HC Deb 14 March 1995 vol 256 cc788-806 10.18 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Energy (Mr. Richard Page)

I beg to move, That the draft Miners' Welfare Act 1952 (Transfer of Functions of Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 23rd February, be approved. The immediate purpose of the draft order is to facilitate a change in the organisation and arrangements for coal industry social welfare. Instead of having a Companies Act company, the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation Ltd.—CISWO—at the centre of those arrangements, the aim is to have a charitable trust, the CISWO trust.

This is not a new idea. When CISWO Ltd. was formed in 1952, it had been the intention to register it as a charity, but there was some nervousness that its aims and objectives would conflict with charity law at the time. So the draft order is perhaps implementing the intentions of some 43 years ago. On 10 March, some four days ago, the directors of CISWO Ltd. decided to take that step as part of wider changes consequent on the privatisation of British Coal.

It may be helpful if I remind the House of some of the wider background. The Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation embraces a wide range of activities. To take a few examples, there are between 4,000 and 5,000 recuperative convalescent placements annually, and we know how much those facilities are cherished, such as those at the Bournemouth convalescent home for south Wales miners. There are nearly 12,000 counselling sessions and visits each year by 17 CISWO social volunteers, supported by a virtual army of voluntary helpers and CISWO's organisation of sports and competitions—in part through company sponsorship—for the seriously disabled, as well as the able-bodied, involves an ambitious range of activities.

CISWO provides administrative support to independent miners' welfares and convalescent homes and trusts, including more than 4,000 grants, primarily to widows, from the coal industry benevolent trust for the relief of hardship, and more than 400 grants to miners and dependants pursuing full-time education from the education trust fund.

It was clear from debates in the House last year on the Coal Bill that those services, especially services for the disabled, the old and the infirm were greatly valued.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

The Minister has given us a list of CISWO's functions, but he has not mentioned sport and recreation grounds. That issue is yet to be resolved. During tonight's debate, will the Minister give us some indication of his present thinking?

Mr. Page

I made a short reference to CISWO's organisation of sport and competition, but matters dealing specifically with recreation grounds have not yet been decided, although the Government are fully conscious of the importance of recreational grounds. Debates and discussions are taking place between the National Playing Fields Association, CISWO and British Coal to find a satisfactory solution as to how they can continue to be operated and retained for recreational use.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the Minister confirm that all lands which are run by or on behalf of CISWO will remain under the control of the new trust, or is there any risk that such lands, including sports grounds, may be sold off as part of British Coal's plans to privatise its land?

Mr. Page

The land under the control of CISWO will remain under its control unless it reaches a particular agreement with the National Playing Fields Association for that organisation to look after the land. Any terms and arrangements would have to be satisfactory with such an agreement.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The issue is of great concern to mining communities, because for many years miners have contributed to creating that particular wealth and resource. Miners in many of our villages are afraid that the land will be transferred into the general package of sale by British Coal. For instance, the ownership of some land is a little ambiguous because during particular periods miners cleared land and created playing fields on land that then belonged to the private coal industry. The ownership has never been established. Will the Minister either examine the matter very closely or give us some assurance tonight that the facilities that belong to mining communities will not be sold off?

Mr. Page

The Government have given assurances that the land will be maintained for recreational use. As I have said, discussions are taking place between those three bodies. It is a highly complex issue, as hon. Members accept and appreciate, and it has not yet been resolved, but the Government have given a commitment that the land will be retained for recreational use.

Mr. John Cummings (Easington)

The Minister mentioned in the preface to his remarks that CISWO was instituted in 1952. CISWO was founded on previous welfare schemes, which were developed by the likes of my grandfather with his halfpennies, my father with his pennies, and me with my shillings when I worked in the industry. Will the Minister consider the tremendous progress made in the county of Durham, where most of those facilities have been transferred at a peppercorn rent to parish councils to be used by miners and their future generations in perpetuity? We believe that that is the best way forward. We have contributed to and maintained those facilities, and we wish to maintain them for future generations.

Mr. Page

I can only agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I have said nothing that does not recognise the tremendous work that CISWO and its predecessors have done in that area. I shall elaborate on that recognition a little later in my speech.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

As the CISWO recreation grounds and welfare halls have been an integral part of mining communities, have any discussions been held with local authorities in those areas about the possibility of their taking over the recreational grounds and welfare halls?

Mr. Page

Certain local authorities have leasehold agreements on that land and will be consulted on the best way forward. The Government have given a clear and firm commitment. I understand hon. Members' concerns, but I can take the matter no further than to say that CISWO is currently negotiating the best way forward.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way yet again. There are two matters that he does not appear to cover. The first is the serious concern of allotment holders on British Coal land. I asked a question of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which responded this morning by saying that it is the business of the Department of Trade and Industry. Will the Minister therefore clear up the whole question of allotment holders? The second, which is tangential but has not been mentioned and is clearly not central to the parties involved, is brass bands.

Mr. Page

I recognise that there is a great deal of concern about allotments. No decisions have yet been made, as discussions are still taking place. The views expressed by the hon. Gentleman are of the kind being taken into consideration in the current discussions. On brass bands, I shall not try to pre-empt the negotiations, but I believe that CISWO is taking a particular interest in that matter and may come forward with an announcement on it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Minister clear up a point that worries all of us? Some valuable land currently being used mainly for recreational and sporting purposes has come out of the ribs of the miners and off the shovel in years gone by. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) said, that is where the wealth was created. We want an assurance from the Minister that, by passing this order or any other such order, none of that land will be sold off for development, or by some speculator to make some money for whoever wants to develop it, and that the land will remain for recreation and sporting purposes, because the miners in the area provided it for that reason. We want a guarantee.

Mr. Page

The order provides that CISWO recreational land will remain CISWO recreational land. CISWO will discuss the best way forward with the National Playing Fields Association and British Coal, and they must agree any changes in the use of the land. So the matter is entirely in the hands of CISWO. It has the authority and control, and this is the best way for it to proceed.

Mr. Rogers

The Minister is being kind, but I am sure that he will recognise our general fears. Many of the grounds, certainly in the south Wales valleys, have been supported by local collieries that are now closed, and therefore the cost of maintenance has reverted to local welfare organisations or to CISWO itself. If no support is coming from British Coal funds to maintain those grounds, the pressure will be on, if the National Playing Fields Association cannot take them over, for them to be sold. We would like to see moneys put aside or made available so that they can stay in the ownership of the people who provided them.

Mr. Page

Although I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, I do not feel that it would be right for me—I do not think that I have the power—to tie CISWO's hands in that way. It wants to be a living and growing organisation and it must decide the best way forward for the charity that we are establishing tonight.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he tell the House exactly who owns all those different tracts of land? Do they belong to CISWO, the Coal Board or, as has been suggested, the local miners, who may have paid over many years? If my hon. Friend does not have all the answers now to tell the House, perhaps he will write to me.

Mr. Page

I will have to write to my hon. Friend, because the ownership of the land, whether the leases involved were given to local authorities or to organisations at peppercorn rents, will be an immense puzzle to unravel. [Interruption.] No. We are not going to withdraw the order, because the order is at the request of and to the benefit of CISWO, and I would be surprised if any hon. Member tonight did not want to give CISWO the opportunity to go forward to become a charity and fulfil the original obligation that was wanted back in 1952.

Mr. Enright

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Page

No, I wish to make some progress.

The Government took careful note of the depth of support for existing services and arranged funding of some £17 million to secure the future of those core services for the disabled, the old and the infirm. The funding falls into two parts: £5 million taking the form of an annual payment of £1 million a year for five years from the new coal companies; and £12 million taking the form of capital endowments from British Coal.

There was also widespread concern on a separate but linked issue, which many hon. Members have raised—namely, recreational facilities.

Ministers gave assurances that British Coal land currently in active use for sports and recreation will be retained for those purposes. That remains our position. I have said that before and say it again. CISWO and the NPFA are closely involved with our discussions with British Coal.

Why should CISWO move to a charitable trust? First, essentially, to improve flexibility. As a Companies Act company, CISWO presides over some 400 area trusts, miners' welfares and convalescent homes, each of which is a trust. Yet it does not enjoy the benefits of charitable status. The change of status increases the range of options for making the best use of resources in the system.

Secondly, CISWO will be looking to a wide range of sources of support and funding. As a charity, it will be well-placed to do that.

The directors of CISWO agreed, in a meeting on 15 February, to a supplemental trust deed. The trust will now be able to perform all the functions of CISWO Ltd. The supplemental deed also puts in place new arrangements for the governance of the CISWO trust.

In brief, there will be three groups of trustees: four will represent employers; four will represent employees; and there will be four general trustees, bringing experience and knowledge of the voluntary sector to the CISWO trust. To ensure continuity in CISWO's strategic direction, four British Coal trustees and four trade union trustees will be appointed as employer and employee trustees.

The role of trustee places substantial obligations and responsibilities on individuals. That will be well appreciated by hon. Members with experience of the voluntary charitable sector. I can say that, having been an honorary treasurer of a national charity. People with knowledge of how charities work and how they best operate are valuable. Therefore, I am pleased that members of the CISWO council, who have guided and supported the activities of CISWO over the years, are prepared to continue their commitment and give their time and energy to the future development of the coal industry's social welfare.

Mr. Kevin Hughes

The Minister referred to four trustees from the employer, four from the employees and another four. Who will be appointing those other four?

Mr. Page

As I understand it, four will come from the trade unions, four from British Coal and four general trustees will bring additional expertise. We must recognise that CISWO is moving on and will require that extra support.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Page

No, I must bring my remarks to a close.

The charitable trust is therefore in place. The specific purpose of the draft order is to enable the transfer of the functions of CISWO Ltd. to that trust in accordance with section 12(3) of the Miners' Welfare Act 1952.

That section provides that if a resolution is passed or an order made for the winding up of CISWO Ltd., any functions of that organisation shall be transferred to such body or person as may be prescribed by an order made by the Secretary of State. Such a resolution was passed on 10 March and I ask hon. Members to support the decision made by CISWO council and trustees of the CISWO trust by affirming the draft order. I commend the draft order to the House.

10.36 pm
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity available to him to reply to the debate. I realise that he has already accepted several interventions, but we spent a fair amount of time on this issue during the passage of the Coal Industry Bill because we considered that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation played a significant part in the life of coal communities in a number of ways.

As has already been made clear, CISWO is significant because it was set up before the establishment of the welfare state. It started in 1920, partly with funding from management but largely on the basis of funding which came from the men who worked in the industry who, conscious of the inadequacy of the facilities that they had around them, felt it necessary to provide additional services not only for recreation but for the very basis of health and welfare in their communities.

It is therefore with a certain sense of regret and chagrin that we debate the order today. We recognise that, as the ownership of the coal industry has changed, so the basis of funding must change, as it must in so far as the price per tonne has fallen since the demise of the coal industry.

Twelve months ago the Government were singing from a rather different hymn sheet from the one that they are using tonight. When the Bill was in its embryonic stage, Opposition Members had a number of discussions with the trustees. The Minister for Energy and Industry met the trustees and it became abundantly clear that he had precious little understanding of the importance and significance of CISWO and its associated organisations' activities.

To some extent the Minister has moved, as he has been made aware of the social welfare organisation—the welfare clubs and the sports facilities. To an extent, we must recognise that that movement has meant that there has been an improvement in the funding of CISWO. We shall have to wait and see whether the improved method of funding will be sufficient to cover the continuing functions of the organisation.

The Minister has paid tribute to the extensive social welfare provisions which still exist. It would be wrong to assume that, because only about 10,000 men are now employed in the coal industry, there are only 10,000 potential beneficiaries; that figure could be multiplied 20 or 30 times, given the families and communities who have depended on the counselling, disablement assistance and grants which have constituted part of the fabric of coal-mining constituencies. It is important for the new funding arrangements to be clear, and for the best use to be made of the money.

The Government have made it clear that they are prepared to provide an endowment of £10 million, which will attract some £600,000 per annum in interest. The licensed operators have committed themselves to contributing £1 million per annum for five years. That will be done on the basis of some form of covenant. Will the Minister assure us that it will be as tax-efficient as possible, so that the nascent charity can benefit fully from the money that the new licensed operators will be required to contribute? I understand that the draft covenant still has some way to go before it can take best advantage of the appropriate tax breaks.

Mr. Enright

I hope that my hon. Friend will deal at some point with British Coal, which none of us trusts. It gave certain undertakings about Frickley colliery. People living in the area who were sold their very small cottages are now left without roads, lighting, cleaning or any other facilities, and we fear that British Coal will do exactly the same in regard to CISWO unless we know who is to appoint the four other trustees. The Minister was coy about that.

Mr. O'Neill

I hope that the Minister will deal with that point when he winds up the debate. I understand that the legislation must also go through the House of Lords, and that the procedure must be completed by 31 March, when there will be a further diminution of the role and responsibilities of British Coal.

I do not think that many Opposition Members—or, I imagine, many Conservative Members who take an interest in the coal industry—have much trust in, or affection for, the rump that constitutes the remainder of British Coal. It has failed to defend the industry and the communities; indeed, it has walked away from them. I am reluctant to say this, but it almost bears testimony to the campaign that was waged by Opposition Members and the trustees of CISWO that the Minister was able to give CISWO some support. Indifference has been the hallmark of the commitment given by British Coal in the recent past.

We are concerned about the nature of the funds from the new licensed operators. We want to ensure that they are as tax-efficient as possible. We also want guarantees from the Government that if any of the licensed operators for any reason default on the payments that they are required to provide, adequate steps will be taken to ensure that the money is forthcoming. Already, in the three months since the change in the coal industry pension schemes, a number of the new, smaller operators—not the three licensed operators mentioned earlier—have reneged on their commitments to the miners' pension schemes. They are defaulting on their payments. We therefore require clear and express guarantees that the Government will undertake correct policing to ensure that the charity is able to expect the funds that the licensed operators have committed themselves to making available. One expects that that might be one of the first things that they would default on if they got into difficulty.

We are told that the threat of licence withdrawal will be the Coal Authority's greatest sanction against licensed operators, but we are concerned that they may not come up with the goods. It may be only £100,000, but such sums are critical to the funding of CISWO. We need guarantees that the back-sliding that has taken place in relation to pension scheme contributions will not take place in this context.

Land is the other point that has exercised most hon. Members. We are talking here not about wee parcels of land dotted around the country, but about 1,000-acre areas, many of them located in prime sites in mining communities. Those sites could be used for industrial or housing developments, but they are desperately required to provide adequate social and welfare facilities.

The Minister was somewhat disingenuous in his replies. I understand that his officials have arrived at an agreement with CISWO that the terms of the leasing of land are cut and dried. The Under-Secretary of State and the Minister for Energy and Industry have yet to put their signatures to the agreement. What the Under-Secretary of State has said today is not good enough. He has not made his point in any threatening way, but he should recognise that Opposition Members know that they are up against the clock, that 31 March is the date by which this has to be signed, sealed and delivered, and that the statutory instrument must be agreed today so that it can go to the Lords and complete its passage.

We do not understand why the Minister is not prepared to go the extra yard to secure the agreement and to allay the anxieties of my colleagues and of many people engaged in sporting, welfare and recreational activities across the country. It would not take much. We want to know what is required and why he has yet to do it. The impression that we get is that it is somehow up to the welfares, but that is not the case: it is up to the Minister to come across.

I take second place to few people in my appreciation of the distance that the Government have already travelled. At one stage, we expected the demise of the welfares and we were concerned about what would happen to the myriad activities for which they are responsible. It would be a shame and a disgrace if those activities were denied to mining communities simply because of the inability or unwillingness of the Minister to get off his backside and to argue with his colleagues in Government to secure the last piece of the jigsaw and to get CISWO on a good footing.

The improvement in the deal is in large measure due to the work of the trustees. We are concerned to ensure that the people who will have the sizeable responsibility for taking care of a substantial amount of money and for myriad social working activities and other matters will be accepted and trusted by the mining communities. We should like a greater degree of frankness from the Minister as to who will appoint those people and what their credentials will he. We want to ensure that they will enjoy the trust of all people involved in mining. I doubt whether many people currently working at or associated with Hobart house and British Coal would be included in the list of the great and good from which the names will he taken. I doubt whether all the trade union organisations will enjoy the greatest degree of confidence across the spectrum of mining communities. I would certainly be concerned if there was not a truly representative group from the other element in this—the communities. People from the communities will be aware of, sympathetic to and enjoy the confidence of those communities.

At this late stage I want to mention what we have achieved. I use the word "we" because my colleagues on the Standing Committee, those who fought the Bill on the Floor of the House and all our colleagues in the trade union movement went a great distance to secure the compromises and advances embodied in the order and I should hate the ship to sink for the lack of a ha'porth of tar. This is important to the areas that many of us are privileged to represent, to those who have given their lives and to families who have given substantial parts of their weekly wage to ensure that there were common facilities in the communities. We want to ensure that that communitarian tradition will he sustained and that it is in the hands of people whom we know and trust. We want the Minister to assure us as to the manner of the financing and the way in which the guarantees will be established; we want an assurance that the land will be available to our people in perpetuity and that those who will have overall responsibility will be people whom we know and trust.

10.51 pm
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) referred to the Coal Industry Bill, which explored a number of important issues. There are three main issues that we need to clarify: first, funding; secondly, the suitable structure; and, thirdly, the leasing of the recreation land.

The Minister said that there would be four trustees from the union side, four from the management side and four other trustees to be appointed. I am sure that he is aware that previously there was always an even number of trustees from management, an even number from the union and a rotating chair, so things have changed. There may be, for example, a disagreement over land. The union trustees would be easily outvoted on that sort of issue. We are concerned that the situation has changed so radically and we hope that the Minister will elaborate on the arrangements for the trustees when he replies.

Another issue of concern is funding, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan referred. Funding is significant because of the important role that CISWO has played in mining communities. It does a great deal of work for disabled and sick people and for the disadvantaged generally.

The funding is insufficient. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan explained, over the first five years, there is £1.65 million. That is much less than previously. It means that many of the services that CISWO has offered in the past will no longer be provided. In the sixth year, things become even more dire. Between the sixth and ninth years, the amount per year will decrease from £1.65 million to £1.63 million. I understand that it has been suggested that the trustees should be able to raise £500,000 between the sixth and ninth years to augment the moneys from the annuity. At the same time, I understand that a special expenditure fund is to be drawn on, which will be exhausted by the 10th year. In effect, CISWO will face a very difficult situation by that 10th year because, no matter how enthusiastic the trustees are, raising £500,000 a year for a good number of years—at least six years—will tax that enthusiasm. It is rather unlikely that they will be able to continue raising such amounts of money.

Does the Minister have plans for further funding? Are there plans, for example, to assist CISWO from the sixth year to the ninth year if the trustees are unable to raise £500,000 each year? What plans does he have for after the 10th year?

There is also great concern over leased land. Much of it is leased from British Coal. The Minister will be aware that we withdrew some of the amendments to the Coal Industry Bill on the basis of assurances that we were given. It now appears that some of those assurances may not, in some respects, be fulfilled in the way in which we thought they might. For example, we were given to believe that some of the land might be transferred to the Coal Authority, yet when the Minister opened the debate, he made no mention of that.

I shall draw the Minister's attention to two great concerns in my constituency. First, the North Gawber welfare is currently in receivership, but its football pitch is used regularly by the community. Will the Minister ensure that that football pitch is kept as a leisure amenity in the community? Secondly, there is concern regarding land in the village of Worsborough. The girl guides' camp is on a piece of land covering 3.34 acres which is owned by British Coal. The area is regularly used and it is important to the village. I hope that if the Minister cannot give an answer at the Dispatch Box, he will be prepared to look into the matter with a view to ensuring that the land is handed over to CISWO. If that is not possible, the land should go to the local authority.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

My hon. Friend is being typically modest when he refers to some of the CISWO land in his constituency. Will he reflect on one of the cricket pitches in his constituency in the village of Cawthorne, which traditionally wins the title of the best kept village in Yorkshire? For a village in Yorkshire, that is no mean achievement. Will he reflect on the fact that a number of private entrepreneurs would like to buy the cricket pitch in Cawthorne from CISWO? The cricket pitch is a marvellous village amenity and is likely to be sold to the private sector if there are four union trustees, four management trustees and four trustees from the voluntary sector—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. This is a very long intervention and it is time that the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) was allowed to resume his speech.

Mr. Illsley

I would just like to ask my hon. Friend—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. No more.

Mr. Clapham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for prompting me. Cawthorne cricket club rests in a very beautiful part of Yorkshire, in a small village, and property developers have had their eye on it. The issue may well have to be determined by the vote of the trustees. The interests of the community may take second place to business interests, which may influence the vote of the trustees. We are concerned about the composition of the trustees. We would be much happier with the previous structure of an even number of trustees and a chair by rotation.

I ask the Minister for an assurance that the lands that are leased from British Coal will be handed to CISWO and that the two areas in my constituency to which I have referred will continue to be available for recreation.

11 pm

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

We are having to discuss these matters because of the privatisation of the coal industry. It is a pity that the Tory rebels were not around at the time. They could have joined us and prevented the privatisation from taking place. Perhaps it is futile to think along those lines when pits have shut throughout Britain. They are still closing. I hear that one in Nottingham is on the skids.

We have seen the devastation of mining communities. We now find that the welfare organisation, with its grounds and recreation facilities, is placed in jeopardy. It is little wonder that we are greatly concerned about the order to deal with CISWO and its activities on behalf of the injured, including paraplegics. I have in mind visiting, for example.

The recreation grounds could be called the glamour part of CISWO. Most people know about the cricket and football grounds. We are talking of grounds where the Charltons played and where Kevin Keegan learnt his trade. Some of the most famous English cricketers used the grounds during the early years of their careers. Those of us who represent mining communities are here tonight to defend the grounds. We are anxious to ensure that a tradition continues.

We are naturally peeved that the pits have gone. We have a duty to protect local amenities in what were mining areas. It has already been said that all the amenities were provided by miners in the past. They were not provided by the Budges of this world. Budge has made no contribution to the welfare amenities. He has produced nothing.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

He has opened some pits.

Mr. Skinner

He has helped to close them.

The welfare facilities have come from miners over generations. Along comes R. J. Budge and, from what we have heard, it seems that he will recommend about half the CISWO trustees. It is a fine state of affairs when the man is operating on a shaky financial basis. He won a tender on one of the most crooked proposals in any privatisation package. He makes a £900 million bid and wins the tender. He then has discussions with the Department of Trade and Industry and the bid is reduced by £100 million. The fellow will be able to have four of his henchmen on CISWO. We cannot be satisfied with what the Minister has told us about the trustees. Where will they come from? How many of them will be scabs? How many will come via Mr. R. J. Budge and such people?

The net result will be that the whole thing will turn into a Tory quango. The Minister has not satisfied us. In a few years, or in an even shorter time, some of the welfares will be cherry-picked. They will be sold off and there will be yuppies in every pit village, who will gradually change the cricket and football grounds into parts of leafy suburbialand. They will have pampas grass in the gardens.

We are not satisfied with what the Minister said. We know that there is a 31 March deadline, but unless he can give us satisfactory answers and a guarantee that no land will be sold, and unless we hear today who the trustees will he and who will appoint them, some of us feel that we have no alternative but to oppose the order.

11.5 pm

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)

My speech will be short, too. I am disappointed that the Minister is not sitting beside the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Energy, because he, like us, went through the Bill with a fine-toothed comb. He was the one who gave us many of the assurances that such problems would not arise.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), I was under the impression that the land would be given to the new Coal Authority, yet all of a sudden we found out that British Coal was auctioning it all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) said that he had paid for these assets. In fact, we all paid for them. At Roslin colliery, the first colliery where I worked, the baths and the bicycle sheds were provided by CISWO through the men's contributions. They were then transferred to the jurisdiction of British Coal. Many of the assets were paid for by the men and the communities themselves. Even when we talk about a few collieries, the House must realise that thousands of people provided the assets there.

Those assets—the miners' welfares and recreational facilities—make life tolerable in the villages to which they belong. Many of the individuals who, quite rightly, take advantage of them have given their lives and their health to the industry. They are worried about the future and about what is happening to CISWO.

The Minister had given me the impression that the facilities were protected and the land would remain, but now I wonder what is happening to the money paid for the land being sold by British Coal. Is it going into a central fund or will it go directly to the Treasury? Those are the questions that worry and frustrate us. Will the money gained from the cherry picking that will take place go to the Treasury, too?

Sometimes the assets can become liabilities, and local authorities cannot inherit them without some sort of grant to get them into condition and to provide for their upkeep and maintenance. There is not the money for people to contribute directly to the funds now, because most of those who use the facilities are retired or redundant miners and their families.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) that the order is a leap forward—indeed, it is a light year forward from what we were offered originally. I agree that it is constructive. But, like everybody in all parts of the British coalfield, I am worried that we may again be being hived off as a problem. The Government wanted to privatise the coal industry, so they had to get rid of us awkward characters who were worried about our communities.

I am sorry that the Minister has to answer the debate; but he is a member of the Government, so he should answer it. There are questions that need to be answered and blank spaces that need to be filled in by the Government and by the Minister in this debate. I hope that, if he does not have the answers now, we will get them in the future. I also hope that dialogue will continue even after the motion is passed today.

11.9 pm

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

It would be churlish not to recognise the movement that has been made on CISWO. When the debate on British Coal started, there was real anxiety among some of us that the Government did not understand the value of CISWO and thought that they could discard it. I am pleased that we have moved to a position where there will be a charitable trust and CISWO is to be funded.

We will return to the issues because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) said, the funding is relatively short term, and I am anxious about the future of CISWO. It has been given a lifeboat, but times are difficult in the coalfield communities and we may well have to revisit this part of funding in 10 years' time.

The problems of the coalfields will not go away. It is okay for people to talk about regeneration, but we must understand that that regeneration will take time. The recreational land about which we have talked to the Minister is important as part of that regeneration. We must try to nail the issue tonight, because the trust will be set up from 31 March. The clock is ticking and assets must be transferred into that new charitable trust.

There are three problems about the land. First, it is my impression that British Coal frankly does not know what it owns. An example of that is the allotment land by the old Linby colliery site, where there has been an absolute denial of ownership of those allotments. British Coal says that it does not own the land, and that the county council owns it. The county council, however, denies that it owns the land.

I note that British Coal is taking rents from allotment holders. It is vital that British Coal decides quickly who owns the land and transfers those lands and properties. One of the problems is that, in the rush to privatise and get rid of British Coal, the staff have been left in flux. There is nobody there to do the work, and the issues need to be resolved quickly.

Secondly, I must draw the Minister's attention to the issue of allotments. If he wants to have a fight, he can take on the allotment holders of England who are firmly tied to that land. There has been no consideration at all of what will happen to allotment land. Can the Minister give us an assurance tonight that allotments will be transferred across to CISWO and that we can then talk about the kind of co-operatives and partnerships we might need to keep the allotment holders happy? My postbag is full of letters from allotment holders. If the Minister wants a fight, they will take him on, and they are a powerful group to consider.

Finally, while we are talking about recreational land, it is clear that advanced discussions have taken place between British Coal, CISWO and the National Playing Fields Association. I have the impression—the Minister may tell me that I am wrong—that a schedule has been drawn up. That needs ratification. Yet the clock is ticking. We have an opportunity tonight to question the Minister about the way forward for the land. Can he not give us a little more clarity about what will happen? What land will go to CISWO? What will go to the National Playing Fields Association? My colleagues speak with passion on those subjects because we have seen the passing of British Coal. We want to maintain the best traditions of the mining communities. CISWO can embody that. It can be a step into the future.

I hope that the Minister will do his best to reassure not only us but coalfield communities, which have had a tough time in the past few years and now look for some real messages of hope.

11.15 pm
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

I should like to take the Minister back to his opening submission. He said that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation was a limited company formed in 1952 under the Miners' Welfare Act 1952. He went on to say that it had never achieved charitable status with the charity commissioners as a result of an oversight or mistake. I think that those were his words. He will intervene if I have got that wrong.

I should like to take issue with the Minister on that one point, which goes to the heart of the matter. I do not for one minute believe that anyone forgot to register CISWO as a charitable organisation with the charity commissioners. I believe that CISWO was set up as a company for a particular reason. I suggest to the Minister that CISWO was set up as a company by the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. They had an equal number of shares and made an equal contribution to funding. The chair of the company rotated from the National Coal Board to the National Union of Mineworkers in alternate years. I could be wrong, but the Minister might want to answer that point when he replies to the debate.

I have a little experience of CISWO as I once applied to be its chief executive. In applying for that position, I went in some detail into the structure of CISWO. I dispute the assertion that someone in CISWO overlooked the fact that it had to seek charitable status with the charity commissioners rather than be set up as a limited company.

Let us take the matter a stage further and consider why CISWO should have been a limited company rather than a charity. To do so we have to examine trust law and charity law and consider whether a body can achieve charitable status with the charity commissioners for a tightly defined group of beneficiaries. Will the charity commissioners accept an application for charitable status where the beneficiaries are solely mineworkers? I suggest that in 1952 the charity commissioners would not grant charitable status to a group of beneficiaries restricted solely to mineworkers and their families, hence the need for a limited company. There was never any intention for CISWO to seek charitable status, which the Minister says it overlooked.

Under the order, we are now to leap from a limited company set up in 1952 to a new CISWO, a new charity. I understand that the application for charitable status has already been accepted by the charity commissioners. The terms are that there will be four trustees from the mineworkers' unions, four trustees from management and four trustees from certain voluntary organisations which the Minister has not identified. He has not even identified a range of voluntary organisations from which those four trustees could come.

We move on from there being a limited company whose directors are equally divided between the union and the company, with a rotating chairman. There are now three groups—a union group, a management group and a separate group. Let us consider each group in turn.

There are now two unions—the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and the National Union of Mineworkers, a split group with four trusteeships. On the management side, four trusteeships are available to 29 or 30 different companies. Several private companies now operate in the mining industry, the most well-known of which is RJB Mining, but in South Wales and other areas there are many private companies. There are four trusteeships among a great many companies there.

There are four trusteeships for charities, of which the only one mentioned this evening is the National Playing Fields Association, which has never previously been in the ball game, as far as I can remember. Why should the National Playing Fields Association be included? We are talking not only about playing fields, but about substantial land holdings, miners' welfare premises, licensed premises, clubs, pubs and so on.

In one leap we go from a company with an even spread of directors from the NUM, British Coal and the National Coal Board, to a charity with trustees who are appointed from three separate areas.

CISWO's property holdings give some cause for concern. Its property holdings in mining areas are specific to those mining areas but it also has fields—substantial property holdings that could be attractive to outside bodies.

The split of trustees—four from management, four from the unions, four from voluntary organisations—means that the unions, which traditionally represented the opinions of the mining areas and previously held 50 per cent. of the vote, can no longer voice those opinions in the new organisation. They can be overruled, so the wishes of mining areas are likely to be overruled.

Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) suggested—that we could be seeking funding in about 10 years' time—the new charity may sell off the assets of CISWO very quickly, not to local authorities inside whose boundaries those assets are situated, but to the highest bidder, not for leisure purposes but for development. I give the Minister an example that occurred in my constituency recently, whereby a brewery applied for planning permission to build houses on a bowling green alongside a public house. It wanted to do away with a leisure facility and build houses on what has been a bowling green for many years. That is the sort of situation that may confront us.

Will the Minister explain why CISWO is to become a charity? Why cannot it remain a company? Why is CISWO now subject to three different groups of trustees? When was it agreed that four of its trustees should come from the voluntary sector, as opposed to the trustees being derived from management and the unions within the industry? Why are trustees from outside being thrust upon CISWO? Will assets now be sold off to the highest bidder in the private sector because the trustees who represent mining areas—that is, trustees from the mining unions—will be out-voted?

11.24 pm
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

My remarks will be brief because other hon. Members have already made many important points.

The process of privatisation has been very traumatic for mining communities throughout the country. Retired miners in north Warwickshire have been extremely concerned about what will happen to the many facilities that they use and upon which they base their entire social lives.

Those retired miners will hold their annual general meeting tomorrow morning to discuss, among other things, the future of Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation Ltd. They will be concerned to receive answers to the questions that my hon. Friends have asked tonight. I think that they will appreciate that the Government have moved a long way since the privatisation process began.

The order appears to rush the process and, in that rush, there is a danger that certain questions may be left unanswered. On the face of it, they may not appear to be particularly important questions; but they may give rise to issues which may involve the new trust in legal complexity and controversy which would severely obstruct its ability to undertake the tasks that it has been set up to perform.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend has the same problems in his constituency as I have in mine. There is an agreement between CISWO and the local authority about the mining welfare facility in my constituency, which was extended by the local authority. It is organised and run on a trustee basis by the local authority and CISWO trustees. I understand that there are about 500 similar agreements throughout the country. Local authorities are already under financial pressure and are concerned about their continued operation and when CISWO also comes under pressure the demands to dispose of those facilities will become intense.

Mr. O'Brien

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Unless many of those issues are addressed—and, in undertaking this process, the Government have a responsibility to address them and to come up with some clear answers, if not tonight then as soon as possible thereafter—CISWO may experience a great deal of difficulty in carrying out its designated duties, in terms of not only its various agreements with local authorities but its dealings in leased land under private ownership. All those legal problems must be resolved sooner rather than later.

In his reply, I hope that the Minister will address the legal problem that he ducked earlier. He must set out clearly how the trustees—particularly the trade union trustees—will be selected.

My final point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping). Allotments are one of the main issues that concern many retired miners. I very much hope that we can have some clear answers on what will happen to those allotments and on what promises and undertakings the Government can make to allotment holders that their future will be protected.

11.29 pm
Mr. Page

In opening the debate, I commended the commitment given and pledged again by the council and trustees of CISWO. I was born in Tredegar in south Wales, so I am not unaware of the role of the coal industry in that society and the role fulfilled by the various miners' welfares. The advisers and staff of CISWO, led by their chief executive, Mr. Vernon Jones, must also be commended. They have borne a heavy burden of additional work in recent months in preparing the transfer of activities from the company to the trust and for the future of the trust.

It may he helpful if I say to the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) that when CISWO Ltd. was formed in 1952, the intention was to register it as a charity, but there was a degree of apprehension and nervousness that its aims and objectives on the recreational side would not have been compatible with charity law at the time. That was why it would not become a charitable trust.

Mr. Illsley

I wonder whether the Minister heard what I said. The charity commissioners would not accept the charity with such narrow charitable objectives as those available only for mine workers and their families, hence the decision to stick with limited company status.

Mr. Page

I believe that the hon. Gentleman said that it was never the intention to form it as a charity. The original intention was to form it as a charity, but the trustees had to go down the limited liability route for the very reasons on which the hon. Gentleman and I now agree.

At the same time, CISWO has been able to maintain the complex and dynamic range of services for which it has become well respected over the years. It has been planning for the future.

There will be four representatives from the employees, four from the employers and four other independent trustees. The employees will appoint four representatives, those from the employers will be appointed by British Coal and the service is for five years. On the four that will be from the independent sector, the Government are in discussion with CISWO to choose suitable people that can provide the advice from the voluntary sector to which I referred in my opening speech. Therefore, 12 people will be working together to move the charity forward. After their term of five years, they will be in a position to replicate themselves and move on.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) asked about particular sites. It will come as no surprise to him that I do not have a clue about the individual cases that he mentioned. I shall certainly take him up on his offer that I write to him, although I repeat that the Government have given assurances that all lands in active recreational use will be maintained, and that any land leased from British Coal, for example, for recreational use will go either to the National Playing Fields Association or to CISWO. That is the position, but I shall write to him about the individual cases.

Mr. Illsley

Before the Minister moves on, may I bring him back to the point about charitable status? At the start of his reply to the debate, he mentioned that it was thought in 1952 that perhaps CISWO could not achieve charitable status. Why can the company achieve charitable status now, but it could not in 1952, when there were other worries? Why has it achieved charitable status quickly now under privatisation, when it could not do so under nationalisation?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman seeks devious reasons at every available opportunity. I hate to disappoint him, but it may have crossed his mind that one or two laws have been passed which have changed the status of charities and enabled CISWO to become a charitable trust.

Mr. Illsley

indicated dissent.

Mr. Page

It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head, because that is the answer.

The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) mentioned allotments. I know to my cost how dear that issue is to many people. British Coal's original intention was to put allotments into the parcels of land to be sold. I can give the hon. Gentleman some good news: Ministers were unhappy about that proposal and have asked British Coal to reconsider its position. The hon. Gentleman's words tonight will ring in my ears when the details come before me.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has been generous in doing so today. He assured us, and we have, of course, taken him at his word, that legislation on charities has changed to enable CISWO to undertake what it previously could not. Will he assure us that, if difficulties arise, or if his advice is not as clear as he thought, legislation will be passed as quickly as possible to enable CISWO to do what I hope we both want it to do?

Mr. Page

I cannot assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government would come behind CISWO if everything went wrong because I believe that the funding is a generous settlement, which should guarantee CISWO's services well into the future. CISWO itself appreciates that it must be able to stand on its own two feet. It will have charitable status and, as I have some experience of charitable work, I know what can be achieved when an organisation moves into that area. As a national charity, more fund-raising opportunities will be open to it, such as company donations; sponsorships; grants from other charities, foundations and trusts; local and central Government grants to support specific services; and individual covenants and endowments. I know how much money can come in from endowments and the work that can be done to get those additions to the charity's income.

Mr. O'Neill

In the light of the Minister's experience, is he satisfied that the arrangement that has been entered into by the new licensed operators is the most tax efficient? Will he assure us that there will be guarantees against defaulting by any of those who are required to contribute to that new financial arrangement?

Mr. Page

Had the hon. Gentleman held on for a split second, he would have seen that I was about to come to that subject.

Mr. O'Neill

I grew tired of waiting.

Mr. Page

I know, but there we are. The covenant forms are a question for the companies, and it will be for the companies to work with CISWO to agree the best method. They are obliged to pass over the sums of money concerned, which is what they will do. On financial failure and guarantees, the Government will not be in a position to provide the guarantees that the hon. Gentleman seeks. But, in granting the licences in the first place, I do not believe that the situation that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about can even be contemplated.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the pressure of time, given that the 31st is the deadline. I can look him straight in the eye and say that, if some agreement has been reached and CISWO is working it out, it has not yet crossed my desk. I have had no sight of it. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman must restrain himself slightly because, on the basis of what he said this evening, I shall make that the first question that I shall ask tomorrow morning.

In bringing this order to a conclusion, I pay special tribute also to the many supporters and voluntary helpers in the coalfield communities who have effectively helped to deliver the services by CISWO to those convalescent homes and day centres. Their work is vital and well appreciated. Long may it continue.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 111, Noes 29.

Division No. 103] [11.29 pm
Alexander, Richard Brandreth, Gyles
Mason, Rupert (Torbay) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Amess, David Browning, Mrs Angela
Arbuthnot, James Burns, Simon
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Burt, Alistair
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Butler, Peter
Ashby, David Carrington, Matthew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Carttiss, Michael
Bates, Michael Cash, William
Beresford, Sir Paul Chapman, Sydney
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Booth, Hartley Conway, Derek
Bowis, John Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cran, James MacKay, Andrew
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'byire) Maclean, David
Day, Stephen Maitland, Lady Olga
Devlin, Tim Malone, Gerald
Dover, Den Merchant, Piers
Duncan, Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Elletson, Harold Nicholls, Patrick
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Fabricant, Michael Norris, Steve
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Forman, Nigel Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling) Pickles, Eric
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
French, Douglas Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Gallie, Phil Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Gillan, Cheryl Shaw, David (Dover)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Spencer, Sir Derek
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Spink, Dr Robert
Hargreaves, Andrew Sproat, Iain
Hawksley, Warren Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hayes, Jerry Stephen, Michael
Heald, Oliver Stern, Michael
Hendry, Charles Sweeney, Walter
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Jack, Michael Thomason, Roy
Jenkin, Bernard Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Thurnham, Peter
King, Rt Hon Tom Tredinnick, David
Kirkhope, Timothy Twinn, Dr Ian
Knapman, Roger Viggers, Peter
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Wallar, Gary
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Knox, Sir David Wells, Bowen
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Whittingdale, John
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Widdecombe, Ann
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Willetts, David
Legg, Barry Wolfson, Mark
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Wood, Timothy
Lidington, David Yeo, Tim
Lightbown, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Mr. Andrew Mitchell and
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Dr. Liam Fox.
Alton, David Illsley, Eric
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Llwyd, Elfyn
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) McCartney, Ian
Campbell-Savours, D N Mahon, Alice
Chidgey, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Clapham, Michael Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Pike, Peter L
Cunliffe, Lawrence Rendel, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Simpson, Alan
Donohoe, Brian H Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Godman, Dr Norman A Tipping, Paddy
Graham, Thomas Wise, Audrey
Hall, Mike Wray, Jimmy
Heppell, John Tellers for the Noes:
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Mr. Dennis Skinner and
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Mr. Harry Barnes.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Miners' Welfare Act 1952 (Transfer of Functions of Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 23rd February, be approved.