§ 4A. In preparing restructuring schemes for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the Corporation, the Secretary of State shall take into account the operational requirements of those mining museums, designated under section (Mining museums) of this Act, which include underground areas open to the public.'.
No. 11, in clause 28, page 23, line 47, at end insert—
'(8A) Conditions included in a licence under this Part may provide for the provision of rescue and maintenance services to mining museums designated under section (Mining museums) of this Act.'.
No. 12, in clause 55, page 50, line 26, at end insert
'and which will provide sufficient cover for any mining museums designated under section (Mining museums) of this Act.'.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
It shows the impact of Government policy on the coal industry that, in moving the new clause, I am, as a representative of Wakefield, primarily concerned with the future of a museum. My constituency has a proud history of coal that goes back hundreds of years. Vast numbers of people have been employed in the coal industry. Sadly, during the present Government's time in power, all our pits have been wiped out, and we are left simply with a museum. Some 20,000 miners and people with mining-related work have lost their jobs since 1979 in the Wakefield district. Our mining engineering industry is struggling to survive because of the impact of Government policy on the coal industry.
The purpose of new clause 1 is to ensure the continued operation of a number of mining museums, including the Yorkshire mining museum that was established in my constituency at Overton in 1982 on the site of the former Caphouse colliery. Since its opening in 1988, that museum has attracted more than half a million visitors, about half of whom have been children. It receives about 80,000 visitors a year, about 20,000 of whom are in organised school parties. I stress the importance of the museum's work in the education of children and young people from various parts of the country, including many districts where there is no experience of the coal industry.
Fifty people are currently employed at the Yorkshire mining museum, which is obviously a major employer in my constituency. A number of those employees are former miners who have been made redundant. As well as offering—as you are well aware, Madam Speaker, having been to the establishment—underground experience with underground tours and a realistic picture of the working life of miners, the museum has offered a range of exhibitions over a number of years, including exhibitions on mine lighting.
Recently, there was an exhibition on the Bevin boys which was opened by the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat). Another exhibition on mining art is currently proposed. You, Madam Speaker, will recall the exhibition on the 1842 legislation that took women and children out of work in the mines.
On a personal note, I was proud to take my two children to look at the exhibition. I am proud of the fact that I come from a mining family of many generations of Yorkshire miners. My great grandfather worked, as a 10-year-old boy, in the pit at Silkstone near Barnsley when the Husker disaster occurred and 28 children died. That disaster led to the 1842 legislation that ended the involvement of children and women in the mines. My great grandfather would have known many of the 28 children who lost their lives in that disaster, which was crucial because it led to an important change in history.
As you, Madam Speaker, will be aware, there are other ancient exhibits at the museum, including a unique picture of the Featherstone Rovers under-17 Rugby League team that won the Yorkshire cup in 1946. That unique picture featured Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse)—one of many reasons for us to ensure the future of the important museum.
I shall describe some of the background to the new clause. The Yorkshire mining museum, the Big Pit museum in south Wales, the Scottish mining museum and 142 the Chatterley Whitfield mining museum in Stoke-on-Trent were set up in the 1980s to preserve the mining heritage of the nation. The first two mines and the Chatterley Whitfield museum have been the only places where visitors can go underground and experience the reality of coal mining. Last year, the Chatterley Whitfield museum was taken into receivership, and it has subsequently closed.
§ Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware that Chatterley Whitfield is in receivership and that, at the eleventh hour, we are trying to save the entire national collection? Local contributions have been made to Chatterley Whitfield, underlining how important it is that we should retain the mining museum.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
We all support the efforts of my hon. Friend and local people in her constituency to ensure that the collection is retained for public exhibition. Since that museum closed, there are only two mining museums where people can take underground tours and see the background of the mining industry. It is important to ensure that that experience is available to future generations.
We are worried that the Bill will result in the existing museums no longer being able to survive. I want briefly to set out why that is the case, and why new clause 1 is particularly important.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
Has my hon. Friend considered the significance of the mining museums as tourist attractions? As local authorities, particularly Wakefield and Huddersfield, now have to rely more on tourism, will my hon. Friend dwell on the importance of the mining museums in attracting tourism into areas that are not usually designated as tourist areas?
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
My hon. Friend speaks with unique experience, as he was a miner for many years. In Wakefield, we are increasingly looking to tourism to create jobs and increase employment opportunities.
Near the mining museum at Overton is the Yorkshire sculpture park at Bretton, which also offers an important tourist facility and attracts thousands of people from many parts of the country.
Returning to our concern about the future of the Yorkshire mining museum and others, when that museum was established in 1982, the then National Coal Board promised that, although it could not supply cash to the project, it would give all possible help to the setting up and operation of the museum in the form of technical assistance and the provision of equipment and machinery.
The Yorkshire mining museum opened to the public in 1988, with investment from local authorities in West Yorkshire, the European Union, sponsors and various Government bodies totalling some £4.5 million. Since then, it has received help from British Coal for such items as rope testing, testing suspension gear and analysing air samples—important features in offering visitors the experience of a working pit. If the museum has to buy those items and services on the open market, it will have to pay some £100,000 each year—money it simply does not have. The Big Pit mining museum in Wales is in a similar position.
The new clause provides that the coal authority should provide or secure the necessary maintenance and other services to enable the designated mining museums to continue, and that the Secretary of State should take into 143 account the operational requirements of mining museums with underground areas open to the public in preparing the restructuring schemes for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the corporation.
The Yorkshire mining museum is the museum for the Yorkshire coalfield and has an obligation to collect historical mining items and a representative selection of machinery and equipment used in the coalfield up to and including the present day.
At present, the museum receives from British Coal all items of historical interest found in Yorkshire from deep mining and opencasting, and obsolete machinery as it goes out of use. Those items are supplied to the museum free of charge. The museum estimates that it would cost a further £60,000 a year to acquire such items second-hand from licensed mines. That is also the case for the Big Pit mining museum and the Scottish mining museum, which collect material from their respective areas.
New clause 1 requires that any historical artefacts found during mining operations should pass to the Coal Authority, which will offer them to the designated mining museum for the area, and that licensees of collieries should be required to offer equipment, machinery, tools and other artefacts to the designated mining museum for the area once those items become obsolete.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
Although the Rhondda valley has no designated mining museum, it has a heritage park which fulfils exactly the same function as the Big Pit museum, except that it has no underground facility. Might it not be a little restrictive simply to pass all artefacts and historical items to the one designated museum? As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) pointed out, facilities such as the heritage park are extremely important to the development of the local tourist industry.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I take my hon. Friend's point, and I would expect the Big Pit mining museum in south Wales to take account of it: it is entirely reasonable. I know of other facilities that might wish to use exhibits that—under the new clause—would be passed to, for instance, the Yorkshire mining museum; I do not think it unreasonable for the various bodies to agree at local level on who can make the most effective use of the exhibits involved.
If the help required in the new clause is not forthcoming, the mining museums will be in grave danger of being unable to fulfil their obligation to collect, preserve and display material that illustrates the development of an exceptionally important aspect of the history of our nation, and of constituencies such as mine.
In view of the heavy financial cost of running a museum with an underground section open to the public, there is clearly a danger that the Yorkshire and Big Pit mining museums will not be able to survive much longer. Without them, there would be nowhere for people to be shown the history of coal mining in the environment in which it was practised, and to appreciate at first hand exactly what working underground was like for coal miners.
The sums involved in securing the future of the three mining museums are minute in comparison with the overall costs of the privatisation of British Coal. If the museums are forced to close, we shall have lost for ever a vital part of our natural heritage, which cannot be restored in the future. I hope that the Minister will listen to those who support the new clause—not just Opposition 144 Members but members of his own party, including those in the other place who have actively supported the preservation of the Yorkshire and other mining museums. I hope that he will accept the new clause.
§ Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)
I, too, support new clause 1, to which I have attached my name. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) has said. Although I have visited neither the Big Pit mining museum in Wales nor the Scottish mining museum, I have visited Caphouse colliery—the site of the Yorkshire mining museum—a couple of times as a tourist, and, on a more serious visit, discussed its future with Dr. Faull.
The museum is a wonderful example of a working colliery, and a very good example of our industrial heritage. It has educational facilities, and—as we have heard—many schools visit the museum and use those facilities. In future, this will be the only way in which they can see how the coal industry has progressed over many years.
I, too, have seen the picture featuring Mr. Deputy Speaker; I am sure that it is one of the museum's prize possessions. I am not sure whether my hon. Friends the Ministers have visited the museum, but I know that our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage has done so, and was extremely impressed by what he saw.
The maintenance of the fabric of the mine itself is essential to its future: clearly, no one can be taken so far underground without the existence of the proper health and safety provisions that would obtain in a normal mine. Those provisions must be closely monitored and checked.
Mining museums have always been recognised as a welcome addition to our industrial heritage, and should be available for young people, not only now but in future. In one respect, I am wholly at odds with the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, which was passed on 10 August and which prohibited females and boys under 10 from working down the mines. I am not suggesting that children should work down the mines, but they should be allowed to visit.
During my most recent visit at the new year, very small children were enthralled at being taken on such a visit. They scrabbled about in the dirt and, although they were tiny, they asked lots of questions. If the museums were to disappear, we shouldhave lost a great part of our industrial heritage which we, especially in the north of England, treasure greatly.
The museum is not resting on its laurels and asking for money. It raises much of its own finance and is very well run. It has a well-managed cafeteria which brings in money. However, the museum will continue to need support, support that I believe the Coal Authority or the Department of National Heritage should be able to give. I look forward to hearing what my Front-Bench colleagues have to say.
§ 4 pm
§ Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)
The Scottish mining museum, which is worth visiting, is in my constituency, based at the old Lady Victoria colliery. It is a living museum, in that it contains exhibits showing life in the village in the 1920s and even some about the old coal owner, Mungo MacKay, who was a rather dominating character. He was also a very fine mining engineer and many of the exhibits are unique. It has one of the largest 145 steam winders in existence. It wound the hatches and the coal up to the surface in a circular shaft. In other words, this was engineering way ahead of its time.
The same mining engineer and company had the use of arched girders, way before anyone else, and tubular steel props. From an engineering point of view, and in respect of cutting coal, the colliery was ahead of its time. The model village built at Newtongrange is still in existence. After a great deal of renovation, many of the houses have become desirable, and are attracting people to the village.
The museum is part and parcel of our heritage. I worked at the colliery across the road—the Lingerwood colliery—which belonged to the same company. We were far better producers of coal than the Lady Victoria—that is obvious, as I was working there. Seriously, last year the museum had 13,000 visitors, an increase of 20 per cent. on the previous year. Bearing in mind the fact that it opens only between April and September, and the fact that we are hoping for a further 20 per cent. increase this year, it is clear that it is part of the heritage trail in and around the city of Edinburgh.
I am very proud of the people who run the museum, who are bringing in more money all the time. They plead with the Government to accept new clause 1 which I support whole-heartedly. I also congratulate those who tabled it. People who work in such museums argue that they need to be provided with more equipment, and their plea is taken up in the new clause.
Any new mining company that comes across old mining machinery should ask the mining museums whether they would like to inherit it at no cost. Such machinery should be excavated rather than scrapped or melted down, which would be criminal. At the moment, British Coal hands over a considerable amount of surplus machinery. It does not want that to be lost.
The new clause is not asking very much of the Government. It protects our history. I agree with the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) that some of the young children who visit the museums have not even seen a piece of coal and have no idea what one looks like—which includes people in my community. The museums are an important educational facility, which enable children to see for themselves how the wealth of the nation was built and especially to congratulate the men and women who studied hard and put in a lot of effort to ensure that we had the resources to make the engines and other utilities function.
I throw my weight behind the new clause, and I hope that the Government take cognisance of it, because it is an important facet of the Bill. The people in those mining museums are not only paid for but dedicated to managing the resources which are given to them; they, as well as the museums themselves, should be supported.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
I ought to declare an interest, as I am a trustee of the Yorkshire mining museum. However, it is an unpaid position, since to be a trustee is voluntary. I am a trustee because I have been associated with the museum since it began. The origins of the museum lay in the desire of many local people to see a museum that represented the Yorkshire coalfield area. While I was leader of West Yorkshire metropolitan county council, it considered one or two 146 mines that it knew were not to continue in existence as mines for much longer. It is on the basis of that research that the mine at Caphouse was selected to be a museum.
As my. hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) said, it was a long time between the conception of the Yorkshire mining museum in 1982 and its opening to the public in 1988. Part of the reason for that was the long dispute in the coalfields in 1984–85; the completion of mining at Caphouse took some time and the opening of the museum was, therefore, much delayed.
Great support developed for the formation of the museum. Not only West Yorkshire county council, but South Yorkshire county council and British Coal supported it and the area was one of the few in which, during that period, there was co-operation and support between British Coal and the National Union of Mineworkers, because the NUM was anxious to see a museum that represented the coal heritage that it had created in Yorkshire.
The Caphouse museum has fulfilled our expectations and our hopes. It has been superb. You have seen it yourself, Madam Speaker. The Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage has visited the museum and has spoken of its high quality. It has won national awards for the quality of its work, which has been provided with help from the local authorities and the European Community, and we all wish to see it remain in existence.
I recognise that, in debating the new clause, we are not dealing with the mainstream points of the Bill, but we are dealing with an unintended possible effect of the legislation. We must make some provision for the service that the Coal Board is making available to three mining museums. We must ensure that there is help available. When I spoke to the Under-Secretary of State on the subject, he referred me to the Minister for Energy and said that it was a matter which needed to be dealt with on Report.
I shall illustrate British Coal's present important role by reading from a letter written by the director of the mining museum, Dr. Margaret Faull, who has directed the museum from its inception and is responsible for the good things that have been created there. In that letter, which was written to the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage following his visit, Dr. Faun spelt out clearly the provision that British Coal now makes:At present British Coal supplies the Museum with up-to-date equipment for inclusion in the Museum collections and for display to the public as examples of state of the art mining machinery; we do not pay anything for these items, nor for the cost of transporting what are often very large items to the Museum. British Coal also supplies the Museum with a wide range of services and equipment for use in the running of the Museum, again at no charge. Some of the equipment which has recently been supplied includes fencing, electrical cabling, environmental monitoring and statutory inspections. The services cover a variety of types, including for example, assistance underground when there have been maintenance problems. Throughout the time that the Museum has been open, all design work and costings for new buildings and for major repairs or conversions to existing buildings have been carried out by British Coal free of charge, together with the letting of tenders, overseeing the contracts and authorising payments. We estimate that the amount which we would have to find to pay for all these services and equipment would be in the region of £80,000–£100,000 a year, and we have no moneys in our already tight budgets to cover this amount.When we were setting up the museum, British Coal said that it could not afford to put any money into it. We accepted that, but the House will realise from the letter that I have quoted that British Coal is none the less at the center 147 of maintaining the museum. It also has places on the board of trustees, so that its interests can be expressed and taken into account.
If there is no substitute for the provision that British Coal makes, it is highly unlikely that the museum will survive far into the future. Yet, as my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) have already said, it is a vital tourist attraction for Yorkshire. It is well supported by Wakefield metropolitan district council, but I do not believe that the council could bear that burden alone.
I know that certain agreements on safety are likely to be made. When other mines in the area were closed there was a danger of flooding, which could have affected the museum. That has had to be taken into account, and there have had to be safeguards to ensure that the mine can remain open to the public—one cannot put the public at risk. It would all be included on the face of the Bill if we accepted the new clause and the amendments.
The three museums—I know the one in Yorkshire best—are part of our national heritage. We have been forced to witness the rundown of the mining of deep coal, and we think it important to ensure that we do not also lose the heritage that the museums represent and preserve. I urge the Minister to accept that the cost of the amendments to the authority would be minimal in comparison with overall costs, and a vital part of the culture and heritage of Yorkshire and other areas would be preserved.
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
This is the first subject in our proceedings, so is ironic that we are discussing museums, when the Government are doing their level best to consign coal to history. The new clause, which I strongly support, insists on private mine owners and the Coal Authority being obliged to support the museums. Effectively, they piggybacked on British Coal in the past.
Like Wakefield, which has been eloquently described by my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell), Big Pit in Blaenafon in south Wales has extensive underground workings and is hugely dependent—it has been for many years—on British Coal. The absence of British Coal has meant the loss of a source of artefacts for display in the mining museum and the loss of a vital source of spare replacement parts for working machinery for the museum, much of whose equipment is now obsolete and unsupported by the original manufacturers. There has also been a loss of the reservoir of technical expertise, particularly on health and safety matters, where British Coal's recommended practices are accepted by the inspectorate as having virtually the force of law.
Another loss has been that of the repair, maintenance and testing facilities for a whole range of colliery equipment and requirements, such as air sampling, which have been provided free of charge by British Coal in many museums, especially in Yorkshire. Although there has been a small charge at Big Pit in Blaenafon, it has benefited from economies of scale such as shared transport costs with other local collieries.
Our argument is that the museums are effectively supported by local British Coal pits. Without that support, they would be unable to function. The Yorkshire mining museum in Wakefield has estimated that the additional cost 148 that would fall on it once British Coal has withdrawn from the scene would be some £80,000. Blaenafon tells me, through my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), that that is an underestimate; it has found additional costs of more than £100,000 as all the mines in south Wales, with the exception of Tower, have closed.
Although the Scottish mining museum and museums such as Cefn Coed in the Dulais valley in my constituency and the Rhondda heritage park in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) do not have underground facilities, they still rely on British Coal for the sort of support in other respects that I have described.
It is no good the Government's saying that the burden should fall on local authorities. In many mining communities, the local authorities are hard pressed and operating on the edge of viability. I hope that the Government, who showed a Scrooge-like approach towards accepting any amendments moved by my hon. Friends in Committee—and, undoubtedly, they will be the same later—will at least accept new clause 1. It would be a sad epitaph to the Government's philistinism if not only coal was destroyed but a vital part of our heritage and culture of which we are extremely proud in south Wales.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
In addition to mining museums, will my hon. Friend acknowledge that another major part of our heritage is mining records, and another act of vandalism is the way in which mining records have been taken out of the community and deposited centrally? Access to mining records is becoming more difficult.
§ Mr. Hain
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Mining records have been centralised in Bretby, which is a considerable distance from places such as Merthyr and Neath in south Wales. Another value of the museums, to which my hon. Friend drew attention, is that they are a source of history about the local area. At least they are relatively near the coalfields, in the case of Big Pit in south Wales, and that is another major reason why they should be preserved.
§ Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)
I shall talk about the living heritage in connection with new clause 1, which I wholly support. You, Madam Speaker, were not able to select amendment No. 59—I certainly do not question your decision—but it would seem to be the appropriate place in which the Minister could consider, when he eventually adopts new clause 1, some way of rescuing the brass bands and associations that have banded together for sporting purposes, and have been fostered by individual collieries. That is most important.
I raise this matter at the urging of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East (Mr. Patchett), who has the Grimethorpe colliery band in his area. Surely, the Grimethorpe band and the Frickley band are two of the finest brass bands that exist.
§ Mr. Enright
My hon. Friend reminds me of Sharlston. My hon. Friends and I could go through a catalogue of some of the finest sounds in this country. They have reached a high international standard and it is important that they are not swept away.
If you were to examine my constituency, Madam Speaker, you would see that it is a series of communities.
149 Those communities were brought there essentially to work at the pit. The communities were fostered in part by the pit in terms of the recreational activity, which was extremely important. One only has to look at the multitude of miners' institutes and at the part that they played in improving a life which was hard. They improved that life with better educational and cultural standards.
We must not throw that away, because the communities have no jobs whatsoever. The result is that we are liable to have young folk hanging around with nothing to do, and the devil does indeed create work for idle hands. However, one can find in the brass bands a combination of young and old folk working together. The bands take them off the streets and give them not only a pastime, but a passion.
I ask the Minister to consider seriously the possible inclusion of brass bands and of sporting clubs that were previously supported by individual collieries. They now have nowhere to go because the corporate purse is dwindling in the private sector. Therefore, the urging of the Government is needed.
§ Mr. Rogers
I want to speak in particular to amendment No. 11, which deals with the provision of rescue and maintenance services to mining museums. That would probably apply uniquely to south Wales, because the area has become a mining museum. We have one colliery, which is due to close.
However, in my constituency there is a mines rescue service station which is manned by full-time brigadesmen. Those are young men—probably the cream of the mining industry—who have been trained to an extraordinarily high level. They would be, if I may use the expression, the "shock troops" of the rescue service in the event of any disaster or calamity.
There are members of my family in the service in Rhondda, and I know of their extraordinary dedication in achieving high levels of personal fitness, as well as acquiring all the skills that are needed. The proposition that we should go to a part-time force fills me with horror. Regardless of how many collieries will be left, if there is a disaster or a calamity—as the Minister knows—the professionalism required is as high as that required from the police, ambulance and rescue services above the surface.
One could argue that those in the mines rescue service require even more skill because of the extraordinary conditions in which they have to operate. If Tower colliery closes by 1 May 1994—that proposition has been made in some quarters—the only nearby underground shaft facility that would be serviced by that rescue station would be the mining museum at Big Pit.
In south Wales, there are 100 small mines. Many of those are in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Neath (Mr. Hain) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and some are in my constituency and throughout the valley communities in south Wales, and they rely on the rescue service.
I know that proposals have been made about the level of service that ought to be maintained and the mechanism under which it would operate. For example, a central service and a service by helicopter that would fly out when emergencies occurred have been proposed. As long as any 150 people are working underground, the thought of a reduced service fills me with horror. Often in emergencies the time factor is important.
Not so long ago, there were 63 coal mines in my constituency. Now there are none. There is a half one in a way; the Maerdy colliery is worked from the Tower colliery, but both the coal and the men are wound in Tower colliery. However, many of my constituents—I say many, but that is a relative term. I should say that some of my constituents work in the coal mines. To withdraw any rescue services while even one man is still working underground would be a criminal abdication of responsibility by the Government. Whatever expenditure is required and however the service is structured in the future, the Minister should take the responsibility extremely seriously.
I accept that the demand for the service will decrease. Therefore, the Minister must think about what he intends to do with the young dedicated people, the cream of their profession, who have devoted their working life to developing the mines rescue service. The Minister cannot simply wash his hands of such people. They are in an incredibly difficult position. They must stay in employment. Unlike other miners, they are not allowed to apply for voluntary redundancy even though, as miners, they have come from collieries into the central rescue station.
As they are full-time brigadesmen, they live in the station so that they can be on 24-hour call. They have to arrange their holidays to ensure that the maximum required coverage is available if a disaster occurs. These people have given complete dedication.
The brigadesmen live in tied houses. They cannot apply for houses outside the station. British Coal, as currently constituted, will not allow them to live outside the station. So they cannot purchase or rent a house outside. What will happen to their conditions of employment after the reorganisation?
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
In view of the dedication of the men, is it not odd that British Coal will not even treat with them about the possible sale of those houses to the men? They want to know what will happen to their homes and property. It is a real shame that British Coal has locked the door and will not talk to them about the possibility of buying the houses that they live in.
§ Mr. Rogers
I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned that point. It is an absolute scandal. I do not understand why the Government behave in that way. Those in the rescue service, of all people, have given loyalty to the industry. I am not surprised that the Government have done what they have. Some years ago, I was the spokesman for the Opposition when we considered the Bill to provide for the contractorisation of the atomic weapons establishments at Aldermaston and elsewhere. The Government sold those houses over the heads of the occupants.
Will the Minister deal with that point when he replies? Does the Coal Board intend to sell the houses over the heads of the people who occupy them? It would be an absolute scandal if that happened. Almost all those young people are under 40 and have young children. They have given up their homes in other areas to live in the rescue station. For their houses to be sold over their heads, as 151 happened in Aldermaston under the same Government, would be criminal, just as it was in the case of the Atomic Weapons Establishments police.
What guarantee will be given to the young men who work in the mines rescue service? Will they be allowed to remain in their houses for six months, 12 months or some other period? What time period will they be given? I stress that those people have had to uproot themselves from their communities in order to provide this service.
Those young men are the cream of the profession. They have shown dedication, loyalty and, in many instances, bravery of the highest order. They deserve some respect, loyalty and support in return. If the Coal Board is to close these stations these people will have to be treated generously so that they can adjust to the situation outside their current employment. Any action less than that will be a crime committed by the Government.
§ Mr. William O'Brien
I will dwell briefly on the value of mining museums to the tourist trade throughout the regions, and particularly on their value to the Wakefield and West Yorkshire area. The closure of mines—in my constituency the last pit, Sharlston, closed last July—has signalled the end of mining in the Normanton constituency. At one time, there were 23 pits in the area and now there is none.
The area has a mining background. People will learn of the traditions of the communities and history will be projected into the future through the mining museum situated in the Huddersfield and Wakefield area. Therefore, the proposals in this new clause and the amendments taken with it are significant. They provide some safeguards for traditional inspections, maintenance of underground corridors, maintenance of inspections for safety reasons, and maintenance of winding equipment, cages and other equipment which are necessary if the museum is to continue operating. That is the purpose of the new clause and of the amendments taken with it.
We are asking the Government for assurances that the back-up services that have been provided by British Coal will continue to be provided. Obviously, local authorities will give all the support they can to maintaining the new museum, but their resources are very limited because of Government restrictions on local government expenditure on local government activities. Nevertheless, the involvement of local government in the maintenance of the mining museum is very important.
There are statutory responsibilities also. We will have to rely upon the mining industry—British Coal in particular—to provide the necessary back-up services. I make one plea to Ministers. Mining areas such as mine have a history going back decades—a history of which mining people are proud. Even though we have witnessed disasters in our communities, those disasters are part of the history of our areas. I refer in particular to a recent disaster at Lofthouse colliery in my constituency. Thirteen men perished because of an influx of water into the coal workings, and there is a memorial in the area to them. When people go underground in the mining museum, it helps to explain the situation that developed at Lofthouse colliery and helps the communities to understand what people endured on that occasion. It helps to explain why mining communities are so proud of their attachment to the mine.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I, like my hon. Friend, recall vividly the Lofthouse tragedy. Does he accept that, in a sense, Lofthouse is unique, because the tragedy is commemorated by a memorial above the place where several of the men who were killed remain to this day? That is not the case in many other parts of Yorkshire and other coalfields where there are no memorials to the thousands of people who gave their lives to the British coal industry, which has been wiped out by the present Government. That fact reinforces the need for museums that offer some insight into what people in our area and elsewhere went through.
§ Mr. O'Brien
I am grateful for that intervention because it brings out an argument that should have been made earlier—that the mining museum in West Yorkshire is a memorial to many people who worked in the pits and many people who perished in the pits. I believe that the museum is important as a memorial to the people who worked in those pits, and to the people and communities who relied on mining for their livelihood and standard of living.
Therefore, I consider that the new clause and the amendments are important. I appeal to the Minister to take into consideration the importance of maintaining the mining museums, especially the museum in Wakefield, but no less importance should be given to the other museums to which hon. Members have referred. As we need statutory back-up to ensure that those museums continue, it is important that the Minister answers the points that have been made so that we can understand the effects that the Government's proposals in the legislation will have on mining museums.
I said earlier that in the region of Wakefield, Huddersfield and West Yorkshire in general the mining museum is a tourist attraction. Many people visit the museum because it signifies a past industry in the region. The local authorities now need to develop the tourist trade to increase the flow of resources into their districts. It is a new type of local tax, trying to bring in tourists. We need that because the English tourist board is not being financed to the extent that it was a few years ago, so we need to find new attractions. Mining museums are new attractions. The tourist trade in the mining areas is beginning to develop, and the mining museums are a way of attracting tourists to our areas.
§ Ms Walley
I shall speak briefly in the short time that is available. I want wholeheartedly to support the new clause which has been spoken to so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), and to congratulate all hon. Members who are supporting it today.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will take on board the special lessons that we are now learning in my constituency from the Chatterley Whitfield mining museum. It is important that we should consider what is happening to our coal mining industry. It is ironic, given that we have spoken so much about pit closures, that we should now have to urge the Minister, at the eleventh hour, to prevent coal mining museums from closing.
Chatterley Whitfield is a coal mining museum. It was set up as a trust, and it was successful in so far as it managed to obtain, as we have heard, the whole of the British Coal collection. It was run on a shoestring. It has been successful in that it attracts about 50,000 visitors annually. People can visit the pit buildings and experience 153 going down a pit. Those who gave their working lives to the industry work as volunteers to give young people a chance to see what a coal mine was like.
Unfortunately, Chatterley Whitfield mining museum has gone into liquidation. This Friday, I shall have a last-minute meeting with the Charity Commission, the city council and others involved to see whether we can save it. I tabled an amendment to the new clause in the hope that Chatterley Whitfield could be included in the list of museums which the House should have an opportunity to keep open.
Three aspects of Chatterley Whitfield museum are important. First, it houses the national collection, which includes a huge number of items. That is in the hands of the liquidators, who are deciding when and how it will be sold. Earlier today, I was speaking to the regional museums office in the west midlands, which does not even have a comprehensive list of the items in the national collection. It is outrageous that it is to be sold because it includes items of national value. The liquidators say that it cannot be separated but must be sold as a job lot. We cannot afford to lose that national collection. It should remain in regional coal mining museums.
The second aspect of the museum concerns its local collection. People are rightly proud of how local communities have built up the coal mining museums. They have donated in good faith items such as George crosses and other items connected with their fathers' and grandfathers' work in the industry. Although some items have been returned to people, a large number have been sold.
Thirdly, the Chatterley Whitfield museum is a local archive which includes details about maps, shafts and how different companies operated, even before nationalisation. The collection has been brought together over the years and reflects our industrial heritage in Stoke-on-Trent.
By the second week of April, all that will be sold off. This is an important debate. I shall fight 100 per cent. to keep the collection at the Chatterley Whitfield museum and, despite all the odds, to find a way to keep the collection together. Many people in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire feel the loss of the mining museum far more than the loss of individual items. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that we keep intact the proud heritage of our mining traditions in my mining museums.
§ Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)
I congratulate hon. Members on their ingenuity in having this subject as the first debate. In some respects, it is appropriate that we begin by giving due recognition to the tremendous contribution that the mining industry has made to this country. It is sad, however, that nowadays hon. Members want to speak more about the museums in their constituencies than about the mines. That is regrettable because of the economic and industrial circumstances that confront us.
We discussed this matter briefly in Committee. At that time, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) was ingenious in finding a way to raise the issue. Since then, there has been a comprehensive, all-party approach by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) and my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright). This afternoon, the importance of the mining industry to so 154 many communities has been clearly expressed by Members on both sides of the House. It is essential that we secure our heritage for the future by ensuring that mining museums with mining facilities receive appropriate technical assistance.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Wakefield said, it is important that due recognition be given to the rescue services. If it is wrong to send men down the mines without proper safety equipment, it is even worse to send people with no experience of the industry. The very purpose of the Museums is to give them an understanding of the industry. The last thing that we want is for people to go down in dangerous circumstances.
If we do not preserve the mining museums, all that will be left of the mining industry will be one or two collieries and the unsightly, derelict mine sites that still scar so many mining communities. It is therefore appropriate that, in a debate of this nature, we should draw attention to the great assistance given by British Coal. At a time of limited resources, it has nevertheless backed the development of this "second stage" of the mining industry's life in certain communities.
My hon. Friends have duly recognised mining museums' contribution to tourism. It is sad that museums are all that we have left, but the nature of coal mining is such that people who do not work in the industry or have associations with it have virtually no appreciation of the conditions in that many men worked for so many years. It is therefore essential that people should be able to see the contribution that mining made to people's lives and the price which people paid as a consequence of it.
Reference has been made today to the fact that one or two communities will have, not a mining museum, but a memorial to the miners whose lives have been lost in the winning of coal. Later this year in the village of Fallin in my constituency, where the Polmaise colliery operated for many years, a mining memorial will be erected with the name of every miner who died in the winning of coal in that community. Due to the research carried out by some men who worked in the mining industry, they have tracked down some 150 people who died in the mining industry in that area. Something similar may be happening across the whole country.
We are concerned not just about the past, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsley said. Few people are better equipped for blowing the trumpet of brass bands than my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsley—[Hon. Members: "Hemsworth."] I am sorry. I know the tune, if not the title. We shall discuss the coal industry social welfare organisation later in our deliberations.
Given the extent to which our traditions and heritage are manifest in those museums, it is essential that we have the continuing support of those who will be responsible for running the industry if the Bill is passed. I therefore support the amendment, which is not a matter of party dispute. It is now incumbent on the Government to provide us with good reasons for saying that they cannot support it. If they cannot support it, they must ensure that the Bill is amended in another place to ensure that the contribution that those museums make to the community and our cultural heritage is sustained. Without the Government's 155 push and the prodding of the coal authority, it is clear that private mine owners will not fulfil the responsibilities that the mining communities expect of them.
On behalf of the Labour party, I give our overwhelming support to the amendment and hope that the Government will go some way towards meeting the realistic claims of both sides of the Committee for support of the mining museums.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I should like to intervene briefly to register my party's support for the new clause.
The Minister will realise that, in educational and cultural terms, it is hugely important that museums be preserved. Experience at places such as the slate quarry museums in north Wales shows how popular they are, not just with local communities but with people at large. If a community cannot have a future in an industry—something to which it can look forward with pride—it must at least be able to look back with pride at its past.
It is vital that it be able to do so on site, where the action happened, so that the facility may be part of the community. It is important that we reinforce what were coalfield communities and avoid doing anything more to undermine them.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Technology (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)
What we have heard in the debate so far shows the wide interest among hon. Members in the traditions and heritage of coal mining areas. I have been asked a number of questions, to which, although they are not directly relevant to the subject of museums, I shall try to respond.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) asked several questions about houses currently occupied by members of the rescue services. British Coal is considering which properties will be required by successor companies. These will need different treatment. I understand people's concern about the future of their homes, and I can assure British Coal tenants that decisions about ownership will take their interests very much into account. Clearly, the hon. Member for Rhondda will want to pursue the matter further. In view of his experience, I shall probably want to write to him when I have secured more information for him to pass on to his constituents.
I understand the uncertainty surrounding some of the issues that were raised by the hon. Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), for Neath (Mr. Hain) and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien).
The hon. Member for Normanton reminded us of the Lofthouse disaster. This is one of the most recent such events occupying people's thoughts, having occurred, I believe, in 1972 or 1973. The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong about the date. In terms of the number of people involved, it was a major disaster, and some of us followed the regular daily news bulletins. As the hon. Member for Wakefield pointed out, some bodies were not recovered, having been sealed within the mine. The decision to stop the recovery process was very emotive. Indeed, such situations are always emotive. I understand very well the history and the circumstances of disasters and other events to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
What we have to consider is the best means of moving forward. There has been extensive reference to underground mining museums. I accept that there is a desire to go underground, and that there is huge interest in 156 such facilities. I do not believe, however, that it is necessary to go underground to appreciate the conditions in which miners had to work.
Indeed, by their very nature, some of the more dangerous areas could never be shown in a museum. They are just too dangerous for visitors. Members of the public can be taken only to the stronger and safer areas. There are several examples of the development of mining equipment and the portrayal of mining conditions. The hon. Member for Rhondda made this point. In an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Neath, he referred to a particular event in his constituency. Perhaps it did not take place underground—I do not know the exact circumstances—but it may clearly have mirrored people's experience on site.
§ Mr. Rogers
I was referring to the Rhondda heritage park and museum, which is dedicated not only to the history of coal mining in the Rhondda valley—probably the most famous coal mining location in the world—but to the heritage of miners and their families, who came in tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. If the Minister would like to visit the Rhondda, I shall certainly make arrangements for him. He would have to apply to the Secretary of State for Wales for a passport, but I am sure that that difficulty could be overcome.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
During the passage of the Bill, I have been invited to a few places. Perhaps I shall one day be able to take up some of the invitations. If I were to go to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, it would be a reverse visit, as he regularly visits my old Cannock Chase area.
The park to which the hon. Gentleman referred is not an underground facility such as those we have been talking about. My point is that it is possible to have an above-ground mock-up portraying underground conditions quite realistically. When I was being trained at the Valley training centre in Hednesford, trainees gained experience above ground before going underground.
§ Mr. William O'Brien
As the Minister suggests, some of these facilities could be provided on the surface. However, it is not possible to re-create on the surface the descent in the cage, travel along underground roadways, or the negotiation, in very limited space, of what we called sleepers. Museums take people from shallow seams—I worked in seams only 3 ft high—to the massive machinery of today. This is the backcloth. These are the significant issues in the portrayal of the history of mining communities. A working pit is the type of museum that we want to see maintained. Because of its importance to communities, I hope that the Minister will not depart from that idea.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I certainly will not. I have not visited the mining museum to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, although it is not very far from where I now live. As has been demonstrated, not all facilities are underground.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I shall give way, but I want to make some progress, as there are many important matters with which we have still to deal—matters just as important as the one we are discussing now.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)
Most of the comments that we have heard today imply that these are 157 underground working facilities. If that were the case, it would be perfectly proper and logical that a mines rescue service should be available. However, I can see nothing in the provision to the effect that museums must be underground, even though acceptance of the new clause would involve making a rescue service available. Clearly, this is nonsense in the case of facilities that are above ground. Does not the provision need a good deal of tidying up?
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing a distinction between different mining operations, and between different museums. One difference that arises concerns the cost of providing rescue services—a matter to which I shall return shortly.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am being pushed from all sides, but I cannot avoid giving way to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock).
§ Mrs. Peacock
I hope that my hon. Friend will not be misled by the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who, although he was not present at the beginning of the debate, talked about the difference between facilities above ground and those underground. Obviously, we are very keen that underground facilities should remain. If the clause is not quite right, we shall accept amendments.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful. I should point out, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton followed the Bill closely in Committee, and is well versed in these matters—but I digress.
§ Mr. Gunnell
The seam at Caphouse was specially constructed; nevertheless, if people are to go underground, there must be safety arrangements. The Minister and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton would not say' what they had said if they had been to the Yorkshire mining museum and done the underground visit. Some impression of mining can be gained on the surface, but an underground visit is the most accurate guide.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. McLoughlin
There we are, then: now I have been told that I have never been down a mine. I shall let it pass, however.
I have given careful consideration to the views put to me during the passage of the Bill about mining museums and their position once we have privatised British Coal. I should welcome any decision by the privatised mining companies to offer voluntary support similar to that currently offered by British Coal, but I firmly believe that it would be wrong to impose a requirement on the private sector. That applies equally to providing services and to making gifts of obsolete machinery and equipment which may be valuable even if it is no longer of use for mining.
The question whether mining museums should be included in the scope of a mine rescue scheme is a matter for the Health and Safety Commission. The commission will introduce new regulations in June, which will be subject to full consultation with all interested parties.
Hon. Members will be aware that, in its advice to us about the post-privatisation safety regime, the HSC has 158 said that responsibility for regulating health and safety must remain clear and unequivocal and must confirm the need to retain a clear separation between licensing and health and safety regulation. The Government have accepted the commission's advice in full. I therefore cannot accept the proposal to include rescue conditions in the Coal Authority licences.
The Health and Safety Executive is preparing draft regulations on rescue, in full consultation with the national advisory committee on rescue work and rescue apparatus. I assure hon. Members that they will be given due consideration. It is for the Health and Safety Commission to decide on the scope of the proposed regulations, which will of course be subject to full formal consultation with all interested parties.
The Coal Authority will not be in a position to provide the help in kind which the new clause seeks. I believe that the best way for mining museums to obtain technical services and advice is to begin now to explore links with the private mining sector. Specialist museums receive support from a variety of sources, including local authorities, and to some extent from central Government, via the Museums and Galleries Commission. It would seem wrong to single out these museums for exceptional access to central funds, as the new clause proposes.
This is an uncertain time for museums, but I see no reason to be pessimistic. Mining museums are obviously a powerful attraction. Several hon. Members have pointed out how some mining areas are attracting many tourists, thereby bringing in welcome new jobs. They enjoy a fund of good will, as this debate has shown. I feel sure that the museums will find their place in a privatised industry if they respond vigorously to changing circumstances. I believe that mining museums can look forward to a valuable and viable future.
I believe that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), who mentioned the Chatterley Whitfield mining museum, has also been associated with the Potteries museum, which has won several national awards—
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I believe that the circumstances surrounding that museum are still in a state of flux. I understand that British Coal gave the exhibits to the museum in the late 1980s. British Coal hopes that it may prove possible so to arrange matters that the exhibits are passed on to another museum, or the like. I know the museum; I believe that I visited it once. As far as I know, the situation is still changing, and other complicated matters come into play as well—designation, relations with the city council, and so on. I am sure that the hon. Lady will continue to be involved.
Opposition Members have described how these museums were set up in the 1980s in recognition of the historic importance of the industry in mining areas. There is no reason to believe that they will not continue to thrive in the near future.
I must tell the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) that decisions on continued sponsorship of colliery bands are a matter for British Coal. I understand 159 that the corporation is sympathetic to the Grimethorpe brass band and has agreed to support it, so that it can stay intact while commercial sponsors are found. The hon. Gentleman may want to revisit that point when we discuss the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation.
I hope that the hon. Member for Wakefield will withdraw the new clause. The points that he has raised are important, but are already covered.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I am disappointed with the Minister's response. He has heard Opposition and Conservative Members alike presenting a coherent argument in favour of the new clause and in support of the future operations of the mining museums, including the one in my constituency.
The Minister seemed to rest his case—and he a former miner—on the idea that it is not necessary to go underground to re-create the experience of a working colliery. That is quite wrong. I have visited the Yorkshire mining museum often, and have been down a number of working pits. That museum comes as near as possible to re-creating the environment in which men have struggled for generations.
I went down my first pit when I was 15—Crigglestone in Wakefield. The seam runs underneath the River Calder and is full of water. I remember seeing men in the Manor pit crawling along in seams no more than 2 ft 6 in high. We cannot re-create that for the public, but it is possible to show something akin to the environment in which the work was done.
At the Caphouse museum, there is a crawl-through which children like mine can go through and enjoy, but it does not really re-create the conditions that I could describe to my two children, whose great-grandfather spent six hours pinned under a rock at Walton colliery in Wakefield and broke his back in the process. That should mean something to my children and to future generations of youngsters who will never experience the tragedy of so much that went on in the industry, in Yorkshire and elsewhere.
The Minister's second point—his first would be invalidated by anyone who had been to the Yorkshire museum or any other underground museum—was that museums should talk to private owners in an effort to raise funds. They have done that already. It is thanks to the vision of the West Yorkshire metropolitan county council and Wakefield metropolitan district council that we have a Yorkshire mining museum at all. It is also thanks to support from Europe.
The Minister's answer will just leave the museums to wither and die. That is unacceptable. I know that this issue is being taken seriously in another place. I therefore hope that the Minister will go away and think about the points made today and consider what steps the Government might take, when the Bill reaches another place, to deal with them.
On that basis, I am prepared to withdraw the new clause, but I hope that the Minister will take seriously the important arguments that have been advanced in the debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.