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Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, I oppose this amendment. Naturally, the local authorities do not wish to be placed in a subservient position to the agency. I note that there is no suggestion that local authorities might be able to suggest that the agency was acting in default and that the Secretary of State should take over. It is merely local authorities which are viewed with suspicion.

The amendment is also unnecessary in the sense that it is the agency and not local government which has the responsibility for taking action as regards pollution from contaminated land to controlled waters. Moreover, local

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government has a good record in managing and remediating contaminated land. In the current year, for example, nearly £12 million has been made available by the Department of the Environment for supplementary credit approvals for contaminated land. Councils have bid in excess of £37 million, so it is clear that they are active in the area at present. There is no suggestion that they are lagging or not doing the appropriate things.

Moreover, the amendment threatens the integrated strategic approach to contaminated land which is laid down in the Bill. If contaminated land is to be dealt with in a strategic fashion, it is essential that there should be a partnership between local authorities and the agency. The local authorities should not have constantly to look over their shoulders and wonder whether they are going to be reported to the Secretary of State for not having carried out appropriate functions. It is essential that they work together as equal partners.

The understanding in the Bill is that contaminated land is essentially a local problem which requires local identification and management, but according to guidance issued by the agency. Such a partnership cannot survive or prosper if either of the partners believes that the other one cannot be trusted and must be placed in a subservient position in relation to them.

The agency is the best organisation to work with local government in determining appropriate standards and cannot, of course, be in a position to undertake the work itself. If the agency attempts to intervene over particular cases or sites by suggesting that the matter is not appropriate for local government, that will undermine the whole strategy which the authorities have carefully developed to cover their entire areas. For that reason alone, the amendment is misguided.

10 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, Amendment No. 166, which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, would enable the Secretary of State to declare a local authority to be in default for failing in any respect to discharge a function, to direct that local authority to carry out a function and, if it fails to comply with such a direction, to transfer the relevant functions to himself and recover his expenses in carrying out that function from the local authority.

My noble friend tabled an amendment in Committee with a similar intent, but which would have allowed a transfer of functions to the agency as opposed to the Secretary of State. The current amendment is, on that basis, better than the earlier version. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is still unnecessary, and undesirable.

There is no evidence that local authorities will fail significantly to exercise their functions under the powers. In any case, there is an argument that if they do fail, this should properly be a matter for local political judgments and remedies. The national report on the state of contaminated land which the agency will produce will also potentially reveal where any individual local authorities are doing little to exercise their function. To that extent, it would serve as a shaming mechanism.

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It also gives the Secretary of State the power to make an order transferring any local authority's functions to himself and to recover his costs incurred in carrying out the function from the relevant authority. I do not consider it appropriate to transfer the functions of an elected local authority directly to central Government in that way. Therefore, I cannot approve the amendment and I ask my noble friend to withdraw it.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I suppose that in some ways we should welcome the Government's new-found concern for the independence and freedom of local government. If that is the case, I wonder why it was as recently as 1993 that default provisions were introduced into the Clean Air Act and why they exist in Part III of the Environmental Protection Act. However, having made my point and in the hope that my noble friend is right and that local authorities will always perform their functions splendidly, I do not intend to press the amendment tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 167 not moved.]

Clause 55 [Abandoned mines: England and Wales]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendments Nos. 167A and 167B:

Page 60, line 46, leave out from ("that") to end of line 5 on page 61 and insert ("any land will, in consequence of the abandonment, become contaminated land, within the meaning of Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990,").
Page 61, leave out lines 9 and 10.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, my noble friend spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 128C. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 56 [Abandoned mines: Scotland]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendments Nos. 167C and 167D:

Page 63, line 15, leave out from ("that") to end of line 22 and insert ("any land will, in consequence of the abandonment, become contaminated land, within the meaning of Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990,").
Page 63, leave out lines 26 and 27.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, my noble friend spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 128C. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 57 [Amendments to sections 89 and 161 of the Water Resources Act 1991]:

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon moved Amendment No. 168:

Page 63, line 38, after ("apply") insert ("to the Coal Authority or").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we discussed at length earlier the problems of the pollution of water due to mines in general. This group of amendments seeks to address specifically the problems of water pollution from coal mines. It seeks to place the responsibility for dealing with it quite specifically on the Coal Authority.

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When I moved these amendments in Committee, I did so with the aim of seeking an effective and lasting solution to this particular problem. This subject was addressed last year during the passage of the Coal Industry Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made various statements to the effect that such mine water pollution would be the responsibility of the Coal Authority. He said:

    "We do, of course, understand the concerns about the threat of pollution related to mine closures and the related concerns about the legal framework applicable to abandoned mines".—[Official Report, 26/4/94; col. 539.]

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, stated last year that the Coal Authority will become the owner of all abandoned mines and will take on the responsibilities that go with the ownership of that property.

These amendments seek to place that responsibility on a statutory footing, and to bring the Coal Authority in line with other industrial sectors with regard to trade effluence.

The Minister responded to these amendments in Committee and said that all would be resolved. He said:

    "The Government will expect [the Coal Authority] to go beyond the minimum standards of environmental responsibility which are set by its legal duties".—[Official Report, 26/4/94; col. 541.]

I hope that the Minister will clarify what those specific legal duties are, and in what way the Coal Authority will go beyond the minimum standards of environmental responsibility.

If it means, however, that the Coal Authority will be expected to do no more than was done by British Coal, then we can be certain that the pollution problem will worsen. The situation that exists today is clear enough testimony to the failure of British Coal in that role over the past 50 years since nationalisation. We know that there are already 150 miles of polluted rivers and streams in England and Wales, and a further 100 miles in Scotland.

The intention of the amendments is to give the Coal Authority the legislative tools that it needs. It does have sufficient finances, one would imagine, because the Government tell us that £1 billion was raised from the sale of the coal industry, and that a further £5 billion is expected from the sale of British Coal's substantial land and property portfolio. Therefore, the money is available to support the statutory duty which these amendments seek to impose on the Coal Authority.

In those circumstances, what are the statutory duties of the Coal Authority with regard to the coalfield environment? In what ways, specifically, do the Government expect the Coal Authority to go beyond its statutory environmental duties? What funding does the Coal Authority receive to deal with minewater pollution?

Finally, in view of the large sums of money that the Coal Authority will receive from the sale of its various assets and land, is it intended that some of those financial resources shall be devoted to dealing with the problem of minewater pollution? I beg to move.

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