To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes in relation to the Ffos-y-Fran opencast coalmine.
My Lords, environmental and planning issues are devolved matters. Responsibility for the setting of planning restrictions and the monitoring of their impact in relation to this site, which is located in south Wales, therefore falls to the Welsh Assembly Government and the local authority.
My Lords, Ffos-y-Fran near Merthyr Tydfil is the largest opencast coal mine in the UK and residents have led a long campaign against the effects of air pollution on their community. On his official visit last year, the UN special rapporteur accepted that this is a devolved matter but called on the UK Government to accept ultimate responsibility for it. He also called for an independent investigation into its potential health impacts. Will the Government accede to both those calls?
My Lords, under the Government of Wales Act 2006, responsibility for planning and environmental protection, including nuisance and hazardous substances, was devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government. If there is a breach of someone’s human rights, that will obviously be affected by that responsibility and will be a matter for the Welsh Government. As such, Her Majesty’s Government have no powers to intervene.
My Lords, over 50 years since the Aberfan disaster, the environmental problems associated with the coal industry continue to haunt the people of Wales. In the report that my noble friend mentioned, the rapporteur referred to,
“various layers of government shifting responsibility”.
He also said:
“Ultimately it falls to the UK central government”.
I fully understand and value the importance of devolution but the issue of air quality and overall environmental standards ultimately lies with the UK Government, so what discussions and meetings have been held between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, and at what level?
My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House how the UK Government fulfil their obligations to the United Nations if they cease to have any obligation for matters that have been devolved? Surely the responsibility of the British Government in the UN is to fulfil obligations they enter into. How are they going to do so?
My Lords, the UK Government have responded to this report. The Question relates to one part of the report relating to the Ffos-y-Fran opencast coal mine. As I have made clear, that is a devolved matter and a matter for the Welsh Government, and the Welsh Government have responded to the UN rapporteur’s report.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that I am a great enthusiast for devolution. However, can I point out that he is not correct in what he said? My understanding, as a long-time supporter and student of devolution, is that the UK Government would not normally intervene. That word “normally” is in the legislation. Perhaps the Minister could think again.