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Coal Tips: Safety

Volume 703: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2021

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the safety of coal tips in Wales. (904161)

Last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and the First Minister of Wales co-chaired the coal tip safety summit, to receive an update from the joint taskforce. The taskforce has co-ordinated work to identify and categorise tips in Wales and has undertaken inspections of all the highest-risk tips, providing reassurance to the communities that live nearby.

Just a few weeks ago, my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asked the Prime Minister for support for coal tip repairs throughout our local authority area; in response, the Prime Minister said:

“This is something that I do want to try to fix”—[Official Report, 3 November 2021; Vol. 702, c. 923.]

and promised to talk to the Welsh Government. Will the Minister provide an update on those conversations? Is the plan for support being put in place, or is it just more empty words?

I am not yet responsible for the Prime Minister’s diary, but I know that he welcomes engagement with the First Minister at every opportunity. With respect to the hon. Lady, coal tip safety is a devolved issue and the Welsh Labour Government do not seem to welcome our involvement in devolved issues. Of course, we have provided the Welsh Government with £2.5 billion of extra funding, so they have the powers and the money to deal with the issue. We urge them to get on and deal with it.

Wales’s dangerous coal tips loom over our industrial communities like spectres from our industrial past and remind us of how our natural resources were exploited, mostly for the benefit of others. Climate change is set to compound the risk posed by coal tips, and we expect rainfall to increase by around 6% over the next 30 years. This month, the COP26 President said it was vital

“that we help at risk communities adapt to the impact of”

climate change. How is the Minister’s refusal to settle the £600 million bill consistent with that statement?

Included in the £2.5 billion of extra funding that will be given to the Welsh Government this year is an allocation of money precisely to deal with the sort of problems to which the right hon. Lady refers. She has often said that the UK Government should not get involved in devolved issues; this is a devolved issue, but we have provided the money for the Welsh Government to deal with it. If there are dangerous coal tips, the Welsh Government have the money and must get on and solve the problem.[Official Report, 22 November 2021, Vol. 704, c. 2MC.]

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, it is an inherited issue. Our industrial communities still bear the scars of the scorched-earth policy inflicted by Prime Minister Thatcher. The green transition must be different.

Last week, the Crown Estate revealed that it is planning to build new wind farms off the coast of Wales. The profits will disappear into Treasury coffers rather than going to the people and businesses of Wales. Will the Minister support my private Member’s Bill, which would ensure that all Crown Estate profits made in Wales are invested in Wales?

In one breath, the right hon. Lady criticises Margaret Thatcher for closing down coalmines; in the next breath, she says that we must not have coalmines because they are bad for climate change. She will forgive me if I feel there is a certain inconsistency there, but I will look with interest at whatever Bill she has introduced.