HL Deb 28 January 1969 vol 298 cc1125-51

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. On October 21, 1966, many thousands of tons of colliery refuse cascaded down the slopes of the Merthyr mountain into the mining village of Aberfan. It was a tragedy which shook the world. The fact that some 140,000 cubic yards of material (50,000 lorry loads) broke away, and in minutes overwhelmed everything in its path, brought home to the people of this country and, indeed, to the world the dread consequences of the failure of a large tip.

The Report of the Tribunal appointed to inquire into the cause of and the circumstances relating to the disaster showed that this tip failure need not, and should not, have occurred. The Tribunal made a number of recommendations designed to ensure that a similar tragedy shall not occur again. I shall have something to say later about what has already been done by the Government and by the National Coal Board to put these practical recommendations into effect. The Tribunal also considered the amending legislation called for and indicated the topics which, in their judgment, needed to be dealt with, pointing out that the best method of achieving the desired ends would need detailed consideration thereafter. The present Bill before the House is the outcome of that consideration. It received a warm welcome in another place and was given a swift passage. I feel sure your Lordships will welcome it equally and will wish to put the Bill on the Statute Book and see it brought into operation with all speed.

First, a word about the scope of the Bill and the general approach which the Minister of Power has adopted in its preparation. The Bill, as will be seen from Clause 2(1), deals with accumula- tions above ground of mine and quarry refuse, both liquid and solid; it does not attempt to cover accumulations of refuse from other trades and processes covered by the Factories Act, as, for example, fly ash from power stations or slag from blast furnaces. It is not concerned with amenity, but simply and solely to prevent danger from tip slides; that is, to prevent another Aberfan. Local authorities already have powers to deal with the reclamation of land, amenities and so on, under, for example, the Local Government Act 1966, the Industrial Development Act 1966 and the Countryside Act 1968.

The Bill is in two parts. Part I, which is to be read as one with the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, deals with tips so long as they form part of the mining and quarrying industries, when they are under the supervision of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines and Quarries, for whom my right honourable friend the Minister of Power is responsible. Part II of the Bill deals with tips when the mine or quarry with which they are associated is abandoned and the tips, as is were, become merely part of the landscape. The treatment is therefore different, since different responsibilities and different authorities are involved.

Part I of the Bill places an obligation on mine and quarry owners and managers to see that tips—and tips, as I have already indicated, include lagoons for the deposit of liquid waste—"are made and kept secure". "Secure" is a term well known in the industry and is the best we have been able to find. It is used in the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and has been the subject of legal interpretation. We see no difficulty about its application to tips. Like the principal Act, the Bill would impose duties on owners and managers and give the Minister wide powers to make regulations to achieve its objectives. Regulations are to be both general—about such matters as the siting of tips, their construction and maintenance, and the general conduct of tipping operations—and specific as regards the making of tipping rules by owners and managers, the keeping and preservation of plans and sections of tips, and the keeping of geological maps. Without these regulations Part I of the Bill would be incomplete.

The enforcement of statutory provisions of this Part of the Bill will be a matter for Her Majesty's Inspectors of Mines and Quarries, whose powers have been increased for the purpose. Contraventions of the Bill and of the regulations will, like contraventions of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, be punishable as criminal offences. There will be a penalty of up to three months imprisonment in addition to or in substitution for a fine if the offence is of such a nature that it impaired or might in the opinion of the court have been expected to impair the security of the tip. All this is in recognition of the Tribunal's statements that tips are potentially dangerous and that such dangers as arise are almost invariably in respect of active working tips. When tips cease to be associated with mines and quarries they should in future be in good condition and unlikely to give trouble. The powers in Part II of the Bill to be conferred on local authorities are designed to ensure that they remain so. They are also designed to enable local authorities to deal with problems created by the many thousands of tips up and down the country which have been built up over the years ever since men first began to win minerals from the earth's crust. Many have, of course, long ago ceased to be recognisable as tips—something like the burial barrows on Salisbury Plain. Many are situated in remote places where there can be little or no danger to members of the public. But where there is likely to be danger because of the instability of an old tip—a "disused" tip in the language of the Bill—the powers will be there to see that the corrective measures, which the Bill calls "remedial operations", are taken, and taken in good time. The local authority—that is the county council, unless they have delegated some or all of their powers under Clause 11(4)—will have power under Clause 12 to get information to enter land both to see whether a tip would constitute a danger to the public if it failed, to do any tests necessary to determine whether it is stable, and to inspect any work being done which might affect its stability. Clause 36(2) makes it clear that the local authority have power to take action if they have reasonable ground for believing that the tip is likely to slide beyond its present boundaries, as happened at Aberfan, and such a slide would be likely to constitute a danger to members of the public.

Local authorities can act in either of two ways. First, they can serve notice on the owner of a tip under Clause 14 requiring him to carry out any necessary works, or, alternatively, and even without notice where the remedial works are immediately necessary for the protection of the public, they can do the work themselves and recover the costs. Work will not be held up through lack of funds. Clause 25 of the Bill gives the appropriate Ministers power to make grants where the costs of such operations cannot be recovered from the owners of a tip or from other persons whom the court can require to make contributions towards the costs. The Ministers for Part II are the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Secretary of State for Wales.

The provisions of Part II of the Bill are necessarily somewhat complex in order to protect the interests of the public, of the local authorities and of the owners of the tip (including of course the owners of the material in the tip) and of persons whose land is affected by remedial operations. Owners and potential contributories can challenge the need and extent of the operations required by the local authority before the works are done in the case of a notice under Clause 14, or afterwards, when a local authority seek to recover the costs of operations which they have themselves carried out under Clause 17. In each case the Bill sets out the factors to which the court must have regard. Your Lordships will be particularly interested in the provisions of Clause 19 which gives the court wide discretion to see that the costs of remedial operations and of preliminary exploratory tests are equitably shared among those who can probably be held responsible for the tip's condition.

That, my Lords, is the legal framework of the Bill. Now a word about the way we expect Part II to work in practice. When the Bill becomes law, local authorities will acquire extensive powers, and tip owners will acquire new liabilities, in addition of course to those they already have at Common Law. Local authorities with tips in their areas would be well advised as a matter of prudence, and because of their responsibilities of public duty to their constituents, to identify any tips which would be a danger to the public if they failed. Indeed, many local authorities must have gathered a good deal of knowledge already, particularly since Aberfan demonstrated only too clearly how serious and how tragic a tip failure can be. Local authorities will be expected to satisfy themselves whether there is cause for anxiety about these tips. If a particular tip causes anxiety, they have the power to carry out all the tests they need and to take any further steps they consider justified. But because notice has to be given before a tip is inspected, the owner will usually know of the local authority's interest and because of his potential liability will set about ensuring that any tip he has is in good order.

So far as the National Coal Board are concerned, I know that this is, in fact, what they are already doing in anticipation of the Bill's becoming law. Other owners of tips may well be doing the same. Of course, there is nothing to prevent, and everything to encourage, local authority engineers and the owners of tips to get together and discuss what ought to be done, without resort to formal notice under Clause 14 or to direct action by a local authority under Clause 17. Often it will be no more than seeing that drainage is properly maintained. The machinery of the Bill need be invoked only when there is a failure to agree, or when it is a question of other parties' contributing to cost because of their responsibility, or partial responsibility, for a tip's condition, or if a Government grant is required because the cost cannot otherwise be met. Even so, there is room for co-operation by all concerned.

When I began my speech I said that action had been taken in advance of the Bill to give effect to recommendations in the Tribunal's Report. May I mention just a few items? The Minister of Power has strengthened the Mines Inspectorate by the creation of a civil engineering branch, and, additionally, more than a hundred inspectors have received special training in soil mechanics and the factors affecting pit stability. My right honourable friend has amended the Mines (Notification of Dangerous Occurrences) Order 1959 and the correspond- ing Order relating to quarries to cover tips. I am sure the House will be relieved to know that no serious tin incident involving loss of life has been reported since the Order was made in 1966.

My right honourable friend has also set up an Advisory Committee an Tip Safety which has been hard at work, under its Chairman, Mr. F. R. Bullen, a distinguished civil engineer, on a number of problems. The Committee are now finalising a technical document designed to help local authority engineers in identifying the signs of instability in tips. The Committee's expertise will be of particular value to the Minister of Power in framing the regulations which will govern the siting of tips and the conduct of tipping operations. The Mining Qualifications Board, which the Minister appoints, has looked into the question of training in soil mechanics and related subjects for those engaged in mining and quarrying who may be responsible for tips in the future. The co-operation of the universities and technical colleges, and of the Institution of Mining Engineers and the Institute of Quarrying, has also been obtained and will ensure that the engineers in the mining and quarrying industries receive instruction in soil mechanics as Part of their normal training.

I have already mentioned part of what the National Coal Board are doing in advance of legislation. They have remedied the defects in organisation and training which the Tribunal criticised, and tributes to the work they have done in many directions have been paid to them in another place. Special mention should, I think, be made of the comprehensive draft of the Code of Practice which the Board have prepared and which is now being studied by the Advisory Committee on Tip Safety. This impressive and valuable piece of work embodies the results of the Board's experience and research to date. It should be of great value to the Committee in framing the general guidance for which the Tribunal saw a need.

My Lords, although the total number of tips is enormous, problem tips are, fortunately, few in number. Those that are known to Her Majesty's inspectors or to the National Coal Board are being watched, and appropriate action has been or is being taken. The work goes on.

The mining and quarrying industries are acutely conscious of their responsibilities since the tragedy of Aberfan; the powers which the Bill will confer will ensure that they and other owners of tips will remain so. Less than three years ago we were all horrified by this tragedy which came so suddenly. This Bill, which perhaps does not excite much comment, if any, but is a substantial Bill, may seem dry, but it is the necessary mechanism for ensuring that this sort of thing never happens again. I believe, therefore, that in human terms it is of paramount, extreme importance. It is for that reason that, with confidence, I ask your Lordships to give it your unqualified support. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Stonham.)

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for, as usual, giving us a clear and concise account of the contents of this Bill. May I straight away echo the words he ended with and say that in principle I am sure that all your Lordships will wish to see this Bill read a second time and go on the Statute Book, in the hope of avoiding any further disaster such as that at Aberfan Before coming to the contents of the Bill, may I also express my great pleasure that the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, is to make his maiden speech on this Bill. He is a fellow Welshman and no one is better qualified to speak as a professor of geology.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, Part I of the Bill deals with the security of active tips; that is, those that are still in use. While the horror of Aberfan is still in our minds, I know that we shall all support any measures that go towards preventing a recurrence. As the noble Lord said, the Tribunal, under the able chairmanship of Lord Justice Edmund Davies, made some valuable recommendations and in so far as this Bill puts them into effect they are much to be welcomed.

I wish to make only one comment on Part I of the Bill, and that is to endorse what the noble Lord referred to at the end of his speech; namely, to stress the importance of the Advisory Committee on Tip Safety. Throughout its Report the Tribunal stressed the importance of civil engineering skills in relation to the potential danger of tips, and recommended the establishment of a Committee on Tip Safety to advise the Minister and to co-ordinate research. On this side of the House we certainly believe that this Committee has a most important role to play, and we hope that, once its initial task of preparing a code of guidance (particularly for local authorities) is over, it will continue in existence and will continue to be consulted by the Minister.

So far as Part II of the Bill is concerned, I have rather more comments to make and I would start by declaring a personal interest. I am in the unfortunate position of owning some of these disused tips, and I hope that what I say is not based entirely on my own self interest but also represents the views of the Country Landowners' Association and other interested people. In certain cases the owner of a disused tip may be the person who was responsible for making it, or his legal successor. Certainly that is so in the case of the National Coal Board. The disused tips in the Board's ownership were made either by its own operations or by the colliery companies that it succeeded. Therefore no doubt it is perfectly right that the National Coal Board should assume responsibility for the safety of these tips. But in many other cases the owner is the local landowner, who had no responsibility for making the tips in the first place and certainly would have been happier without them. However, he now finds himself saddled with responsibility for their safety.

In another place the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government made statements in the Committee stage of the Bill that seemed to me to display considerable ignorance of this fact. He spoke of people who create a situation which may give rise to danger; of those who permit potential dangers to arise on their land, and of the well known doctrine that if one creates something which is dangerous then one is responsible in law for the consequences. In many cases the landowner did not create these tips, yet under Part II of the Bill he is held responsible for their safety. This is a hard doctrine, although I realise that it has legal precedents, especially Common Law precedents I only ask that the Government will place a fair responsibility upon the owner.

I have two suggestions to make for the improvement of this Bill. The first is this. If a local authority decides that a disused tip is unstable and is likely to cause a danger to the public it has, as the noble Lord clearly explained, two courses open to it. Under Clause 14 it can require the owner to make the tip safe; under Clause 17 it can itself take the appropriate action and recover the cost from the owner. But the difference in the treatment of the cases is that in the second case, under Clause 17, the local authority, if it does the work itself, may receive a Government grant towards the cost, and in making the grant the Minister may limit the amount of the cost falling on the owner. I fully accept the fairness of this procedure under Clause 17. There is provision for a Treasury grant and the balance is found by the local authority and the owner. But if the local authority proceeds under the first case, under Clause 14, and requires the owner to make the tip safe, then the whole financial burden falls on him and there is no provision for any grant.

If your Lordships read the Explanatory Memorandum you will see that the costs involved are very high. One tip which is mentioned there I know well. It cost over £30,000 to make safe, and the Explanatory Memorandum forecasts remedial operations which may cost £100,000. Many an owner would be made bankrupt by sums far smaller than that. I suggest that it would be only fair for provision to be made in the Bill that where a local authority proceeds under Clause 14 there should be provision for a grant to the private owner.

My second point is this. Surely the best solution of all would be to remove the tip altogether; and in certain cases it is perfectly possible for an owner to do so economically, and even profitably, by the sale of small coal from the tip. However, he needs planning permission to do so and not infrequently this is refused on grounds of amenity. The noble Lord likened some of these tips to barrows on Salisbury Plain. They are rather larger and potentially more dangerous, but it is perfectly true that some of them are covered with a form of primitive vegetation, even trees. The local community may prefer to keep them and may fear that if operations were undertaken to remove them they would be subjected to noise, dust and dirt in the process. No doubt this is a correct decision for the local community to take if it so wishes, acting through the planning procedure, but if the planning authority refuses an owner the right to remove a tip, surely then it is unjust to continue to lay upon him the full responsibility for its stability. He has offered to make it safe once and for all by removing it and it is not fair to say to him, "No, we want to keep it but if it should prove dangerous you must pay to make it safe". I should like to see a provision in the Bill that when a request for planning permission to remove a disused tip is refused on the ground of amenity, then the local authority should assume responsibility for its future safety, together, of course, with the advantage that they have under the Bill of a Treasury grant.

Those are the two main points that I wished to stress. There are a number of other smaller and mainly Committee points on which we are not altogether happy, and it might be convenient if I were to mention them briefly in broad outline at this stage. First, under Clause 9, dealing win penalties, we feel that the penalty of imprisonment should apply only where an offence has been committed that endangers human life. Under Clause 14 we believe that the Mines Inspectorate has a most important part to play in advising local authorities on disused tips and, as my friends in another place tried to impress upon the Government during the Report stage, we still think that it should be obligatory on local authorities to consult the Mines Inspectorate before serving a notice under Clause 14. We believe that this argument applies even more forcibly under Schedule 2, where the Inspectorate should be consulted by a local authority when the local authority is itself the owner of a disused tip in its own area.

Clause 15 provides for an appeal to be made by the owner only against notices issued under Clause 14, and surely it should also apply to action taken by a local authority under Clause 17. These are two alternative methods by which the local authority may act, and it seems right to say that the owner should have the same right of appeal in both cases.

Finally, there is a point under Clause 19. The court may order a contribution to the costs of remedial operations by a person who within the previous 12 years has caused or contributed to the instability of a tip by carrying out operations on the tip, on the land on which it is situated, or on neighbouring land. The question I should like to ask is whether the land on which it is situated includes the land under the surface. I am thinking particularly of subsidence, and it is quite likely that mining operations in the vicinity of a tip could cause instability. Would this clause allow the owners to look for some contribution from the mining company which caused the subsidence and hence the instability of the tip? These last points are really Committee points, and I do not expect an answer from the noble Lord to-day.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord on the last point. If he is referring to an owner looking for compensation from a mining company, it must surely be a mining company which is still operating, in which case it would surely come under Part I and not under Part II?


My Lords, I was thinking of a disused tip in a mining area. Mining operations are often taking place in the vicinity of a disused tip and could cause instability in a disused tip that was no longer part of the colliery. I think this is more a matter for interpretation of the Bill, and we shall put down an Amendment at Committee stage. I hope very much that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading to-day, and I hope that we shall be able to improve it at the Committee stage.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank my countryman, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his far too generous reference to me and to my professorial status, but let me hasten to assure your Lordships that I would not regard your Lordships as one of my normal captive audiences and subject you to an hour of boredom on theories or pearls of doubtful wisdom. I also assure my noble friend Lord Stonham that I will not set him an examination paper on his Bill. I also have learned to respect the indulgence of your Lordships' House and I know you would permit a Welshman who has lived in the shifting shadows of a dangerous and treacherous coal tip to become emotional about this subject, but I will not embarrass your Lordships in that way. On the contrary, I should like, in a non-controversial manner, to speak about the wider aspects of this very important and timely Bill, as its impact could be quite striking. On the other hand, it could become a source of irritation and frustration if it is not administered wisely.

The committees and councils that will deal with this matter are the natural habitats of the buck-passer and if they try to evade the inevitable question that will always arise in the mining and quarrying industry—namely, "Where else can we put our waste?"—then this Bill will lose the real importance it should have. In supporting the Bill, I would suggest to the Government that they instil an incentive in the administration of the Bill, and the incentive is the right and proper attitude to waste products. Your Lordships know better than I do that fortunes have been made out of waste tips. Long ago, for example—this is out of context—there were the tips of granulated cork which established the cork linoleum industry. To-day we see vast quantities of slag being used for commercial purposes, mainly engineering. We also know, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, pointed out, of the great quantities of coal being extracted from our coal tips all over the country. In theory we could, for example, attack the white kaolin tips of Cornwall and extract from them large quantities of mica which would quite seriously interest the importers of this country. Likewise we could think in terms of the slate tips which disfigure so many of the beauty spots in this country, and we could extract from them alkali and trace metals of great value. The old mining dumps still contain sizeable quantities of lead, zinc and copper, which if extracted would materially improve the import situation.

But in all these cases where you process a tip for one component, or possibly two, you are left with an end-product which is much more difficult and dangerous to contain and confine than the original tip. So the conventional methods that are applied to-day to the tips will not achieve what I hope the Bill will achieve, which is the complete removal of rubbish from the surface of Britain but, at the same time, by good housekeeping turn that rubbish to profit for the nation.

The Government have not been idle in this matter. Long before the ghastly tragedy of Aberfan they had turned their backs on the lip-service which previous Governments had paid to science and looked seriously at those areas of science which did not possess the glamour or status symbol of some sciences internationally and so able to claim support. As a consequence, they have given the biological and geological sciences a shot in the arm, and as a result we now have within our grasp processes which can prefabricate and alter many of the waste products from our mining and quarrying industries, and indeed many of our other industries as well.

I am confident enough to forecast, for example, that in ten years' time we shall not import one single ton of lightweight rock like pumice into this country but that we shall make our own out of the waste products of industry. With equal certainty, I am sure that the future of the mining and quarrying industry will undergo a dramatic change and that by using these new biological and geo-chemical processes we shall see the mine, the quarry and the tip forming units of what I should like to describe as a mineral factory from which I expect no waste to emerge.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, as the first speaker after the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, it falls to my pleasant lot to congratulate him upon a most impressive and interesting maiden speech. I am sure we shall all look forward to hearing him on many occasions, especially perhaps as he not only is the head of the Geological Department at Nottingham University but has shown us that he has an intense gift for applying his talents to ensuring a great future for waste products. It may be that some people regard the House of Lords as a challenge of that kind, and I am sure we shall all look forward with the greatest expectation that he will apply some of those talents of his to giving this House the great future that he envisages for such waste products: and I am sure that he, with his own talents, will make a major contribution to that desirable result.

To turn now to the Bill, it implements some of the recommendations of the Aberfan Tribunal. I propose to deal only with such parts of it as especially concern local authorities. Local authorities are immediately concerned with Part II, which will confer powers upon them to take action to prevent public danger arising from disused tips by ensuring that such tips are stable. Although the whole of Part II is cast in terms which make it a matter for the local authorities' discretion whether or not to take action, there can be little doubt, surely, as to the moral responsibility which will thus rest upon them to see that disused tips from mines and quarries are in fact safe if the owner of the tip, who is of course primarily responsible, fails to act. In order that they can do so it is necessary that they should be able to command the requisite technical skills; and I know that the Association of Municipal Corporations feel, and indeed the Minister himself clearly recognises, that frequently this must mean calling upon the services of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries.

The first point I wish to make is that it is imperative that this skilled help should be available as of right lo any local authorities asking for it. Nowhere in Part II of this Bill is there any reference to the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate. They are named in Part I as the appropriate body for dealing with questions of security relating to active tips of mine and quarry refuse. Local authorities feel that Part II should similarly provide for the services of this Inspectorate to be available to local authorities in respect of disused tips.

The Inspectorate should, if asked by local authorities, decide what kind of test should be carried out on disused tips to ascertain whether they are dangerous, to advise on the results of tests and what remedial work should be carried out by the owner of the tip, or, if he fails to act, in default by the local authorities. Assurances have been given by the Minister that the help of the Inspectorate will be available to local authorities, but there are limits on the extent of the promised assistance. In particular, seemingly it falls short of advice on the nature and the results of tests to determine the stability of disused tips and what remedial work should be done. Additionally, as I have said, there is no reference at all in Part II to the Inspectorate, so any part or even the whole of the help offered by the Minister from this source could be withdrawn at will. May I echo the hope of the local authorities that appropriate Amendments may, at the proper time, be made to the Bill?

Furthermore on Part II, the powers to be given to local authorities are to be conferred upon county boroughs, London boroughs and county councils. This means the exclusion of non-county boroughs and urban and rural district councils, unless a county council choose to delegate functions to them, for which of course specific provision is made in the Bill. Surely there is no reason why county councils should be thought better able to exercise these powers than non-county boroughs and other district councils. The latter authorities are well accustomed under public health legislation to their responsibilities for dealing with nuisances, to which this Bill seems closely related, and it is almost inevitable that the local town hall will be the first place of inquiry on a matter concerning the safety of a local disused tip. Assuming that all necessary assistance can be obtained from the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate, I suggest that non-county boroughs and other district councils should, together with county boroughs and London boroughs, exercise the powers to the exclusion, if need be, of county councils. May I submit that this will be a more logical distribution of function than that provided in the Bill?

Another Amendment that the Minister might consider in Part II is to empower a local authority to require the owner of a disused tip to carry out tests on that tip to ascertain whether it is stable. Part I of the Bill gives a similar power to the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate, and it is considered that a similar provision should be made in Part II in relation to disused tips, instead of the local authority having to carry out the tests, which is what the Bill now provides.

There are two other points of concern which arise on the Bill as a whole. One really would need to ensure that questions of safety are considered along with questions of amenity when an application is made for planning permission for a new or extended tip of mine or quarry refuse. I understand that in discussions with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government the point has been taken that questions of safety need not primarily concern the local planning authority, because the Bill will make the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate responsible for seeing that safety measures are carried out in relation to active tips, while the local planning authority can, in effect, confine itself to questions of amenity. The local authorities are unhappy at the idea that planning consent could be given for tip operations on a site which is of itself dangerous for such operations, and they feel that safety and planning aspects cannot be separated, that they cannot properly be divorced from each other. It is therefore suggested that an Amendment to require every planning application for a new or extended tip of mine or quarry refuse should be accompanied by a certificate from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Mines and Quarries that the siting will be satisfactory from the safety aspect.

The remaining point of concern is that a mine and quarry operator whose working is done by virtue of statutory powers contained in a local Act could escape liability for damage or injury caused by the collapse of a tip if he could show that the collapse was not due to his own negligence. The Ministry of Power have been asked to include in the Bill a provision similar to that in other legislation which would spell out clearly that the fact that the work was being carried on under a statutory power should not exclude an undertaker from any liability to which he would have been subject at Common Law if he had not possessed such a statutory power. I understand that the Ministry take the view that only the National Coal Board enjoy statutory powers to work mines, other undertakers working by virtue of ownership and therefore not enjoying this statutory protection; and as regards the National Coal Board, they think that a provision in the Board's enabling legislation of 1946 has the effect that the Board could not in any case enjoy this special protection. I am informed, however, that the Association of Municipal Corporations disagree with this interpretation of the law and have asked that an "avoidance of doubt" clause should be inserted into the Bill. I hope that the Ministry may be persuaded to agree to this, and, if so, an appropriate Amendment could of course then be made. It is also suggested that a suitable precedent for the action for which we are asking is to be found in Section 7 of the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act 1930.

I hope that in the Committee stage the Government may see fit to accept these suggestions, after giving sympathetic consideration to the point of view of the local authorities. I am not suggesting that they have not that sympathy, because I gather that they have already expressed some sympathy with the attitude, although up to date they have not said whether they would approve of action to eliminate that anxiety.


My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name down on the list of speakers, but I want only to ask a question, arising out of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. Perhaps I should really address this question to the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, but I understand that it is a convention of this House not to do so to a maiden speaker—and may I quickly say how much I enjoyed his speech? The question is simply this. We have heard a great deal, and rightly so, about plans for making available to local authorities and the like technical information on the matter of tips and their stability. Can the noble Lord say anything about the state of technical knowledge about tips themselves at the present time? Do we know exactly when a tip is unstable? Do we know it more or less scientifically, absolutely? Are we in a state of certainty? What stage has technical knowledge about these structures reached?

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for a few moments for three reasons. The first is to congratulate my noble friend Lord Energlyn on the very thoughtful speech that he made. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, referred to him as a fellow countryman. That is quite true, but I think he has lived in Nottingham long enough to be naturalised. The work my noble friend does at Nottingham University in the field of geology is well known, and I should like to pay my tribute to this work and to the regard in which he is held throughout the County of Nottinghamshire. I think we can say to my noble friend that he has left the land of Twm Shon Catti and now come to live in the land of Robin Hood.

My next reason for rising is to express my apreciation to the Government for introducing this Bill. As we are thinking about it, and listening to the speeches, our minds are filled with memories of Aberfan—a terrible tragedy. Some of us have lived among tips the whole of our lives, although in the part of the country from which I come they are nothing like so dangerous as they are, say, in the valleys of Wales. One of the difficulties that I find, so far as Wales is concerned, is that the carrying on of mining operations over a long period of time contributes to the danger; they have been putting a mountain on a mountain. It may be that that is one of the reasons why the tragedy of Aberfan took place.

There has not been a great deal of major mining legislation in this country, although mining has been, if it is not so much now, one of our major industries. We had the 1911 legislation, when the late Sir Winston Churchill was President of the Board of Trade, and after that, apart from a few regulations, the next piece of major mining legislation which went through both Houses of Parliament was passed as recently as 1954. One of the strange things to me is that in 1911 and in 1954 this danger in getting rid of the waste, and in building these tips, was never foreseen by anybody, and formed no part of major mining legislation. It took an Aberfan to awaken the thoughts of all of us to the danger that some, if not all, of these tips constituted to the mining communities of this country. The Government have lost no time in bringing forward this legislation. I congratulate them on doing so, and I welcome this Bill.

It may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has said, that Amendments can be put forward during the Committee stage. I am not quite so sure. I shall have to think about one point which the noble Lord raised when he mentioned the fact that the material was not put there, on the tips, by the present owners of the land to-day. That, at any rate, is how I understood his proposition. If we look very carefully into mining operations over many generations we see that the landowners who provided the land for the waste matter also did very well out of the levying of coal royalties for many generations. I shall be interested during the Committee stage to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has to say on this particular point.

The other reason I rise is to pay a tribute to the Tribunal which looked into the matter of the disaster at Aberfan. I remember at the time rising in my place and expressing my gratitude and delight that such a person as Lord Justice Edmund Davies had been chosen as Chairman. When one reads the Report, with all its technicalities, all its searchings, its many conclusions, one can only come to the conclusion that that Tribunal under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Edmund Davies did a thorough job. It was a painstaking task. They spared no effort to come to the right conclusions and recommendations, with one purpose in view: to obviate the danger of another Aberfan in the future. I conclude by repeating my appreciation both to the Tribunal themselves and to the Government for implementing their recommendations.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to apologise for not putting down my name on the list of speakers, but I cannot let this opportunity pass without congratulating my old friend Lord Energlyn on a masterpiece of condensation. I know something of the enormous programme of research which he has carried out and I could be tempted to make a speech on this matter lasting at least half-an-hour. We shall look forward to hearing the noble Lord on many other occasions. I want to say something which I never thought I should ever utter, in sympathy with mineral landlords—and I am referring to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. I should hate to have a tip dumped on my land these days. It is not the noble Lord's fault, but the fault of his ancestors. It is rare that a mineral landowner has the right to interfere as to where a tip should or should not be put. We shall need to be very careful on the Committee stage about how we should penalise a landlord who is as guiltless in this case as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, including the three "chalk jockeys" who spoke without having put down their names. It always happens to me, whether I speak for the Ministry of Power or for the Home Office—they seem to be inexorably drawn into the discussion. I am grateful to every noble Lord who has spoken for the warm welcome to the Bill, and I am most grateful to a number of noble Lords for giving a clear indication that we are going to have a most interesting Committee stage. I join with others in congratulating my noble friend Lord Energlyn on a notable maiden speech. He assured me that I was not in for an hour of boredom. Having heard him for seven minutes, I cannot imagine that even an hour would have been boring. He crammed a great deal into his seven minutes, and I know that we all look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.

I will deal with the speeches in the order in which they were made and will try to answer as many of the points as I can. Many were Committee points which will need to be discussed much more fully in Committee in relation to Amendments which are tabled; but as I want to be as helpful as possible, I will try at least to give interim answers to most of the points which have been raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, very properly declared his interest as a local landowner who finds himself saddled with responsibility for tips which he did not create and which, as I understood him, he certainly would prefer to be without. Before we start recriminations and cross-talk in Committee, we ought to bear this in mind and not hark back too much to the past. We should consider the present and the future and at all times have in mind that the paramount objective of this Bill is to remove, as far as humanly possible and for all time, the menace of the possibility of another Aberfan.

The noble Lord asked about a contribution from an adjacent mining company and, as it were, for the definition of "land" in Clause 19, and whether it would include land under the surface. There is no question that it would include such land. The noble Lord also mentioned Clause 9 and the penalty of imprisonment, and suggested that the Bill should be amended to provide that these penalties should be imposed only if life was in danger. We think that the possibility of a penalty of imprisonment is right, for two reasons: first, because the failure of a tip can have catastrophic results in human terms, and secondly because it may be pure chance that a particular offence at a particular time endangers no one. The Bill aims to ensure that tips are properly sited, constructed and maintained to avoid danger to persons. The penalty which we propose and which I think is quite right, much as I deprecate including in any Bill a penalty of three months' imprisonment (I always prefer to have either a fine or not less than six months' imprisonment) is a recognition that the security of a tip and tile safety of persons are inseparable. But it would be quite wrong to assume that prosecutions would be instituted lightly by Her Majesty's Inspectors or that the court would impose the maximum penalty unless the offences were very serious.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that he appreciated that tip owners under Part II would be held responsible, and I think he described it as hard doctrine, but he acknowledged that it was founded on sound law—or at least that it was founded on law. He raised two important points which I should like to deal with at a little length. The first was that if a local authority find a tip is unsafe there are two courses open to them. Under Clause 14 they can require the owner to put matters right and he must pay the whole cost, and by Clause 17 the local authority themselves can do the work and claim grant, and the Minister making the grant can limit the amount falling on the owner in such cases. The noble Lord pointed out that there was a disparity in this matter. Certainly the point which he put forward has some attractions, but the Bill is based on the principle that owners have a moral obligation to keep tips in a stable condition and to avoid creating a danger to the public.

The Bill also takes into account an owner's potential liability at Common Law, which exists now if damage or injury is caused by a failure of a tip. It is not the Government's intention to give any owner the impression that he can look to Exchequer grants as of right to relieve him of his obligation. A wealthy owner or large corporation which is capable of carrying out remedial operations is unlikely to need financial help. It seems unlikely that somebody with no resources would want to undertake or could undertake, operations of any size and in such cases the local authority would almost certainly have to act under Clause 14. But the proposed grant is not directed at people or corporations of substance;it is intended to assist a local authority who find themselves left with expenses which they cannot recover.

If the owner is a light-weight financially and responsibility for the danger is unlikely to be attached to a contributory, it is to be expected that the local authority would decide to carry out the work under Clause 17. There is nothing to stop the local authority from making an arrangement with the owner to do any work of which he is capable as the authority's agent. We feel that, from an administrative aspect, the payment of grants direct to owners would be undesirable, because the Ministers responsible for the grants under Clause 25 are experienced in paying grants to local authorities. All the machinery exists for the payment of such grants, and the audit of local authority accounts is by no means the least important element in ensuring that Exchequer monies are properly used.

It should be remembered—and I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has taken full account of this—that there is always a possibility of a contribution order being sought under subsection (4) of Clause 19, on the grounds that some part of the cost should fall on a person or body other than the present owner. The local authority are best placed to know whether any potential contributories exist (if they take action under Clause 17 they can apply to the court themselves for a contribution order) and the Ministers could hardly be expected to have the necessary local knowledge. Lastly, it is thought right that there should normally be some element of local financial responsibility for remedying local problems—in so far as the cost cannot be recovered from the owner—and it is therefore essential to pay any grant to the local authority, basing it on net residual expenditure.

The whole of this really rests on fair play. It must be based on fair play. It would be quite wrong, for example, if work was going to cost £30,000 and the owner was possessed of, say, £30,000 or £40,000, that he should be bankrupted or made penniless in this way, because it was known he possessed that sum as his entire wealth. A scheme of any size is bound to be considered and discussed between the Minister, the owner and the local authority. That will be the opportunity for the Minister to assess the merits of an Exchequer subvention and if it seems to the Minister that the owner, although not a man without financial resources, should not be expected to bear the whole cost, it will be open to the Minister to persuade the local authority to take formal responsibility for the remedial work, perhaps with the owner as agent, and to enable a grant to be paid. I think, therefore, that on that point there is less to be feared than perhaps the noble Lord imagined from the precise words of the Bill.

The other point of substance which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised was where planning permission had been refused, perhaps for amenity reasons. I think the noble Lord mentioned washing small coal out of a tip, which would have given a financial return. He referred to the owner being left with his responsibility for keeping the tip secure and said that a claim might be made against him in future years, although if permission were given now the job could be started. My noble friend Lord Energlyn mentioned that the best way of making these tips secure was to do away with them, with which we agree. That was partly in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said. That is quite an attractive suggestion, and it is only sensible that all concerned should act reasonably. It is always open to the owner of a tip to make the most of his case when he applies for planning permission, and of course he can appeal to the appropriate Minister if the planning authority refuses permission. There can be a public inquiry under an inspector, the application can go to the Minister and every factor in it can then be brought to bear. The Minister will be able, if he thinks fit, to call for the relevant planning application and to deal with the whole question at once and decide the issue in the light of all the circumstances.

I do not know, but the noble Lord may have been referring to a particular case where an application for what seemed a promising project was refused, and where there is now a continuing liability on the owner. That may well be the case. But, in general, the way in which it is suggested that future cases of this kind should be dealt with under the Bill is that the whole gamut should be gone through, if agreement cannot be made initially with the local authority, and that the matter should be thoroughly explored bringing the Minister fully into it.

The noble Lord also raised the question of an appeal against notices under Clause 17, as there is under Clause 14. Of course, there is already an appeal under Clause 17 against the extent and cost of works done when a local authority seeks to recover its costs under Clause 23. But there is no appeal at the stage when notice is first served under Clause 17, and that is for two reasons. The first reason is that local authorities will normally prefer to proceed under Clause 14 where the owner is in a position to do the work; and the second is that they will use their own powers only when urgent action is needed, when the owner is unable or unwilling to do the work, or where the question of a grant is involved. I think I have covered the questions which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has asked, but no doubt we shall be discussing at least some of these points again in Committee if the noble Lord tables Amendments.

I come to the speech of my noble friend Lord Energlyn, who said that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, could become a source of irritation and frustration if not handled wisely. I should have thought that any Act could become a source of irritation and frustration if it was not handled wisely. But if ever a Bill was well conceived, and conceived in the right spirit, this one surely is. In the case of the mining and quarrying industries, where the Bill will bite hardest and where the main dangers arise, there is, as my noble friend must be aware, a long-established and happy working relationship between the industries and Her Majesty's Inspectors. The industries are very conscious of their responsibilities since the tragedy of Aberfan, and they will certainly willingly co-operate.

I should tell my noble friend that local authorities will in due course receive guidance from the appropriate Ministers on the exercise of the new powers conferred by the Bill, and my right honourable friends will certainly emphasise the desirability of co-operation between all the parties. I think it will be agreed that the Bill effects a nice balance between the interests of all; and, of course, a local authority's demands must be reasonable if it is to get the work done, or if it is to recover the costs which it has itself incurred. So I hope we shall find that good will is built into the Bill.

I think the most important part of my noble friend's speech, and the most hopeful and promising part, was when he referred to what I think he called, "a right and proper attitude to waste products". I understand—and I think he confirmed this—that considerable research has been done on the use of this waste by the National Coal Board, in conjunction with the Road Research Laboratory. The research has mainly been on the use of colliery waste in road-making. Some work has been done in developing its use as a lightweight aggregate and also as a material for brickmaking, although there are still technical problems to be overcome in respect of bricks. But, unfortunately, scope for using tip material as aggregate is small in relation to the total tonnage available. I can only hope that what my noble friend suggested—that mines, quarries and tips will form a mineral factory from which no waste will emerge—will from now on be realised. I can assure him that any advice or suggestions to this end which he can give to my right honourable friend will be gladly received and carefully considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, asked me a number of questions. I do not know whether I can answer all of them, because he indicated that he would probably be tabling Amendments, but perhaps I can answer one or two. He raised the point that statutory undertakers might be able to evade liability for damage caused by the instability of a disused tip by pleading their statutory powers as a defence. This point, as I have no doubt the noble Lord is aware, was raised in another place, and we have re-checked the position since it was so raised. My information is that the only body which needs to construct tips to which the Bill applies in the exercise of statutory powers is the National Coal Board. The Coal Industry Nationalisa- tion Act, Section 49(4), states that the duties and functions laid on the Board are not to be construed as authorising disregard of any enactment or any act or omission unlawful on any other ground". We have had legal advice that this provision would prevent the Board's pleading their statutory powers as a defence. Before the Committee stage I will look at the noble Lord's suggestion about the "avoidance of doubt" provision in the Reservoirs Act and will write co him. That will still leave him the opportunity to put down an Amendment on the point if he so wishes.

Then the noble Lord said a good deal about the powers of local authorities. The Bill provides that the powers shall reside with the county councils but that they shall be able to delegate those powers under the Act. My Lords, it is possible to think in terms of the powers being restricted to the county council level or to the county district council level, or of giving powers to both; but to give overlapping powers to two tiers in the local authority structure seems the worst of all worlds. The function of two authorities can only too easily become the function of neither; and restricting the powers to authorities at county council level would, I think, ensure that they are exercised by an authority large and powerful enough to have the technical staff. And this is the important thing: this is the paint the noble Lord raised. He expressed doubt whether the technical staffs would be available to all local authorities. Clearly the lower the level at which one makes those powers directly available, then the greater the doubts whether the requisite staff will be available. Therefore, I think that what we have now is the right way to do it.

The noble Lord also asked whether a planning application to tip should be accompanied by a certificate from the mines inspector that the site is safe. The Town and Country Planning Acts are concerned with the right use of land, and not with safety. It is true that an application for planning permission for a factory needs to be accompanied by an industrial development certificate, but that, as the noble Lord is aware, is concerned with location and not with safety. The safety of a factory is looked after by the Factories Act and the factory inspector. The Bill looks after safety. Regulations under Clause 1(2) will ensure that no tipping starts on land which is inherently unsafe; and the thirty days' notice of intention to start tipping under Clause 4 will put the inspector on warning. We think it is best to keep safety and planning control separate, but the local authority associations have been told that the advice of the Inspectorate on tips will be available to them and to all local authorities. My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, particularly as there is further important business to come, if I leave his remaining questions to our Committee stage.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, asked me about the state of technical knowledge about the safety of tips at present, and asked how we can be sure that a tip is safe. They may not be his exact words, but that is, I think, the sense of what he said. My Lords, we know the factors that can lead to instability, and the means of identifying them are also known to us. The application of this knowledge, of course, is through training and advice of those responsible for tip management; and it is in this field that the Tips Advisory Committee has so much to offer. The direct answer to the noble Earl's question therefore is that it is through knowledge and expertise. We are satisfied that in total we have the knowledge; that the Tips Advisory Committee will ensure that present knowledge, as well as future knowledge and experience, is properly considered, absorbed and disseminated, and that this Bill when it becomes an Act will provide the necessary powers and the means to implement them.

My Lords, I am most grateful for your Lordships' contributions. I have done my best to answer as many questions as possible, but I hope to do better during the Committee stage when dealing with your Lordships' Amendments.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.