HC Deb 28 June 1994 vol 245 cc688-708

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 12, line 46, leave out from first ("that") to end of line 47 and insert—

  1. ("(i) that person consented to the provisions of the Scheme so far as they relate to him;
  2. (ii) no persons to whom obligations are owed, whether in respect of contamination or other liabilities arising out of the occupation of any property used in connection with coal-mining operations by the Corporation or its predecessors, is likely to sustain loss as a consequence of the Scheme.")

3.50 pm
Mr. Stewart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (b), at the end to add '(iii) any such liabilities, including environmental liabilities, arise in relation to coal mines and abandoned coal mines, in which case those liabilities shall be transferred to the Authority on the restructuring date.'.

Madam Speaker

With this, we may consider the Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 1: in page 13, line 7, at end insert— '(5A) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, in exercising his powers under this section to make a restructuring scheme in accordance with which any person other than—

  1. (a) a person mentioned in subsection (4)(a) to (d) above, or
  2. (b) a body of whom all the members are appointed by a Minister of the Crown,
is to become subject to any liabilities, to have regard to the fact that it would not be appropriate for the scheme to provide for the transfer of any of those liabilities to any person except where it is reasonable to believe that that person is a person who will be able to finance their discharge.'.

Mr. Bell

Opposition amendment (b) to the Lords amendment simply seeks to square assurances given by Ministers many times, but not yet acted on. It seeks a full transfer of liabilities from British Coal to the Coal Authority on the restructuring date.

We are all aware that coal mining is not like any other business. We are all aware that it leaves behind long-term liabilities; we are all aware of its tremendous impact on the physical environment—subsidence, polluted water and contaminated land—and know that those effects can persist for decades.

We are also aware that, in the past, British Coal has taken action to control, prevent or even remedy that legacy; but what will happen when British Coal ceases to exist? Where will the responsibility lie? Will not the coalfield communities that will exist long after the pits have gone suffer unduly unless the liabilities are dealt with by another responsible body, such as the Coal Authority referred to in the Bill?

The amendment seeks, in a limited but important way, to ensure that communities are fully protected from circumstances in which environmental damage is allowed to continue because the legally responsible party is unable to pay for the necessary remedial work.

We all know of the work that has been done up and down the country—especially in County Durham—to rid the county of dereliction from its coal-mining and industrial past. It could be said—as Durham county council says—that that has been an outstanding achievement by a partnership between central and local government going back 25 years.

As a consequence of that partnership, residents and businesses have been able to pick themselves up and involve themselves in new types of investment—sometimes in overseas investment. Our amendment will ensure that the upward curve of investment and improved environment in the coal communities will continue, by providing for environmental liabilities to be transferred to the Coal Authority.

What we seek would be in line with the Minister's own commitment in a letter to the leader of Durham county council, dated 8 November 1993, to establishing a long-term framework to deal with water pollution from coal mines in the context of coal privatisation. The amendment would clarify that framework in respect of pollution related to abandoned mines of all kinds.

We know—this relates to the Government's amendment—that none of the transfer schemes will work in Durham, because there is no deep mining left there. There will be no private buyers to take on themselves the obligations laid down in that amendment. Who, then, will be responsible? Will it be the county council, the National Rivers Authority, some other Government Department or the appropriate river purification board? Will there be another review? The Department of Trade and Industry moves the problem from one pair of hands to another, not even stopping to wash them, as did Pontius Pilate.

I am aware of the statements made in the other place by Lord Strathclyde on 26 April this year, when he sought to assuage the anxieties of his colleagues. He recognised the concerns that arose about the threat of water pollution from coal mines and about the effects of privatisation. I doubt whether he reassured many of his noble Friends. There is no legislative commitment to meet the residual liability for British Coal's past actions. There is no legal obligation upon British Coal to continue to pump and there will be no private buyers.

He recognised that continued pumping is required to prevent a serious pollution incident; or at all events, to give an assurance that such an incident can be avoided. He was certain that there must be a commitment to maintain pumping for as long as it was needed in order to prevent the risk of serious pollution. Again, we have no legislative commitment. Those who sat on the Committee considering the Bill asked for such commitments repeatedly, but we were never given them.

According to Lord Strathclyde, we were soon into the area of spending—limited resources, Exchequer restraints and the hand of the Treasury over-arching across the Bill, as it does so many other measures.

We have all read the speech made in Spain by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It seems that, if we want to know what the Government are thinking, we must look at speeches made as far away from these shores as possible. That is what the Chief Secretary did. He told the Spaniards that markets should be controlling Governments.

Here at home, there will be no resources, or at least only limited resources, to decide whether pumping continues in County Durham and elsewhere. The noble Lord Strathclyde said: noble lords on all sides will recognise that its resources will be necessarily limited. He wanted to assure the other place that the Coal Authority would in due course have a specific budget earmarked for these purposes".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 April 1994; Vol. 554, c. 541–42.] We have a liability that pumping will continue, contingent upon there being resources. Again, we have no legislative commitment, we have nothing in writing, nothing in the Bill and nothing on the statute book.

I know that the noble Lord Strathclyde is not in the second-hand car business. However, I have read how one of the candidates for the deputy leadership of the Labour party buys himself a new car every 18 months and drives 40,000 miles in a few weeks. I am sure that he would not buy such a car from the noble Lord Strathclyde.

If we would not buy a car from him, why should we believe anything that he or the Government say when it is not written down on the statute book? Why should those who may have to live with the consequences of water pollution believe them? Why should the people of Durham believe them? Why should the people of other coalfield communities where there are no longer deep mines believe them?

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

If anybody doubts my hon. Friend's description about what is going to happen in Durham, I invite them to visit my constituency to see the filth that is pouring out of abandoned mines now. Pumping has already ceased in that area. Ferrous oxides are staining the rivers and killing all the life. Incidentally, those rivers have been cleaned up through the heroic efforts of local authorities.

Mr. Bell

The Government's amendment misses the point completely, and would not deal with the situation described by my hon. Friend and others. Their amendment is based on the premise that there will be a licence, and that there will be a Coal Authority. It does not take into account what happens when there is no longer extraction and the deep mines no longer exist. When the Coal Authority is gone, everything is gone.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Has my hon. Friend considered the fact that there has always been concern about the safety and pollution of beaches? When there are no pits left in coalfields such as south Wales, Durham, Derbyshire, and so on, there will be a problem of river pollution that could be 10 times worse than the problem with the beaches. The National Rivers Authority found nothing in the River Doe Lea, because it never looked for anything until the Coalite business occurred and there was dioxin contamination.

It is conceivable that the rivers will be heavily polluted, particularly when the mines are closed. Nobody is responsible for them. The NRA will go only if there is a serious complaint, as was the case with Coalite. Unless something is put into the Bill, we will face a problem with all the rivers and streams in coalfield areas such as that which arose with the beaches before the European directive.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose vast knowledge of the coal industry goes back many years, and whose interventions in the House have helped the Opposition but have irritated Conservative Members.

Mr. John Cummings (Easington)

I represent the former coal-mining area of Durham, whose beaches have gradually become despoiled in the past 50 years and are now perhaps the worst in the United Kingdom. The pit at Londonderry and the Joicey Coal Company are no longer with us. The National Coal Board became British Coal, which will have gone by the end of the year and will be replaced by some nondescript shapeless body called the Coal Authority, which will be devoid of form and financial substance when it carries out its works.

Despoiled water is percolating into the grounds of Auckland castle, the palace of the Bishop of Durham. The problem has been increasing over a number of years. No one appears to want to take responsibility for dealing with it. I agree that the Minister is an honourable gentlemen, but I doubt whether he will still be in his job to honour assurances that were given in Committee. We want our proposals to be included in an Act of Parliament to give us some protection.

4 pm

Mr. Bell

I testify to the despoliation of the beaches near Horden colliery in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings). As a child, I spent my holidays walking along those beaches; seeing coal on the beach is not a sight that I will forget.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) links with that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington. In the past few years, the Government and local government have tried to rectify the environmental damage. In the House, in Committee or in the other place, we have heard bland statements that somehow, someone, somewhere will deal with pollution. When one reads the fine print of the Bill, one does not find a definitive promise, commitment or assurance that someone, somewhere will be specifically liable to continue the work of cleaning up the environment.

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)

The problem exists not only in coalfields in England and Wales but in Scotland. We are still tackling problems that arose before nationalisation. I want to add my weight to the appeal to the Government to include concrete provisions in the Bill. They should not do a Pontius Pilate. I know that the Minister is not listening. I hope that my hon. Friend will insist that Scotland is covered and that the amendment will be written in tablets of stone rather than left to the discretion of some unknown person.

Mr. Bell

We are trying, if not to get commitments in tablets of stone, then to get them on the statute book, but vague promises and statements have been made on the subject. In his wind-up speech, the noble Lord Strathclyde said in the other place: Civil liabilities of the corporation will stay with the corporation on the restructuring date. When the corporation is ultimately wound up, those liabilities will be transferred elsewhere in the public sector before British Coal is dissolved. British Coal cannot be left with liabilities when it is wound up. We must find a home for those liabilities and we shall do so under the restructuring scheme. That will not be done under the Bill, The Government have not given commitments to the House, to the other place or to coalfield communities, which are looking to hon. Members to ensure that such commitments are written, if not in tablets of stone, then in the Bill.

Lord Strathclyde continued: By becoming the freehold owner of coal and coal mines, the authority will automatically acquire the responsibilities, including environmental liabilities, running with that ownership, which it will pass on to mine operators under the terms of the lease in respect of areas which it licenses for coal mining."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 1994; Vol. 556, c. 208.] That misses completely the point about the deep mines that no longer exist, and from which coal is no longer extracted, but where mine water still needs to be pumped.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

In Blyth Valley, as in all the other constituencies, we have a problem. Unfortunately, that problem is not so much water but gas. When Bates colliery—our last pit—was closed, we found underground workings filled with water, which pushed out the gas. We had to drill and put shafts in to relieve the air pressure, because people were being gassed.

We had a bit of a job to persuade British Coal to take responsibility for that at the time, although eventually it did. But what will happen in the future we do not know. There is nothing in the Bill. If those workings are not maintained and fall into disrepair, gas will escape and gas everybody in Cramlington and Blyth Valley.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. He will remember that we first met at Bates colliery one Saturday morning in 1978; I cannot remember the time or the exact date. He has made a good point about the uncertainty. The Bill engenders uncertainty among coalfield communities and people who wish to protect the environment, and uncertainty for individuals. Lord Strathclyde missed the point completely, because, where the deep mines are no longer extracting coal, there is no successor authority to British Coal. That is the problem that faces the House, and the Opposition are trying to define it clearly.

It all boils down to nothing more than guidelines. We have Government assurances, and they mention broad objectives and reasonably practical standards; protection is to come second best to resources, and an enhanced environment is to be dependent on everybody from the National Rivers Authority to "appropriate river purification boards", but not on the Government.

Of course, as the Opposition have strongly argued, if the Bill had contained strong environmental safeguards and a proper environmental framework, the Government would not need to rely for safeguarding the environment on voluntary agreements over which they have no legal control, and we would not have had to table the amendment to the Lords amendment.

This is not a party political point; it is not high politics or high drama; it is a sensible decent amendment designed to alleviate the worries of people in coalfield communities and provide proper assurances for the future of those communities. There would be assurances concerning the control of mine water, and people would be less likely to suffer the consequences of mine water pollution. If the amendment were accepted, it would make the Bill clear. To eradicate doubt and uncertainty is one of the functions of the House, and the House will be at its best today if it accepts the amendment.

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

I shall be extremely brief, but it would be remiss of me not to add weight to the case for the amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). His speech was well structured but, regrettably, the Minister was too busy gobbing when he should have been listening. If he had listened, he might have learnt something. Regrettably, yet again, our words have fallen on stony ground.

The amendment is important because of the Government's past practice. When they have relied on voluntary agreements, those agreements have failed. If we are to believe the Government, the environment is vital, not only to this country, but to the rest of the world. Here the Government have the opportunity to practise what they preach. The onus is on them to introduce legislation to bring improvements.

Don drainage in Doncaster, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) knows, was the result of extra money being paid by local people. If subsidence occurs and interferes with that drainage, there will be an impact on the environment. Pollution is bound to follow. I suggest that, for once, the Minister listens to Labour Members and accepts the amendment.

One of the problems is that the Government propose to leave the matter to the voluntary sector. Mine owners in the past did nothing to ensure that we had a healthy environment. Given that, the Minister must accept the amendment if we are to ensure that future generations will have a proper environment.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Does my hon. Friend recall that in his area, as in mine, spoil heaps in mining areas have been an important issue in the past 20 to 30 years? Happily, Governments have taken action to deal with spoil heaps. The majority of spoil heaps, certainly in my area, were created in the days of private enterprise, but over the past 30 years the Government have had to accept responsibility for dealing with the problem, which they did not create. We face a similar problem now. The industry was nationalised from 1947 until now. Many of the water pollution problems need to be dealt with by the organisation that owned the industry—the British people, through the British Government.

Mr. Redmond

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the point about spoil heaps, which is a valid one. The coal tip at Yorkshire Main pit caught fire. The pollution caused was not water pollution, but air-borne pollution which caused serious environmental health problems for a number of my constituents downwind of the fire. The Minister should look at the past voluntary agreements, which have not worked, and he should also consider other privatisations carried out by the Government. Leaving matters to the voluntary sector has not worked, so I suggest that the Minister accepts the amendment. Let us move forward to a better future.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

A number of my hon. Friends will recall that my interest in the environment of the coalfields, especially the South Yorkshire coalfield, is long standing. When I entered the House in 1970, I made a fuss about the disgusting condition of our main rivers in South Yorkshire—the Rother, the Dearne and the Don—which were in the lowest category and were little better than open sewers. The Yorkshire Rivers Authority gave a pledge that our rivers would be brought to recreational standard by the mid-1980s. In the mid-1980s, the authority promised that they would be brought to a decent standard by the year 2000. I now wonder whether that standard will be reached.

The reason for my doubt is that many of the streams that feed into the rivers were maintained to a more decent standard than the rivers they joined, because of the work of the National Coal Board and the South Yorkshire mines drainage unit. Those bodies controlled the discharge from abandoned pits.

I remember spending time with Mr. Ditchfield and his colleagues at the South Yorkshire mines drainage unit, which was based in my constituency, and being lowered to the bottom of a shaft of a colliery which had closed in 1873. The shaft had to be kept open for the purposes of pumping. Unfortunately, because of British Coal's economising, the mines drainage unit was closed and the responsibility was passed to Silverwood colliery in my constituency.

But Silverwood colliery is about to close, and the industry will be privatised. The responsibility will accrue to the Coal Authority, and we have not had any assurance that the Coal Authority will have the resources, or the legal power, or the interest, or, in fact, the size of membership and staffing resources, to enable it to do its job.

The Minister is somewhat less enthusiastic about the privatisation of the mining industry than he was when the Bill was first produced.

The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar)

indicated dissent.

4.15 pm
Mr. Hardy

Oh, no. When the Government wanted to privatise the pits, they were a great deal more enthusiastic and cheery. But, as the months of consideration went by, they began to realise the scale and liability which would accrue when the public sector's interest diminished—the liability of the legacy of hundreds of thousands of men who suffered or may suffer the consequences of industrial disease. The liability to the environment may be greater than that. It is such a great liability that I do not think that any private insurer would offer a policy.

It is little use the Government and our local authorities devoting resources and giving priority and a great deal of attention to promoting our economic revival as a result of the closure of our pits if not enough is done to prevent the devastation which can follow in the absence of a proper exercise of responsibility. All my hon. Friends who have intervened—a great number already have—will have surely drawn the Minister attention's to the fact that the Coal Authority must have the capacity, in terms of law and resource. It seems essential and, in the interests of those areas affected, the amendment must become part of the Bill.

I hope that, in replying, the Minister will give us that assurance and also give the coalfields of Britain—and former coalfields—the assurance that the authority will have the capacity to exercise properly the responsibilities that the Minister and his colleagues will have placed on it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The amendment stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). I share with him, and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), the constituency responsibility for Breich water and the Almond. One needs only to go along the Almond now, which, incidentally, used to be a clean river because it was cleaned up, and one can see bubbles of iron oxide. There is a real ferruginous pollution problem.

I do not believe in muscling in on the Committees of other Bills on which hon. Friends have worked extremely hard, so I shall content myself with one question, when I have the Minister's attention. I shall ask the question when I have the Minister's attention.

Who is responsible? Lengthy correspondence with the Secretary of State for Scotland and talking to Scottish Ministers has not identified who is responsible for the cleaning up of the Almond and Breich water. It is a simple, straight question. If those in the Box cannot answer it, I would hope to receive a letter from the Department.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

The arguments have been well rehearsed over the past months while we have considered the Bill. However, even at this late stage, it is important to press the amendment for the people who live in the coalfield communities, because, over the years, they have lived with pollution and dereliction. People who live in coalfield villages and towns have high aspirations for their children and for their environment. They have seen enormous dereliction over the past few months.

Over the past year, the Nottinghamshire coalfield has been laid waste by a closure programme. The people of Nottinghamshire now want to see the environment lifted, and the amendment would provide a way of doing that. It would secure the future over contaminated land and pit spoil heaps.

The people in Nottinghamshire want to see Sherwood forest come again. They have an ambitious scheme to create a new community forest—a forest that will be planted on the spoil heap. Some of the spoil heaps may pass into the ownership of voluntary bodies. The people of Nottinghamshire do not want to be left with commitments that they cannot meet. Assurances have been given by the Minister and his colleagues in another place, but the amendment would secure that future.

The amendment also brings to a head the issue of mine water, which has been pursued relentlessly by my hon. Friends. At Annesley, all the water from the western side of the Nottinghamshire coalfield and from Derbyshire is pumped up. Annesley colliery is now closed. Discussions are now going on between the National Rivers Authority, British Coal and other partners about its future.

Annesley colliery lies next to Newstead village—next to Newstead Abbey, the home of Lord Byron. It is an area where local authorities, led by governing borough councils, have made major changes. They are lifting and building the environment. Unless the issue of mine water is resolved—and resolved quickly—there will be real problems. The amendment before the House would secure that future. It would put some real commitments in the Bill.

I echo the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). The Minister has talked about the importance of the Coal Authority. Now that the Coal Authority has a chairman—and I understand that a chief executive will be announced shortly—it is essential that it is properly resourced and has adequate personnel to tackle these issues. At present, the feeling in coalfield communities is that the Coal Authority could be a lame dog—a dog that will not bark. Our amendment aims to back the Coal Authority and ensure that things happen in coalfield communities to give them a better future.

In the past, the Minister has argued—indeed, he may well use the same argument this afternoon—that the amendment would wreck the Bill and cause difficulties for the private sector. I do not believe that that is the case, because my discussions with the private sector suggest that it is anxious about privatisation. Private sector companies are anxious about the liabilities that might have to be picked up. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that he is talking to private sector companies about that issue.

We want a better environment for coalfield communities. Even at this late stage, the amendment should be accepted.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

This is an important amendment. I hope that the Minister is prepared to take it on board. He will recall that the issue was raised time and time again during the long Committee stage.

At one point, I explained to the Minister the situation that has arisen in my constituency as a result of the River Don being polluted by a colliery that closed down in the latter part of the 1960s. That is something which the community opposed over a long period, but it has been unable to get anything positive done. That could easily be the situation with many of the collieries which have already closed, and those which will close in the future, unless we have a similar amendment.

I dra w the Minister's attention to a situation that occurred only a few weeks ago in my constituency. Once again, it illustrates the sort of situation that we may face time and time again in mining communities. The Worsbrough reservoir is fed by a beck that runs down the countryside from Silkstone. It is also added to by many abandoned mine workings.

One of those mine workings, the Stafford mine, which closed down many years ago, is the low point for many of the collieries around. It has pumped into that beck some 1.5 million gallons per day. In October 1993, British Coal decided that it would stop the pumping operation. That has had a catastrophic effect on the reservoir, because one of the local sewage plants also feeds into the reservoir. That is adding immensely to the problems in the reservoir which have been experienced by local anglers.

I wrote to the Minister on the issue. When Lord Strathclyde discussed the amendment in the other place, he made the point that problems such as that at Worsbrough reservoir would become high priorities. Therefore, it is essential that the Minister tells us today whether he is prepared in circumstances such as we face at Worsbrough to give a direction that the pumping should be restarted. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he will give a direction that the pumping should be restarted at the Stafford colliery to alleviate the problem in Worsbrough reservoir.

I should also point out to the Minister that this morning we received a letter from the National Rivers Authority stating that it was prepared to spend £35,000 on aeration equipment to try to alleviate the problem. However, that will by no means ease the problem, because the reservoir is also the source of the River Dove in Yorkshire. As the reservoir becomes polluted, so does the River Dove. It is essential that we have aeration equipment, and that pumping is restarted at the Stafford mine.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that he is prepared to accept the amendment, and that pumping operations will be restarted at the Stafford colliery.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I should like the Minister to deal with one issue in respect of environmental liabilities. When we are talking about flood water, it is easy to see what the specific problems are. The particular problem to which I wish to refer is now becoming commonplace throughout coal mining areas, particularly in Stoke-on-Trent, North. It is the issue of mine shafts and adits. The problem is not quite subsidence, and is not easily visible. It seems to me that the problem has come about as the result of a specific disagreement between British Coal and the Law Society.

Some time ago, British Coal had an obligation to say whether there was a former mine shaft within 5 in of a property, although 5 m was never specified. It seems that there is now a voluntary agreement, under which, if there is a mine shaft within 20 m of a property, British Coal has to disclose the fact. Only since the property market has started to move again and the new arrangement came into force have we begun to understand the extent of the problem in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire. Many houses currently on the market have been blighted simply because British Coal has said that there is a shaft within 20 m of the property.

In his reply on the overall environmental liabilities, I should like the Minister to deal with the issue of mine shafts. How is it anticipated that the costs of searching for mine shafts will be met? Anyone who bought a house before the new agreement came into force had no idea that British Coal would come up with the information that there was a mine shaft within 20 m of the property. I understand that the cost of carrying out the search amounts to about £800. I might add that the search is a fairly dangerous undertaking.

When we talk about transferring costs from British Coal to the new authority that will take its place, we must make certain that, at the heart of the legislation, we ensure that the costs of identifying former pit shafts, adits and so on has been met. People—many of whom have given their lives to the coal industry—must not find themselves with a property which they cannot sell, simply because they fall within a 20 m rule. I can well imagine the Minister saying that the matter might in some way impinge upon the regulations which relate to subsidence, but the technicality of it is that those mine shafts are not quite the same thing as subsidence.

4.30 pm

We need an undertaking from the Minister today that, if we do not get the matter sorted out as we reach the final stages of the legislation, he will consult the Coalfield Communities Campaign and local authorities to make sure that individual home owners do not have to meet those enormous costs. They must not be prevented from moving on and selling their homes. We are talking about contaminated land and about a legacy of environmental dereliction, and I want some firm assurances from the Minister today in that respect.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) for not being here when he opened the debate, as I was on my way back from an engagement in my constituency.

As hon. Members have said, this matter has been argued in this place, in Committee, on Report and in the other place. I say to the Minister that the issue between us—which is addressed in the Opposition amendment tabled by the Labour Front-Bench team and signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and myself on behalf of our party—is whether the undertaking given in the other place is written into the Bill, and is not left as mere words uttered in debate in Parliament.

The key issue is to make sure that the liabilities are perceived to be liabilities which do not lead to risks arising unintentionally on people who cannot bear them. Do the Government have a clear policy about the issue in relation to their privatisation of energy? For example, is the attitude evidenced by the amendment in the name of the President of the Board of Trade intended to be a precursor to a similar attitude in relation to the nuclear industry? What is the Government's policy towards risk arising from environmental liabilities on privatisation?

The difference is simply that the President of the Board of Trade and the Government have came to the House and asked us to accept something which says that they think that the risk should arise except where it is reasonable to believe that that person…will be able to finance their discharge. That is the only time when the transfer of liabilities will carry that guarantee. It is an objective test, and the Minister will know the difference between one and the other is the difference between an objective test and a subjective test. The "reasonable to believe" test introduces a characteristic that is a lesser protection than that which was put into the Bill in the Lords.

People clearly want the best protection against environmental risk, and I hope that the Government will accept that there must be the best protection. Whether the Government think that protection should reside with the Coal Authority—as is argued from the Opposition Benches—or somewhere else, I hope that they are consistent with what they always say elsewhere, and that the best environmental protection will be guaranteed.

Therefore, if that is the case, there is no argument but that the amendment passed in the Lords should be the amendment sustained. The Government amendment, which weakens that provision, should not be adopted by the House.

Mr. Skinner

My view is that, if the Government do not do anything about water pollution, it will be a disaster waiting to happen. It might not happen next week or even in a couple of years, but in three or four years somebody will ask what we were doing in Parliament to allow this to happen.

My mind goes back to Aberfan. We had a nationalised industry at that time which meant that we could do things in an emergency. But Aberfan was a disaster, and people asked what was going on. As everyone knows, they piled up all the stuff on top of a mountain and more than 200 kids in the village school were swamped. Fortunately, because it was under public ownership, a direct grant for clearance programmes could be set in process. We had such a slag heap removed in Clay Cross when I was on the local authority.

Under private ownership, the potential owners of 19 or 20 pits will not carry the can for such problems. When Silverhill colliery next to my constituency was closing, I was told that every pump used to pump water out of the pit cost £5,000 a week to run. That is a lot of money, and I think that Silverhill colliery has two pumps.

All my colleagues and others well versed in mining procedures know that that amount can be multiplied countless times in every coalfield, given the amount of pumping that went on. In Derbyshire, for instance, there are no pits left. I believe that one pump is operating at Creswell colliery for the whole of north Derbyshire. It is laughable.

The net result is that the water is rising at Bolsover and a land slip has already occurred. Six houses have been demolished. British Coal and the Department of the Environment say, "It's nothing to do with us." But six people have lost their houses and many more are placed in jeopardy. We want £1,500,000 from the Government so that the county can start a drainage scheme. That kind of thing will be the pattern in every coalfield.

Some people may argue that that is relatively clean water, but what happens in areas where the water is polluted? Those of us who are old enough remember the days before public ownership. I would have my earhole belted because I used to jump over little streams which we used to call "ochre water" because they were a dirty yellow colour. The water poured off the tips of privatised pits. That is the sort of feature that will occur in future.

The Government send people to Rio and all those environmental conferences, but do not care tuppence about the environment when it comes to the test. They have dogmatically pursued their privatisation scheme without thinking it through and now they have a problem.

Remarkably, in a series of votes today, Labour Members of Parliament will support amendments on the side of country landowners—they are involved in trying to save the property, whereas we are doing it because we know that it is morally right—while the Tories will go into the Lobby to attack their own people. The issue is not just about playing partisan politics. It is about the morality of allowing all that pollution to take place, as my hon. Friends have said over and over again.

Nuclear power gets £1.3 billion. We think that it is for production purposes, but the Government tell us that it is for decommissioning—for what happens after the production process. Is what we are discussing the same as the nuclear argument? We are asking who will clean up the mess once the production process has been completed. The decommissioning of the coal mining industry is the same argument.

We are told that the Government must find up to £22 billion in the next several years to decommission all the nuclear power plants. We are not asking for that kind of commitment today. All we are asking is that the Government come to their senses and understand that there will be major environmental pollution in every coalfield in Scotland, Wales and England. It is time that they accepted the morality of the amendment, which will go a little way towards resolving the problem, not for today or even next week, but for generations to come.

Mr. Eggar

I am sure that the House will not misunderstand me when I say that this is a re-run of a re-run of a re-run of a re-run of previous debates, and that there is a fundamental difference of view between Conservative Members and Opposition Members.

It is straightforward. Opposition Members believe that the Coal Authority should be responsible for all liabilities, even liabilities that arise in areas that are owned by private sector coal companies. Conservative Members say that the Coal Authority should have responsibility for all liabilities except those that arise in areas that are the responsibility of the private sector.

We debated the issue in Committee, at the very beginning. At that stage, I was able to put several hon. Members' anxieties in perspective, at least, and I firmly established that the Coal Authority is responsible in the vast majority of cases. It will, in practice, be an exception for a private sector mining company to have responsibility; the exception will be where it has purchased the assets.

Much as I enjoy the contributions of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—this time as ever—I think that he did not recognise that fundamental position.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to the Minister for telling us what he told us in Committee, but he is still missing the point—that, where there is no licensed operator, in relation to deep mines from which coal is no longer extracted, the responsibilities and liabilities of British Coal end in limbo.

Mr. Eggar

indicated dissent.

Mr. Bell

Perhaps, as the Minister says, they will become the responsibility of the Coal Authority.

Mr. Eggar

indicated assent.

Mr. Bell

The Minister nods. The Opposition are arguing that it is not in the Bill. If he says that responsibility lies with the Coal Authority, why should he not now accept our amendment? Then we shall all know that it is in the Bill and that it is the responsibility of the Coal Authority, and we can all rest reasonably in peace.

Mr. Eggar

It emphatically is in the Bill, because the Coal Authority, under clause 73, takes over the ownership of all unworked coal and coal mines, including all abandoned mines. I can therefore assure the hon. Gentleman that it is absolutely clear that, where the private sector does not own the assets, the liabilities and such assets as there are are transferred to the Coal Authority.

The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) seemed to me to be identifying the core point, which is about the resources—funding and manpower—that will go to the Coal Authority. I attach much importance to that, and I have very much taken on board the points that he made.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned a specific, important matter in his constituency, and I will write to him about that.

Mr. Dalyell

Scottish law is slightly different. The highly competent Lothian river purification board and its officials, such as Mr. William Halcrow, do not know where responsibility lies. Will the Minister give the undertaking that one of his expert senior officials in Scotland will sit down with the board's officials and consider what is an urgent ferruginous pollution problem?

Mr. Eggar

As the hon. Gentleman makes a specific request of that nature, I undertake to pass on his anxieties to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and to ask that the problem be investigated at a senior level and that, if possible, a satisfactory outcome be reached.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) raised a specific point about mine shafts' interrelationship with the Law Society. It will become the responsibility of the Coal Authority, as I understood the thrust of her remarks, and I will ensure that it tackles that specific issue because I have not come across the specific issue of "undiscovered" mine shafts before. I am grateful to her for mentioning it, and I will ensure that we follow that up.

Finally, I think I signed a letter to the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) at the weekend. I am sorry that he has not received it, but. from memory, I think that active negotiation and discussion is going on between British Coal and Yorkshire Water Services Ltd. British Coal acts as agent for Yorkshire Water at present, and discussions are going on about the way that the issue should be handled. The hon. Gentleman should have my letter soon. I am sorry that he has not received it yet. I hope that that will set his mind at rest.

We accept the basic thrust of Lords amendment No. 1, although the precise wording might give rise to problems—it would introduce some uncertainty as to whether the Secretary of State had discharged the obligation. We have therefore proposed Government amendment (a). I understand that the proposer of the Lords amendment accepts that our amendment meets the fundamental point that he wished to address. I think that it is more precise, and I therefore hope that it will be acceptable to the House.


This is a familiar debate. I am sorry that I cannot be more forthcoming than I have been able to be on previous occasions. I am convinced that the Coal Authority will discharge its liabilities appropriately, and that the anxieties that have been mentioned by many Opposition Members have been—

Ms Walley

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. May I make certain what he proposes in answer to my point—that he will ensure that he meets all those people who have expertise about the problem, and that we can have meetings to discuss the issues that I brought to his attention?

Mr. Eggar

I cannot give the hon. Lady a firm pledge that I personally will be involved in the meetings, as I am sure she will understand. I am sure that my officials are aware of the matter, but I personally am not. I understand the origin of her concerns, and I will ensure that the matter is inquired into. If there are what I would call "loose ends" to it, I shall do my best to ensure that they are sorted out.

I hope that, with that assurance, the Opposition will withdraw their amendment.

Mr. Bell

I have no intention of withdrawing it. Clause 73, to which the Minister drew my attention, deals with interests, not obligations. It deals with coal that is in the pits which may be used again by the Coal Authority, but not the environmental liabilities about which we have spoken.

Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:ߞ

The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 282.

Division No. 273] [4.47 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Austin-Walker, John
Ainger, Nick Barnes, Harry
Allen, Graham Barron, Kevin
Alton, David Battle, John
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bayley, Hugh
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Armstrong, Hilary Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bell, Stuart
Ashton, Joe Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F. Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Berry, Roger Jamieson, David
Betts, Clive Janner, Greville
Boyes, Roland Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Bradley, Keith Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Jowell, Tessa
Burden, Richard Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Byers, Stephen Keen, Alan
Caborn, Richard Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Callaghan, Jim Khabra, Piara S.
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Lewis, Terry
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cann, Jamie Loyden, Eddie
Chisholm, Malcolm McAvoy, Thomas
Church, Judith McCartney, Ian
Clapham, Michael Macdonald, Calum
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Mackinlay, Andrew
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) McLeish, Henry
Clelland, David McNamara, Kevin
Clwyd, Mrs Ann MacShane, Denis
Coffey, Ann McWilliam, John
Cohen, Harry Madden, Max
Corbett, Robin Mahon, Alice
Corbyn, Jeremy Mandelson, Peter
Corston, Ms Jean Marek, Dr John
Cox, Tom Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Cummings, John Martlew, Eric
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Meacher, Michael
Dafis, Cynog Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dalyell, Tam Milburn, Alan
Darling, Alistair Miller, Andrew
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Morgan, Rhodri
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Morley, Elliot
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Denham, John Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Dixon, Don Mudie, George
Dobson, Frank Mullin, Chris
Dowd, Jim Murphy, Paul
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Eagle, Ms Angela O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Eastham, Ken O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Olner, William
Ewing, Mrs Margaret O'Neill, Martin
Fatchett, Derek Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Faulds, Andrew Paisley, Rev Ian
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Parry, Robert
Flynn, Paul Pendry, Tom
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Pike, Peter L.
Foster, Don (Bath) Pope, Greg
George, Bruce Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Gerrard, Neil Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Prescott, John
Godman, Dr Norman A. Primarolo, Dawn
Golding, Mrs Llin Purchase, Ken
Gordon, Mildred Quin, Ms Joyce
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Radice, Giles
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Raynsford, Nick
Grocott, Bruce Redmond, Martin
Gunnell, John Rendel, David
Hain, Peter Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Hanson, David Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Hardy, Peter Rogers, Allan
Harvey, Nick Rooker, Jeff
Henderson, Doug Ruddock, Joan
Heppell, John Sedgemore, Brian
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Sheerman, Barry
Hinchliffe, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hodge, Margaret Short, Clare
Hoon, Geoffrey Skinner, Dennis
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Hoyle, Doug Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Soley, Clive
Hutton, John Spearing, Nigel
Illsley, Eric Spellar, John
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Stevenson, George Wicks, Malcolm
Stott, Roger Wigley, Dafydd
Strang, Dr. Gavin Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Straw, Jack Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wilson, Brian
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Winnick, David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Worthington, Tony
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Wright, Dr Tony
Timms, Stephen Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tipping, Paddy
Turner, Dennis Tellers for the Ayes:
Vaz, Keith Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Walley, Joan
Aitken, Jonathan Dicks, Terry
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Dorrell, Stephen
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Amess, David Dover, Den
Ancram, Michael Duncan, Alan
Arbuthnot, James Duncan-Smith, Iain
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Durant, Sir Anthony
Ashby, David Dykes, Hugh
Aspinwall, Jack Eggar, Tim
Atkins, Robert Elletson, Harold
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Baldry, Tony Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Evennett, David
Bates, Michael Faber, David
Bellingham, Henry Fabricant, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Fenner, Dame Peggy
Beresford, Sir Paul Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Fishburn, Dudley
Booth, Hartley Forman, Nigel
Boswell, Tim Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Forth, Eric
Bowis, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Brandreth, Gyles Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Brazier, Julian Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bright, Graham French, Douglas
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gale, Roger
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Gallie, Phil
Browning, Mrs. Angela Gardiner, Sir George
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Budgen, Nicholas Garnier, Edward
Burns, Simon Gill, Christopher
Burt, Alistair Gillan, Cheryl
Butcher, John Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Butler, Peter Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Butterfill, John Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Gorst, Sir John
Carrington, Matthew Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Carttiss, Michael Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Cash, William Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Clappison, James Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hague, William
Coe, Sebastian Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Colvin, Michael Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Congdon, David Hampson, Dr Keith
Conway, Derek Hanley, Jeremy
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hannam, Sir John
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hargreaves, Andrew
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Haselhurst, Alan
Couchman, James Hawkins, Nick
Cran, James Hawksley, Warren
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hayes, Jerry
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Heald, Oliver
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hendry, Charles
Day, Stephen Hicks, Robert
Deva, Nirj Joseph Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Devlin, Tim Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Dickens, Geoffrey Horam, John
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Pickles, Eric
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Porter, David (Waveney)
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Richards, Rod
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Riddick, Graham
Hunter, Andrew Robathan, Andrew
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jack, Michael Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jenkin, Bernard Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jessel, Toby Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sackville, Tom
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Key, Robert Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kilfedder, Sir James Shaw, David (Dover)
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knapman, Roger Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shersby, Michael
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sims, Roger
Knox, Sir David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Speed, Sir Keith
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spencer, Sir Derek
Legg, Barry Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lidington, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lightbown, David Spring, Richard
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Sproat, Iain
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Steen, Anthony
Lord, Michael Stephen, Michael
Luff, Peter Stern, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stewart, Allan
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Streeter, Gary
MacKay, Andrew Sweeney, Walter
Maclean, David Sykes, John
McLoughlin, Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Madel, Sir David Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Maitland, Lady Olga Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Major, Rt Hon John Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Malone, Gerald Temple-Morris, Peter
Mans, Keith Thomason, Roy
Marland, Paul Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Marlow, Tony Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Thurnham, Peter
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Mates, Michael Tracey, Richard
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Tredinnick, David
Merchant, Piers Trend, Michael
Mills, Iain Twinn, Dr Ian
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Moate, Sir Roger Walden, George
Monro, Sir Hector Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Moss, Malcolm Waterson, Nigel
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Watts, John
Nelson, Anthony Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Neubert, Sir Michael Whitney, Ray
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Whittingdale, John
Nicholls, Patrick Widdecombe, Ann
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Willetts, David
Norris, Steve Wilshire, David
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Oppenheim, Phillip Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Ottaway, Richard Wolfson, Mark
Page, Richard Wood, Timothy
Paice, James Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Patnick, Irvine
Patten, Rt Hon John Tellers for the Noes:
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Pawsey, James Mr. Bowen Wells.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment, put and agreed to.

Lords amendment accordingly disagreed to.

Amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 1 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 2, after clause 22, to insert new clause—Designated mining museums. The Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a report on the administration of the financial assistance provided by him for coal mining museums during the period of three years following the restructuring date, within six months of the end of that period.

5 pm

Mr. Eggar

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

With this we may consider the following Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 2: After clause 59 insert the following clause:— As soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the period of three years beginning with the restructuring date, the Secretary of State shall prepare and lay before Parliament a report setting out particulars of—

  1. (a) the financial assistance provided during that period to coal-mining museums, so far as it has involved the making of payments for that purpose to any person by the Secretary of State;
  2. (b) the manner in which the provision of that financial assistance has been administered; and
  3. (c) the use to which that financial assistance has been put by the coal-mining museums which have received it.'.

Mr. Eggar

Although the Lords amendment reflects an agreement that had been reached regarding its objective, we stated in the other place that we would come forward with our own wording. That is the reason for the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

A number of hon. Members present will remember the debate on mining museums some months ago. There were discussions following that debate, and on 9 June my noble Friend the Minister of State told the other place that we would make available transitional funding of some £900,000 over three years, and that that funding would be made available to the Yorkshire and Scottish mining museums and the Big Pit mining museum in south Wales. That will replace help in kind currently provided by British Coal.

It is fair to say that the announcement by my noble Friend has been widely welcomed, as has the gist of the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend. On that basis, I hope that the amendment will be acceptable to the House.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

The Government amendment represents an attempt by the Government to correct what they considered to be shortcomings in the amendment voted on in the other place; our misgivings derive essentially from its caution.

Although the three-year commitment is far too short, we recognise the distance that the Government have moved since we originally debated the issue in Committee. At that time, the Government were in large measure indifferent to the plight of the museums and did not properly appreciate the scale of the contribution made to them by British Coal. They have moved a considerable distance since then, although probably not far enough.

The Government have identified the three main museums—the one in Yorkshire, the one in Scotland and the Big Pit in south Wales. There may well be others which deserve assistance but which the Government have not seen fit to support on this occasion.

Ms Walley

One museum not so far included in the list is Chatterley Whitfield museum in my constituency, which, as the House knows, has already closed. Urgent discussions are taking place with a view to establishing whether there is any way in which Chatterley Whitfield could reopen and whether part of the national coal collection could come back to Chatterley Whitfield as part of the operations that the Charity Commission is considering. It is important that Chatterley Whitfield should not be excluded from any discussions because it may be in a position to reopen at some stage in the near future.

Mr. O'Neill

The whole House knows the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed on a number of occasions over the Chatterley Whitfield mine. It is perhaps significant that, although the Minister referred to three mining museums, the amendment makes no mention of a number. I hope that that leaves the door open for some discussion.

We have one misgiving in particular about the formula that the Government have reached. The role of local authorities will be quite central to the future success of the mining museums, but this is a time of great uncertainty for local authorities; we do not know what the boundaries will be or what responsibilities local authorities will have after the Government's programme of changes and reform.

We recognise that the Government are probably making the best of a bad job, but the amendment none the less marks a sizeable achievement on the part of the people, the organisations and, in particular, the local authorities that have campaigned to secure a future for the museums.

Coal mining museums represent a substantial repository of the industrial and cultural heritage of our mining communities. We want them to continue. We believe that, at the end of the three-year period, their success will be such that the Government will be well advised to provide the necessary support to enable them to thrive and expand.

We give the amendment grudging and limited support. We do not say that with any malign intent, but had the Government been forthcoming earlier, we might have been spared a great deal of the anxiety that has been expressed on these matters by Members of both Houses.

We pay tribute to those in the other place who were able to secure a majority for a proposition that did not receive majority support in this House, and we recognise that the assurances given by the Government have in large measure been met by the amendment. The proposal does not go as far as we would like, but we are pleased that we have achieved some concessions. We shall wait with interest to see what form the report will take, because in three years' time it will be delivered to a Labour Government who will be more sympathetic to the plight of the museums and more likely to encourage their future success when the opportunity arises. For those reasons, we are happy to give the amendment our backing.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

One or two hon. Members will recall that I tabled a new clause on Report dealing with the issue of mining museums. I have a particular interest because the Yorkshire mining museum is in my constituency. There was great concern that no consideration had been given to the future assistance for that and other mining museums on the back of what had previously been provided by British Coal. I welcome the fact that successful efforts were made in the other place to change the Government's mind. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) that it is a welcome move.

I want briefly to pay tribute to those in the other place, from all parties and from none, who were very much involved in lobbying the Government. I want also to pay tribute to those from Yorkshire who worked very hard to bring about the Government's change of mind. I must also mention Dr. Margaret Faull and her staff at the Yorkshire mining museum. They have kept everyone effectively briefed on the predicament faced by that and other museums. They worked long and hard and they will have gained some crumb of comfort from the success in the other place.

I should be glad if the Minister would deal with the distribution of the funding. The proposal is for £100,000 per year for each of the three museums. That distribution is a little unfair as two of the three museums include an underground element that adds to their costs. I hope that the Minister will discuss the matter with the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, who has just walked into the Chamber; he has been very supportive.

I echo the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan about what happens after the three-year period has elapsed. We want a guarantee that the museums will not face a death sentence and that attempts will be made to secure funding, from whatever source, so that they can continue to play a valuable role.

As I said, we welcome the Government's change of mind. We are not entirely satisfied but at least the amendment represents a move forward on an issue of great concern in my constituency and elsewhere.

Mr. Hardy

I do not have a museum in my constituency, but I have long been interested in the history of the mining industry. For the greater part of the period from 1850 to 1950, about 1 million men were engaged in the industry. Before 1850, hundreds of thousands were. The impact of the industry on the social and economic history of our country—especially in the numerous coalfields that existed, some of which still exist—is such that the historic importance and relevance of the industry and its legacies must be retained. For the Government to turn their back on the museums in three years' time would be an act of crass philistinism.

I ask the Minister to assure my hon. Friends who have museums in their areas that the museums' maintenance will be encouraged because of the historic and educational importance of that inheritance.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

I, too, welcome the fact that funding is being made available to ensure that the three mining museums maintain their present role. I pay tribute to those who have visited the Yorkshire mining museum at Caphorse colliery. The Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage and several noble Lords who spoke on the matter in the other place visited the underground mine and appreciated its great educational benefits. I am sure that it is one reason for their Support.

5.15 pm

However, some significant limitations must be dealt with. There should be some relationship between the distribution of the grant and the help in kind that the museums received from British Coal. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) has my support in his contention that, although the even distribution may represent parity as between Scotland, Wales and England, it does not represent parity in expense. I hope that that part of the proposed report referred to in Government amendment (a)(c)— the use to which financial assistance has been put"— will relate to the help in kind given by British Coal to the museums. The grant should replace that help.

The original proposal was for the report to be delivered six months before the end of the three-year period. The amendment changes that to As soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the period of three years". I hope that that will not cut out any extension of the grant should that be necessary. I am sure that each of the museums will work hard to attract sponsorship to provide the money that they need. If the distribution of grant is even, the Yorkshire mining museum will have to find an additional £70,000 from year one because previously it received help in kind from British Coal of £170,000 a year.

This is an important issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) referred to what a future Labour Government would do. I am a member of the board of trustees of the Yorkshire mining museum—a non-pecuniary interest—and I shall ensure that the other members are made aware of my hon. Friend's comments.

The Caphorse colliery began in 1791. It existed at the time when Mozart died. The grant will help to ensure that it continues to exist. However, that must amount to more than three additional years of life.

Mr. Eggar

I am sure that the trustees of the Yorkshire mining museum will want to hear what the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said, but the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) might have a view on such spending commitments should the unthinkable happen.

I do not wish to mislead the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), so I must tell her that I cannot hold out any realistic hope of assistance for Chatterley Whitfield.

On the points about the division of funds between the three museums, quite frankly whatever way we had decided to divide up the available money would have attracted criticism. Arguments were put on behalf of each museum, but we felt that the best practice would be to allocate the same to each of them. I am sorry that some museums feel hard done by, but I feel that that is the best way to do it.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment accordingly disagreed to.

Amendment in lieu of Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 3 agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to [one with Special Entry].

Forward to