HC Deb 18 January 1995 vol 252 cc701-2
11. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussions he has had with the National Rivers Authority regarding pollution from abandoned mine workings; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Atkins

My Department maintains regular contact with the National Rivers Authority about this issue.

Mr. Mullin

As the Minister knows, there is much concern in the north-east and elsewhere on this issue. Will he assure the House that the Coal Authority will continue to fund the pumping of abandoned mine workings for as long as the NRA thinks is necessary, bearing in mind the fact that, if it all goes wrong, the cost of clearing up will be much greater than the cost of the pumping?

Mr. Atkins

It is certainly the intention that the Coal Authority will continue to fund the necessary pumping and I have no reason to suppose that that situation will change.

Sir Donald Thompson

As my hon. Friend says, disused coal mines are fairly well catered for, but mines from which other minerals came seem to have been completely forgotten, especially those whose ownership has been lost in the mists of time; a similar situation applies to quarries. Will my hon. Friend consider that?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter, which will be dealt with in the Environment Bill, which is being discussed in another place. We will be interested to hear what he has to say on the matter when it arrives at this end.

Ms Ruddock

Is the Minister aware that, under the Environment Bill, polluting water from abandoned mines will continue to emanate therefrom until the turn of the century? Why is liability to prosecution not to be imposed until 1999? Could it be because the contracts of private mine owners with the power generators come up for renewal in 1998 and the Government expect more mines to be abandoned at that point? Is that not just another example of a Government trying to protect private profits over the environment?

Mr. Atkins

As usual, the hon. Lady is living in cloud cuckoo land. We are dealing with the real world, in which we must give as much warning as possible to those involved. That is why we consider 1999 an appropriate date. I have no doubt that, when the matter is discussed as we debate the Environment Bill, the hon. Lady will make similar points and I shall give a similar response.

Mr. Devlin

Should not those who close mines in future have to give the new agency ample notice of their intentions, and also state what provision they will make for the pumping that may be necessary thereafter?

Mr. Atkins

Yes, and we hope that the Bill will contain precisely that recommendation. We intend, for instance, that six months' notice will be required in 1999. My hon. Friend's points will be taken on board.

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