Labour MP emotional in Commons as she recalls Aberfan disaster

A Labour MP became emotional during a speech in the Commons as she recalled the Aberfan disaster and urged the UK Government to make all Welsh coal tips safe.

In 1966, a spoil-heap landslide crushed Pantglas Primary School in the coal-mining village of Aberfan near Merthyr Tydfil, killing 144 including 116 children.

Coal tip safety in Wales is a devolved issue, but Dame Nia Griffiths argued that Westminster should be responsible because coal mining is a pre-devolution legacy.

Rescue workers forming a chain to move debris to reach the children trapped in Pantglas Junior School
Rescue workers forming a chain to move debris to reach the children trapped in Pantglas Junior School (PA)

“And I will never forget the images on our black and white telly of those fathers desperately trying to pick out their children.”

After tearing up, the Llanelli MP added: “Following on from there, we saw the gradual remediation antics, things began to look better, to look greener.

“But now with increased frequency of more violent weather events, it’s clear that the job is not done.

“And as we saw all too vividly in the Rhondda a couple of years ago, there is still a lot more work to be done to make sure that tips are safe, this is a legacy from pre-devolution times.

“Those slag heaps were produced as a result of the coal that was mined to fuel the factories that filled the coffers of the UK Treasury, and the UK Government has a responsibility to ensure that every tip in Wales is made safe.

Dame Nia Griffith is the Labour MP for Llanelli
Dame Nia Griffith is the Labour MP for Llanelli (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament/PA)

“So it was very disappointing that there was no mention of any funding in the spring Budget, and I would ask the minister to take this message back to the Chancellor.”

During a debate on mining, Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) said the Welsh Government should not be financially responsible for a “pre-devolution issue” of coal tip safety, when other legacies of the coal industry were the responsibility of the UK Government.

“Now because of the landscape of the Welsh Valleys, our communities are more at risk than any other part of the UK and the prospect of any repeat of the terrible tragedy like Aberfan would be truly unthinkable.

“Now as a result, the burden of making coal tip safe has fallen disproportionately onto the Welsh Government and local authorities in Wales. This cannot be fair,” she said.

In February 2020, the impact of climate change saw increased winter storms with extreme rainfall, contributing to a landslip at a disused coal tip in Tylorstown, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

In response to the Tylorstown landslide, the Welsh and UK Governments set up a joint Coal Tip Safety Taskforce. This was set up to assess the immediate status of disused coal tips in Wales.

Communities minister Lee Rowley said: “I think CISWO (coal mining charity) at times do not discharge what we all would hope them to do, and I will certainly pass that back to my colleagues in the department which is relevant for that.”

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