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Ffos-y-Fran Opencast Coal Mine

Volume 791: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2018


Asked by

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, I do not think that I can take the noble Baroness any further. This is a devolved matter. It is a matter for the Welsh Government, who have responded to the special rapporteur’s report.

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, is my noble friend not absolutely and completely right on this issue? If matters are devolved, they are devolved, otherwise there is no point in having devolution at all, is there?

My Lords, up to 60,000 people die in this country every year from air pollution. I fail to see how the British Government do not have a responsibility for lowering air pollution in every part of the union.

If the noble Baroness wants to put a Question down on that subject, she is perfectly entitled to do so. That is not what this Question is about. I will respond to that Question if the noble Baroness puts it down.

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.

My Lords, I am not going to think again. The 2006 Act is perfectly clear, as are the other Acts offering further powers to the Welsh Government. This is a matter for the Welsh Government, and they have responded.

My Lords, were the Minister a protestor, who would he aim his protest at? Would it be the local authority or the Welsh Government?

As I said, the Welsh Government have responded to this report. Obviously the original planning application was dealt with by the Merthyr Tydfil local authority.