HL Deb 23 May 1989 vol 508 cc153-5

3.1 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to clean beaches affected by the tipping of coal waste.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, since 1979 we have approved a total of £2.5 million in derelict land grant in connection with the reclamation of dereliction associated with the tipping of colliery spoil on the beaches of the Durham coast. We remain committed to grant-aiding eligible schemes for the clearance of derelictions once tipping has ceased.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, amid all the current talk about the pollution of beaches, very little—indeed nothing—is being done to deal with what is the virtual destruction of beaches, not least, as he says, in the North East of England? I am very surprised that that amount comes under the derelict land grant, which is normally a separate source for this purpose. As the production of coal is a national requirement, do the Government feel any responsibility for the loss of such a valuable amenity in certain parts of the country, as I say, not least in the North East of England?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, before answering I think it right and an opportune moment to pay tribute to the noble Lord for his continued concern over this matter both in another place and in this Chamber. Many people are grateful for the interest that he has shown. With regard to his first point, of course quite a lot is happening. As he will be aware, when the licence was renewed by MAFF last year it was on condition that British Coal report on alternative disposal options. These are now being considered by my department and my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. With regard to the noble Lord's second point, we believe that the polluter should pay and in this case that is not the taxpayer but British Coal.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there are any other parts of our coast which are affected by this form of waste? Has any action been taken to warn the different regions of British Coal which may be doing the polluting that they ought to stop or that they will be fined if they do not stop?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as I understand it, the only active tipping at the moment—and I stand to be corrected—is in the North-East, but of course we are concerned about any pollution, whether on our beaches or elsewhere.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of sandy beaches on the North-East coast are being spoilt by this form of pollution? Will he be more specific and explain to the House the action that Her Majesty's Government have taken, alone or with the European Economic Community, against British Coal to stop them polluting the beaches? Prevention is far better than cure.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, perhaps I may refer to my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, about the licence that was issued by my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last year and the condition regarding British Coal reporting. We are considering the situation. There are alternatives but each one has difficulties, either from the environmental or the employment point of view. Of course this is not unique in respect of the environment because there are always other considerations.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister rightly paid tribute to my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington for his long concern over this matter. However, will he acknowledge that such long concern is necessary because the Government talk but do not take any action? Will he now give a timetable for this consultation process and the enforcement of the licence to which he has referred?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I disagree totally with the noble Lord's statement that the Government have not taken any action. Of course, the cry is always that the Government must do everything. However, the operator is British Coal. It has taken action. There has been quite a substantial reduction of tipping on the beaches and I hope that we shall be able to make an announcement on our consultations very soon.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, the Minister is surely aware—is he not?—that when the principle of the polluter pays is answered by the National Coal Board, its action will literally put thousands of miners' jobs at risk. I appreciate the rather kind remarks the Minister made about my efforts but notwithstanding the money that is being spent and despite the fact that we have now had 17 Ministers from various government departments visiting them, is he not aware that the beaches are as black as ever?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord highlights the dilemma of this particular problem with the environment. There are other options. In fact, the Humberside County Council is investigating whether, as an alternative, the mined stone could be used to prevent erosion of the Holderness coast. However, that requires a great deal of testing work to be carried out. But as the noble Lord reminded the House, whatever option one looks at one finds serious problems there too.

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