based in Edinburgh. People from the institute came down and met my constituents. I looked at all the plans, and it seemed to me that the incidents occurred where current deep Swallow-wood workings were carried out underneath the extraction of the Barnsley Bed in the 1920s. The people who profited from the extraction of the extremely profitable Barnsely Bed took those profits without leaving much of a legacy by way of insurance. It is sad that the NCB is now expected to pay for what the people who profited from the Barnsley Bed largely ignored. Thus, the public responsibility should be emphasised.

I shall not labour the point about subsidence, because my hon. Friends have discussed it. I was surprised to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) had never experienced trouble caused by subsidence. I am sure that all other hon. Members from Yorkshire have done so. He should have touched wood when he said that, because no doubt the area director of the NCB will make sure that a face is driven in an appropriate direction from a nearby colliery so that my hon. Friend may experience subsidence. Certainly it is something that I have experienced in the last two houses where I have lived. It is quite proper that my hon. Friends should, like me, experience for themselves what happens to their constituents.

There has been some advance in my area. When I was a candidate for Rother Valley in 1967, work was proceeding on the reclamation of the Wales Wood tip, which was situated at the side of the newly developing M1 motorway. I was angry, because it seemed that it was decided to restore the Wales Wood tip rather than offend the vision of people from the South of England who were passing through, while other colliery tips a little further away from the motorway were ignored.

In 1971, I was told by the then county council that the appalling Dinnington colliery spoil heap could not be dealt with. I was told that its height could be reduced from 245 ft to 120 ft, but that it would leave an ugly shape. I said "Let's have the ugly shape and get the spoil heap grassed and forested". I was told that that was not possible. However, it proved possible. In the late 1970s, because of the efforts of the county council and the NCB, with the support of the then Government, there was a transformation at Dinnington. There has been a transformation at the spoil heaps at Kiveton Park and at Treeton, and considerable advances at Maltby, which was one of the first pits used for pioneering experiments with vegetation on spoil heaps.

Much has been achieved. However, despite the achievements, the pace of demand for tipping land is growing faster than that at which it can be reclaimed. Past generations may have felt that they had to accept such conditions, but those of us who live in coalfields now accept—some of us rejoice in that acceptance—that we are not prepared to put up with that sort of squalor for the next 20 or 30 years. My children will not face the environment that my father and my grandfathers had to accept. The Minister and members of my Front Bench should understand that the next generation will not put up with the squalor that past generations had to face.

I turn to another theme. I live in a small urban district, and I was chairman of the planning committee for a considerable time. I take pride in the locality. For a coalfield, it is attractive. One reason is that we have a lot of trees. I treasure the woodland in South Yorkshire. I learnt this week that the Loscar woods, Cuthbright wood, Hawks wood and Spring wood, which are owned by the Forestry Commission, are to be sold later this year. Over the past 10 years I have argued that the Forestry Commission and the National Coal Board together could make a considerable contribution both to our environment and to the future timber requirement of the country.

I have urged co-operation. What we have seen is a withdrawal of the Forestry Commission at the behest of the Government from that part of England where it could make a great contribution. My hon. Friends know that I am not in any way a political extremist, and I tend to be described as a moderate man, but I serve notice on the Minister and his colleagues that if they seek to sell those woods the hon. Member for Rother Valley will be calling for renationalisation without compensation.

I am even trying to be prosecuted. A few months ago the Forestry Commission said that my constituents should not set foot in those woods. I said that I was prepared to tell the Forestry Commission when I would go in because I insist on those woods, which belong to the public, being available for the recreation and enjoyment of my constituents in that coalfield.

It is regrettable that the Government, in their pursuit of political dogma, should tread that ridiculous and rather ugly path. When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) winds up, I hope that he will endorse my remarks. If he does not, I shall keep arguing until someone else in greater authority accepts the obligation. I make the point in the hope that those who might be tempted to accept the rather crass offer which is to be made later this year will be dissuaded so that at least the price may fall to a level at which the local authorities in my area can afford to buy. Given the economic pressure they face, the price would have to be very low.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth has saved me from referring to Pyewipe. We need an imaginative approach to the use of spoil. Only a few weeks ago I was talking to people connected with Dutch agriculture. The canal system which is developing in South Yorkshire could probably be harnessed for the movement of spoil. This would help not merely the reclamation of Pyewipe but the Dutch when they are ready to launch another reclamation project. Their historic skill at drainage suggests that that should not be long delayed. The disappearance of the Dutch mining industry presents an opportunity for the removal of Yorkshire spoil to increase the capacity of Europe to produce even larger food surpluses.

The question of opencast is important. I am not eager to see unimaginative and insensitive development of opencast activity. My area between Wath and Wentworth was opencasted in the 1940s. Some crops still cannot be grown in the fields there, although, to be fair, one could not tell from travelling through the area that it had been opencasted. The argument of Mr. David Wood in The Times some years ago that the destruction of Wentworth by opencasting in the 1940s was a lesson which should prevent us from exploiting Belvoir is scarcely justifiable. I do not think that Mr. Wood has been back to the Wentworth area since the 1940s or he might have ascertained that his advice was not entirely appropriate.

Nevertheless, we have to be careful about opencasting. I do not object to the attitude of South Yorkshire county council. However, if there is a derelict area or an area that is to be put under asphalt by the construction of a main road, I see no objection to taking the coal out first, particularly if one is left with the benefit, which I hope the Minister will see before long, of having an amenity such as Rother Valley park. When 1 million tonnes of opencast Barnsley Bed coal, which is enormously valuable, have been extracted we shall have a splendid environmental amenity in the southern part of my constituency, particularly as we have a Labour-controlled authority in Derbyshire to meet its share of the cost.

I have no objection to the opencasting in the Catcliffe area, because it will be part of a restoration programme which can put land back into economic value. I am not taking an attitude which is crudely dogmatic. I suggest to the Minister that he understand and accept that whether we have a Conservative or a Labour Government there must be a continuing commitment to give the coalfields which will continue to present problems a chance to survive in decency.

I conclude by referring to a comment by my own Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who talked about the attraction of our area before the deep mining development. We have had mining for the past 300 years. I think that the first coal fatality near my home occurred about 325 years ago. The scale of mining has increased since the 1870s. My hon. Friend was right to describe the area as having been very attractive before then. When one looks at the first Ordnance Survey maps, published in about 1850, one can recognise the attractions of the time. They are not all gone.

There are some beautiful parts within my constituency. Sir Waltar Scott described our area in the first sentence of Ivanhoe: In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don". We could substitute the Rother or the Dearne. It was an attractive area, and it must become an attractive area again. It can become beautiful again only if public money is used.

That is why I tend to get angry when I hear people talk about public expenditure as if it is evil. We shall not make Britain beautiful again unless public expenditure is incurred. Those who describe public expenditure as evil should be made to live back in the squalor which may have repelled our grandfathers but which is such as to say to us and our children that it shall not repel future generations.

12.22 pm
Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), for a number of reasons—first, because he is a neighbour of mine, and, secondly, because he is so interested in conservation.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) on his good fortune in being drawn first in the ballot and on his choice of debate. I hope that it will be a continuing debate and that the Government will find time to continue it or that the Opposition will provide time on a Supply day. It is an important continuing discussion that we must have on a very serious subject.

I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Energy here. I am glad that he was not caught up in the mini-reshuffle. When there are mini-reshuffles, Ministers that one can get along with tend to disappear. We do not want to lose him in that way.

I am pleased to see on the Opposition Front Bench my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who more than any other hon. Member is an expert on wildlife and the environment. We shared many happy hours on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, when I had the benefit of his expertise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) said that he had not lived in a mining subsidence area. I think that he is the only Opposition Member present who has not. My hon. Friend had better be careful, because sometimes the subsidence tends to change direction, and the coal face takes that into account. One of our National Coal Board group managers who became safety and training director lived at the side of Elsecar park simply because he was convinced that the board would not work on such a beautiful spot. After he bragged about it we lost the cricket field, the football field, the golf course and his house for a considerable time. Now it is one of the finest cricket fields in South Yorkshire. I have tried to persuade the Yorkshire second XI to play there because it is so beautiful. The football field, the park and the houses surrounding it have been rejuvenated. That has happened because of the expertise and generosity of the National Coal Board, in partnership with the local authority, which has poured money into the area.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) asks where the money for rail freight will come from. British Rail will not take kindly to that following its recent problems because it is already in financial trouble. The debate about heavy lorries continues. If the Secretary of State tries to approve heavier lorries he will be resisted.

I did not understnd the argument by the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) about exploration and exploitation. He seemed to say that we should not explore unless we are prepared to exploit. If we had taken that attitude we would not have discovered America, India or any of the colonies. Investment in exploration is necessary before exploitation takes place. The coal industry must have a forward plan.

Our coal is expected to last for 300 years. The lead-in time to exploitation is between 10 and 15 years. A rolling plan stretching 50 years ahead is therefore required. Exploration must be continuous so that the Coal Board can plan 10 to 15 years ahead.

It is essential to take a decision on Belvoir. Soon the Leicester coalfields will begin to run down. If the replacement at Belvoir is not available, we shall lose the expertise as well as the coal from the other coalfields. I accept the argument by the hon. Member for New Forest about stocks. Stocks are high because of the recession but little would have to happen to use up the stocks. If we did not stock we might one day regret it.

Production varies. The hon. Member for New Forest referred to the lack of production in the past few months. We must take a page out of the book of the Secretary of State for Employment. When we ask about the 300,000 additional people on the unemployment register, he says "Yes, but look at the underlying trend." The same is true in the coal mining industry. The trend in production is up.

Exploration must be continued. We have 300 years' supply of coal and 20 years' supply of oil and gas. If we do not explore and exploit our coal reserves to the full, once again we shall become dependent on overseas energy-producing nations, with all the problems for the exchange rate that that causes.

The mining industry has, unfortunately, retained its cloth cap image. When Selby was just a gleam in the planners' eyes, it was thought that thousands of miners would tramp through the streets of Selby. It was even thought that York Minster was to house an upcast and downcast shaft. Tales were spread but they were not true. The cloth cap image is gradually disappearing as the new coalfield come into operation. The clatter of clogs in our streets has gone forever.

When we were planning the Selby coalfield and considering the housing of miners—the NCB pays generous resettlement grants and helps towards rents—I suggested that instead of paying lump sums the board should use that money to encourage home ownership among miners.

The miners of Belvoir and Selby will then be quickly intergrated in the localities that they have chosen. It is usually the younger mineworkers who move from one area to another and in the past they have taken a long time to settle. All the fears generated by the prospect of a new coalfield can be easily dissipated.

Our debate does not concern only the exploitation of new coal areas. Any problems in those areas can be taken care of at the planning stage. The Flowers report is concerned with the legacy of 200 years of coal exploitation and the industry's present problems, including pollution, which is also a problem with the steel industry.

In the 140 square miles of my constituency we have mines, steelworks engineering works and paper mills. Each industry adds to the pollution and environmental problems. However, the greatest problem is the spoil heaps and I hope that the debate about what to do with them will continue.

The coal industry is still one of the country's largest employers and ratepayers. The NCB paid £28½ million in rates in 1980 and £34.4 million in 1981. The cost of subsidence damage in 1980 was £64.1 million and that figure had increased to £85 million by 1981. When we discuss the coal industry we are talking about a lot of money. That is why I reinforce the view of my hon. Friends that it is impossible for the NCB to take on more compensation. It cannot do that and remain viable.

It is necessary to carry out the recommendation of the Flowers report, but the money should come from the Government. It will not have escaped the Minister's attention that most of the Labour Members who have spoken come from Yorkshire. The greatest problems have occurred in our county and the Flowers report suggests that most money should be spent there. It also says that that money should come from the Government.

During the Robens era the true cost of coal was deliberately held down. It never reached the price that it could have reached in the open market. It was held down to help the steel industry and—

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. Does he agree that the price of coal was held down because it was competing with $2 a barrel oil from the Middle East and would not have been able to compete without a substantial subsidy?

Mr. McKay

That is one reason. It was necessary to hold down the price to retain a market and keep a viable industry. If that had not been done we would not have a coal industry and we would be dependent on imports.

The coal industry is one of the largest employers and also one of the largest ratepayers. There is an ironic twist to it. As a colliery closes, the rating income is lost to the local authority. The local authority then finds itself unable to fund the appropriate environmental procedures.

The industry's manpower fell from 704,000 in 1947 to 230,000 in 1981. Its output slightly decreased in the same period from 200 million tonnes to 126 million tonnes. The latter figure is still very high for the manpower that we have in 1981. In 1947 the output per man year was 266 tonnes. In 1981 it is 476 tonnes. These figures also indicate the change in method and in emphasis which has taken place in the mining industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Goole asked why the industry could not use the backstowing method. I have had every kind of mining in my area. The monks used to use the bell mining method. Their site is now a marvellous golf course at Tankersley. There are mines that used the pillar and stall system, and had very few subsidence problems. There was longwall mining in which the coal was undercut and filled out in one shift. The bulk of the dirt was then stowed back to take the place of the coal.

Under private ownership, when the coal came out in tubs, the cost of moving the dirt from the underground to the surface was exorbitant. At Elsecar, where I worked, there was a seam 6 feet 6 inches high under solid rock, and it was possible to keep the roof open, as big as a football field, for a long time. The dirt which came from the shallower or thinner seams was transported from that area to the area where 6 ft 6 in of coal had been taken out of the rock.

It was far cheaper in those days to move the dirt from one area of the pit to another to get rid of it. First, there was a saving on transport costs underground. Secondly, there was no shaft time in getting it out of the pit. Thirdly, it avoided the high cost of using land to tip the dirt. Therefore, the private owners in those days exploited the best, the thickest, the richest and the nearest seams, because their whole intention was to make as much money as possible in the shortest possible time.

Then there came the change in mining methods. The old methods were overtaken by machines. There was complete production by machines and a total extraction of dirt and coal together rather than separately. The dirt and coal went out into sophisticated washing and cleaning plants before going on to the tips. The whole output of the colliery came to the surface rather than staying underground.

My hon. Friend the Member for Goole mentioned the problem of the lagoons. The new washers that are being built—my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth mentioned them—will probably enable the industry to get rid of the lagoons. At Elsecar colliery an experiment is taking place concerning the extraction of the water from the solid, so that the water can be run away in the normal way. That would avoid the use of lagoons. The problem is with the lagoons which now exist. Solid material can be moved; the lagoons cannot, unless some method can be found. That is where finance comes into the question.

Colliery waste, past and present, is a major environmental problem arising from deep mining, and it is not without significance that there are so many Yorkshire Members present on the Opposition Benches today. The position in Yorkshire is serious, with 500 million tonnes of waste likely to be tipped in the next 20 years. That is more than has been tipped in the last 200 years. The number of tips in Yorkshire is 116 out of 375 active ones. We have 64 closed tips out of 264, and we have 21 disused tips out of 293. But a third of the problem of the National Coal Board nationally is in Yorkshire, and that is why the Flowers report singled out Yorkshire as having more difficult problems than any other area of the National Coal Board. Saleable output in Yorkshire was 31.4 million tonnes in 1980, and that again was practically one-third of the National Coal Board's output. That is why Opposition Members believe that the House should consider seriously the recommendation in the Flowers report that the Government should put money into getting rid of these environmental problems and that most of the money should be moving into Yorkshire.

Mr. Lofthouse

Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of waste disposal, does he agree that the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) about the stowing of waste spoil is not a practical proposition? One of the most attractive and profitable methods of mining at present is retreat mining, and that results in a situation in the mine where it is impossible to consider a package of stowage.

Mr. McKay

That is why I drew attention to the changing methods of mining. Underground stowing is both impossible and impracticable. It is impracticable because most of the mining is retreat mining. Because of retreat mining, it is impossible because there is no space in which to put waste. Whereas at one time, in longwall mining, space was created in which dirt could be stowed, with the advent of machine mining and especially with retreat mining the total collapse of the roof occurs as the face moves over so that there is nowhere for the dirt to go. It has to come to the surface.

There are some advantages in the reclamation scheme, and the county councils in Yorkshire along with the district councils have an excellent record of reclamation. The Flowers report recommends the setting up of a quango to deal with the problem of waste disposal. In my view it would be a retrograde step. All that it would do is take from the councils their existing powers at a time when they should be enhanced and dispense with the expertise that the councils have and move it into some other body. For that reason I do not want to see this quango set up, because the job is better left to the councils, which know their own areas and it is better done with the National Coal Board and the councils co-operating. All that they need is the money with which to do it.

Some of the tips have been the best adventure playgrounds that I have known. That is where I and many of my hon. Friends cut our teeth. But there has been a considerable amount of subsidence in these old tipping areas. In my own area, a number of tips are self-set and, as a result, have become very good nature reserves. In times of flooding, where flashes have occurred, it has been possible to produce areas where wildlife comes to drink, and they are popular with bird watchers from many miles around.

However, the general situation is different, and that is why more money must be found to get rid of the problem. For that reason, I touch briefly on the difficulties associated with subsidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) described the subsidence in his area, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth. Subsidence leaves scars not only on dwellings but upon people. I was caught up in subsidence in Elsecar which is in my home locality. The pictures in the Flowers report make me feel homesick, because I can recognise instantly an area 800 yards from where I live featuring Fitzwilliam Street, Wilkinson Road and Gray Street. Those are the areas of subsidence depicted in the report.

Unknown to the NCB, the Barnsley Bed had been worked out hundreds of years ago. It reckoned only on minimum subsidence from the deep-mined coal. It did not know of the other seams near the surface, which collapsed and let the whole village in. What was supposed to be a steady subsidence period turned out to be extremely vicious. We lost immediately 84 prefabricated houses, which had to be pulled down prematurely, 36 semi-detached houses and a row of cottages on Foundry Street. The re-housing problem was of tremendous concern.

We were grateful to the NCB for sterilising an area of coal to allow building to commence immediately. It cause a little controversy when Rockingham colliery was closed. The NUM wanted to work the area of coal after we had built on it, but we persuaded it that, if it did so, £2½ million worth of damage would be caused to the properties. The greatest damage would have been done to the people who had already had to move twice because of subsidence and who thought that at last they had a permanent home.

We set up a subsidence action group, which I would recommend to all areas suffering from subsidence. I came to the House to see my predecessor, John Mendelson, as his agent. I told him of the problems in Elsecar. We immediately contacted the area director, and had a meeting with him and his officials and we called a public meeting in Elsecar. We did not wish to have a meeting for its own sake, which would soon be forgotten. We wanted a positive result. We suggested to the area director setting up the group.

The group met each week while the subsidence was at its height. The meetings gradually tailed off to once a fortnight and then once a month. The area director sent senior officers from the estates, planning and environmental departments to the meetings. We got over the period of subsidence more easily then we would have done had we been left on our own. The group, which did sterling service for the people in Elsecar, was disbanded last week.

The scars are still there. We have houses half of which have had to be pulled down and terraced houses sawn through to release stress. Environmental problems still exist because of lack of money. For many years the roadworks have caused problems to private motorists and public transport. After eight years, a gradual start is being made on the roads.

It is a long time for people to suffer stress and strain. We should look at the subsidence legislation again to see whether people can be compensated for stress and strain. How do we determine stress? It effects people in different ways and degrees. People in my area have had nervous breakdowns when they found out that the house into which they put their life savings was cracking up.

I have thought carefully about the matter. It has been suggested that people should be notified of possible subsidence. I have mixed feelings on that. To some degree there is subsidence in every mining area. It can be so slight and gradual that people will never notice it. In areas such as Birdwell, one could once see right down the road, from one end to the other, but now the road dips away completely; yet houses never suffered subsidence damage because the settlement was so gradual. Had we told those people that their houses would suffer subsidence, they may have had many years of unnecessary worry.

There is room for improvement. The council must take soundings and cannot build if subsidence is likely to occur, but the private builder or speculator is not subject to such controls. People may buy the houses only to find later that they are subject to subsidence.

A disturbance and cleaning allowance should be paid to occupiers for the inconvenience that they suffer. There is room for tightening up on temporary repairs because people often have to live with those temporary repairs for five, six or seven years, as the Coal Board continues to work different seams and to approach different levels. Improvements to property can be delayed by mining subsidence. An improvement grant that will be given one year can no longer be claimed after subsidence. There should be some compensation in that area.

The biggest problem is stress and strain. I had a good relationship with the area director and—unlike one of my hon. Friends—with the estates director in the Barnsley area. I was able to get compensation—in some cases enhanced compensation—because they were conscious of what they had done to Elsecar. When I took the director to Elsecar the first time he said "My God, had we known, we would not have done this". By then, however, it was too late. As a result, he was much more lenient with us.

The whole system of compensation for subsidence should be looked at. Here again, the board will find itself in a difficult position and will have to depend upon Government funds to pay such compensation. Therefore, it is only in a partnership of local authorities, Government and the National Coal Board, that the problems of subsidence and despoilation can be overcome.

The problem is large, but not too big to be overcome. It needs thought, care, compassion, but most of all it needs money. The Government have got that money. It is only a question of what our priorities are. I am sure that there are sufficient people in the House to put enough pressure on the Government to obtain that money to put right what has been wrong, not only since 1947 but for the last 300 years.

12.51 pm
Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay) has shown once again both his special knowledge of the coal industry and his care for his constituents.

Every time I go to Merseyside, along the M1 and the M6, by Burtonwood I see a major dip in the motorway, over what was the first and most important runway for the Flying Fortresses at the old United States Army Air Force base. I understand that the National Coal Board has not mined under that area for at least 30 years. In the older parts of Lancashire, one of the difficulties that must be taken into consideration about subsidence is how far back the board will have to take responsibility for workings which it has never operated. No doubt that was in the mind of the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) when he moved the motion.

Whilst the present arrangements for compensation allow the board to allocate money for stress and strain, if compensation for disturbance is ever decided by a court under a detailed Act of Parliament it might be that compensation for stress and strain would be excluded.

Some 14 years ago my younger son, then aged three, was playing with a park gate with a stick. The gate fell on him. Park gates should not fall on little children. Eventually at the court's door, the local authority accepted liability and some terms of compensation were decided. If my wife had been a nervous character, instead of the strong girl that she is, and had had a nervous breakdown, some compensation could have been awarded for her difficulties. If she had gone into hospital for treatment for stress and strain, she would have been entitled to compensation. Because she was able to withstand the stress and strain she was not.

Therefore, if compensation for subsidence is to be made through a court procedure, stress and strain must be considered but as part of a wider package, so that in the event of injury a person may be compensated for loss of earnings but will get nothing for pain. When my hand was shattered in the pit I could receive compensation through the courts for loss of earnings, because I could no longer use the hand, but there was nothing for stress or strain. Therefore, perhaps the hon. Member for Penistone, the hon. Member for Goole and the Minister will consider stress and strain and the time element.

I apologise to the House because I missed the early part of the debate, and particularly the contribution of the hon. Member' for Goole. I made the elementary but human mistake of answering the telephone in my office in the House seven minutes before I was due to come into the Chamber to hear the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. I anticipated that it would take me only three minutes to reach the Chamber and that I would be in good time. Every hon. Member will know that experience and will have had to decide whether constituency responsibilities should take priority over taking part in debates. However, I wished to explain why I missed the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

The hon. Member for Goole has moved a thoroughly reasonable motion. Every hon. Member has supported it and I hope that the Minister will also support it. The motion welcomes the report of the Commission on Energy and the Environment … and calls upon her Majesty's Government, the National Coal Board and other relevant authorities urgently to study"— that is the first priority— the recommendations of the report in order to take early action". Such debates have been known to encourage Departments and Ministers if not to make new decisions then to concentrate their minds. The Minister may well have some good news to give us. We may at least be told today that something has been decided instead of having to wait for an announcement later.

The motion uses the words "urgently to study". The Commission on Energy and the Environment, in its summary of the report, stated: There are no insuperable environmental obstacles involved in the levels of coal production and use envisaged up to the end of the century and beyond, concludes the Commission on Energy and the Environment's report on coal published today. That was on 30 September 1981. It continues: the report draws attention to important qualifications concerning disposal of mining spoil, opencast extraction and the sensitive treatment of those afflicted by subsidence. The Commission recommend there should be a strengthening of resources available to the National Coal Board at headquarters level to aid policy-making on environmental matters. The aim is to enable headquarters to stimulate the appropriate level of environmental awareness in the regions without stifling local initiative.

I hope that I do not misquote the hon. Member for Penistone, or start another War of the Roses, but he said that most of the problems are found in the Yorkshire area. That could be interpreted in many ways, but there is a degree of need there that is not quite as great as in some other areas. The report, like the debate, stresses that a modernised coal industry offers the best prospect of reconciling energy and environmental interests. The NCB made the following response: The NCB welcome the support given in the Commission on Energy and the Environment report published today … and welcome the Commission's view … 'In both the energy and the environmental interest, we consider that the greater stability of long-term planning is the essential pre-condition of successful modernisation of the industry'.

The Government's response—not unusual for any Government—is to welcome the report and to call for comments from all the interested parties. I understand that the Department of the Environment asked that those comments should be reported to the Department at room C5/081, 2 Marsham Street, by 31 December 1981.

Almost three months have passed since the final date for comments to be received by the Department. The Minister may be able to say today whether some conclusions have been reached and whether an announcement will be made fairly shortly. Bearing in mind the time taken to produce the report, it is not unreasonable to ask the Minister to make a positive response after three months.

As the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) said, at the end of the day it is a matter of money. When Shell puts a pipeline through a Welsh valley it has to bear the cost of so doing. In this instance we are concerned with other geological factors.

The allocation and use of resources for the coal industry is best decided through the present tripartite agreement involving the Government, the NCB and the NUM. However, in this instance the National Union of Railwaymen, the steel unions, the British Steel Corporation and the British Railways Board should also be involved.

In debates on the coal industry about 17 years ago there were much greater differences between Labour and Conservative Members and a certain amount of bitterness was displayed in our debates. Thankfully that bitterness and the substantial differences disappeared some years ago. The two sides of the House represent different parts of the coal industry; there is more practical experience of conditions down the pit on the Opposition Benches than there is on the Government Benches. However, I have no doubt that the Minister has had his share of practical experience down the pit since he took over his duties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), the Minister's predecessor, put the fear of God in his officials and they spent more time down coal mines than in the Minister's private office. It probably did them a power of good. They seem to have survived the experience reasonably well. Both sides of the House share a common interest and concern in and for a successful British coal industry.

The Department of the Environment must be involved in the tripartite agreements and the interdepartmental agreements. However, in the Vale of Belvoir inquiry and in others the Department has not shown itself to be a Chariot of Fire or a Speedy Gonzalez in its decision making and the making of announcements. There are many holdups and blockages and it seems that Dyno-Rod could be used in the Department to get some decisions.

When the Coal Industry Bill was debated on Second Reading, I and other hon. Members on both sides of the House argued, when we were not listening to how William kept the wheels turning as recounted by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), for more efficient planning agreements, new coal mines and new coalfields. During this debate there has been a slight difference of opinion over exploitation and exploration. I am sure that it will be accepted that exploration is necessary. Holes tell us where we do not have coal rather than where we have.

Planning agreements should be much better. They should be no less democratic and no less fair. Tripartite agreements should involve planning, investment and production. At present the rewards are on only an annual basis. It is interesting and hopeful that only yesterday Sir Derek Ezra and Joe Gormley were saying that the agreement, written or unwritten, between the "Plan for Coal" and the tripartite grouping includes production, investment, commitments, planning and everything else but not wages.

It seems that we talk about wages in only an "us" and "them" context. Yesterday Sir Derek Ezra and Joe Gormley repeated their conviction that the rewards for those involved in the industry would be better and more secure if they were planned on a three-year basis, for example, and not annually. If that can be done by General Motors in America and by other organisations, we should make the attempt for the industry.

I think that the House will agree that, over the years, chairmen of the NCB and presidents of the NUM have placed their individual imprints on the coal industry. The NCB of Lord Robens was different from that of Sir Derek Ezra, and the NUM of Joe Gormley was different from that of his predecessors. There is some uncertainty as to who will be next to place his mark on the NCB. Over the past 10 years, there has been a partnership of mutual respect, co-operation and a high degree of trust between Sir Derek Ezra and Joe Gormley.

Mr. Lofthouse

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be beneficial to the coal industry if the future NCB chairman came from a background in the industry?

Mr. Ogden

I do not wish to embarrass a Labour Member by saying that as an SDP Member I agree wholeheartedly with him.

Mr. Haynes

The hon. Gentleman did so the other day.

Mr. Ogden

Yes, but that was the other day and I got into trouble for it from other Members of the Opposition. In this debate, the Opposition are saying not quite but almost the same thing. I agree with the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse). That would certainly be beneficial.

Mr. Haynes


Mr. Ogden

I learnt long ago not to give way to the hon. Gentleman when halfway through a train of thought. If he will be patient, I have a proposal in my copious notes and I do not wish to spoil what I have to say.

Mr. Dalyell

Let us not forget the time.

Mr. Ogden

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) wishes to make progress, but there is no time limit imposed by the Opposition Front Bench on what I say or do not say. I will take guidance from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but from no one else.

I return to the imprint placed upon the industry by chairmen of the NCB and presidents of the NUM. The partnership of trust to which I referred is coming to an end. There is a new president of the NUM. He will have his problems, but also his opportunities. There is also to be a new chairman of the NCB.

The new chairman of the NCB will need certain qualities—a knowledge of the British coal industry, patience, determination, courage and a broad back, quiet confidence in his own abilities and trust in his own judgment. He must know when to speak and when not to speak. He must enjoy a degree of trust and confidence from those who operate the Coal Board machinery, from the NUM and from both private and industrial consumers. He must be able to take a national, United Kingdom view and not just a local one, and he must know where the economics of the coal industry are tied with politics and where they are separate.

Few people can meet the majority of those qualifications. I know of only one person who meets all of them. I therefore ask the House and the Government to consider the possibilities and opportunities for the coal industry and for the country if the Government were to decide that it was in the best national interest that an invitation to become chairman of the National Coal Board should be extended to Mr. Joe Gormley.

1.8 pm

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) for raising this subject today. It has been clear from the debate that the great mass of experience in the House about the NCB and its operations is not confined to hon. Members who have worked in the mining industry.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown). With a constituency adjacent to mining areas, he has obviously gathered a certain amount of experience of the industry.

I shall not embarrass the Minister today. We have already made comments about how well he is doing his job and how he gets around visiting the industry. It would appear that, although the Minister represents a constituency not far from the House, he knows something about the mining industry. I am grateful for that. The hon. Gentleman has proved that he is always willing to listen if an hon. Member has a mining problem in his constituency. It gives me some comfort as I watch him listening carefully to this debate. I look forward to his reply, not only in the interests of the mining industry and those who work in it, but in the interests of those who are affected by National Coal Board workings.

I was interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe about the sale of coal. The hon. Gentleman referred to charges to the consumer. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman realises that quite a slice of private enterprise is involved in the haulage of coal. One has to examine the price at the pithead and the price when coal is delivered to the consumer. It is obvious to me that the private contractor is making a massive profit. If the Minister investigates what I say, he will find that it is true. In instances where the National Coal Board delivers coal, the profits are ploughed back into the industry in the interests of the industry and the consumer.

There have been references in what has amounted to a frontal attack from Yorkshire to reclamation and subsidence. Hon. Members representing Yorkshire have been present in force to tell the Minister what is happening in that large county. I happen to be from Nottinghamshire, where we have similar problems although they are not as great as those that have been described. In some areas, however, they are pretty appalling. I am constantly visited at my surgery by people who are seriously affected by those problems and whose houses have been knocked about.

A problem exists at the moment over foam insulation of properties in the interests of reducing energy costs and saving fuel. I am worried about the number of reports from Canada and the United States that suggest that some of the foam used for this purpose is harmful. If rain, for example, reaches the foam, a gas, suggested in various reports to be harmful, is given off. I invite the House to imagine properties in the area to which I have referred, that have severely affected by subsidence. Both the inside and the outside walls are cracked. If those walls are filled with foam and there is torrential rain, I do not need to describe what might happen. The effect may be serious, unless we can determine that the foam is safe. That is another problem. We want to know exactly what is going on, in the interests of the people who are affected by subsidence.

I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay) said about subsidence. In the 1940s, NCB expenditure on subsidence compensation was about £6 million. Today it is £85 million. That clearly shows what has happened. My hon. Friend said that in the 1940s the roof supports were left in place because of the conventional type of mining at that time. Today there is total caving. Today there is no support in the underground workings. We have complete mechanisation. With total caving, the whole lot falls behind the men as they extract the coal. Thus, the situation is much worse now than it was at that time.

The financial burden on the National Coal Board is tremendous. In a recent debate it was suggested to the Minister that the present recession offers us a brilliant opportunity to develop new seams and ways and means of getting coal quicker and cheaper. That is fine, so long as the Government give the National Coal Boad extra money for that purpose. I was amazed by what the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe said—bearing in mind what he has said in the past about nationalised industries—about cutting finance for nationalised industries. He has done a complete somersault. I agree with some of the things that he said. He wants the Government to give the additional finance. Indeed, it is necessary, in the interests of the people whom we serve.

I praise to the hilt the National Coal Board, the Nottinghamshire county council and the eight district councils for the way in which they have worked together since 1974, following the reorganisation of local government. Together they tackled the problem of subsidence. They also worked together well on reclamation. I know that the Minister has been to Nottinghamshire. He has probably seen some of the beautiful sites that we have now that used to be pit tips. Now people picnic on them on Sundays in the brilliant sunshine. However, that type of reclamation costs money. My hon. Friends have said repeatedly today that more money should be made available so that such transformations can take place. That is in the interests of the people whom we represent.

Reference has been made to the way in which sewers are smashed by coal mining subsidence. The water drainage systems are affected in the same way. I had to go cap in hand to the Secretary of State for the Environment to ask him to provide money to keep going a firm that makes concrete pipes for water authorities. Yet the Government are cutting back finance for water authorities, which provide work for the factory making the concrete pipes. When I became a Member of the House that factory had 473 employees. When I went to see the Secretary of State it had 103 employees. There is an interest as well in the manufacture of concrete pipes because of the damage done by subsidence. We cannot expect the National Coal Board to keep picking up the tab all the time. It needs help.

Opencast mining takes place on the fringe of my constituency. There is talk about compensation but the people in that area have for donkey's years had to put up with dust, noise and all the rest of it. Massive lorries carry coal and dirt from the mines. It is high time the Government considered what can be done on behalf of the people in the Pye Bridge area of my constituency.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) dealt with the appointment of the new chairman of the National Coal Board. He described the sort of attributes that that man should have. I recall the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse). The description given by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby fits someone in the House; one hon. Member has all of those attributes. As I have said before, I hope that in the interest of the National Coal Board, the people who work in the industry, the consumer and the whole nation, the Government will be sensible about this appointment and will ensure that the new chairman has all the attributes suggested today.

1.23 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

We should perhaps call this a muck and brass debate. The best debates in the House are those in which the Members who speak know what they are talking about. The characteristic of this debate is that all who have participated have had something to say from first-hand experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) has given us an opportunity to discuss issues which politicians often think of as peripheral but which, did we but recognise it, are central to many of those whom we represent.

I shall put several questions on the Flowers report of which I have given notice to the Minister. First, are Ministers prepared to say that Government financial assistance for derelict land clearance should be maintained in real terms? The point was partly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) in his description of the valley. He will forgive me for saying that part of it sounded very moving.

Secondly, is dumping waste at sea or on beaches to be discouraged until at least the ecological consequences have been worked out? My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), who has worked tirelessly for the Durham coastline, has pointed to the difficulties faced by Durham county council and Easington district council because they do not have the money which they had under the Labour Government to pump waste and pipe it far out to sea.

Thirdly, should the National Coal Board strengthen its research into backstowing and the tipping of waste into worked-out shafts? My. hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) has reservations about the significance of backstowing. We should welcome the Government's comments.

Fourthly, I point to the successes of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. Having the privilege to represent Polkemmet colliery and Kinneil colliery, I know the work that has been done on preservation. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Welsh) asked me to point to the success at Bullcroft colliery at Broadsworth Bing, where sheep now graze on the Bing, and particularly to the successes of the Doncaster district council in the development of Highfield Lake. The point is that that attracted a 100 per cent. grant. We now understand that the grant has been removed, and the position is much more difficult.

Fifthly, I turn to the question of acid rain. There is no longer major cause for anxiety on health grounds in Britain over ambient levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide from coal combustion, but Flowers acknowledges the argument that sulphur dioxide from distant sources may be an important factor in acid in lakes and rivers in Norway and Sweden. Is too little known about the problem of long-distance transport of air pollution to warrant immediate action to limit sulphur dioxide? Following some of the excellent journalistic work of Tony Samstag, of The Times, what will the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), tell the Norwegians and the Swedes when he goes to see them about the matter in Stockholm in June?

Sixthly, does the Minister recall that on 19 December 1979 my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Ellis) introduced a successful Bill to require local authorities to consult parish councils before the dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes? Do the Government think that my hon. Friend's measure has in any way solved the problem?

Seventhly, I refer to a matter that was eloquently raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay)—the spoil tips. My point is that waste from collieries can produce conditions favourable for the growth of some localised plant species, such as orchids. While spoil tips may in most cases be considered unsightly, I plead for the protection of orchid colonies and so on established on colliery waste. I hope that on such matters the NCB will liaise with the Nature Conservancy Council.

Eighthly, there is the issue of the disposal of colliery spoil, a matter which has been well covered in the debate. the NCB should bear in mind that the dumping of spoil from what it considers to be waste ground can be a matter of scientific interest. An example affecting a new scarce habitat of heathland is occurring at Cannock Chase, where spoil is being dumped on top of the heathland and polluted run-off is destroying the heathland flora nearby, which in turn reduces the habitat for local species of bird, such as the nightjar.

Ninthly, there is the question of the disposal of pulverised fuel ash. This is particularly a problem. Although not the NCB's direct responsibility, it should be of concern to all of us. The disposal of PFA from power stations is costly and land-consuming. One answer has been to use PFA to reclaim mud flats in estuarine areas. This has serious consequences for conservation. The disposal of PFA is being mooted on the medway marshes in Kent and near Grimsby, at the Pyewipes, in a case to which my hon. Friends have referred. They are both valued areas for waders and wildfowl, and incidentally both are areas of special scientific interest. What will the Government do about this issue? It is possibly a matter that is better dealt with in a letter.

There is little to add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Goole powerfully said about subsidence. He raised the issue of Fairburn Ings in his constituency. I would not interfere in his constituency, but outside it many of us are very concerned about Fairburn Ings because, curiously enough, it has become a very important stopping-over place for wild birds. It may not automatically be right to fill it in, but I shall not trespass in my hon. Friend's constituency.

The opencast issue at Wentworth and other places was dealt with eloquently by the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy). Many of us are concerned about the after-use of land subjected to opencast mining. Perhaps the Department of Energy and the National Coal Board could give a little advance warning of plans to the NCC and other conservation bodies so that there is time to survey areas and to decide the impact that opencast mining will have. Closer liaison would be welcome.

Sites of special scientific interest should, wherever possible, be safeguarded from opencast development, unless a pressing national need dictates otherwise. If a development goes ahead, special efforts should be made with the NCC to provide alternative sites as compensation. The after-use issue was well covered by my hon. Friends.

I turn to the question of water from abandoned mines which affects salmon and trout. That is of considerable concern to the angling community and, in particular, to the Anglers' Co-operative Association which has raised the matter with a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) who has done a massive amount of work on the subject. Mr. George Muir of the Broxburn and District Angling Club, like many others, has sent me a letter on the issue.

The matter is neither esoteric nor peripheral. The daily discharge of about 500,000 gallons of water, containing significant quantities of ferrous oxide and related compounds, into the river Girvan killed the salmon and trout and alarmed the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes). The matter is complex, and the anglers deserve a considered response.

I gave notice on Tuesday of the following questions. First, what evidence is there to support the Government's contention that, having regard to the reasoning in the Dalquharran case, the protection in respect of water from abandoned mines will not be ruled out after the introduction of section 31 of the 1974 Act? Secondly, are the Government satisfied with the legal definition of "water" in relation to water from an abandoned mine entering water with the presence of significant fish stocks? Will that be an offence? The matter is urgent, since section 31 of the Control of Pollution Act becomes law in July 1983. Time is not on the side of the anglers.

In the Dalguharran case, the Coal Board was convicted on appeal of "causing" the entry of polluting matter. Is it right that there should be total exemption for the owners of mine workings from liability for the pollution of rivers under section 31 of the 1974 Act? Is it right that the owner of a mine—not necessarily the NCB, but perhaps the owner of a clay or other mine—should do nothing to rectify pollution caused by a mine simply by closing it?

On 16 February the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that the Government were to consider sections 46 and 50 of the 1974 Act in the light of the Flowers report. Do the Government still intend to bring them into force by 1985–86? Section 46 states, among other things, that no cost shall be payable for operations in respect of water from an abandoned mine. Section 50 deals with the abandonment of any mine, but does not face the question of who foots the bill. I deemed it courteous to give notice of my questions 72 hours ago. In return, I expect the courtesy of a serious answer.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), Penistone, Rother Valley, Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and I sweated our guts out in many hours in Committee on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. To be fair, throughout that time we relentlessly asked the same question: what about cash for the Nature Conservancy Council? We were sceptical about the voluntary system, but in good faith we were persuaded to give the volunatary system a chance.

I speak with all the anger of a man who feels that he may have been deceived. Candidly, I had butterflies in the stomach about the imposition of planning controls. Now we are drawn inexorably to the conclusion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) was more realistic and possibly had wider perceptions than I when he said that we might have to consider planning procedures rather than voluntary constraints.

The most protection that the Act gives to SSSIs is to allow the NCC, if it can convince the Secretary of State that a site is important, to place a 12-month stop order to prevent any damage. If, during that time, the NCC cannot reach a management agreement with the landowner, he or she can proceed as originally intended and, at the last moment, the council can compulsorily purchase the land. But, even were funds made available—and, as we have seen, that is not likely—it is an extremely improbable option. The NCC has always had the powers of compulsory purchase, yet in 30 years it has used them only twice.

If the Act is to work and if the nation's most valuable and important wild species and their habitats are to survive into the next century, it is essential that the Government should act now and effectively. The Act must be strengthened. Of that there is no doubt. As the Government's spokesman on the environment, the Earl of Avon, said: The protection the Government offers in the Bill at the end of the day—if the owner wants to go ahead—is compulsory purchase and nothing else. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, who spoke of Hawkswood and Springwood, is well aware of the importance of the issue.

Mr. Hardy

Will my hon. Friend draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the Government have recognised internationally that a number of sites in Britain are of supreme importance, yet some will be destroyed in the next two years because the Government are not prepared to lift a hand to save them?

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend is an expert on the international aspects and has made his point.

The excellent report "Cash or Crisis" from the Friends of the Earth says: Not only has the Government denied the NCC the funds for this ultimate sanction, but, much earlier in the day the cash based conservation system is foundering on a shortage of funds for management agreements, and an unwieldy, unworkable system which places no compulsion on landowners or occupiers to accept any sort of cash settlement". The principle that landowners have a right to grant-aid is not a just one, but it is not necessary to dispute it to see that the Act has inbuilt flaws that make it unworkable. It does not provide penalties with any deterrent value, the voluntary code is not backed up by a safety net to prevent any site from being destroyed ultimately and it specifically denies the majority of sites the benefit of the Government's commitment.

I speak as one who is wretchedly disappointed. We urgently need a method of saving SSSIs, in the same way as our ancient buildings can be preserved for the benefit of all people. In such circumstances, the good of the nation must come before the financial considerations of any individual.

Last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick, the Opposition spokesman on the environment, rightly predicted: If this legislation is not effective, which we hope it will be, we may well have to introduce the use of compulsion … We may have to consider the introduction of a planning system for the countryside equivalent to the planning system for the built environment. Moreover, we shall have to consider strengthening the existing planning system because it contains certain critical inadequacies."—[Official Report, 30 July 1981; Vol. 9, c. 1237.] In addition, the Department of the Environment should provide the NCC with funds to enable it to discharge its duties properly. Planning controls can be made site specific or, if that proves insufficient, general activities such as large-scale drainage and clear felling should be included.

All SSSIs should be protected from development unless the NCC gives authorisation to the landowner. Penalties to deter destruction or damage to an SSSI should reflect the true value of the site. If the site is damaged, it should revert to the NCC, a local authority or a voluntary organisation to look after it.

Conservation and the countryside, in and out of mining areas, is an important matter. We should all care for the unique beauty of our traditional landscape. I was greatly moved by what my hon. Friends said about the former beauty of mining areas. Let us hope that we can swiftly remedy the situation and preserve for our children and our children's children the remaining portions of the countryside that are still relatively unspoilt and which we ought to be able to enjoy.

If fines are to be a real deterrent, they must be taken more seriously. The Act provides for maximum fines of £1,000 for a first offence and £100 for any continuing offence. The courts may levy these punishments if a landowner refuses to restore a destroyed or damaged SSSI to its former condition when ordered to do so. These are the only deterrents in the Act. Tragically, they are useless.

It is absolutely impossible to restore most SSSIs to their former condition. The end result of hundreds of years of undisturbed natural evolution cannot be magically recreated overnight, no matter which judge so orders. Once an ancient woodland is felled or a stretch of pristine chalk grassland sprayed with modern chemicals, or an old meadow, rich in rare flowers and butterflies, is deep-ploughed, the loss to the nation is permanent and irretrievable. Equally disastrous, the present system of fines makes no allowance for the economic realities of land improvement.

At the height of the Commons debate on the Act last summer, everyone who was concerned about nature conservation in this country was appalled to learn that 450 acres of SSSI in the county of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—one of the most threatened habitats—had been utterly destroyed. The Government were swift to assure us that the new Act would legislate against such things recurring. These deterrents do no such thing. The landowner in question bought those 450 acres for £175,000. After his so-called improvements to the site, its value doubled overnight. Additionally, he might expect an income of at least £200 an acre, or £90,000, from the crops that he could now grow.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Was it intended to develop the land for the coal industry? That is the important question.

Mr. Dalyell

It is an example of what could happen anywhere. Throughout the debate there have been references to the importance of preserving the countryside in the mining areas.

Given that a site once lost is lost for ever, what court will rule that an attempt should be made to restore it to its former condition? Surely the judge will conclude that some worth must come from the land, and, although he may levy a fine, he will allow the landowner to reap his harvest. After all, the site is now worthless in terms of nature conservation.

We are extremely concerned about what has happened at Walland in Kent, not far from the East Kent coalfield. I raise the matter because the same lamentable events could well be repeated each time an SSSI is threatened by agricultural improvement proposals. Stage 1 in this sorry story is that the NCC scheduled Walland as part of an important SSSI and breeding area for nine species of rare birds given special protection under the 1981 Act.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about these matters—I have heard him speak about them before—but the debate is about the coal industry, and we ought to stick to that subject.

Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesend)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear". Part of the reason that I am gabbling so quickly is to give him the opportunity of moving his motion.

Walland is only an example of something else. The Opposition feel strongly that where the Nature Conservancy Council—which is mentioned in chapters 9 and 21 of the Flowers report—was wrong, the objection should have stood. If the 1981 Act is to work, the NCC must make decisions on its professional judgment of conservation priorities, and not on what money it thinks might be available.

My right hon. Friends and I sweated blood to get the Act changed. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley will remember all the difficuties we had over the Sandford amendment. Yet here we have the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food only too pleased to have the conservation agency take decisions for it rather than shouldering the responsibility given to it under the new Act to refuse grants where there were overwhelming conservation arguments. This all bodes ill for the future preservation of the countryside both in and out of the mining areas, and because of Fairburn Ings and because of potential SSSIs in mining areas. Surely we should pay special attention to areas which have suffered in the past, which have not been preserved, and which might have been preserved had modern techniques existed.

So we see the Government's much vaunted system of conservation by compensation fail. We know from the figures that we have from the Department of the Environment, given to Parliament last year, that at least 8,700 hectares or some 20,000 acres of SSSI land will be destroyed or seriously damaged this year. On a conservative estimate, the Friends of the Earth and the British Association of Nature Conservationists calculate that if the NCC spends its £800,000 budget only 3.2 SSSIs of 142 acres could be protected by purchase, or 14 such sites by management agreements. The average size SSSI is seven times as large as the example that I gave at Walland. This means that only 1 to 3 per cent. of the SSSIs under threat in the coming 12 months are likely to be saved.

My experience as a constituency Member of Parliament representing a mining community—and it was the experience of all of us who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Wildlife and Countryside Bill—is that the mining communities are not just as interested as, but more interested, in the countryside and in the preservation of the countryside heritage than most other people.

Some may argue that many SSSIs are in upland areas, where land values are lower. That is true, but it is sites in such areas as mining localities that are most under threat, and land values are at a premium. We face a stark picture in which the Department of the Environment refuses to provide the necessary funds to make its Act work, vet sites continue to come under threat.

As the report "Cash or Crisis" spells out clearly, The NCC has a choice. It can avoid political embarrassment for the Secretary of State by surrendering all but a few of the SSSIs likely to be threatened this year, or it can carry our its duty and risk running out of money in the next few months. By giving up on the Walland case the council of the NCC appears to have taken the soft option and has probably signed the demolition licence for some 400 sites this year.

As Friends of the Earth and the British Society of Nature Conservationists put it yet again in their document "Cash or Crisis: the imminent failure of the Wildlife and Countryside Act", The letter of the Act depends not on a spirit of good will but on hard cash. When conservation means a farmer or other landowner cannot make a maximum profit, the Government's legislation arranged for the NCC to make cash payments or buy the land. Unfortunately the cash is being withheld and the Act is being revealed as an empty charade. During the passage of the Bill through Parliament there was considerable pressure from the conservation organisations to introduce statutory planning controls—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. In fairness to the House, I must tell the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that this is not a continuation of the debate about the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is about the coal industry, and I must ask him to be kind enough to come to that.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not wish to make any abuse of the debate. I say simply that anyone who is interested in the environment must be exceedingly concerned about the shortage of money, which is the very pivot on which the Act works or fails to work,

I say to my hon. Friends that in a sense it would have been impertinent of me to repeat all their detailed arguments about Yorkshire. Those points come much better from them than from me. The same arguments could be reiterated in respect of many other areas, although the Yorkshire problem is the greatest. In no way do I minimise the central importance of the contributions and the arguments that my hon. Friends have made. By going on to a rather different subject, I hold that it is relevant in terms of the Flowers report, and I hold that it is urgent. The matter is urgent. There is little parliamentary opportunity other than on a Friday to go into detail. but. I in no way concede that the matter is not central to the debate. I believe that the Minister has grasped the point.

1.49 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. John Moore)

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) for giving the House the opportunity to debate this subject and to the other hon. Members who have spoken.

We are in a predicament. We have had an excellent debate. We should all like to put many other points on the record, but we recognise the needs of our colleagues who wish to move to other topics. I shall make sure that every point, including the important and detailed points raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who was courteous enough to give us notice of them, are dealt with publicly, if I do not have time to deal with them today, so that hon. Members have answers to their legitimate questions about the Flowers report.

I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) that a fuller House might have been better. In the eight years that I have been in the House, I have never enjoyed a debate more. It has been one of the best informed and most useful debates and one of the best contributions to an important and crucial subject.

I am sure that we would all wish to congratulate Lord Flowers and the other members of the commission on their comprehensive and painstaking study. It is a most excellent piece of work.

The Government welcomed the CENE report. We believe that it is a most valuable contribution to discussion. We have asked the bodies who gave evidence to CENE, and other interested organisations, to send in their comments on the report. I am glad that so many have done so. The Government are carefully considering the recommendations in the CENE report, and the comments that we have received. We are committed to publishing a formal reply. I cannot at present give a firm date for our reply, but we are pushing forward as expeditiously as we can.

I cannot today anticipate our reply to CENE in detail. I am sure that hon. Members would not expect that. But I shall try to give the House an indication of the Government's general approach.

We endorse many of CENE's recommendations and conclusions. We naturally welcome the commission's overall conclusion that, subject to important qualifications on spoil, opencast and subsidence, there were no insuperable obstacles to increased coal production and consumption in the United Kingdom over the next 20 years. We also recognise that the coal industry has made progress in recent years in coming to terms with its environmental problems.

CENE has played a valuable role in encouraging the NCB to see the importance of environmental awareness and sensitivity at all levels in the organisation and the need to explain more fully the impact of its proposals, and what it can and intends to do to limit the impact, if it is to gain the necessary public acceptance for its activities. We also support CENE's view that positive action is needed on a number of key issues where the effects on the environment are seen as particularly damaging. I can assure the House that in those areas both the Government and the industry will strive to respond as constructively as possible.

Hon. Members who represent coalmining constituencies have described graphically the environmental damage that coal mining has caused in the past. We have had excellent contributions from all hon. Members, although I should particularly like to compliment the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who, with legitimate passion, made an outstanding contribution to our debate on a subject of which he has great experience and knowledge. We respect his experience and his words.

The encouraging message that comes out of the CENE report is that the problems of the past need not be perpetuated. The commission said that it had been reassured by the results of its investigations. It said that the worst features of coal mining were associated with a pattern of coal production and use inherited from times past. It concluded that most of the potential problems of increased coal production and use could be overcome by the application of existing best practice, and that there were no insuperable obstacles to the role of coal as currently envisaged in this country.

The commission had particular, and well-deserved, words of praise for the environmental standards of new mines, such as those in the Selby coalfield. It was particularly impressed by the thoroughness of the efforts made by the NCB to assess and to minimise the environmental effects of new mines.

The hon. Members for Goole, Dearne Valley and Penistone (Mr. McKay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) all made valuable contributions on spoil disposal.

CENE concluded that over the next 20 years the continued tipping of spoil will be one of the major environmental problems arising from deep mining and that there will be major implications for land use. The Government agree with that conclusion; and they agree too with the commission, and with those hon. Members who have made the point today, that the problem of spoil disposal is particularly acute in areas such as Yorkshire. The hon. Members for Rother Valley, Goole, Dearne Valley, Penistone and Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) recognised the difficulties in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire will continue to have a heavy concentration of coal mining. The local authorities in Yorkshire, in the comments they have made to the Government have made clear their concern about the likely future rate at which spoil will be generated by coal mines in their area, and the scale of the resulting disposal problem. They are rightly concerned about the extent to which available land has already been taken up for spoil disposal, or is likely to be required for spoil disposal in the future, and the pressure this will put on land resources in the area. In many areas of Yorkshire, spoil disposal is the main land use issue. We all listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Rother Valley who put those points legitimately, with great strength.

The problem is complex. There is no simple, single solution. We shall have to drive at it from a number of different directions. The fact is, as hon. Members with more experience than I in the mining industry have said, modern mechanised mining with longwall face production produces a higher proportion of spoil to coal than the mining practices of the past. Half a tonne of spoil is produced for every tonne of coal brought to the surface. About 50 million tonnes of spoil is produced by the coal industry of this country every year. There is no doubt that the disposal of this quantity of waste is a real problem. I accept that where cost-effective alternatives to local tipping exist, it is right that they should be considered fully and carefully.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) reminded us, in an outstanding speech, that the Yorkshire local authorities are currently sponsoring the Pyewipe feasibility study into the technical possibilities and costs and benefits of transporting coal from the Yorkshire coalfield to the mudflats at Pyewipe in South Humberside. I understand that the report is expected to be completed later this year, and I know that both my Department and the Department of the Environment will study it with interest. At the same time, I know that local authorities and others concerned continue to be alert to the possibilities for using colliery spoil for construction projects, particularly highway schemes, and that the NCB is continuing to look at ways of overcoming the formidable technical, health and cost problems of storing an increased amount of waste underground.

If we had had time at this juncture, I should have liked to have gone into the problems of backstowing, which were raised with a great deal of competence and interest, not just initially by the hon. Member for Goole but by the hon. Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), Dearne Valley, Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), Penistone and Hemsworth.

All those who have had experience of longwall mining understand the limitations and the economic difficulties of trying to do this within a limited area. Extra research has been recommended. The point is well taken, because if this can be done—although there are attendant health risks to the miners as well as economic difficulties—it is an area which must be pursued.

I am glad to note the considerable interest that is being shown in the alternatives to local tipping. But at the same time, we must recognise that very often the alternatives have problems of their own, and that they tend to be very expensive. The point has been made about the relative cost of this problem. As the CENE report said, The realities of pollution control require a continuing balance to be struck between the costs and benefits of pollution abatement for industry and society. CENE's examination of the spoil problem pointed to the continued need for large-scale local tipping and hence to the priority of seeking to minimise its adverse environmental impact. It is clear that the modern techniques for the progressive restoration of spoil heaps, which the NCB has developed, represent an enormous improvement on the tipping practices of the past. New mine schemes no longer need to incorporate the bare, conical spoil heaps that still disfigure many old mining areas. The use of progressive restoration techniques can also considerably reduce the amount of agricultural or other useful land that is out of use at any one time. I am certain that a high priority must—as CENE has said—be given to improving tipping and restoration techniques, and to developing new and more imaginative approaches to landscape design. I would also like to draw the attention of the House to CENE's welcome for the Town and Country (Minerals) Act 1981, which should provide more effective control over tips operated under older planning permissions by strengthening the powers of local authorities to improve restoration conditions.

The hon. Member for Dearne Valley, together with many hon. Members from Yorkshire constituencies, drew attention to some of the problems of strategic planning. The CENE report also discussed the question of the strategic planning of spoil disposal. I know that that is an area of particular concern in Yorkshire and the East Midlands. The report concluded that there was a need for better co-ordination between the NCB, local and central Government, and recommended the establishment of ad hoc arrangements similar to the regional working parties on aggregates, with priority being given to setting up such arrangements for the Yorkshire and East Midlands coalfield. The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford was obviously concerned about that problem.

The Government are studying the recommendation and we shall obviously take careful note of the comments made in the debate. We are looking for a way forward without compromising the responsibilities of the NCB as the waste producer or those of the local authorities, as the planning authorities. The hon. Member for Goole, my hon. Friend the Member for Mew Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), the hon. Members for Rother Valley, Dearne Valley, Hemsworth, Penistone and Pontefract and Castleford all commented on subsidence. However, I am not sure that I would accept that only muck and no brass has ever attached to the latter hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth was particularly articulate about his constituents' problems and difficulties that he has faced. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I should like to go into that subject in more detail on another occasion, when we have more time. I am conscious of the distress and worry that subsidence damage sometimes causes. We must consider the issue carefully and I shall try to write in detail to all those who have raised points about subsidence, to illustrate the Government's attitude. We must put our minds to that issue. The additional money now expended by the board each year illustrates the better way—I refer not only to the development of longwall mining face techniques—in which subsidence moneys are spent. However, that is an important subject and I take note of the points made.

The subject of opencast mining was raised by the hon. Members for Goole, Rother Valley and by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe, who made a useful contribution on he problem of iron ore opencast mining. The hon. Member for Ashfield also commented on this subject. Opencast mining raises a crucial question. Obviously, opencast mining produces several considerable environmental problems, including the disfigurement of the landscape while operations are being carried out, the noise and dirt that nearby residents sometimes suffer and the increase in traffic on local roads.

In addition, it is sometimes argued that there are deleterious long-term consequences in the form of reduced agricultural yields and damage to the quality of the landscape and the richness of its ecology. Indeed, the hon. Member for West Lothian has a particular interest in this matter. CENE argued rightly that opencast mining, by its very nature, had a major impact on the land taken for the site and ancillary workings, and on the surrounding neighbourhood. Furthermore, the problems tend to be compounded by the fact—as those who know coalfields will know well—that opencast mining often takes place on the old exposed coalfields, which already have a long history of dereliction from deep mining. That geographical concentration may mean, in some cases, that although individual opencast sites are relatively short-lived—four to five years—a particular locality may have opencast workings going on in or near it for a much longer period and have to suffer the consequences.

The subject of derelict land and the 1974 derelict land survey of England has been legitimately raised. Many hon. Members raised points on this issue and asked the Government what we were doing. The motion draws attention to the problems of drelict colliery land. CENE endorsed the view that land dereliction may be regarded as a form of environmental degradation that is just as unacceptable as other forms of pollution, and made several specific recommendations that the Government will respond to fully in our formal reply to the report. I should have liked to say more on this subject. However, although the movement for derelict land reclamation has been directed towards the inner cities, we recognise the special needs of Yorkshire and of the coal mining areas. Again I shall go into the details later with those hon. Members who made contributions on that subject.

Many hon. Members raised the subject of transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller), the hon. Members for Goole and Dearne Valley all commented on that subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North was rightly concerned to ensure that transport should be by rail and not, if possible, by road. In 1980–81, road transport took 19 million tonnes of coal, coastal shipping took 6.5 million tonnes, the inland waterways took 2 million tonnes and 7 million tonnes were carried by conveyor belt movement. The railways carried 87.6 million tonnes. The railways take the major part of the traffic.

I recognise the argument of the hon. Member for Goole about extending compensation rights under the Land Compensation Act 1973 to those living near railways. I undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. This is an area in which the Government would support the commission's general conclusion that rail is and should be the preferred mode of transport for coal. However, freight should use whatever form of transport is economic or practical for the purpose. Clearly, this is an issue that merits further attention.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest raised some interesting and important issues concerning drilling for oil or gas relative to drilling for coal. I shall not go into the debate on exploration or exploitation on this occasion.

In drilling for oil or gas there is the ever-present danger that an accumulation of gas under very high pressure will be encountered unexpectedly. I am sure that my hon. Friend well knows from his experience of the industry that this is known as a blow-out. Stringent precautions are taken to ensure that one can be controlled if it occurs. Controls over landward drilling for oil and gas are exercised by the Department of Energy, which gives approval for drilling programmes. Safety considerations are taken into account. For landward operations safety provisions are enforced by the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate.

In general coal is not found in close association with oil and gas. I am advised that it is unlikely that the very high pressure accumulations of gas that give rise to the danger of blow-outs will be encountered in drilling for coal. I have noted my hon. Friend's points and I shall contact him further after pursuing them in detail, as obviously they are important.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest and the hon. Member for Dearne Valley talked about planning safeguards in sensitive environmental areas. The Government have made it clear that all applications for planning permission for substantial new mineral workings or extensions of existing workings in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty should be subject to the most rigorous examination. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has the power to call in such applications for his decision if he considers that there are major environmental implications.

I am not sure whether that goes as far as I should like to be able to go, or as far as my hon. Friend would like, because I appreciate what he and the hon. Member for Dearne Valley said about non-planning blight. I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the comments that my hon. Friend and others have made on the need urgently to begin discussions with my right hon. Friend on his concept of an energy map.

I am not sure whether this is the appropriate moment to enter discussions about the nature of what is the national interest when it comes to the development of national resources. We are aware of the difficulty of trying to carry forward that argument.

I shall make only a few remarks in conclusion. I realise that on several important specific points raised in the debate, relating to various of CENE's recommendations, I have had to say only that the Government are considering the matter, and will address it fully in their formal response. I hope that the House will have another opportunity of considering the subject after the Government's formal response is available. I accept that this is an important area that covers more interests than those to which I have been able to respond in my short reply. In the meantime, the debate has been a most useful preliminary examination of the wide range of issues involved, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Goole for giving the House this opportunity.

Mr. Dalyell

Hear, hear.

Mr. Moore

I think that the debate has revealed a number of things: first, a common recognition of the continuing importance of coal in our energy economy; secondly, in consequence of the first, a recognition of the need for all concerned—the Government, the NCB, local authorities and other interested groups—to address seriously the environmental problems of coal mining and use; and finally, a confidence that positive solutions are possible and that the problems can be overcome.

Mr. Ogden


Mr. Moore

No, I shall not give way.

It is clear that we are all greatly in debt to Lord Flowers and his commission for their study, which has underlain and informed so much of our discussion today. In consequence of that discussion I am pleased to support the motion of the hon. Member for Goole.

2.9 pm

Dr. Edmund Marshall

Perhaps I may briefly reply to the debate. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed, and particularly those of my hon. Friends who, like me, represent coal mining areas, and who brought a wealth of experience to the debate based on problems that have arisen in their constituencies and on their own occupational experience.

We were all greatly moved by the graphic descriptions of the problems of subsidence and colliery waste. I refer particularly to the moving account given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) of what happened when subsidence suddenly affected the communities of South Kirkby and South Emsall. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) faces the same type of problem at Swan Hill bridge in Pontefract as my constituents in Knottingley have faced over the past few years.

It is because of the magnitude of the problems that all possible practical solutions must be explored. Subsidence and colliery waste are problems that could more easily be dealt with by prevention than by trying to find consequential cures.

It was in that spirit that I made my comments about backstowing, which was the one area of the debate which gave rise to differing opinions. I give two short quotations in support of my view. The Strategic Conference of County Councils in Yorkshire and Humberside said in paragraph 3.1.4 of its evidence to the Flowers commission: The future problems of disposal are therefore immense and SCOCC feels strongly that action needs to be taken now to plan for a reduction of waste arising at the pit head in the future. Paragraph 9.26 of the Flowers report says: A system of partial backstowing in association with long wall retreat mining has been in operation successfully at Park Mill colliery in the Barnsley area of the NCB since 1976. The report concludes: We recommend therefore that the NCB in conjunction with the research councils, should greatly strengthen its research into backstowing, even if that eventually requires substantial modification to the long wall process. The emphasis in the Flowers report recommendation is on the necessity for new research, and it was in that spirit tht I advanced the argument today. Research could establish the practicalities of such methods. The financing would then have to be considered separately.

Throughout the debate there has been the underlying difficulty of how financial support for anti-pollution measures is to be provided. This, of course, gives rise to differences of political philosophy. Nevertheless, I hope that in the urgent consideration that the Government are obviously giving to the recommendations of the Flowers report, they will examine ways of providing financial support to carry out the recommendations.

In that spirit, and again with gratitude to hon. Members on both sides of the House, I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House welcomes the report of the Commission on Energy and the Environment, entitled "Coal and the Environment", and calls upon Her Majesty's Government, the National Coal Board and other relevant authorities urgently to study the recommendations of the report in order to take early action to reduce the problems of coalmining subsidence, derelict colliery land, colliery waste disposal and pollution and the environmental impacts of opencast mining and coal transport.
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