HC Deb 05 March 2003 vol 400 cc931-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Derek Twigg.]

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

I am pleased to have been successful in obtaining this Adjournment debate, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Construction will reply, because he is sympathetic to mining communities and he has been very helpful in obtaining the current aid package for the mining industry.

This debate is about the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and its funding. CISWO, as I shall refer to it, came into being after 1 January 1947, when the industry was nationalised. Although a mosaic of welfare and social provision had existed previously, CISWO brought it together and was able to roll out the provision right across the United Kingdom coalfields.

CISWO has a national framework, with a regionally devolved structure, fitting the organisation into different coalfield cultures in a way that allows it to engage with the community. It offers advice and help to those who organise the welfare facilities and ensures that management skills are on hand to assist local initiatives. In addition, CISWO organises local initiatives and helps to organise sports and brass band concerts, as well as providing bursaries for the sons and daughters of miners and former miners who go on to further or higher education.

Perhaps the most important services provided by CISWO are those for the disabled and frail in the mining communities. It administers the miners' paraplegic centres and provides assistance and counselling for their families. The organisation's social workers assist ageing and disabled miners and their widows; 19 social workers work for it within the UK coalfields, and CISWO social workers now carry out about 10,000 visits a year, in response to a range of issues such as poverty, ill health, bereavement, social exclusion and income maximisation. Those services are invaluable to mining communities.

I remind the House that the coalfield communities stretch from Scotland through the north-east, the Midlands, south Wales and Kent, and that the population of those mining communities is about 5 million—roughly equal to the population of Scotland.

Much has been done to regenerate and renew former coalmining communities, but there is still a long way to go. Many of the men who were made redundant after the economic dislocation caused by the colliery closures in the 1980s and 1990s have never found employment. Indeed, a report published some time ago by the Coalfield Communities Campaign suggested that 44 per cent. of miners made redundant at that time had not found alternative employment. That creates social problems of its own, which are peculiar to mining communities, and CISWO helps them deal with some of those.

The deep coalmining industry has left mining communities with a legacy of disability. I know that the Minister has been extremely helpful in ensuring that the COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—scheme has made money available. Although when the scheme was first initiated and the lawyers devised the handling agreement it was extremely problematic, my hon. Friend has worked hard to ensure that the scheme has been made practicable, and money is now coming through to the mining communities.

Nevertheless, the high level of disability imposes a burden on local authority social services, which find it difficult to provide, often to remote communities, the kind of specialist help that former miners and their families require. I should point out that the coalmining industry is not an urban industry but a rural one. Many of the small communities dotted around the towns require the special help that CISWO provides.

David Hamilton (Midlothian)

Does my hon. Friend agree that now that there is not one deep mine left in Scotland, CISWO's role is more important than ever? When the pits were still running, we had trade unions and miners clubs that could organise in local communities, but these days CISWO's role is unique. It fills the gap, and delivers the information that it is so important to let people know.

Mr. Clapham

That is a relevant point. When collieries close, the service provided by CISWO becomes more important.

Let me give the Minister an example from my community that highlights the degree of disability. The local economy in Barnsley was dependent on coal mining, and little diversification took place through the 1980s. Of course, when economic dislocation occurred as a result of colliery closures, enormous job losses followed. It had always been known that there was a high degree of disability in the Barnsley community. In 1997, the local authority carried out a survey in the town that showed that nearly a third of households in the borough had a disabled person: generally, a father or a grandfather crippled with a respiratory disease as a result of working for years underground. CISWO provides special services for those families. Many of the former miners and their families live in mining villages that are dotted around outside the town. They often require the specialist assistance that, I feel, only CISWO workers can provide.

As the Minister will be aware, following a successful campaign in 1993–94 at the time of coal industry privatization—a campaign that was actively supported by many Labour MPs—CISWO was preserved. The then Conservative Government provided, through British Coal structures, a £10 million endowment fund, and a £2 million special expendable fund was also made available. The mining companies that had bought the British Coal mines augmented that: they were contractually obliged to provide £1 million per annum of revenue income for a maximum of five years.

As my hon. Friend the Minister is aware, for the last three years CISWO has been in discussion with the Department of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for British Coal, about the need for it to revisit the initial funding package. In the autumn of 2002, the Department announced that it was prepared to make £200,000 per annum available for three years, in recognition of some of the historical liabilities that CISWO would inherit from British Coal, particularly those concerning the appointment of local trustees of mining charities. It is clear from what I have said that the Department's offer to CISWO is inadequate to enable it to maintain the services that the UK's mining beneficiaries desperately require. Using figures from both mineworkers' pension schemes, there will be about 300,000 beneficiaries in that area. CISWO services are therefore badly needed by that group.

CISWO has engaged with many Government initiatives such as the one on lifelong learning. It has been working in mining communities to tackle social exclusion and social enterprise, as well as helping with capacity building. That is in addition to the work carried out by social workers to which I have referred. The organisation's operational staff also work closely with the trustees of local mining charities, of which there are more than 350. Recently, many of those have launched initiatives of the type needed in mining communities, some of which involve miners' institutes providing IT classes. Some of those IT classes are being attended by three generations of former mining families. In addition, other educational opportunities, luncheon clubs, crèches and after-school clubs are provided, all of which are special services required in communities that are adjusting to renewal.

The coalfield taskforce report, as my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware, set out 80-odd recommendations for regeneration and renewal of mining communities. Besides setting up the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the report set CISWO the challenge of developing mining charities as one-stop shops. There has been a magnificent response to that challenge, and in the last five years CISWO has accessed more than £37.5 million from external funders for community development projects. CISWO has done more than any other single organisation to help to redress the problems facing coalmining communities by dealing with their needs and through local capacity building and developing social enterprise. Funding CISWO provides value for money. The figures that I have mentioned show that it is levering more into mining communities.

CISWO has enormous social and economic value to mining communities. Over the years, it has become indispensable in addressing the needs of former miners and their families and in assisting the rebuilding of mining communities. It is difficult to understand therefore—perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will refer to this—why the Government are not supporting the organisation.

I have referred to the contractual commitment of the mining companies to CISWO when the industry was privatised. The cessation of that commitment has resulted in CISWO losing half its annual income. The reserves that it had built up have been used, particularly in the period of the long discussions with the Department of Trade and Industry about funding. So desperate has the situation become that the trustees met last Friday and decided that, given the lack of funding, they had no alternative but to consider a plan for reducing service provision to beneficiaries and mining communities to less than half its current level. This is extremely disappointing and will impact detrimentally on mining communities at a time when the demand for service provision is increasing.

Mining communities are aware that the package put in place by the Conservative Government at the time the industry was privatised was worth £17 million. Since then, CISWO has been offered just £600,000 over three years. That is despite the enormous amount of money that it has levered into mining communities to support community projects.

I know that my hon. Friend is sympathetic to mining communities, but the situation is gravely disappointing and the consequences of the DTI not properly funding CISWO will be paid for by mining communities and by the sick, the disabled, and the disadvantaged in those communities. CISWO provides an invaluable service to the mining communities and former mining communities of the UK, and I urge my hon. Friend to reconsider the Department's stance on this issue and to make the necessary funding available for CISWO to maintain its previous level of service provision.

7.38 pm
The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on securing this debate. I welcome it. As is often the case with Adjournment debates, it provides an extremely useful vehicle for focusing on an issue of real concern.

The issue is familiar to me, as it will be to all the Labour Members present. For the sake of the mining communities who will study the debate, may I point out that only Labour Members are present? That is as one would expect. I fully understand the interest in CISWO's future, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to explain the current position to the House. I shall obviously take account of my hon. Friend's eloquent remarks.

I certainly appreciate and recognise the important work that CISWO has done over a long period. We are not discussing the desirable ends for mining communities, as we all agree about the desirability of regeneration and the valuable activities that CISWO has carried out. Instead, we are talking about the mechanisms of delivery, and I shall detail later that, since 1997, the Government have put in huge sums of money under different headings to these communities. We are dealing with the narrow question of CISWO's role in delivering that and the nature of the services that it provides. I could not help noticing that, almost without exception, the activities listed by my hon. Friend share the characteristic that they are not the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry.

CISWO is a product of nationalisation. It was established as a limited company under the Miners' Welfare Act 1952. The funding and functions of earlier organisations, which had a less comprehensive network, were transferred to the umbrella of CISWO. Besides providing direct services to miners in their communities, it presided over the network of more than 400 miners' welfare schemes, including miners' institutes and recreation and social centres. It was also involved with welfare committees, trusts, funds and convalescent homes.

The funding for CISWO's activities was allowed under section 13 of the 1952 Act. The National Coal Board, and latterly the British Coal Corporation, made payments to CISWO which allowed it to meet the costs of carrying out its activities. Up until 1987, British Coal's annual contribution to CISWO was in the region of £2 million per annum. In 1987, an agreed scheme provided that its funding would take the form of a levy on British Coal's production at 2p per tonne of total output of saleable coal. British Coal, CISWO and the mining unions were party to that scheme, which continued up to the privatisation of the coal industry in 1994. CISWO also derived other income, mainly from grant aid from outside bodies, interest receivable and recovery of social work costs.

My hon. Friend accurately portrayed CISWO's history. At the time of privatisation, CISWO became a charitable trust and consideration was given to how it might continue post-privatisation. A financial package was put together that allowed CISWO to continue with its activities in the mining communities. That was in two parts: British Coal, not the Government, provided a cash endowment totalling £12 million, and a covenant arrangement was put in place whereby the successor companies would provide CISWO with funding of £1 million a year up to and including 1999. That made a total of £17 million, which is not an insubstantial sum in a period of transition. The package up to 1999 was designed to give CISWO the time, resources and manoeuvrability in which to build up its grant and fundraising capabilities in the charitable sector—something that it had been unable to do as a company.

Over the years, CISWO's main activities have changed and evolved. They now include assisting coalfield communities to access other funding streams, such as the regeneration programmes, while continuing to support miners' welfare organisations and undertaking social work-type activities in coalfield areas. Its role is inevitably a response to the way in which the mining industry has changed and contracted. It is true that, over the past two years, CISWO has approached the DTI for new funding of £1 million a year to replace what was previously provided by the post-privatisation employers. I have met Vernon Jones from CISWO, as has my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. I am aware that the organisation is having difficulty in generating funding to cover its costs, including its support for regeneration-related activities. Perhaps I should clarify that CISWO intends to protect, and is able to protect, its core social work functions.

The issue is not new. All Governments have limited budgets. On that basis, we are unable to continue to provide the £1 million a year that CISWO wants. However, I am able to provide support for CISWO's activities that relate specifically to those unique responsibilities that it performs in relation to the management of miners' welfare trusts which might otherwise fall to the residual British Coal contribution.

David Hamilton

The Minister spoke earlier about the miners' convalescent homes, which are a big asset to CISWO. Numerous people in Midlothian and throughout Scotland use those homes. If CISWO is forced into a position where it has to look at its own resources and sell off assets to try to keep its service going, those homes could be a casualty. Will the Minister assure us that that will not be allowed to happen?

Mr. Wilson

I certainly do not want CISWO to be forced to sell convalescent homes. My information is that CISWO can protect its core functions and social provisions under the proposed financial arrangements. If that is not the case and if I am told authoritatively that it is going to be forced to sell convalescent homes, I shall certainly look at that, but I obviously need hard information rather than a hypothesis. We have offered £200,000 per annum for three years, which would enable the organisation to develop and put in place a long-term strategy to deal with the issues and responsibilities that I have described.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone rightly spoke about CISWO's role in regeneration activities, for which huge amounts of money are available. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has approved grants of over £40 million to more than 500 projects to support coalfield communities. The national coalfields programme has a budget of over £390 million, which is currently creating 3,680 jobs. The sixth round of the single regeneration budget awarded over £180 million to 16 schemes in coalfield areas. We have allocated an extra £28 million over three years to local authorities to tackle housing problems in coalfield areas.

That is an area where there is no disagreement. My hon. Friends who are here tonight have been extremely active in making representations on behalf of the coalfield communities. In response, the Government have introduced all those programmes that are of benefit to coalfield and former coalfield communties. I therefore emphasise that it is not about money. If we are going to start talking about all the money that has gone to coalfield communities, I would point out that coalfield health schemes are enormous and unprecedented. We are talking about a narrow subject—CISWO's role in the midst of that activity.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

If it is not about money, what is it about? We are talking about a third of the Lord Chancellor's furnishings. Every morning, you used to pay a sum of money into CISWO, but that has all gone now, except for about 7,000 or 8,000 people. It is not only the contribution from the old Coal Board, it is the miners' money as well. We even have a post office in a miners' welfare office in my constituency—it came up with an offer when the post office closed. It also looks after paraplegics. We are not talking about a great sum of money. Will my hon. Friend remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the millions of pounds that go to the Treasury as a result of the 50 per cent. clawback from the miners' pension fund? We are asking for a tiny bit. Yes, the Government have ploughed money in, but I urge them not to spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. Let us get that little bit of money that we need for CISWO.

Mr. Wilson

I was relieved to hear my hon. Friend suggest that we approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not the Lord Chancellor. I am alert to the point that he made—a lot is going in, but some things are more difficult to do and justify than others. It is not as if we are turning our back on CISWO—we are offering £200,000 a year. It is not as if the functions that have been described will not be funded in other ways, including the substantial provision from the Government that we all agree is justified.

I do not regard the purpose of our debate as putting the lid on this. I am listening to the arguments.

Mr. Skinner

The Minister is not putting the lid on, and the ink is not dry.

Mr. Wilson

I never put the lid on things; the lid is never on till the fat lady sings.

There is a real debate to be had. I responded to the point about convalescent homes, for example. If I thought for a moment that such work was in danger, I would be every bit as concerned as everyone else. To some extent, CISWO must look to itself. It is not as though the present situation has crept up on it. There was never any understanding, as far as I am aware, that the 1994 settlement was a guarantee of £1 million a year continuing. With that sort of notice, CISWO has had the opportunity to transform itself, as other organisations have done, into a body that accesses money on its own behalf, as well as accessing money for mining communities.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

My hon. Friend says that he would re-examine issues such as convalescent homes if they ever came under pressure. We all appreciate that. CISWO runs many organisations. In my constituency, in the village where I live, there is the Maltby widows' club. Those are all miners' widows. CISWO runs an administrative service for such clubs. There is every likelihood that that club would fold if it did not get that service, which CISWO has been providing for decades in coal communities, although probably no one knows about it. I hope that my hon. Friend will keep his eyes open to all the activities that may come under pressure as a result of the reduction in funding.

Mr. Wilson

I hear what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that my hon. Friends would agree that it is a bit odd that all those activities, which are not specifically mining-related or DTI-related activities, are funded by a grant from the Department of Trade and Industry. We have said that we will continue to provide money for those functions that are specifically related to the responsibilities of the DTI. Perhaps we should all work on other potential sources of funding. Ultimately, nobody is interested in where the money comes from, as long as it is available to sustain activities that I recognise are necessary in mining communities.

At a time when so much has properly gone into mining communities, as the nation repays its debt to mining communities, I do not want the positive outcomes and impressions to be negated, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested, because of a grievance. We all know that there are small historical issues that continue to niggle away. We have tried to deal with them one by one, in a way that is fair and which addresses past problems and past history in the industry. Our position is that £200,000—[Interruption.]

Perhaps I should move on. I recognise that a number of organisations, including—

The motion having been made after Seven o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKERadjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at seven minutes to Eight o'clock.