HC Deb 17 June 1991 vol 193 cc1-2
1. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the arrangements for licensing opencast coal mines.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory)

Under existing legislation, the British Coal Corporation is the licensing authority and is therefore responsible for the arrangements for licensing opencast coal production.

Mr. Hain

Is the Minister aware of the environmental blight, pollution, traffic congestion and danger to health caused by opencast mines, which are concentrated overwhelmingly in the Neath and Swansea valleys, and elsewhere in south Wales? If the Minister concentrated them in the south-east and south-west of England, he would be skinned alive by his constituents and his Government would get a bloody nose.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I agree that opencast coal mining must be carried out to the highest planning and environmental standards, but to put an artificial limit on opencast coal production as the Labour party wishes would be to the detriment of the coal industry generally and would cost many jobs in the industry.

Mr. Ashby

Is my hon. Friend aware that, contrary to the assertion of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), the preponderance of opencast mining is not in the hon. Gentleman's area but in mine? North-west Leicestershire has been devastated by opencast mining and there is now a proposal for a new opencast mine at the Coalfield West site. That proposal is opposed by the county council, the district council and the overwhelming majority of people in the area. Will my hon. Friend therefore reconsider the proposal and perhaps defer it for 200 years or so, until technology has improved sufficiently for such opencasting to be carried out without detriment to the environment?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I confirm that my hon. Friend has opencast mining in his constituency, and I visited a site there. The appeal decision on the site in question, however, will be made not by my Department but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Eadie

Are we to take the Minister's reply as having some relationship with the fact that he has asked Rothschild, the merchant bankers, and Touche Ross, the accountants, to advise on the privatisation of the mining industry? Will they be making recommendations about that, and will the Select Committee on Energy be bypassed yet again?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

When we draw up plans to privatise the coal industry, we shall consult all interested parties, including the opencast mining sector.

Back to