§ Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
§ Clause 22 [Pensions and miners' welfare organisations]:
§ Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 27:
Page 18, line 28, at end insert: ("( ) In exercising his powers under subsection (3) of section 12 of that Act of 1952, the Secretary of State shall make arrangements to maintain financial support to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation or any successor body of that organisation, and such support shall not be less than that provided by the Corporation immediately before the restructuring date.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 27, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 28. The amendments deal with the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. One of the most abrupt statements in the Bill is in Clause 22(2), which states:
'The Miners' Welfare Act 1952 shall cease to have effect".
§ I must say that that shook me when I first read the Bill. One does not expect draft legislation to have a heart, but, my goodness, I do not know what is in the place of a heart.
§ The miners' welfare organisation has existed to demonstrate the caring side of the mining industry. We had a good deal of discussion about it at Committee stage on 28th April. I do not wish to go over too much of the ground except to say that actuarially it is estimated that, because of the ageing of former mineworkers, the period of highest need for those services could well arise in the first quarter of the next century. Therefore it is essential to make provision for that time ahead. One cannot easily accept simply disposing summarily of the whole concept.
§ The Government have already indicated that they realise that there is a problem. When we discussed the matter at Committee stage we were advised of certain financial contributions which they were prepared to make or to stimulate. During the next five years there would be provision for a total of £1,650,000 per annum, £650,000 coming from an endowment fund and £1 million being found from the successor enterprises. After that five-year period there would only be the £650,000, unless additional funds could be found.
§ However, in answer to questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that further consideration might well be given to the issue. So the real question I put is this: and in light of the clearly accepted need for the organisation, in light of the fact that the financial provision made will tail off at the very time when it is felt that there could be greater need, have the Government now had time to give further consideration to the matter? If so, could they tell us what they have decided? I beg to move.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mason of Barnsley
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on CISWO. To date, the Government have proposed a funding package of a £10 million endowment fund plus a total annual contribution from the new mine owners of £1 million per year for the first five years of privatisation. CISWO, perhaps operating as a charitable 1519 organisation—and the Government might clear up this matter when they reply—will receive an estimated income of £1.65 million per year for five years, dropping to about £650,000 each year thereafter. As the Minister must know, if this be true it will be seriously and woefully inadequate. I gather, though, that there may be an addition to the endowment fund, which may ease matters; no doubt the Minister will be able to fill in the details later on.
We had spelt out at Committee stage the wide range of welfare services provided by CISWO throughout the mining communities, particularly to the elderly, the disabled, the sick, social welfare and benefits for half a million beneficiaries—indeed, there are 72,000 people in receipt of benefits who suffer from pneumoconiosis and thousands more with chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Also, CISWO is in partnership with more than 400 miners' welfare trusts providing recreational and sporting provisions in the coalfield areas, not just for miners but for all the local people. Not all those facilities will be maintained on a reduced income, especially if we realise that the many pit closures and job losses have meant a reduction in voluntary subscriptions to CISWO. At the same time, there is a growing demand for sporting and recreation facilities, due to the rising numbers of unemployed. It is folly, indeed thoughtless, to cut funding of this important service and welfare organisation when the demands on its services are bound to grow.
On the question of sporting and recreation facilities, we are worried that some will be under threat, especially if the Coal Authority is charged with the disposal of British Coal's non-operational land. Forty per cent. of the miners' welfares lease all or some of their land from British Coal. CISWO fears that the Coal Authority, faced with payments for liabilities, will be likely to sell these recreation and sports areas—especially those with development potential. I believe that we should have assurances that these sports fields should be safeguard-ed. None of our coalfield communities should lose a valuable recreational facility because of this privatisation measure and, again, at a time of rising demand.
In my area we are concerned that vital community facilities in the form of the miners' welfare recreation grounds are at risk, especially because British Coal has considerable land assets tied up in leases to miners' welfare ground schemes. They, in turn, are at risk from a commercial approach to property assets as the trusts, due to the loss of miners' levy and reduced CISWO income, fall into indebtedness and are broken up, instead of the Coal Authority considering transferring them to local authority stewardship.
In my area, where all our pits have closed, we are concerned about the future of important ground schemes at famous collieries such as Woolley, North Gawber, Cawthorne, Mitchells and Darfield Main and Goldthorpe. That is an example of the threat to just one mining district hovering over its sports fields.
The East Midlands Council for Sport and Recreation has emphasised to the Minister for Energy that as well as the preservation of CISWO's health and welfare provisions—important as these groups are—the emotional needs of the mining communities are also 1520 currently served through CISWO. Sport and recreation contribute to those needs, so the young, the fit and the able-bodied are supported; therefore the health of the community is preserved and enhanced.
One can easily see how CISWO has become intertwined, through its health, welfare and sporting activities with all our mining communities. These amendments seek to ensure that recreational land owned by British Coal and leased to, or otherwise occupied by, CISWO or a local miners' welfare trust is not disposed of to the detriment of the local community. Unless this Bill is amended to safeguard the future of CISWO at its present level and to safeguard the future of our coalfield sports fields, rugby and football grounds, cricket pitches, athletic tracks, tennis courts, welfare halls, bowling greens and pavilions, some of these recreational lands could be at risk and could be lost to our communities for ever.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, first, I very much hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the pleas that were made at Second Reading and also in Committee in April. The financial difficulties which will confront CISWO's successor body will mean that important services will have to be withdrawn or severely curtailed.
I understand that last February the CISWO council gave a cautious welcome not to what is on offer from the Government but to the department's decision that a successor body should be a charitable body. The council gave that a cautious welcome and I have not challenged it. But I believe that CISWO was wise to give it that cautious welcome and no more because, being a charity, the successor body would have to be funded to some degree as if it were a charity and not by industry. So to replace CISWO with a charitable organisation may be described as an uncharitable act on the part of the Government because there is no way that CISWO can guarantee that the social problems confronting the mining communities can be successfully tackled if its successor body is inadequately funded. If the offer of £10 million plus the annuity for five years is not improved upon, it will be inadequately funded.
It seems to me that there are two real problems with the department's offer. First, it expects private industry or the private sector to respond and give support to CISWO. In the United Kingdom I believe that about 140,000 registered charities are competing for funds. According to the figures which I have seen, no more than about 7 per cent. manage to attract the kind of funds which will be necessary to close the deficit. I well recall in the inaugural Arnold Goodman charity lecture it was pointed out that, while voluntary help will go into new departures, only very reluctantly and haltingly will it go into those gaps created by the action of central government. Those gaps will be caused by the action of central government. Therefore, there is considerable doubt as to whether matching funds will be found. That is the first worry.
The second worry is that if the private sector, the voluntary sector, fails to respond on the necessary scale CISWO will have no choice but to withdraw or curtail many important existing services. In that event, we ask 1521 the Government: who steps into the breach that is left by the withdrawal or curtailment of services? We also suggest to the Government that if those gaps are left at the end of the day, new social problems may fester and come to the surface in the former mining communities in about 10 or 20 years' time. If important CISWO services are withdrawn or are substantially curtailed the world will become a little darker for members of many mining communities or former mining communities.
For those reasons I once again urge the department to give careful consideration to the arguments that have been advanced and which I believe to be valid. I hope that the Government can announce a further improvement upon the offer which is already on the table.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I shall be very brief. First, I want to underline everything that my noble friend Lord Mason said. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I say that those of us who were brought up in mining communities and who had the advantages of all the sporting and social facilities perhaps appreciate the work of CISWO more than most. It is something that we do not forget; we have seen our families take advantage of the facilities.
Like other noble Lords, I am glad to see that the Government have added £2 million to the resources. That is very much appreciated. But perhaps the Minister can say how that figure was arrived at. I do not want to be mealy-mouthed—the extra sum is appreciated—but it would be helpful to have an idea of how that figure was reached. I say, too, on a matter that is quite frequently referred to in this House (and more so in recent weeks) that playing fields are disappearing; literally by the hundred every year. That is happening not just in inner-city areas but in rural areas, too. Schools have for some time used the whole range of miners' welfare facilities. I can foresee a situation, which I hope does not arise but which may, whereby the miners' welfare facilities will be an oasis in the middle of deserts. I refer to all kinds of playing fields, bowling greens, cricket fields and so on. I hope that the Minister will take that into account. The letter that most of us received today says that the Minister's correspondence refers to the additional £2 million as "a final offer". I hope that the Minister and the Government will have further thoughts and say that in view of the strength of the case that has been made from all sides—we are all concerned about this matter—it might be possible for the Government to think again.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, the Coal Industry Bill, as originally proposed, made remarkably little mention of CISWO other than to abolish it. That was something which provoked considerable concern across the entire political spectrum. It is a straw in the wind, but it is yet another example of the way in which this Bill is focused on the chances of the successor companies and very seldom thinks of the relics or those left behind—in this case, the people.
1522 But in response to the loud noises that were then made, the Government proposed a funding package to give CISWO some limited income for the future: a £10 million endowment and the £1 million per year, which would raise £1.65 million per year for the first five years, falling to about £650,000 per annum thereafter. It would represent about a two-thirds cut in income after the first five years of operation.
I understand that there has now been a revised offer, about which my noble friend seemed to know rather more than I do. It would mean that there would be a rather smaller shortfall after the year 2000, but the offer would still fall well short of what is necessary.
Although the proposed package was a welcome recognition by the Government of the value of CISWO's work and the important role that it continues to play in coalfield communities, the proposed level of funding remains woefully inadequate. It is the old government game. I could refer to it, I think without fear of successful contradiction, as pontoon politics: "Here is your card. Now what are you going to do, stick, or twist?". It is also good government policy to give CISWO a hard choice: "Are you going to take what is on offer, even though it is not much; or are you going to risk not taking it and watch it perhaps vanish altogether?". That is not justice; it is craps—notice that I use the plural and not the singular.
CISWO's response to the Government's funding package was muted. For example, it has given a cautious welcome to the proposal on charitable status. One element that seems to have been neglected so far, is CISWO's workload. CISWO's actuaries estimate that the demand for CISWO services will peak in the first quarter of the next century, when there will be many more elderly ex-miners in need. Surely it is folly to consider axing the funding of an organisation when demands on its services are bound to grow.
If I may respectfully say so, the suggestion made by the Minister that local miners' welfares should reimburse CISWO for its services (good market economics) fails to recognise that their assets are largely tied up in land and property and do not represent an alternative source of funding which they can put their hands into their pockets to find. Furthermore, many of them are struggling financially, not because of a fall in demand but because more of the users of the facilities have less income, being drawn from the ranks of the unemployed, the sick and the elderly. The suggestion sounds like a good market forces argument, but it is not. The miners' welfares do not have enough money even to come to market.
I shall put just one question on the other amendment. The majority of miners' welfares own the land that they operate. But a substantial minority of about 40 per cent. lease all or some of their land from British Coal. The Bill proposes that the Coal Authority be charged with the disposal of British Coal's non-operational land, which puts those leasehold lands at serious risk.
Although this issue was raised during Committee stage, the Minister did not give us clear assurances about retaining those lands for sports use, or how much such use could be safeguarded. We believe that the Bill should ensure that no community should be under threat 1523 of losing a valuable recreational source because of the privatisation of the industry and the demands placed upon the Coal Authority.
Many noble Lords will have been recipients of considerable correspondence from the East Midlands Council for Sport and Recreation. They certainly kept me very well informed about the situation at every stage. The East Midlands Council for Sport and Recreation is not happy. What is the Minister going to do for it?
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, in addressing Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 I should like to refer momentarily to our debate in Committee, and also to the CISWO council's response to the Government's proposals for the future of coal industry social welfare.
We are grateful for the positive comments and advice from noble Lords during the debate in Committee and indeed for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who appreciated the sympathetic way in which we have been dealing with this matter. Nevertheless, there was clearly concern that there should be a modest increase in the endowment for CISWO's successor and also understandable doubt expressed about the future of sports and recreational facilities used by local miners' welfares.
Similarly, my honourable friend the Minister for Energy has welcomed the constructive response from the CISWO council, and in particular its submission of a 10-year business plan, which he and DTI officials have been considering. We have concluded that the plan is robust although we believe that there remains scope for administrative savings and that there is no compelling reason why technical, advisory and regulatory support should be provided free to miners' trusts and welfare schemes—particularly where they have an excess of income over expenditure. More importantly, we are convinced that CISWO underestimates its potential for raising voluntary income. Nevertheless, we have accepted that CISWO could still face some difficulties in sustaining its core services after year five. My honourable friend therefore wrote to Mr. Neil Clarke, Chairman of CISWO, on 6th June, saying that we are prepared to make one further and final contribution to securing the future of those services.
The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, said that he was not being mealy-mouthed. I can confirm that what we have in mind is an addition to the endowment fund of £2 million. This would be available to be drawn down from year six onwards in annual tranches not exceeding £500,000 and not exceeding the amount raised by CISWO itself from the private sector. The commitment then to CISWO's successor is a settlement of £17 million, in endowments of £10 million and £2 million, and an annual sum of £1 million from successor coal companies for five years. This is in our view a very reasonable basis on which CISWO's successor can commence and then thrive in the voluntary sector.
On the issue of playing fields, recreational land and property, we have made it very clear that we want to deal sensitively with this issue. We said in Committee that uppermost will be the interests of the welfare organisations, sports facilities and so forth, so that we 1524 ultimately produce a package which is fair to people in the mining communities and to the taxpayer. We have been unwilling to agree broad prescriptive measures in the Coal Industry Bill which are either unnecessary or do not take account of individual specific situations.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, raised the issue of leaseholds. Last week the DTI received a list of leaseholds from British Coal. We understand this to be fairly complete, but it will require some further refinement. We believe that our sympathetic but cautious responses have been vindicated. We are not just talking about land leased to miners' welfares but land leased directly to local authorities, from county to parish councils, a diversity of clubs, including angling, bowling, cricket and gun clubs and to youth organisations, including the guides and the scouts. There are long-term leases, annual leases and no leases at all, but simply informal arrangements, with rents which range from "peppercorn" to near-commercial. We rather suspected that we should be presented with a complex situation and we feel we have been right to resist the broad brush approach tabled in an earlier amendment. If proper solutions are to be reached then each lease will need to be examined carefully, with consultations with those who are tenants and leaseholders.
We do have misgivings about the present amendment on sports fields and recreational land. Once again we believe that this is over-prescriptive. As I have emphasised, we wish to be sensitive to local specific needs and we would therefore expect that land in active recreational use will go to CISWO, local welfares and other organisations. Little may remain with the Coal Authority. It has never been the intention for the Coal Authority to be a long-term landlord, as would happen under subsection (5) (b). The Coal Authority will have limited powers, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to obtain new property but only if this will enhance a package of property which they hold and intend to sell at the earliest opportunity.
We are also concerned about subsequent disposal, when land had first been freeholded to CISWO, to a local welfare or other local organisation: that is subsection (5) (a). The trustees of CISWO and the local welfares, in exercising their obligations, will need to keep in mind the best interests of the mining and former mining communities they serve. The trustees must be allowed to take decisions which are for the greater good of social welfare in mining communities. I would therefore hope that in the light of my earlier announcements the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I just say that I do hope I have not caused any consternation by my mentioning the business of the £2 million? I am glad to see that he is smiling, because I saw some toing and froing and then my noble friend on the Front Bench said that I knew more than he did: it must be the first time that has ever happened. So I do apologise if that was the case, but I 1525 have to say that the letter I received was not marked "confidential". Had it been so marked, I would not have dreamed of raising it at this stage, or indeed at any other.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I do not believe that the noble Lord has acted in the slightest way improperly. He may well often know things that his own Front Bench does not know.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, with the leave of the House, it happens very frequently, and it is probably all my fault.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for the response that he has just made. In the first place, he has shown that the Government have gone some way, though not the whole way, towards meeting the concerns that were so vigorously expressed at Committee stage and which have been re-expressed again since. I am pleased that the sums which are now to be dedicated to this good cause are going to be increased at the end of the five-year period, which was the point giving us most concern. The noble Viscount seemed to be more optimistic about the chances of raising money in the private sector than some of the rest of us are—those of us who have been involved either in trying to raise money or in refraining from over-contributing. We have been at both ends of the spectrum. Let us see what turns out.
I would like to make two points. First, I hope we can assume that there will be something on the face of the Bill to indicate that these arrangements are in place. I am getting a little bit concerned because everything about this Bill is agreed in such a way that it does not find its way into the Bill. I hope that we are not getting into a new sort of legislative situation. We have hitherto been concerned with secondary legislation as being one of the things we ought to worry about, and now we are going to be concerned because the Bill does not in fact mention what has been agreed. So I do hope that we can look forward to some amendments from the government side on Third Reading which will confirm what they have planned both as regards the sums of money involved and as regards the playing fields and the land to which the noble Viscount has referred. Secondly, I hope that this matter can be kept under constant review. If the moneys from the private sector do not eventuate and if the need is still there, as we suspect it will be, I hope this will be regarded sympathetically at the time. Having made those two points, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9 p.m.
Baroness Lockwood moved Amendment No. 29:
After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Designated mining museums
- —(1) The Secretary of State may, by Order made by statutory instrument, after consultation with the Authority, designate one or more museums as a "designated mining museum" for the purposes of this section.
- (2) Each designated mining museum which includes underground areas open to the public shall have available to it, free of charge, the services of a mines rescue service established under the provisions of section 55 of this Act.
- (3) Any historic artefacts found, by a licensee under Part II of this Act, during the course of mining operations shall become the property of the Coal Authority, which shall offer any such artifact to a designated mining museum in the relevant area within one year of its becoming the property of the Authority.
- (4) The Authority shall be required to provide or secure the necessary maintenance and other services to enable all designated mining museums to continue in operation, and, in pursuance of the discharge of this duty, may make it a condition of any licence granted under Part II of this Act that the licensee is required to provide maintenance and other necessary services to any mining museum designated under this section.
- (5) The Authority shall make it a condition of any licence granted under Part II of this Act that the licensee shall be required to offer any mining equipment or other machinery, tools, artefacts, etc., as they become obsolete, to a designated mining museum in the areas in which the mine at which they were used is located.
- (6) The Authority may, with the consent of the Treasury, make grants to any designated mining museum.
- (7) Any Order made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in the absence of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, whose sudden illness detained him in hospital, I rise to move Amendment No. 29. I am sure that all noble Lords will join with me in wishing him a speedy recovery and in sending to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, our best wishes. Perhaps the best medicine for the noble Earl will be a good outcome to the debate this evening.
I treat Amendment No. 29 as a probing amendment. The situation has changed, since the amendment was tabled, as a result of the Minister's reply to a Written Question by the noble Earl on 9th June. At col. WA 82 the Minister said,
that transitional funding of £900,000 over three years should be made available to the Yorkshire Mining Museum, the Scottish Mining Museum and the Big Pit Mining Museum in South Wales to replace the help-in-kind currently provided by British Coal".
The reply added that those payments,
amounting to £100,000 a year for each museum for a period of three years will be made available to the Department of National Heritage, the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office as appropriate".
§ I thank the Minister for that reply. We are grateful to him for his recognition that there is a case for supporting the three designated mining museums. However, my gratitude does not stop me examining the provisions indicated. I understand that it is not politic to look a gift horse in the mouth but on this occasion I must do so on two accounts: first, on the adequacy of the grant and, secondly, on its distribution.
§ I must remind the Minister of the difference between the three museums mentioned in his written reply. Two of them, the Yorkshire Mining Museum and the Big Pit Mining Museum have an underground element; the Scottish Mining Museum does not. The Yorkshire and South Wales museums have similar financial requirements. Therefore, I propose to take the Cap House Museum in Yorkshire as an example. The cost of keeping the underground mine at Cap House colliery is £336,750 per annum or, if we exclude what would be necessary if there were no underground element, £296,670 per annum. That includes the salaries; for example, of the mine manager, the mechanical engineer, the electrical engineer and underground guides. The amount includes services supplied by British Coal, the main elements of which are supply and maintenance of 1527 environmental monitoring equipment, the supply of operational equipment, pumping, the Mines Rescue Service and emergency winder service. Lastly, it covers operations, the main elements of which are underground repairs, Mines and Quarries Inspectorate requirements and power-electricity for underground and for the winder. It can be seen from those figures that the amount suggested by the Minister is far from satisfactory. It is less than one third of the cost of the underground element of the Yorkshire and South Wales museums.
§ My second point relates to a fair distribution of the proposed £300,000-£100,000 per annum to each museum. The important clauses are Clauses 2 and 4 which apply only to the Yorkshire and South Wales museums because they deal with the underground element which is the most costly. Clauses 3 and 5 deal with artefacts and obsolete equipment and machinery. That applies to all three museums but is less costly.
§ The amount of help received by the Scottish Mining Museum-solely towards its collection and not to its running costs -is approximately 10 per cent. of the combined amount required by Big Pit and the Yorkshire Mining Museum. All three museums receive machinery for their collections from British Coal. Therefore, even if the split between the three museums-the Scottish Mining Museum and the two museums with an underground element-were 10 per cent., 45 per cent. and 45 per cent., then the Scottish Mining Museum would still be receiving almost complete replacement of the value of its collections while Big Pit and the Yorkshire Mining Museum would be receiving nothing for their collections and less than half of what it costs each to run their underground element. In effect, that would mean that the Scottish museum would be running at a profit. That is surely not what the Minister intended; it is certainly not in keeping with what he said in Committee about the need to give the museums incentives to raise their own finances.
§ I suggest that the best option is Amendment No. 29, which would place responsibility for maintaining all three museums on the Coal Authority. If the Minister is unable to accept that, then I must put to him a number of questions. First, will he reconsider the total amount of grant so that it can be raised adequately to cover the requirements of the two underground museums? Secondly, can he give an assurance that the grant can be renewable after three years; that is, after the first three years of transitional grant? Thirdly, will he re-examine the division of the grant to cover the appropriate needs of each museum, because all three museums have their individual needs? Perhaps it could be left to the heritage department to allocate the total grant to each museum according to its needs. I understand, incidentally, according to responses he has made to a number of letters from Members in another place, that the Secretary of State for National Heritage is very supportive of the mining museums.
§ Fourthly, there is no mention in the Minister's answer about artefacts, machinery and equipment, which are mentioned in subsections (3) and (5). Will the Minister agree to make provision in the Bill for private contractors to be required to supply the designated mining museums with any historic artefacts which are 1528 found during mining operations and to supply obsolete mining machinery and equipment for their collections? Fifthly, if the Minister is unable to respond positively to these points tonight-I quite understand that he may want time to reflect-will he be prepared to meet representatives from all parts of the House in order to discuss how we might proceed at Third Reading?
§ There is a great deal of concern in all parts of the House about the future of the museums, which are such a significant part of our heritage. A number of noble Lords who would have spoken in support of the amendment, such as the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, and others, are not able to be here this evening but they, too, would like to see a satisfactory outcome before the proceedings on the Bill are concluded. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively and give assurances on the points and questions that I have raised. If he is unable to do so, we shall have to reconsider our position. We shall certainly be back at Third Reading. I beg to move.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I support the amendment, which was so ably proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, in the unfortunate absence through illness of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, whom we all hope will have a rapid recovery. In a way this is rather similar to the amendment which we have just considered. The Government had noted our deep concern about the mining museums and have come forward with a proposition. That is all to the good. But as the noble Baroness pointed out, it creates problems because two of the museums have underground workings which have to be preserved and which obviously are fairly costly. The question arises of how these funds should be allocated in such a way as to reflect the increased cost of those museums with underground workings. There is also the important point about the artefacts. Unless there is a regular flow to these museums of mining equipment which is no longer required in current operations, they will cease to be a continuous reflection of the industry.
I very much hope that when he comes to reply the Minister will be able to tell us where he stands in relation to the points raised by the noble Elaroness. I should like to hope that at Third Reading, once we have reached an amicable conclusion as to how this matter can be dealt with, there will be something on the face of the Bill about it. At the moment it is just not mentioned at all and, as the Minister will have realised, it is a matter to which many of us attach a considerable amount of importance in view of the great history of the mining industry.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, I had not intended to speak at this juncture but I think it would be only right for me, coming from north of the Border, to point out to my noble friend the Minister that once a pledge is given it should not be retracted. I strongly believe that the Scottish Mining Museum requires to be supported. I am not in any way saying to the noble Baroness that her case should go by default. All I am saying, however, is that it is very important that that mining museum should get the treatment that my noble friend has already indicated it will get. If he does not 1529 fulfil the pledge which has been given for the next three years then, as he will well understand when he comes north of the Border, he will not be very popular.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, that is a lovely example of a point that I wish to make. As my noble friend Lady Lockwood said, the Government have now made an offer to these three museums. They have indeed played political pontoon with them—"take what is on offer or take the risk of getting nothing". They have tried to set the one against the other by making it originally, if I am not mistaken, a three-way split of equal amounts. So the Yorkshire Museum and the Big Pit, which have large underground workings in their museums, would get about 40 per cent. of their essential costs and the Scottish Museum, which has no underground activity, will think that it is Christmas. They will buy drinks all round. They never expected to get anything like that amount. Immediately the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, with what I must say is commendable commercial skill, is on his feet saying, "You cannot go back on what you have originally given". It is an old trick and an obvious one, even for this Government.
I should like to know how the Department of National Heritage, the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office are obliged to split up this gift horse as appropriate. It seems to me that this is to toss a bone into the middle of the playing field and then release the dogs and say, "Fight over it as best you can". I hope that I am being unduly cynical. I know that the Minister is an honourable opponent and a reasonable and a fair-minded man. I know that he will realise that that puts these museums into an absolutely intolerable and unfair position and that he will feel able to think further on this matter.
§ Lord Saint Oswald
My Lords, at Committee stage of the Coal Industry Bill, when the inclusion of the new clause under Amendment No. 85 was moved by my noble friend Lord Swinton, 15 Members of the Committee in your Lordships' House gave their views on the importance of the three national coal museums which now exist in the United Kingdom. I believe that a very unusual occurrence took place that evening and one which does not often occur in your Lordships' House. I refer to the fact that every one of the speakers from all sides of the Committee were in complete and amicable accord about the issues at stake. I doubt whether that will set a precedent, but I certainly hope that it will be repeated this evening.
My noble friend the Minister, speaking for the Government, showed a great deal of sympathy for the reasons behind the amendment and I hope that he will not mind if I repeat one short sentence from his speech. He said:I recognise [from the speeches] the tremendous strength of feeling that has been demonstrated all around the Chamber … and the arguments that have been put forward".—[Official Report, 3/5/94; col. 1111.]I feel that that is a true summing up of the atmosphere in the Chamber. I am sure that all who spoke that night 1530 will appreciate the efforts that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has made to reach a satisfactory compromise. It is a pity that, after all those efforts, what is on offer falls so very short of what is required.
What is the offer? It seems to be this: for three years the mining museums will receive a fixed sum of money by way of financial support, but at the end of that period the Government will wash their hands of such a trivial matter. This is not a trivial matter and should not be treated as such. What is really required is an index-linked guarantee that the museums will receive sufficient financial support to replace that given in the past by the Coal Board. After all, it is by the act of privatisation from which the Government will receive some very large and unspecified sums of money, that the museums will be deprived of this support. In all fairness it is the duty of the Government and in the interests of the British people that the relatively small sum of money required to replace any such loss of revenue incurred by privatisation is made good. If that is not done there is more than a serious danger that 1,000 years of history which has gone into the making of the industry with its developments, its skills, acts of heroism and its tragedies will be lost to future generations.
§ Lord Mason of Barnsley
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. I do not know why the Minister is frowning cynically. As he has already gathered, this is a most important subject.
I visited Cap House Colliery Museum—I cannot speak of the others—and was amazed at how well it has been kept. It is funded by Wakefield District Council and British Coal. It is perfectly safe for school parties, mining students and tourists and shows the history of the state of the art of coal-mining from hand-got coaling to mechanised mining. It is a marvellous part of our industrial heritage that should be preserved. It services all Yorkshire primarily, but receives parties from all over the country.
British Coal mines have helped it to survive with gifts of equipment and professional advice. We are afraid that when the pits are privatised, much of that is likely to cease, especially the gifts of mining machinery. The estimated loss to the Cap House Colliery Museum if all British Coal's assistance ceases is in the region of £80,000 to £100,000. As the Minister knows, if that happens it will place the future of Cap House in jeopardy. I am pleased to learn of the possible financial assistance. I know that the elected Members from West Yorkshire were fobbed off by the Minister in another place when he told them to advise the mining museums to look after themselves. I hope that there will be a change of heart.
Do we not have some responsibility for assisting with the upkeep of a rare industrial museum? I guess that some other types of museums receive Arts Council grants, subventions, professional advice from government arts departments and so on, but not pit museums. But should not the Government and the Coal Authority recognise the importance of such museums as an aid to coal-mining, an ally, in fact, playing a prominent part in 1531 the educational aspect of the Coal Authority's activities? For a sum that will be paltry to such as the Coal Authority, why cannot they accept and pay that small financial supplement to ensure the future of the Cap House Colliery Museum?
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I am very pleased to support this amendment in the name of my noble kinsman concerning the mining museums, which was; so clearly and comprehensively moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood.
The noble Earl, my kinsman, like myself, is very grateful for the work and effort that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has put into this matter of the mining museums and for what he has said and done. The Minister, I am sure, and anyone else who has visited the museums cannot help but be impressed by what has been done to make them so interesting and exciting. They are the very example of teaching history during a leisure activity. The greatest excitement is being able to go underground. I have visited the Yorkshire museum and was very impressed with the excellent layout and facilities, which included accessibility for disabled people.
Yesterday I met a man who last year had taken his family to Big Pit in Wales. When I told him that Members of this House were seeking assurances for the long-term continuation of those museums, he said, "If they did not continue, it would be a tragedy. You must see that they are safeguarded". Everyone I have met who has visited the museums has been most enthusiastic and impressed by them.
When I broke my back, I met during my time in hospital and afterwards many miners who had become paraplegics due to accidents down the mines. It is because I have heard many stories of accidents and the bravery of comrades who risked their lives to help others that I feel so strongly that an important part of our history should be passed down from generation to generation. If in the future the museums closed, a part of history would close too.
The answer given to my noble kinsman says nothing about the other items in the amendment regarding the private contractors supplying the mining museums with historic artefacts found during the course of mining operations and with obsolete mining machinery for the collections.
We may be talking about safeguarding mining museums but because of the underground facilities, Big Pit and Cap House colliery must have all the necessary health and safety and rescue cover. Maintenance must be kept up and staff have to be trained.
I can assure your Lordships that these museums are well worth preserving. They have moved with the times and provide shops and restaurants to make money. There is interest for everyone; for instance, the machinery, the ponies, the baths, the lockers, the pits and the displays of mining through the ages.
I wish to congratulate all the people who have put so much time and effort into establishing such excellent facilities. We do not now want to lose them. Will the Minister say what will happen if funding dries up after three years? In Committee there was a great deal of 1532 support for this measure. It was supported by a former Prime Minister and a former chairman of the tourist board. There will be a great deal of support on Third Reading too.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I am told by the staff of Big Pit that there has been no estimate of the correlation between the costs to British Coal of providing various services in the past and the likely future costs to the museums if they themselves have to pay for securing these services on an open and privatised market.
I received a letter from them only this morning. It is clear that there is anxiety about apparent failures to make an adequate computation of what the real situation is likely to be for the museums. At present they receive a great deal of unpaid help from British Coal and they have no guarantee that the private coal mines will follow that up.
I wish to make a further point. The staff of Big Pit point out that:Some of the most important opportunities for collection of artefacts and operational spares present themselves when working collieries close. It is inevitable that the bulk of such closures will occur almost immediately".Obviously, they have no confidence that the private operators will let them have them for nothing. The letter continues:we clearly need significant additional funding immediately, simply in order to acquire, transport and provide for storage of the material concerned".Those two issues are worrying them most strongly.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, as one of the Peers who some months ago signed the letter on this subject to The Times, it would be churlish not to show some gratitude and thanks to the noble Lord for the financial help that has been offered. Nevertheless, while I do not want to be accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth, it has not been done properly. It stinks a great deal more of the financial politics of the Treasury than of any knowledge of the running of museums. One wonders whether the Museums Commission was consulted. As a former president of the Museums Association, and with experience of running a museum, I can say that museums are expensive to run and rarely make a profit.
Three years may be long enough to concentrate the mind, but it will not give potential sponsors any time or confidence to make any long-term investments in facilities for that museum; nor will it give any time for marketing to get going. Therefore, the problem facing the museums will be a slow death unless some flexibility is shown on behalf of the Government to keep the finance going after that time. The amendment also refers to artefacts, which must be housed and maintained. It is no good moving them and expecting them to look after themselves.
Britain's gift to the world was the Industrial Revolution. That revolution was fuelled by coal, the coal which made Britain prosperous. Coal is king no more. It would be tragic for future generations to be denied the opportunity to go underground to appreciate the conditions in which men, boys and animals toiled in harness and made British industry prosperous. Coal is 1533 part of our island history. It is absolutely vital that those mining museums should be kept going not just for three years but for a long time in the future.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lady Kinloss
My Lords, I support the amendment and have great hopes of the Government's generosity. As other noble Lords have said already, the offer of help by the Government is extremely welcome. However, there are still one or two problems.
The Yorkshire Mining Museum and the Big Pit are keeping our industrial heritage alive for future generations by running their museums with an underground section. Will the Minister say whether the initial funding will be renewed or, if not, will the Government agree to a lump sum of £900,000 being allocated for distribution by the administering bodies, which should decide on the allocation to the three mining museums?
Cap House, the Yorkshire Mining Museum, tries to earn money by having shops and restaurants, but I understand that private coal operators feel that they would never be able to support them at the same level as British Coal has done in the past.
I have already mentioned our industrial heritage, which the mining museums are helping to keep alive. The mining museums also contain national treasures and bring history to life for those schoolchildren who are fortunate enough to live sufficiently close to them to visit them to see and feel the historic artefacts for themselves.
Today, when so much is being done in other spheres of activity for disabled people, the Yorkshire Mining Museum and, I believe I am correct, the Big Pit cater for disabled people. Certainly in the Yorkshire Mining Museum wheelchairs are welcome at every stage, and no doubt that is so also at the Big Pit. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton has been down in the cage to the bottom of the mine in her wheelchair and was taken round by a miner. She said that the facilities for disabled people have been especially well thought out there.
Of course all that costs money. It would be tragic if all that history were lost. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be generous and that our plea will not go unheeded.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, for the reasons which have already been so clearly stated by my noble friend, I wish to support the amendment.
We have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, that an amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was looked upon as a matter of considerable importance by the Committee. Noble Lords will know that there was a procession of witnesses bearing testimony to the value of the three museums. They made an extremely powerful plea for their preservation.
In Committee the amendment was left on the basis that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, would have a look at the position to see whether the Government could offer any assistance. I am sure that the House will be 1534 grateful to the Minister for the care with which he has considered this matter. However, although the offer is welcome, for my part I believe that it is inadequate.
I shall not repeat the arguments which have been advanced by many noble Lords, but there are two points that I wish to raise and I should be grateful if the Minister will deal with them in his reply. First, has that offer been discussed with the officials at the museums? Those are the people who know precisely what is the position and what the deficit will be. Has the department asked the museums for a business plan to show how income can be generated and whether savings can be made?
Secondly, if the Government take the view that they cannot increase the global sum that is on offer, has the department attempted to quantify the costs which would be consequential upon the closure of the three museums in terms of unemployment and maintenance of the pits to prevent pollution and subsidence?
It seems to me that the latter are factors which should be taken into consideration if the Government are pleading that they cannot increase the global sum available. I have no further points to make, but I believe that all the points raised deserve an answer. If that answer is not satisfactory, I venture to believe that we shall return to the issue on Third Reading.
§ Lord Feversham
My Lords, I should like to express my support for the amendment, although, as the noble Baroness said, it is a probing amendment. I had quite a few points to make, some of which have not in fact been made. However, I shall not make them because I know what the Minister is thinking; indeed, I am quite close to him here. I can see from the number of heavy sighs and the endeavours to get to his feet to terminate the proceedings on this amendment that the Minister actually understands that on all sides of the House — that is, behind him and to the left and right of him— despite the Government's change of mind, there are still people in the Chamber who feel that the matter has not quite been got right and that the problem has not been solved. I can see that the Minister understands that: it is the main thing he should understand.
The noble Lord, Lord Mason, put his finger on it —or, perhaps, failed to do so—when he accused the Government of a change of heart. On the Cross Benches, it is my experience of the Government, and sometimes of all governments, that they do not have changes of heart; they have changes of mind. What is needed is a change of heart; what we have had, I believe, is a change of mind.
The way that mind has worked is that the Government have said, "Hello, we are going to have a bit of a problem about the mining museums; there will be an almighty fuss. There was an almighty fuss in Committee and there is an almighty fuss brewing even at Report stage, although it is slightly restrained. We'll do something to resolve it". So, like most Tory governments—and, indeed, sometimes Labour governments—they think that money will solve the problem.
That is a change of mind. A change of heart requires a little more. It requires a real understanding of the problem about which people are making a fuss. What I 1535 like about the amendment is the fact that it talks about things that I believe are needed in a change of heart. For example, it talks about safety. And it talks about trying to help such museums to survive through provisions to ensure that artefacts come their way. It will not cost a great deal of money. However, the people who are trying to run the museums will be given the confidence to go forward and, if necessary, raise money from the private sector, and so on. That is what worries me. So often the Government would benefit more with the voter if the changes of mind were in fact changes of heart.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, for not giving us the benefit of his full speech, even if he felt that some of the points that he intended to make were not in fact mentioned. I rise to reply to the debate with some disappointment; indeed, it has not been the debate I was expecting when I entered the Chamber earlier, especially given the announcement I made last week.
I believed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood said, that the amendment had been tabled again to probe but also, perhaps, even to congratulate the Government on coming forward with such a substantial amount of money. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for at any rate congratulating the Government for doing so. I too join with other noble Lords in wishing my noble friend Lord Swinton a speedy recovery. He is greatly missed from these Benches.
When we discussed the matter in Committee, I undertook to give careful consideration to the problem of replacing the help-in-kind which British Coal currently gives to mining museums. I did not need a change of heart because I think that my heart was always in the right place. I have been to Cap House Colliery, as I explained in Committee, and I very much enjoyed the underground experience. I had some discussions with my noble friend Lady Trumpington who speaks for the Department of National Heritage in this House. Together we came to the conclusion that something needed to be done. It was on that basis that we were able to convince those who needed to be convinced that the Government should come forward with a deal. That was the genesis of the £900,000 which is by any measure a substantial amount of money. Some noble Lords have said that it is not enough. I do not understand on what basis it is not considered to be enough because this is a step into the unknown.
The museums have not yet tried to raise more funds from the private sector. The museums do not know how willing private sector companies will be to offer expertise, health and safety advice and other such advice free. Given that so many noble Lords believe these museums to be second to none —I agree that they are certainly excellent examples of the kind of museums we should have in this country—why cannot they increase their custom base? The answer is that too many of us look to the taxpayer to solve problems which can be solved elsewhere.
Furthermore, I do not believe that we should require the new mining companies to provide help-in-kind. Naturally I would welcome any voluntary contributions that these companies feel able to make. It must be up to 1536 the successor companies to offer their obsolete equipment to mining museums, but that must be for them to decide. Can it really be right for this House to oblige people to give away their property, albeit for a good cause? Can that really be right and would it not be far better for us to rely on the voluntary principle?
I am no great expert on the question of artefacts but, if they are discovered, why should they be required to be sent to the mining museum? Might there not be many other local museums equally worthy of receiving these artefacts; or if they are so good perhaps they could be sent to the British Museum or to other national museums? Why is it that they must be sent to the mining museum? I believed that the best way of dealing with this issue was to find the money to enable the museums to buy in the expertise where necessary. The Government believe these museums are important. The issue is pound notes.
Many noble Lords have asked about the three-year funding. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, mentioned it. I cannot think of other occasions when we have given funding for more than three years. I believe that three-year funding provides the breathing space for museums to work out their longer term strategy. That is not saying no to further funding because I believe these museums are important and they offer a valuable experience. But what it is saying is that these museums must demonstrate that they have sought to maintain themselves within the private sector or with help from other public sector bodies, such as local authorities and other such bodies. There is no reason why they should not be able to do so.
The House will recall that, as I understand it, Dr. Faull, the director of the Yorkshire Mining Museum, put the value of the help provided by British Coal at between £80,000 to £100,000. We have taken the. higher of those figures. It was conspicuous in the debate that we had in Committee that a number of noble Lords suggested that the solution was to provide some form of transitional funding. Of course when it is provided noble Lords then say that it is not enough.
I rather regret the tone of the debate that we have had this evening. I hope that the House recognises that the offer that has been made is not so much a generous offer as an honest offer as a result of the appeals that were made at the Committee stage.
Finally, I turn to the question of redistribution. I believe that the fairest way is to divide the money equally. As my noble friend Lord Sanderson said, an offer made is not easily retracted. If the case is so obvious to the mining museums, there is no reason why they should not come together and treat the £900,000 as a single lump sum and divide it up among themselves. That would show the true spirit of voluntary co-operation which I gather is indigenous to working practice in the mining industry.
I believe that through this exceptional support the Government have responded constructively and positively to the very strong views expressed from all sides of the House on 3rd May. There is another stage in the consideration of the Bill, the Third Reading, next 1537 week. I hope that before then the Government and noble Lords around the House will have agreed that that is the very best that we can do.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in the debate for their support. There have been some very powerful and moving arguments in favour of the points that I made. I must say that I am very disappointed with the Minister's response. He has not really responded to any of the five questions which I put to him. I am surprised that he did not even respond to the point that I put about meeting him to see whether we could come to a common agreement before Third Reading.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may answer that point. I forgot to do so. I am happy to meet anyone who wishes to discuss the matter. I shall be happy to do anything to reduce the amount of time needed to deal with the issue at Third Reading.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I thank the Minister. We shall take up that offer with the Minister, but what he said does not seem to offer much hope. Nevertheless I shall take in all good faith what the noble Lord said and we shall seek to meet him.
It seems to me that to suggest that the fairest way to resolve the matter is for the three museums to distribute the money among themselves is a non-starter. The Minister will know that.
I fully understand and sympathise with the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson. The three museums have co-operated and have supported each other. It is a great pity that the offer that the Government have made did not take into account the different responsibilities of the museums. Most of the points that the Minister made related to the underground element of the mining museums and not to the surface mining element which applies in Scotland.
There is one further point that I should like to make to the Minister. He said that we should test what the management of the museums can do. We have been doing that. Those of us who know individual museums know that they have been making every effort to raise funds in addition to the grants that they have been given. In the case of the Yorkshire museum, I know that the director has met with some of the organisations which are likely to be the private operators. They have said that it is impossible to expect them to provide anything like the level of support which British Coal was able to give. They point out that British Coal has been operating a much greater number of pits than there will be after privatisation. It has been able to provide many of the services in-house that the private operators themselves will have to buy in. That is not a viable alternative to the level of support that British Coal has been giving.
I said that it was a probing amendment. I shall read carefully what has been said and will consult with my supporters. We shall take up the Minister's offer of a 1538 meeting. However, he can be assured that there is likely to be a further amendment at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 5 [Pensions Provision in connection with Restructuring]:
§ Viscount Goschen moved Amendments Nos. 30 to 38:
Page 104, line 9, after ("by") insert ("or in accordance with the directions of").
Page 104, line 12, leave out from ("persons") to end of line 15 and insert ("who have become entitled in respect of any period of employment to be participants in another prescribed scheme are not, as from such time as may be determined in accordance with the regulations, to be entitled in respect of that period of employment to be participants in the existing scheme;").
Page 104, line 17, after first ("of") insert: ("(i)").
Page 104, line 19, at end insert ("; or (ii) the benefit of any arrangements under which participants in the existing scheme are relieved from any obligation to make contributions;").
Page 104, line 22, leave out ("paragraph (e) above") and insert ("this Schedule").
Page 104, line 25, at end insert: ("( ) for enabling expenses incurred in or in connection with the management or other administration of the existing scheme to be met out of the assets of the scheme;").
Page 104, line 43, at end insert: ("( ) provision for income accruing in respect of assets representing an investment reserve to be added to the reserve;").
Page 105, line 1, after ("amounts") insert ("that would have been comprised in the value of the reserve if assets representing any part of it had not been").
Page 109, line 7, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert: ("(4) Regulations under this paragraph may make provision for securing that individuals with pension rights under a scheme to which this paragraph applies are allowed to become participants in another such scheme or to renew their participation in the same scheme where, in prescribed cases, they enter the employment of a person any of whose employees are already, in respect of their employment with that person, participants in the other scheme or, as the case may be, in the scheme under which those rights subsist.").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the amendments are essentially of a technical nature. They all involve detailed corrections to the pensions provisions of the Bill to ensure that policies already agreed with the trustees and announced can be implemented in full. The amendments have been discussed in detail with the advisers to the trustees who support them. Perhaps I may give a brief explanation of each of the amendments.
§ Amendment No. 30 makes it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State can give directions to the trustees in relation to the twin objectives of minimising fund deficiencies and maximising fund surpluses as mentioned in paragraph 5(5) of the schedule.
§ Amendment No. 31 clarifies that British Coal pension scheme members who continue in employment in the industry and have the option of joining the new industry-wide schemes cannot remain as contributing members of the existing schemes. Such members will, of course, be able to leave their past service entitlements in the existing schemes.
§ Amendments Nos. 32 to 34 ensure that the staff scheme will be able to fund continuing employee contribution holidays in respect of widows' benefits by means of staged transfers to the industry-wide staff scheme.1539
§ Amendment No. 35 ensures that the schemes will be able to make direct payments to their administrators to cover their expenses in connection with the management or administration of the existing schemes rather than making them via offsets to payments from British Coal.
§ Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 ensure that a proportion of the income of the scheme fund can be added to the investment reserve and that when payments have been made from the investment reserve to make good a deficiency in its guaranteed fund, the reserve can be replenished from subsequent fund surpluses to the level that it would have been at had the deficiency not been made.
§ Amendment No. 38 ensures that pensioners and deferred pensioners who rejoin the coal industry will be able to become members of the industry-wide schemes if their terms of employment permit membership and their employer already participates.
§ I should add that there may be an inconsistency of a technical nature between paragraph 2(12) and the provisions of paragraph 2 which enable the Secretary of State to modify the existing schemes. The Government accordingly propose to table an amendment at Third Reading to remove the inconsistency. The terms of the amendment are currently under discussion with the scheme trustees. I therefore beg to move the amendments.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I take the noble Viscount's word that these are all technical amendments. I see no objection to them other than the fact that if, at this late stage, we can amend the Bill in this way, we begin to lose faith in any other part of the Bill. One wonders whether any of the Bill has been properly thought through. The noble Viscount says, "There may be an inconsistency". For all I know the whole Bill may be full of inconsistencies. Nothing shows more clearly that the Government would have done well to take my advice and to have started again with the Bill.
The Bill is clearly being amended on the hoof. I have no objection to that; I would rather that the provisions were right than wrong. But that is not the way to do business. The hour is quite early. I had felt that perhaps one ought to go through the amendments line by line. However, as we are about to discuss other much more important amendments, I refrain from doing so. This is a bad sign in terms of one's ability to have any faith whatever in the Bill.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, I am not quite sure what point the noble Lord was attempting to make. With every single Bill that I have had the pleasure of sitting through, there has been an ongoing process of fine-tuning. This is fine-tuning. We are putting in place technical, detailed amendments which have been agreed by the trustees. I do not believe that they should give the noble Lord, Lord Peston, any cause whatever for sleepless nights.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, in order to clarify what I said, there is no question of sleepless nights. It looks to me as though we shall be up all night with this Bill and the next one with which we are about to deal. My point 1540 was serious and noble Lords should reflect on it. If something as technical as these amendments, right at the heart of the pension matter, can arise at this late stage and at this late hour one begins to wonder about the rest of the Bill. Perhaps the Government will suddenly announce that quite a few other clauses do not make sense.
I am not making a debating point. It is a serious point about the way in which we engage in the legislative process. I do not criticise the noble Viscount. I do not imagine that he was responsible. He is doing the best he can in adverse circumstances, as am I. That is what I sought to say.
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 23 [Reduction in membership and dissolution of the Corporation]: [Amendment No. 39 not moved.]
Clause 24 [Abolition of the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council]:
§ Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 40:
Page 19, line 47, at end insert: ("( ) The Secretary of State shall consult the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council in good time before making an order abolishing the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 40, with which has been grouped Amendment No. 41. The amendments refer to the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council. The Bill deals with this important council in a summary way, merely saying that it "shall cease to exist". We had much discussion in Committee and, as I understood it, the noble Lord said that there were ongoing discussions between themselves —that is the DTI—British Coal, the Consumers' Council and the trade. My first question to the Minister is this: what has come out of those discussions? I hope that it is something positive, because the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council has played an important role in the development of the coal trade and in safeguarding the interests of consumers. Alongside it, there has been the approved coal merchants scheme. I was much associated with founding the scheme, at the time I was in the coal industry.
§ The objective of the two arrangements was to make sure that there was a properly run, properly conducted coal trade. I fail to see why those safeguards should be abolished when the industry is privatised. I mentioned in Committee that this was the one industry serving the public in a major way for which no provision was made in the legislation for a consumers' council. I instanced electricity, gas and telecommunications and was told that they had been privatised in a different way; that major bodies had been put into the private sector; and that therefore consumer safeguards were essential. That was not, however, so in the case of the coal industry which was being privatised on a fragmented basis, about which some of us have our doubts.
§ Perhaps I may mention the railways. It seems to me that the railways are on all fours with what is happening with coal. Railway services are being licensed, just as coal mines are being licensed. Yet on 1lth May there 1541 was the first meeting of the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee, another name for the body which previously existed.
§ I hope that in response to the modest amendments before us, the Minister will be able to say that the Government are anxious that there should be safeguards for the domestic consumer of coal which the coal industry fully supported in its nationalised guise. It should also be in the interests of private owners that the safeguards in the trade should be continued. I hope that at the very least these amendments will prove acceptable. I beg to move.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, it was clear in Committee that the Government are hell-bent on abolishing the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council, which is a cheap, necessary, efficient service doing a fine advisory and safety job, but which is too small to kick up much of a fuss.
The Chamber of Coal Traders is another independent body which is small enough for the Government to ignore or treat carelessly, but its general secretary has written to us a sensible letter which makes a significant point and asks a pertinent question. Mr. Browne-Clayton (for it is he) says:My members consider the matter of safety to be crucial to the future of the domestic coal industry post privatisation. We also believe that the success of the Domestic Coal Consumers Council should continue through further funding by the Government … At the moment, safety in the field is carried by Complete Heat, part of British Coal … Parts of Complete Heat are profitable i.e. the depots which supply spare parts for appliances when the safety experts advise customers that work is required to make their appliance safe. This is where British Coal generates income to try to cover the cost of their advisors, but as I have said, it is not a profitable organisation … My concern is that no one will look after this side of consumer protection after the privatisation of British Coal".Mr. Browne-Clayton goes on to describe the approved coal merchants' scheme, which he administers, incorporating some 3,000 merchants who are required to abide by a code of practice and citizens charter. He says that the scheme gives a very good service to domestic customers in relation to the burning of solid fuel. The letter continues:The issue of safety in the field has still to be resolved. We have been pursuing British Coal and the Government for some months, but each time they come back to us saying that discussions are continuing. As was highlighted during your Lordships Committee debate, gas have a Consumers Council and, as you know, a safety service is provided free for customers. We believe it is about time for the Government and British Coal to come clean, and advise my members as to what they want in this important area after privatisation".So concludes Mr. Browne-Clayton. I invite the Minister to come clean.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, can the Minister inform us whether his attention has been drawn to the trouble that we have had in South Wales recently over concessionary coal? With the closure of so many pits we lost our sources of Welsh house coal. I shall read from the local Western Mail last week:Smoky English coal imports brought a rash of pollution complaints across the Valleys. Council officials were called in and they issued orders to some ex-miners to stop the home fires 1542 burning. The answer to the coal problem has come from the Mid Glamorgan firm of Maxibrite who supply an open-grate smokeless fuel under the trade name of Newflame".This coal is now to be supplied by British Coal under the concessionary fuel scheme. I shall not read the whole article. It is perfectly clear that even people who were born and brought up in the coal industry have their difficulties about the quality of coal being offered to them as concessionary coal. If that can happen to them, what is the position faced by members of the general public who are not able to buy adequate coal for their coal burning grates or stoves? This is the kind of problem which the domestic fuel advisers are there to protect one from and to advise when things go wrong. That was all in last week's Welsh press so I want to make quite sure that the Minister is keeping up to date with the situation.
§ Lord Haslam
My Lords, I too have a high opinion of the Domestic Coal Consumers Council. It has been particularly effective, I believe, in ensuring the safety and protection of domestic coal users, of whom, surprisingly, there are 3.5 million in the United Kingdom at the present time. Many of them are elderly and among the less well-off in the community. Many of them are in Northern Ireland.
The council is currently responsible for some activities which would clearly not be valid following privatisation; for example, participating in negotiations on domestic coal prices with British Coal. Surely, rather than trying to "reinvent the wheel", the best solution would be a slimmed-down and more focused Domestic Coal Consumers Council which preserves the commendable experience which already exists within this organisation. I strongly support these two amendments and look forward to hearing that discussions are at present going on between British Coal and this organisation.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, these are of course amendments with which we dealt in Committee and I believe that we voted on them at that time, so your Lordships have already taken a view as to what should happen to the Domestic Coal Consumers Council. However, there is no harm in reopening the issue and having a further discussion.
Perhaps before addressing the specific terms of these amendments I could respond to the proper concern shown by noble Lords for the interests of domestic coal consumers. I fully recognise the importance of continuing consumer protection and safety arrangements after privatisation. The noble Baroness, Lady White, read out the interesting article and ended by saying that these were the kind of issues with which the DCCC should be dealing. I wonder whether it is actually dealing with them, because it is in existence now. I wonder what it is doing, whether it believes that it has a role, and what its answer might be.
I clearly understand the need for domestic coal consumers to have confidence that after privatisation effective arrangements will be in place to enable them to seek advice or to have their complaints heard. We accept the need for a smooth transition to new arrangements before abolishing the DCCC. That is why the Bill 1543 provides for the abolition of the council to take place on an appointed day, which has not yet been decided. I cannot commend too highly the efforts made by the DCCC to promote safety awareness among domestic coal consumers through its various campaigns. There is also a deep understanding of the value of continually reminding coal consumers of the dangers from unswept chimneys, blocked flues and poor ventilation. This is a message promulgated by the trade, by safety bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and not least by my own department. I have every confidence that all those bodies will continue to promote that safety message and to provide consumers with information and advice.
The real difference between now and some years ago is that there is already a substantial body of consumer legislation which offers consumers the necessary protection. That includes the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. The basis for this legislation existed when the DCCC was created in 1946, but it is immeasurably stronger now than it was 50 years ago. In addition, solid fuel appliances will be subject to the provisions of regulations implementing the General Product Safety Directive, which are due to be made later this year. Such appliances will need to meet established standards.
The coal trade has been, and is, actively looking at ways in which it will market domestic coal and attract the confidence of the domestic consumer after the privatisation of British Coal. There will be a period of "shake-down" after privatisation, and that is why we do not wish to see the premature disappearance of the DCCC. The trade has already made progress. In May this year the coal trade introduced a classification system for domestic coal, which embraces imported coal as well as British coal. A similar system has been in operation in Northern Ireland since May 1992. Consumers can be assured that coal which meets the standards of these systems is high quality and safe to burn.
The Approved Coal Merchants Scheme (ACMS) has been dealing with coal users' complaints for many years. It is part funded by British Coal and will remain so until April 1995. I understand that the Chamber of Coal Traders is optimistic that its members will be able to secure funding from suppliers and importers after that.
On guidance and advice, there is a good deal of material produced giving advice on safety in the home in general, and fire and fumes in particular. My department, the Home Office, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) all produce such information. I also understand local fire services and the Chimney Sweeps Association give further information and advice. All those sources of information stress the importance of having chimneys swept at least once a year, of ensuring rooms are well ventilated and of cleaning flues. Citizens advice bureaux also hold much of this information. We are considering whether more might be done to improve safety training for the industry, which will no longer be able to fall back on the expertise of British Coal.
1544 We do not propose to abolish the DCCC until we are satisfied that alternative arrangements are in place. The timing of the abolition of the DCCC will depend on the progress made on developing those arrangements. My officials are keeping in touch with the trade and are confident its members have the commitment and the will to secure consumers' interests post-privatisation. I do not therefore consider Amendment No. 40 to be necessary.
As regards Amendment No. 41, my officials are keeping in touch with the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council on the future arrangements for consumer representation and protection, and the council is itself involved in many of the discussions within the trade. To that extent it is being and will continue to be consulted. That amendment also is therefore unnecessary.
Much has been made of the comparison between this industry and other industries that were privatised. But there is a difference between coal, electricity, gas, telecommunications, rail and so forth. The way that they were privatised created an inevitable degree of local monopoly. That is why they all have regulators and consumer bodies. However, the market for coal is already extremely competitive and will continue to be so. Indeed, that competitiveness is likely to increase over the course of the next few years, particularly if the privatisation process is successful.
I am not against consumer bodies; in fact, I am entirely in favour of them. I am against bodies which no longer have a use. It is my desire that we will not need a DCCC any more. We have not set a date; we shall do so when we conclude our discussions with the Consumer Council.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I am reassured on one point; namely, that the Government will not rush the abolition of the DCCC until they are satisfied that they have other arrangements in place. But I am a little puzzled by what the noble Lord said regarding the development of consumer protection legislation. It seems to me that that would apply just as much to all the other consumer bodies that he mentioned. If there is such highly developed consumer protection, why do we need a Gas Consumers' Council, an Electricity Consumers' Council, a telecoms consumers' council and a railways consumers' council? Why should there be one application of general consumer legislation for people who use domestic coal and another for all those other people? I was therefore a little puzzled.
I am puzzled also about the change which the noble Lord seems to think the privatisation will make to the domestic consumer of coal. It will make no difference whatever to the domestic consumer of coal. The coal trade has always been in private hands in the coal industry. Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, the Minister responsible at the time of the nationalisation of coal, decided that the coal trade should remain in private hands. They bought the bulk of their coal from the National Coal Board and its various pits. For some years they have been importing coal. Instead of buying it from those pits of the National Coal Board, they will now buy it from different mining companies. But it will make no difference whatever to the domestic coal consumers. 1545 They will be in exactly the same position. They will still go to their local coal merchant, ask for the quality of coal they want and hopefully be supplied with it.
If domestic users needed the support of the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council in the past, they certainly need it now. Nothing has changed for them and that is what puzzles me about the proposition. Competition will not change. There has always been competition. The Domestic Coal Consumers' Council could go to any merchant it chose. It could buy any coal on the market it wanted to buy. And that remains the case.
I note what the noble Lord has said. I hope that by the time we come to Third Reading we shall be told more precisely what is in mind. I am not at all convinced by the Government's argument against the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council. The case for retaining it is exactly the same as it ever was. I hope that we may perhaps be able to address this matter again at Third Reading. In the circumstances, and because of the advance of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]
Clause 26 [Grant of licences]:
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 42:
Page 22, line 10, at end insert:
- ("(7) Where the Authority proposes to grant a licence and the operations detailed in the application for the licence will not, if the application is granted, give rise to an obligation on the applicant to seek planning permission or any other form of authorisation from a relevant body, the Authority shall before it does so—
- (a)refer the proposal to the National Rivers Authority and the River Purification Authority whose area includes any land comprising the area with respect to which an application for a licence has been made; and
- (b) consider any representations which the National Rivers Authority or River Purification Authority makes to it during the period allowed for in subsection (8) below.
- (8) The period allowed under subsection (7) (b) above is the period of 28 days beginning with the day on which the proposal is received by the National Rivers Authority or the River Purification Authority, or any such longer period as may be agreed in writing between the Authority and the National Rivers Authority or the River Purification Authority, as the case may be.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 44 and 71. Amendments Nos. 42 and 44 are about starting operations and stopping them. Amendment No. 71 is a simple technical consequence of the first two. They are designed to be helpful, to improve the Bill and to create good relations.
§ The first amendment is intended to impose requirements in certain circumstances for the Coal Authority to consult with the NRA, or appropriate river purification authority in Scotland, in respect of proposals to grant coal-mining licences. Consultation will take place only where the operator will require no further form of permission—either planning or environmental—in order to undertake its coal-mining activities. Unless the Bill includes such an amendment, the NRA or the river purification authority would be consulted prior to operations commencing only where 1546 either planning permission or some other form of authorisation—for instance, a charge consent—is required. It is intended to address the situation where an operator taking over existing workings may not be aware of the full implications of mining activity on groundwater or pumping regimes.
§ Perhaps an example will make things clear [Interruption]. Excuse me, that was the fly that has been bothering me for half the evening. But I have now killed it. Your Lordships may care to imagine a situation where, after taking over a mine, a new operator decides to alter the pumping regime from two connecting pumps to one large pump, with the water being pumped from a different location. Above ground the outlet might appear to be the same, with the same quantity of water. But by altering the underground pump arrangements there could be dramatic changes in water quality. Consultation in relation to existing workings and before a licence is granted provides the regulators with an opportunity to make representations or to offer advice in order to protect surface or groundwater.
§ The second amendment in the group concerns what ought to happen when a licence holder decides to abandon a mine. During the Committee stage of the Bill the Government stated that it will be a condition of the lease between the Coal Authority and the licensed operator that the operator will be required to provide the authority with six months' written notice of its intention to abandon the mine. While the Government gave an assurance to the Committee that they would notify the NRA, or the river purification authority in the case of Scotland, at that point, no indication was given as to precisely when within the six-month period such notification would be forthcoming. The amendment is intended to remove this uncertainty by requiring the Coal Authority to notify the NRA or the river purification authority within seven days of it being notified by the operator. That would add a certain amount of briskness to the exchange.
§ A period of four weeks would then be granted to the NRA or river purification authority in which to make representations to the Coal Authority. The Coal Authority will not be entitled to give its consent to the proposal to abandon until that period of time has expired. The procedure is important and we had better get it right. Sufficient prior notice is essential if potential problems from minewater discharges are to be identified by reference to geological and other data and proposals for their resolution are to be assessed, verified and agreed by the organisations concerned through the full examination of the proposed mine closure plans.
§ The third amendment is consequent on the amendments to Clauses 3 and 53 and adopts the definition of "controlled waters" as set out in Section 104 of the Water Resources Act 1991. I hope that that makes everything clear. I beg to move.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for taking up points which I believe I raised at Committee stage. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will remember that when pressed by me on this particular point he undertook to look at what I had said and the 1547 arguments that I had advanced. In the NRA we believe it is very important that we have amendments of this kind in the Bill. It is not satisfactory that the NRA should be involved only at the planning stage. There would be a totally different situation if a new licensed operator was to move in. He might well comply with the basic planning requirements but he might operate underground in a wholly different way with consequences which are extremely damaging to the environment.
It is also of absolutely fundamental importance that the NRA should be brought in to the process of closure early and that it should have every opportunity to influence the outcome. We have practical experience to guide us. We know exactly what negotiations took place between British Coal and the NRA about possible closures in the Durham coal field. We know how important it was to have adequate time to reach agreed solutions and to look at possible consequences.
I hope that this is one of those few occasions on which the Government will actually listen to the strongly held representations made to them and accept these amendments. If they do not accept them in precisely the present form, I hope that they will introduce something which meets the point.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I treat the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, with renewed respect. It is the first time that I have seen blood spilled across the table. He did it very well. If the noble Lord, Lord Peston, missed it, he missed a fine sight.
Amendment No. 42 seeks to give the water regulatory bodies a special role on the grant of licences, where there is an existing planning permission for mining activity. It would require all such proposed licences to be referred to the appropriate body and they would have a fixed time in which to make representations to the authority. This returns to a basic question which we have heard and debated under several heads here and in Committee; namely, what is the proper role of the authority and the grant of licences under this Bill and what is the role of other regulatory bodies?
There is a perfectly understandable tendency to heap more and more responsibilities on to any body which the Government propose to create. In particular, there is a tendency to heap on such a body more responsibilities for the environment. I say again that that is very understandable. Nevertheless, it is a recipe for at the least a duplication of effort and very likely for confusion and muddle.
Our approach is based on the premise that bodies which have been given particular responsibilities should have the right duties and powers for the role which has been conferred on them. In this case that means the NRA and the corresponding Scottish bodies should have the powers to carry out their role. I believe that they do. All discharges to controlled waters must have their consent. Moreover, they are statutory consultees on any planning proposal and so able to make any appropriate representations to the planning authority about the implications of any new development, including coal mines, for the water environment.
1548 We covered these points in discussion of an earlier amendment at Committee stage. What is different about Amendment No. 42 is that it only applies to cases in which the mining can proceed without an application for planning permission—in other words, where there is an existing planning permission. It seems to me that the amendment would give the authority an additional role, that of environmental regulator. If so, that would be undesirable. Environmental regulation should be the business of the bodies which have specifically been given those roles and whose powers and duties have been fully considered by your Lordships on previous occasions. The authority should co-operate with those bodies and I am confident that it will, but its duties and powers should address its particular responsibilities and should not overlap or conflict with theirs.
As to whether there is a need to amend or update existing planning permissions, where they may have been in existence for some time and environmental standards have in the meantime moved forward, I acknowledge that there is an issue to be addressed. The Government recently published their proposals for the reform of old mineral permissions. The implications for coal are being addressed and will be announced separately. I think that altering existing planning permissions is a complex matter and that it should be tackled in the complex way set out in the Government's proposals, with proper safeguards for the holders of the permissions, rather than in the ad hoc way which would follow on this amendment.
Amendment No. 44 is meant to ensure that there will be proper consultation with the appropriate water regulatory body (either the NRA or the relevant river purification authority) before a licensed mine is; abandoned by its operator. It is desirable and necessary that such consultation should take place before abandonment. We have by no means overlooked the question. As I explained on 26th April, the approach that we envisage will be followed. The eighth schedule to the lease contains a covenant from the tenant that he will keep the mine in a satisfactory condition, which is defined as the condition required to ensure that no immediate or potential liabilities fall on the authority. If he wishes to close any part of the mine, he has to give the authority six months' notice and a report on the possible consequences of the closure, with details of the steps that he will then take to secure that the mine remains in a satisfactory condition. The authority will ensure that the NRA is consulted in that process. That has been spelt out in the Revised Coal Authority Explanatory Note. Before agreeing to termination of the lease, the authority will expect the operator to institute any reasonable treatment measures identified, and to make an appropriate payment for any continuing costs. Once the lease has come to an end, the authority will be responsible for the mine, as it will be for any other abandoned coal mine.
I think that that is the most effective way of proceeding. The leases of the mines and the responsibilities of the authority will not only secure proper consultation with the environmental regulatory 1549 bodies, but, what is much more important, will also secure that appropriate measures are taken to protect the environment in those circumstances.
I am not sure whether the noble Lord spoke to Amendment No. 72—
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the noble Lord did not, so I shall not reply to it.
I hope that I have given the kind of full explanation that the noble Lord needs to give him more confidence in the regime that will apply post-privatisation.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, before I proposed these amendments, which seemed at the time to be reasonably simple, I thought that I understood them quite clearly. Having listened to the Minister, I am less and less convinced of my own perspicacity. He spoke of duplication here, of muddle and of confusion. He spoke of environmental regulation. I agree that the whole problem of environmental regulation lies deep at the heart of our objections to many parts of the Bill.
I shall need to take advice on what the Minister rather rapidly said. I shall read it carefully in Hansard and I shall test the temperature of the water with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and his colleagues. We may wish to return to this at a later stage or we may not. I do not yet know. Meanwhile there is nothing further to be gained by banging on about this one tonight, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 28 [Conditions of licence: general]:
[Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.]
Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 45:
After Clause 34, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Withdrawal of licences
§ —(1) Where the Authority is satisfied—
- (a) that any person is carrying on any coal-mining operations in contravention of a final enforcement order, or
- (b) that any person is carrying on any coal-mining operations in contravention of a provisional enforcement order and the Authority is satisfied that contravention would continue following the making of a final enforcement order, or
- (c) that any person is no longer able to finance both the proper carrying on of the coal-mining operations and the discharge of liabilities arising from the carrying on of those operations the Authority shall give 28 days notice to that person of its intention to revoke the licence granted under section 25(1).
§ (2) If at the expiry of the period of 28 days, the Authority is satisfied that the person to whom the notice was given is continuing to contravene a final enforcement order or provisional enforcement order or is likely to do so in the future or remains unable to finance the operations in accordance with subsection (1) (c) above, the Authority shall, subject to subsection (3) of this section, revoke the licence entirely.
§ (3) Where the contravention under subsection (1) (a) or (b) of this section affects one or more sites where coal-mining operations are carried on but those sites do not comprise the whole of the area included within the licence of that person, the Authority may specify the site or sites in respect of which the licence is revoked.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Bill goes into considerable detail on the issue of enforcement orders providing for provisional and final orders to be made 1550 and for prior notice of breaches to be given. The model licences provide for the withdrawal of licences for breaches but, as we know, those licences are wholly negotiable. Those models can be changed by Ministers from time to time.
§ That is unsatisfactory, and typically unsatisfactory of a great deal that we find wrong with this Bill. So much of it is tucked away in various drafts, models and bits of documentation which have nothing to do with the Bill. Right at the heart of nearly all the objections that we have heard tonight and at an earlier stage is that so little is actually stated on the face of the Bill. So much is left to other documents, drafts and memoranda about which any Government may say, "That is what we thought at the time but times change. Things are different. We are into a recession, or out of a recession, and it all has to be changed".
§ We want the degree of certainty which is involved in making an issue into a law to be increased. I hope that noble Lords on these and other Benches will agree that time and again we are being fobbed off with comments such as, "There is no need for anything of that kind to be put into the Bill because the Government fully intend to do this, that or the other". That is at the heart of what we regard as unsatisfactory.
§ It must be clear that the licence will be withdrawn if fundamental breaches arise, if the companies become unable to fund their operations and liabilities, or otherwise create a substantial problem of whatever nature. As a result of any such problem, the power to revoke the licence should exist and should be seen to exist. In this respect, coal privatisation is not like other privatisations. We accept that the power to revoke licences is not incorporated in other privatised industries but the potential for the coal mining industry to cause loss to third parties and to create exceptional environmental harm is considerable.
§ The Government state that, as owner of the coal and the coal mines, the Coal Authority is responsible and that this provides some protection. This is only at the time when the licence and the lease of the coal has been revoked so that there is no intervening interest. Given the exceptional nature of the coal mining industry, I believe and we believe that this amendment is a necessary and important addition to this Bill. I beg to move.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord is a little excited about the lack of detail in the Bill. But, of course, that is the whole point. We are trying to provide an important framework and for very good reasons some of the details may be subject to change. It is the kind of flexibility which I hope the noble Lord would like to see. We are trying to make sure that there is a long-term, viable financial future for the coal industry in this country. We can do that. We know from bitter experience that we cannot predict every situation that may occur in the future and that is why legislation is often too rigid.
The purpose of the noble Lord's new clause is to place a duty on the Coal Authority to revoke a licence where it is satisfied that the operator is continuing to 1551 carry on coal mining operations in contravention of a final or a provisional enforcement order; or that the operator is likely to do so in the future; or that the operator has ceased to be able to finance both the operations and the discharge of the associated liabilities.
I entirely agree that there may be circumstances where it is appropriate for the Coal Authority to terminate an operator's authorisation to mine. Indeed, the revised draft model operating licence contains provisions which allow the authority to do just that where the licensee has failed to comply with a final enforcement order.
But it would be wrong to require the authority automatically to revoke a licence. After all, the contravention might be relatively minor and the other remedies available through the courts by virtue of Clause 33(7) may be more appropriate. Revoking a licence, as distinct from the authorisation to mine, brings to an end the operator's obligations and liabilities under that licence, including his obligation as to those affected by subsidence damage. I do not believe that that can be right. Furthermore, I do not consider that that is the effect which the noble Lord believed would occur when he moved his new clause. Therefore, the automatic revocation of the licence envisaged by the new clause cannot be right.
I give an example. Let us suppose that an operator encounters unexpected geological difficulties and is seeking additional funding from his backers, then the circumstances envisaged by the new clause might occur. Revocation of the licence would remove the possibility of a future income stream. That would destroy the prospects of the operator securing additional finance and increase the chances of creditors suffering loss.
Under Clause 2(1) (b) the Coal Authority has a duty to carry out its licensing functions in the manner it considers best calculated to secure that operators are able to finance both their operations and the discharge of the associated liabilities. It must be right to allow the authority discretion to decide how best to implement that duty, but in doing so it will be seeking to ensure that the situation does not arise where an operator ceases to have the ability to finance its operations and liabilities.
It is not that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, is wrong. It is that I believe that he has gone too far in seeking an absolute automatic revocation. After that explanation, I hope that he agrees with me.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, I do not agree at all. I wish that I could trust the entire corpus of Her Majesty's Government as much as I trust the Minister. Alas, I cannot and I should not be doing my duty in relation to this Bill if I did.
The example which the Minister gave is a special case and he can make a case for a special case. The case that I was arguing was the general principle, which I believe is untouched by the particular instance which he gave. On this issue, neither he nor I will easily meet. There is no middle ground and we cannot do much about that. Therefore, if my noble friends and advisers storm at me with shot and shell, I reserve the right to revisit the situation, but I can do little more this evening than to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
1552 Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 46:
Page 31, line 14, after ("licence;") insert: ("( ) any provision included in the licence for the purposes of section (Liability for inaccurate information furnished to the Authority) below and any conditions requiring the disclosure of information which may be of the description specified for those purposes;").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 68.
§ As the House will be aware, British Coal answers mining searches from solicitors and others. As explained in the Coal Authority Explanatory Note published in January, the Coal Authority will answer them in future and operators will be required to supply information to the authority so that its search answers remain up to date.
§ At present a purchaser who suffers loss through his reliance on a wrong answer may have a legal remedy against British Coal. But in the same situation in future he might be unable to obtain a remedy if the fault is that of an operator who, in breach of his licence, failed to give the authority the accurate information. Although there are likely to be very few, if any, instances, the purpose of the amendments is nevertheless to address the problem by providing a right of redress for such persons against the operator.
§ Perhaps I may pre-empt the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It would obviously have been desirable had that point been picked up earlier. It did not become clear that amendment was necessary to overcome the problem, which was identified in DTI officials' discussions with the Law Society, until we had completed the Committee stage. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is important to protect people who otherwise might not have had a right of redress. That is what the amendments achieve. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, it is nice at last to be able to thank the Government for something. Thank you very much. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for Amendments Nos. 46 and 68. It is good to know that the Coal Authority is to provide searches in the future and that it will require regular returns of information from operators as a condition of their operating licence.
It is good to know also that the other issue has been taken care of. We knew that a purchaser who suffers loss through his reliance on a wrong answer because British Coal failed accurately to report its own actions might have a legal remedy against the BCC. We asked whether the same situation would obtain in future if the fault were that of an operator who, in breach of his licence, failed to give the authority accurate information. We now know that he will have right of redress and that is very welcome. However, we hope that that will act as a kind of coal-fired nuclear deterrent to recalcitrant operators.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 43 [Persons responsible for subsidence]:
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 47:1553
Page 37, line 42, leave out from second ("the") to end of line 43 and insert ("Authority").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall, with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendment No. 48. The purpose of the amendments is to provide one respondent for all claims made in respect of subsidence damage and to ensure that claimants do not suffer by any failure of licensed operators to pay proper compensation. We have been here before, and I shall try to go through the matter as briefly as I can, but it may take a little longer than the last amendment.
§ With regard to the subsidence provisions of the Bill, the Minister said in Committee:
"The new regime is as clear as crystal"
§ That renews a phrase which I believe I mentioned at about 5 p.m. and is in the Official Report for 28th April at col. 910. I believe that I may say, without fear of successful contradiction, that his view is very much a minority one. The proposed arrangements have drawn stinging criticism from all quarters, both within and outside Parliament.
§ At present, subsidence damage is exclusively the responsibility of British Coal. Under the terms of the Bill, subsidence liabilities will be divided between the private operators and the new Coal Authority. We seem to have got that clear at last. The operators will all be expected to meet claims arising from historic and future mining activity within "defined areas of responsibility", with the Coal Authority responsible for claims everywhere else. That sounds as clear as crystal; however, it is in fact as clear as mud.
§ The first point to make is that no one disputes the principle that the mine owners should bear the costs of surface damage arising from their operations. However, there is concern that the added burden of historic subsidence liabilities within their "areas of responsibility" could threaten the privatisation process before it even begins. Subsidence liabilities are potentially enormous and impossible accurately to quantify. The image of the situation being like one of those kitchen gadgets that we mentioned previously which you use to take the core out of an apple simply will not work. It is not enough; indeed, it is too complicated both in space and time to be a genuine analogy. It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has gone as he seems to have invented the concept. It sounded so easy at the time, but it is not so easy when you try to make it work.
§ In 1992, British Coal (which knew all about the apple corer business) were required to set aside £249 million on provision for surface damage. Last year it paid out £38 million in damages, plus the considerable costs associated with evaluation and legal processing of claims. For the industry to survive, privatisation must succeed. It hurts me to say that, but I believe it to be the truth. But it will not happen if there is the danger that historic liabilities will outweigh commercial benefits.
§ Apart from that fundamental concern, the subsidence arrangements proposed in the Bill are a formula for confusion, delay and default. In particular, the individual claimant is faced with a complex and involved procedure which begins with the first major 1554 hurdle of actually establishing who on earth it is who is responsible for discharging the claim. When, for good reason, the claimant is dissatisfied with the outcome there is no sanction to bring against an errant mine operator. The recommendation of the new subsidence adviser—and we will deal with that later—is merely advisory; it has no standing in law. Moreover, there is no specific provision in the Bill that liability for subsidence damage will revert to the Coal Authority and, ultimately, to the Government in the event of an operator becoming insolvent. Of course, we have heard it time and again across the Dispatch Boxes, but nowhere is it present in the Bill. It is one of those things which, although stated 50 times, can be walked away from if circumstances are deemed by the Government to change at any time. The Minister has given some verbal assurance that the Coal Authority would take ultimate responsibility. But, once again—and let this be the chorus for tonight—it needs to be confirmed on the face of the Bill.
§ Uncertainty on this issue is concerning the Association of British Insurers and has already manifested itself at ground level where householders whose properties are at risk of subsidence are being refused structural insurance or, at best, offered greatly increased premiums.
§ Then there is no formal mechanism for dealing with the disputes over responsibility that will inevitably arise between operator and operator or operator and Coal Authority. A great deal of reliance is pathetically placed upon the proposed interaction agreement which puts the emphasis on mutual agreement to settle grievances between interested parties—the kind of thing which King Solomon might well have understood when presented with a baby being claimed by two mothers. Why did they not have an interaction agreement? Why did they not settle their grievances as interested parties by getting together around a table and talking it all out? Human nature is just not like that. This arrangement is quite inappropriate and is no substitute for a pro-active regulatory body.
§ These amendments propose a sensible solution to these difficulties by making the Coal Authority responsible for the handling of all subsidence claims and giving it powers to obtain from the private operators appropriate security to cover the cost of claims and associated expenses. What could be more simple?
§ These amendments would not shift the existing duties of the Coal Authority very far. Already it has responsibilities for subsidence claims outside the licensed areas and as the licensing body it has a role in ensuring that the terms of the licence are fulfilled.
§ Finally, such an arrangement would have the added and significant bonus of offering a single national compensation scheme backed by a team of subsidence experts similar to that currently provided, to everyone's satisfaction, by British Coal's Surface Damage Unit. It seems such a lovely and simple solution, I cannot understand why the Government do not immediately rise up and accept it. I beg to move.1555
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 aim to make the Coal Authority responsible for discharging all coal mining subsidence claims, including those which we believe should be the responsibility of licensees. Noble Lords will be aware that similar proposals were considered in Committee. It may be helpful if I start by setting out the approach which we have provided in the Bill.
We believe it is important that each mine operator should be responsible for claims involving any lawful subsidence damage which arises within his area of responsibility. We believe that the subsidence provisions in the Bill are extremely straightforward.
We believe that operators should deal directly with those whose property they damage, and that they should have every reason to make dealing with subsidence damage the highest priority. However, these amendments would shield operators from the consequences of their mining and from direct contact with those affected, and would send them a signal that subsidence was not their problem.
In our view it is essential that coal mining companies should have, and be seen to have, real and meaningful responsibility for their own subsidence. This means that they must accept their responsibility to meet claims for damage due to their mining. They should not only have the financial responsibility, as these amendments recognise, but also the direct responsibility for seeing that the claims from people whose property they have damaged are properly dealt with.
We reject the noble Lord's contention that these proposals create confusion. The arrangements under the Bill are very simple. The Government have now decided that the lines of authority will be drawn so as to include only those areas that are likely to be affected by mining carried out from March 1994, as we discussed in the debate on the first group of amendments. Furthermore, the successor companies will be indemnified for the costs of meeting any claims relating to damage within this area where liability had been admitted by British Coal before the sale was agreed.
I have tried to put forward the contention that the arrangements for the settlement of subsidence claims contained in the Bill are simple and straightforward. As we have said, a line will be drawn on the map: if you are inside the line you claim against the mine operator; if you are outside you claim against the Coal Authority. Nothing could be simpler than that. The guidance note which the House has seen will be provided to all those affected. If anyone is still confused they can ask the subsidence adviser.
We believe that we have arrived at the best arrangements for the settlement of subsidence claims. I hope: that having gone over the ground again I shall have convinced the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The Earl of Harrowby
My Lords, does the noble Viscount not recognise that, although he may feel that adequate arrangements have been made, virtually no professional operating in this field feels the same way? This is the trouble with the Bill throughout. The 1556 Government have paid no attention to professional views—some interested, some disinterested—and the advice that they have received from outside. The advice is almost unanimous. I should think that on this issue it is unanimous. I am most disappointed to hear the noble Viscount's response to the amendment.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, I made notes while the noble Viscount was speaking. I wrote down: "He may think that. No one else does". As I was about to get up and say that, the noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, got up and said it for me. Clearly two minds in your Lordships' House think the same way.
There can be no real meeting of minds between the Government and us on this matter. We are both of us arguing from prepared positions. We are sitting in fixed trenches and firing at each other. The Government prefer this bewildering complexity to simplicity of procedures. We prefer certainty, speedy settlement and natural justice, which clearly are no part of what they want to see.
We are not going to get any further with this tonight. I doubt whether we ever will. At this hour of the night there is no point in putting the matter to the vote. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 48 not moved.]
§ Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 49:
Page 38, line 34, at end insert: (" ( ) It shall be the duty of the person with responsibility for subsidence to deposit such sum as is necessary with the Coal Authority to meet the cost of all works reasonably required to prevent any pipeline or flood defence installation being damaged or suffering deterioration as a result of subsidence damage that may be expected as a result of the coal mining operations in respect of which notice is given under section 45(1} (e) below.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this grouping includes Amendments Nos. 49 to 51, one of which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The others are in the name of my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I say that in case the Ministers are unaware that the grouping includes an amendment which they are supposed to move.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, the amendment is grouped with these amendments and we are aware of the fact.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, that is fine. One of my problems is that I do not fully understand Amendment No. 50 and I am not sure why it is in the group.
I have one other problem. I had understood from various remarks that had been made in the past few weeks that we would not start to deal with serious amendments at 11 o'clock at night. I have to go on record as saying that this has to come to a stop. It is absurd that we are dealing with this kind of issue now. My amendment is quite important, and we are about to come to another amendment in the name of the. noble Lord, Lord Stanley, which is of overwhelming importance. Noble Lords should know that I was; under the impression that we were not going to do this sort of thing any more, and I certainly think that we should not. 1557 I have no choice; we have to carry on, but this is not remotely the way that serious legislators should consider carrying on.
The amendments in the name of my noble friend again deal with subsidence. Technically they are of a different type. Up to now we have been debating liability for subsidence and have at least explored that issue in some detail. This is a slightly different problem, which is the question of anticipating subsidence as a consequence of various activities and doing something about it in advance.
I am advised that, although the present arrangements are less than perfect, they are regarded as at least reasonably good at dealing with works taking place in advance of subsidence. The matter as it arises under the Bill has been addressed by the Minister. As noble Lords will recall, we have the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991. The Minister claims that the Act, quite rightly, allows the corporation such responsibility and therefore I assume that it will be within the area of responsibility of the authority or those who take out licences. They will be able, if they so wish, to arrange for anticipatory works. As I understand it, that is discretionary. There is no obligation for them to do that.
Therefore, when we come to the effect of subsidence on pipelines, flood defences, and so on, there are authorities responsible for that; they have a statutory duty. The point I make is that it is unreasonable and unfair that those who have such duties should have to comply with the obligations with which they are confronted when the cause of the problem is not theirs. The cause will be those who engage in mining, and so on.
There should be a duty on the Coal Authority, or on the licence holder who has an area of responsibility, to provide information relevant to subsidence, and the cost of the works which have to be undertaken, in advance of mining. In other words, if the mining is expected to cause subsidence damage to the installations, then there should be information provision and financing beforehand. To leave the matter as it stands exposes people and property to the risk of damage which could be extensive. It might even lead to risks being taken with regard to preventive measures.
I do not doubt that the Bill as written will enable those who suffer to engage in litigation in order to place the liability where it was in the first place. I believe that it would be much better if we had a set of arrangements which would not require such litigation to be undertaken.
I reiterate that I regard the matter as important, but it is a difficult issue and not one which I willingly would wish to discuss at this time or as briefly as I feel obliged to discuss it because of the lateness of the hour. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter carefully even if he is unlikely to be persuaded at this moment. I refer to a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Harrowby. It is an area in which the expert advice I have received is not on the side of the Government; it is against the Government. Speaking as one who often earns his living from being an expert, I am never one to say that the expert is always right. However, the expert should be 1558 taken seriously. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will say, without coming to a definite conclusion, that he will reflect on the issue further.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I, too, speak to the same amendments, including government Amendment No. 50. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that these are complicated matters which are difficult to deal with at this time of night. However, I am not in control of the timing of the agenda when these amendments arise. This evening our discussions on consumer councils took half an hour. Debate on the mining museums took an hour. I thought that we dealt with consumer councils very adequately in Committee but the subject came back again. No doubt it will arise again at Third Reading. That is the way in which we do business in this House. If that means we have to sit late, it is our fault and we should not complain.
I should like to deal first with the proposal that advance notification should be required. Advance notification of all owners or occupiers—whether or not they are responsible for pipelines and flood defence installations—who may be affected by subsidence is already required and will be so in future under the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991.
Secondly, operators will be obliged by their operating licences to submit detailed estimates of their future subsidence liabilities, including individual assessments of the effects on such structures as pipelines and flood defence installations. Their permission to mine will be conditional on the Coal Authority's approval of those estimates and assessments.
Where preventive measures are to be taken—and it will be in the interest of the licensee that they should be —these will necessarily involve consultation with the person responsible for the structure in question. Moreover, the draft subsidence security guidance note published by my department which sets out what information it is envisaged the Coal Authority will require from operators expressly contemplates discussions with such surface owners.
Under our proposals mining will only go ahead after reasonable notification and proper assessment of its impact, and where it is necessary to involve the other party to forecast the damage he will be involved.
Amendment No. 49 is concerned with security for preventive measures. It is fundamental to our proposals that where it is appropriate the Coal Authority will take security for subsidence damage and that operators who fail to comply with subsidence obligations will risk losing their mining rights.
As far as damage to land drainage systems such as rivers is concerned, the 1991 Act provides that such measures as may be reasonably required by the appropriate drainage authority are to be carried out. If the drainage authority requires preventive measures but the operator neither pays for these to be taken nor takes them itself, it will be in breach of its subsidence obligations and the mining which necessitates the measures can be stopped. Furthermore, any security provided by the operator will have to be calculated with reference to damage which is nevertheless expected.
1559 Turning to pipelines, it is vital that there should be no threat to safety; and there will not be. It is clear that if an operator were to contemplate undermining pipelines, which may contain such hazardous substances as oil or gas, or for that matter flood defences, that company would be unable to do so without in some way putting people at risk.
All employers are obliged by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act to conduct their undertakings in such a way as to ensure that so far as reasonably practicable there is no risk to the health and safety of people not in their employment. Furthermore, all employers are obliged to carry out risk assessment of their activities. If that assessment is found to be inadequate in any way, the HSE can require the activity to cease while a new assessment is prepared.
But we also want to avoid the extensive damage which could result from the fracture of a pipeline. It is inconceivable that an operator will intentionally cause that kind of damage because the cost of his obligations under the 1991 Act would be potentially enormous. We have a safeguard against the danger that he might fail to foresee the damage because he has to submit his proposals to the Coal Authority, which has to approve his detailed assessment of subsidence damage so that it can fix the level of financial security required.
I fully understand the desire to extend the security arrangements we envisage. But there is no need for these amendments because the position is already satisfactorily covered.
The noble Lord said that the arrangements were complicated and would end up in the courts. When one changes a system there is always the potential for litigation. The whole point of legislation is, where possible, to avoid doubt; I believe we have done so, but if it ends up in the courts, then so be it. I hope that at least I have given the noble Lord some comfort that we understand the situation and take it seriously.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I thank the Minister. What he said was immensely interesting and well worth thinking about. But my complaint earlier about our proceedings is precisely that this is not the hour when I feel I can possibly investigate whether what he said is right. As he said it, the explanation sounded quite convincing to me and I am not for a moment saying that he is necessarily mistaken. But whether I would have found it convincing at three o'clock in the afternoon, when I had much more time to reflect on it and when other noble Lords would have been present also to investigate further, I do not know. I shall certainly reflect on the matter between now and our final deliberations.
To emphasise the lateness of the hour, did the Minister talk about his own amendment, or was I asleep during his remarks? If he did, I missed what he said.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I have just received a note reminding me that I did not speak about my Amendment No. 50. Clearly, the lateness of the hour has had a greater effect on me than I thought likely. I have a short note on the amendment.
Amendment No. 50 is a technical amendment which ensures that the joint and several liability provisions in 1560 Clause 44 apply to subsidence obligations in respect of which damage is anticipated, as well as those where damage has already occurred.
§ Lord Peston
Thank goodness for that, my Lords. I really was beginning to despair a little bit. I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister.
To revert to my own Amendment No. 49, there is. nothing more for me to say at this stage, except to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 6 [Further modifications of the 1991 Act]:
§ Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 50:
Page 113, line 6, at end insert: ("8A. The provisions of section 44 of this Act, so far as they relate to obligations, liabilities or rights of responsible persons, shall also apply as respects obligations, liabilities or rights by virtue of paragraph 6 or 8 above of persons who would be: responsible persons if subsidence damage occurred; and, for that purpose, references in that section to subsidence damage shall be construed accordingly.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 45 [Information to be provided by responsible persons]:
§ [Amendment No. 51 not moved.]
§ Clause 46 [The subsidence adviser]:
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
§ moved Amendment No,. 52:
§ Page 40, line 42, at end insert:
§ (" ( ) the investigation of such complaints as the Subsidence Adviser thinks fit made against the Authority or one or more of its licensees and concerning the administration of claims relating to subsidence or the abuse of discretionary powers granted under this Act;").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we all live and work in difference shapes and patterns. I get better as the light gets darker. I am just extremely pleased that your Lordships' House does not meet at nine o'clock in the morning.
§ In moving Amendment No. 52 I speak also to Amendments Nos. 53 and 54. The purpose of these amendments is to strengthen the role of the subsidence adviser, the most welcome figure appearing on our scene.
§ We have of course trodden this path before. I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for writing to me on this subject in a letter dated 31st May and for discussing the subject with me at a meeting last week which he so kindly agreed to and which was so helpful. I wish that I could be happy with the case that the noble Lord made then. Alas, I cannot. I still share with many others grave concern about the minimalist and reactive nature of the duties that are to be taken by this person.
We have recent additional evidence to take into account. According to the draft claimants' guide from the DTI, it is proposed that the adviser will have,
discretion over whether and when to investigate complaints … He can also investigate the abuse of discretionary powers such as unjustified use of stop notices. He also has powers to require information from mine owners, and the fact of this involvement alone may be enough to resolve the problem".
§ If by requiring information you could solve any real problem there would not be a lawyer left in the land.
The draft guide goes on to say:
Where he discovers a complaint is justified, he can use a public written recommendation to indicate what steps should be taken: and although this recommendation is not mandatory and does not carry the force of law",
and so on, and so on. The very tone betrays the weakness, the flaccidity, of the powers—or lack of them —that this poor, wretched creature will have to carry about.
§ Such limited powers are wholly insufficient to ensure a speedy and satisfactory resolution of complaints. The publication of such circumscribed powers will have two unfortunate consequences. Public confidence in the proposed system will at the very least be minimal. At the same time mine owners will be sent a powerful signal that the adviser will have minimal powers to the extent that delay in settling claims could become the accepted norm.
The DTI must realise that the mining operations that survive the privatisation process will be encumbered by two enduring problems: low profit margins and high fixed costs. This is a prescription for companies to delay settlement and minimise costs for damages associated with their operations, not as a consequence of bad character on the part of the operator but as a result of a hostile commercial set of arrangements. They are not all sinners, but they are all businessmen and they are going to take the business way through this situation. Without mandatory powers backed by the force of law it is highly unlikely that the forecast in the draft guide that,
his [the adviser's] involvement alone may be enough to resolve the problem",
is at all realistic. There will be—there is bound to be —deadly delay.
Last night at a reasonably advanced hour, as I sat at my desk I was casting about for some sort of analogy to try to drive this home to the Minister. I remembered Goldsmith's lines in his poem "The Deserted Village" —your Lordships may not recall it, but go away and look it up: it is a good book. He was describing in this case the village minister and he says of him:
He tried each art, reprov'd each dull delay,
Allur'd to brighter worlds, and led the way.
And I thought, "That is it. What we on this side want is the village policeman: what the Government have given us is the vicar." I beg to move.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the House will be pleased to hear that I am not going to offer any competition to the noble Lord and his literary allusions. He does them so much better than I could. However, I should like to refute the central allegation the noble Lord makes, that we have not got a system that is going to work in practice, it is not strong enough, and the mining companies are going to get away with it. They are not.
These amendments concern the appointment and powers of the subsidence adviser. Amendment No. 52 is intended to assist the subsidence adviser by making it an explicit statutory function of his to conduct investigations into complaints made against responsible persons, where they allege maladministration of subsidence claims or the abuse of discretionary powers. I agree that he should be able to do this, but I cannot agree with the 1562 amendment because Clause 46, and the draft regulations which the House has seen, already give him the necessary powers.
Let me explain in more detail. The draft regulations intended to be made under Clause 46 of the Bill provide that the subsidence adviser shall have the function of assisting persons by investigating allegations of conduct of a kind to which the regulations apply. So investigations form an essential part of the assistance to be provided by the subsidence adviser. What may he investigate? The current draft regulations provide that he may investigate allegations that a responsible person has, first, consistently failed to comply with subsidence requirements for the purpose of avoiding his obligations; secondly, in the course of complying with a subsidence requirement has caused damage or an unreasonable degree of inconvenience to any person; or, thirdly, has been guilty of unreasonable delay in taking any step required to be taken by him under the subsidence requirements or has been guilty of maladministration in the discharge of his obligations under those requirements.
Although the final form of the regulations has yet to be settled following the expiry of the consultation period, it is intended that they will follow the lines set out above. Thus, the subsidence adviser will be able to investigate the matters contemplated by Amendment No. 52, which is therefore unnecessary.
Turning to Amendments Nos. 53 and 54, the House will recognise that they are similar to amendments discussed in Committee. If they are intended to ensure that the subsidence adviser can get all the information that he needs to do his job, then I fully agree with this aim. But this is already achieved in the Bill. Amendment No. 53 would place licensees under a statutory duty to assist the subsidence adviser. The Bill already places the Coal Authority under a duty to assist the adviser where it is the responsible person, that is to say when the adviser is looking into matters to do with claims against the authority. A similar duty is placed on other responsible persons by their operating licences, model drafts of which have been published.
The duty on operators appears in licences rather than the Bill because, unlike the Coal Authority, the licensees will not be public bodies, and it would be difficult to enforce the duty were it contained in the Bill. The duty can, however, be enforced if it appears in the licence, because the Bill contains a specific mechanism for enforcing licences. The Coal Authority will thus have powers to make a reluctant licensee co-operate with the adviser. In addition, as a practical matter we believe that the threat of enforcement by the Coal Authority is likely to act as an effective deterrent against non-compliance. If the Coal Authority is considering enforcement proceedings, it may well also consider whether the licensee in question is meeting his subsidence obligations more generally.
Amendment No. 54 would oblige the Coal Authority to provide the adviser with any information and assistance in relation to any of its activities for which the adviser decided it would be reasonable for him to ask. That would apply regardless of whether or not those activities were in any way related to the handling of 1563 subsidence claims. It would greatly and unnecessarily extend his powers to secure information and would then go well beyond those appropriate to the needs of his task. As I indicated in Committee, the kind of information the adviser will want in connection with his investigations will not be in the possession of the Coal Authority.
As I explained, the draft licences which we published include specific provisions which require licensees to provide information needed by the adviser and they include suitable enforcement powers for the Coal Authority. The Bill places a similar duty on the authority to assist the adviser where he is the responsible person. All three amendments are therefore unnecessary and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw them.
Perhaps I can make one other point. Subsidence claimants will have the right to take claims to low cost arbitration and the arbitrator can make inconvenience awards up to £5,000. A mine operator who fails to meet his subsidence obligations can lose his mining right. Those are strong sanctions. I believe that we have covered the problem.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, I listened to what the Minister said. It is, of course, entirely unconvincing. The subsidence adviser is, and presumably will always be, a toothless tiger. As the Minister said, all he can provide is assistance. He can solve nothing; he can compel nothing; he can alter nothing that comes before him. He has the power to investigate. That will strike terror into the hearts of the recalcitrant! He can refer things to someone else who might conceivably, in certain circumstances, given a lot of goodwill and a following wind, be able even to do something. And the Coal Authority must assist him. That duty is not more powerful than the duty to assist an old and crippled lady across the road. Even the Coal Authority can only threaten. The Coal Authority turns out to be the tame puppy of the Government and the subsidence adviser is no more than a flea on the puppy's fur.
None of us is convinced on this side; none of us is satisfied. However, it looks as though we shall have to live with this wretched thing since the Government are utterly unconvincable about this kind of issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment Nos. 53 and 54 not moved.]
Schedule 8 [Amendments of the Opencast Coal Act 1958]:
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 55:
Page 120, line 29, at end insert:
§ ("Conditions to be satisfied before a compulsory rights order is
§ A compulsory rights order shall not be made unless it is shown that it has not proved practicable to obtain the right by private arrangement for any of the following reasons—
- (i) that the coal in the relevant land is required to supply a market which cannot adequately be met from other sources which are currently being
1564 worked or capable of being worked where a coal mining company has secured all the relevant planning and other consents and has acquired the necessary interests in land, and
- (ii) that the persons, or any of them, with power to grant the right unreasonably refuse to grant the right in respect of the whole or any part of the relevant land which it is necessary for the holder of the licence to occupy in order to extract the coal;
- (b) that the amount of marketable coal to be extracted as a result of the compulsory rights order being made exceeds, 250,000 tonnes;
- (c) that there is a danger that the coal will remain unworked on account of other development proposed on the; relevant land;
- (d) that the persons with power to grant the right, or any of them, cannot be ascertained or cannot be found; or
- (e) that the persons from whom the right must be obtained, or any of them, have not the necessary powers of disposition, whether by reason of defect in title, legal disability or otherwise.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for pointing out that these amendments are of major importance and should not really be discussed at 11.17 at night. But I must say to my noble friend that, although there is an empty Chamber, many noble Lords are here in spirit. They support me more vigorously than I am able to do myself and will continue to do so unless the Minister gives me a very reasonable reply.
§ Throughout discussion of the Bill, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has repeatedly assured your Lordships that CROs will be invoked only in the most extreme cases. I have held that if that is the Government's view it would be far better to do away with them now rather than in 1999. However, much to my regret—and I believe your Lordships' regret also—the Government refuse to do so. Yet my noble friend Lord Strathclyde continues to tell your Lordships that they will only be used as a last resort.
§ I have therefore taken my noble friend at his word. Amendments Nos. 55 and 56—I am speaking to both —tabled in my name, spell out the conditions that must be met before a CRO is granted. I hope my noble friend will agree that they reflect not just your Lordships' views, but also the Government's, although as usual I am more than happy for the Government to redraft them.
§ Amendment No. 55 states clearly in the first paragraph that the compensation would be considered reasonable if the agreement had been made without compulsion; that is to say, between a willing grantor and a willing grantee. That is the crux of my amendments and it merely reinforces the principle of the open market. I have to say that I thought a Tory government would be quite keen on that principle, but quite obviously I have been mistaken. The amendment then explains in detail how this valuation is to be obtained. I hope my noble friend will agree to those provisions. If not, I am sure that he will try to explain to your Lordships why he does not and I shall do my best in summing up to explain why he has been misled by his department.
§ Before I move on to the first amendment, I gather that the Government are having second thoughts about the minerals clause which now appears as paragraph 22 in Schedule 8. Perhaps when my noble friend replies he 1565 might be so good as to tell your Lordships the Government's latest views on that; in particular, whether the Government accept, first, that the percentage value of 12.5 per cent. is too low (these minerals are, after all, the owner's minerals); secondly, whether the Government accept the need for a definition of "market value" and the date for its calculation; and, lastly, that the provision should apply only to a CRO made after Royal Assent.
§ My Amendment No. 55 spells out the conditions that must be met before the Secretary of State grants a CRO. Paragraph (a) states quite clearly that the land in question is needed to supply a market that cannot be met elsewhere. I would remind your Lordships that there is an overall surplus of coal at the moment. Surely we should be very careful before we rip up more countryside. The paragraph also allows a CRO to be made if the owner of the site has behaved unreasonably. Paragraph (b) merely repeats the existing position; that a CRO cannot be granted to extractions of coal under 250,000 tonnes. Paragraph (c) is a standard clause and paragraphs (d) and (e) deal with the problems raised by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and indeed are in line with item (d) on page 29 of the Government's revised explanatory note.
§ Finally, I accept that there are a number of detailed points contained in the amendments that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde may wish to consider. But I hope he will accept that they spell out an alternative to deleting CROs altogether from the Bill. I hope, too, that between now and Third Reading a satisfactory compromise can be reached. I beg to move.
§ Lord Hamilton of Dalzell
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Stanley if only to demonstrate that there are others who are prepared to stay up until this late hour of night with many behind me to support this amendment.
My noble friend the Minister tried to console us at the Committee stage by saying:CROs only have an effect if confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment—or the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Secretary of State for Wales, as appropriate … My right honourable friends will only confirm a CRO if they are satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. In determining whether to confirm a CRO, they will have to have regard to any representations received from the land owner".—[Official Report, 3/5/94; col. 1018.]That is very nice of them. During the course of the debate the noble Lord, Lord Peston, was induced to remind the Government that the free market was missing from these arrangements and to remind my noble friend of Adam Smith. I was glad to see that enlightenment is penetrating that side of the House.
I also felt that it was a point which my noble friend the Minister might well be reminded of. The agricultural and landowing industry is firmly under the control of two Secretaries of State already, both for the environment and agriculture. It introduces a third element when the Department of Trade and Industry will presumably have a say in what is the public interest in which a CRO would be granted. Is the public interest 1566 that the Government should get a proper price for the land which they are selling under this arrangement or not?
I believe that it is very unreasonable to leave this to the discretion of the Secretaries of State jointly between themselves to sort out the public interest in this affair. How are they to judge what are the eccentric long-term objectives possibly of some landowner with the plans for his estate? How are they to determine the compensation on land for which a landowner might have other plans? How much are they prepared to pay for the imagination of a landowner and the long-term future of what he considers his estate to be?
I would back to the hilt the amendments of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, which at least limit the scope in which the Secretaries of State can operate in this affair.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I intervene very briefly and immediately to say that it is too late for me to speak at length on Adam Smith. After 40 years of study of Adam Smith I believe that his views are much more akin to those on this side of the House than on the other. When we get a chance, one day I shall take noble Lords through the Wealth of Nations to demonstrate that, but not tonight.
I believe that the letter which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, wrote to me on 24th May was copied to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and in that the CROs were discussed. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for me to mention two aspects of that letter. I hope that noble Lords will not feel that that is discourteous of me. The first is that the Government on such issues are relying on the argument that it is all a very remote risk. That is their argument. The second aspect is the peculiar position that even the risk is immensely remote within the area of discourse in this matter. The noble Lord wrote to me that, even if the unexpected occurs, responsibilities will fall on the Coal Authority. He goes on to add that nevertheless the proposition which has been put and which he goes on to reject is that the Bill should go further and impose an explicit duty on the Coal Authority.
One of my great difficulties is that you cannot have it both ways. Either the responsibility falls on the Coal Authority, in which case it should be in the Bill, or, if not, there must be some reason why not. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, has tried to be extremely reasonable. I had envisaged that there would be tabled a much more extreme amendment that simply said "No". He has tried to move somewhat in the direction of the Government by putting down this very long amendment in an attempt to offer a kind of olive branch to the Minister. He went further in his speech. He said that it is still not too late for an olive branch to be offered. I am not clear in what direction that would be —whether from him to them or from them to him.
I certainly have no desire to make difficulties here where I hope that reasonableness can follow. I recommend to the Minister that he listens to his noble friend —and forgets about me entirely, of course — and says that he will try to respond positively and allay these fears. One of the things which worries anyone 1567 with experience of life is that whenever one refers to a remote risk, it somehow seems to be the very thing that happens. It usually frightens the life out of me when I am told that there is a very remote risk. I know that it will hit me within the next day. That is why I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, is right to have brought these matters yet again to our attention. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to respond sympathetically.
The Earl of Harrowby
My Lords, I too rise to support my noble friend Lord Stanley. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that we should forget about him. I do not think that anyone would wish to do that. He has half taken the words out of my mouth when he emphasises the remoteness of risk. I remind the Minister that I believe I read somewhere that it would only be in the real national interest that the need for this clause would arise. I cannot envisage what national interest in peacetime can arise with the coal market worldwide in its present position. I do not believe that it is a remote risk. I think that it is a risk that might only too easily arise with commercial advantage that might be seen on one side. I distrust CPOs. In the modern jargon that we have here, they are CROs; but to me they are CPOs - and I distrust them intensely.
I would have tabled a negative amendment if I had had the knowledge, power and time to do so. Be that as it may, I apologise to the House for being bad-tempered, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. I started bad-tempered at 3.15 p.m. and I am still bad-tempered. I am bad-tempered because I do not think that I have ever heard such complete oblivion to outside opinion as that which has permeated this debate and which has been brought to light by the amendments. I absolve my noble friend Lord Strathclyde from this; he is charm itself, but I am astounded by the arrogance of a government who can walk over opinion without any recognition of it or any reasoned argument against it in amendment after amendment. As your Lordships will understand, I am still very angry.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the whole point of dealing with legislation in this manner is that noble Lords can table amendments because they disagree with the Government. You do not read amendments congratulating the Government on the wisdom of their approach. That is why my noble friend is depressed and bad-tempered. All the amendments seem to be attacking the Government and I am here, this lone voice, protecting the integrity of the Government. I must tell my noble friend that none of this was dreamt up one wintry afternoon. A great deal of time and effort has been spent dealing with specialist advisers, City financiers and various surveyors. They have been consulted in drawing up the Bill that is now before us.
I join my noble friend in saying that there have been a number of occasions today when I was not sure that there had been very much in the way of progress since we last debated this Bill just over a month ago. Some of the arguments sounded rather familiar, and some of the amendments were more than familiar. They were word 1568 for word unchanged from their last appearance on the Marshalled List. Hence the lateness of the hour, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, I feel perkier as the hours go by and I join his great relief that we do not sit at 9 a.m. I am happy to say that my noble friend's speech, and his amendments, do not fall into those categories. I am most grateful to him, and to those landowning interests, like the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, which he is so capably representing, for their genuine efforts to make progress on what is undoubtedly a difficult issue, and an issue on which there are deeply felt concerns.
My noble friend has explained that he, and they, have accepted that there must be some rights of access in certain circumstances, subject to better definition of the terms of these rights and of the circumstances in which they might apply. This is a substantial movement towards the Government's position, and I am most grateful. I intend to do what I can to reassure him, and noble Lords who spoke in support, on the two key issues thus identified.
The two key issues on which my noble friend's amendments focus are the terms on which compulsory rights could be conferred and the circumstances in which they could be granted. The first of these turns largely on what might constitute an unreasonable refusal by the landowner. My noble friend fears that any request by the landowner for greater compensation than is provided by the 1958 Act will automatically be unreasonable; and his solution is to replace these terms entirely by reference to market value and to terms which might have been agreed for comparable sites. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Government's position as regards the transitional regime up to 1999 is in between these extremes.
On the one hand, we do not believe that applicants for CROs will be able to rely on getting a CRO merely on the grounds that the landowner has asked for better compensation than the statutory code. The authority will have to consider each case on its merits and unless the landowner is being unreasonable we would expect the authority to refuse to make any order. It will have to consider the landowner's refusal on its merits and in the light of any representations from either side. On the other hand, I could not agree to a radical change in the basis of compensation during the transitional period, such as would be implied by a move to market value. That would create an uncertainty about the required level of compensation, which would be potentially damaging to the industry and, I suspect, to the interests which my noble friend represents.
Perhaps fortunately for me, my noble friend has tacitly conceded the point about uncertainty, because his amendment calls for compensation to be based on whichever is the higher of market value or the statutory code. That recognises that the outcome of a total reliance on market value would be unpredictable, and would not always be in the landowner's interests. The Government for their part believe that this degree of uncertainty would be a seriously adverse factor in the prospects of the industry for this period. Perhaps I may outline how I would expect these matters to work under the Government's proposals, 1569 which I think would provide a degree of certainty which should be helpful to both sides while preserving reasonable flexibility and maintaining the very strong preference, which will be shared by all sides in this Chamber, that these matters should be settled by negotiation and agreement to the maximum extent possible. In other words, we do not need to fall back on CROs. I think that the key to my noble friend's anxieties may be the question of what constitutes an unreasonable refusal where the landowner wants more compensation than the operator offers. I must say straightaway that it would not be possible to prescribe in advance or by some general set of rules what is reasonable or unreasonable.
At the extremes, perhaps, some results seem most unlikely. I cannot see that it would automatically be unreasonable for the landowner to seek more compensation than the statutory provision. On the other hand, it does seem likely that it would be unreasonable for him to seek a royalty on the coal as he does not own it. But in all cases the authority will have to form a judgment after considering any representations made and all material facts. While I cannot prescribe how it will do this in every case, I think that I can point to some factors which would be likely to be relevant.
First, I believe that the Coal Authority would be likely to conclude that compensation agreed with, or offered to, other landowners in respect of the same site was most relevant. If a landowner knows that his neighbours have been offered more, and there is no objective difference in his situation to justify the lower offer to him, it seems unlikely that it could be unreasonable for him to ask for the same. Similarly, if better compensation has been agreed for other sites which are comparable it must be perfectly reasonable for him to ask for that higher compensation.
I make the point that comparability will be more difficult to demonstrate when different sites are compared, especially if the terms of the site compared were negotiated some time ago. But at all events, it seems unlikely that it would be viewed as automatically unreasonable for the landowner to base a claim on compensation paid at a different site, once proper allowances are made for the differences which may exist. No doubt chartered surveyors could advise on how this matter could be carried out.
One other obvious category of potentially reasonable request from the landowner would be for better compensation for disturbance. There may be some kind of disturbance which would be caused by the proposed workings and which is particular to the case. A request for extra compensation in such circumstances might well be reasonable. In fact, I believe that it would be eminently reasonable. A further factor I would mention is the possibility of alternative uses for the land. If the landowner has a good case that, but for the opencast development, he would be able to go ahead with a different kind of development he would naturally seek greater compensation. I believe that this is sometimes called "hope" value.
I do not think that it would necessarily be unreasonable for the landowner to seek compensation 1570 enhanced by the "hope" value of the land, although of course everything will turn on how realistic those hopes may be. But all these matters would have to be considered in the particular circumstances, and what I have said must be taken to be just an indication of what may be relevant matters. The Coal Authority would have to consider each set of facts very carefully before deciding whether or not it was appropriate to exercise the power to make a CRO, and in reaching its decision the Coal Authority would itself have to act in a proper and reasonable manner.
The other key question is the circumstances in which the rights can be granted. Here, the crux is the decision by one of the Secretaries of State as to whether to confirm the order. My right honourable friends have indicated that they would not intend to confirm any order unless it was in the public interest to do so.
It is not proper or possible for me to define criteria which would be required or which would be mandatory in every case without regard to the specific circumstances. But again I can point to some factors which are likely as a generality to be relevant. On the one hand, I am advised that the granting of planning permission, or the intention to grant planning permission, is a separate matter and would and could not determine whether a CRO should be confirmed. On the other hand, I cannot accept that it would be proper to adopt criteria which were so restrictive that the operator would have in every case to prove a special or unique need for the coal.
The Earl of Harrowby
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the Minister for one moment. He was talking about granting planning permission and yet it was not possible to confirm that the CROs would be approved. Does that mean that the planning authority will have to pay damages, as is sometimes the case? If so, there is then an incentive for the public purse, or the public side, to approve the CRO. Otherwise the authority which had granted the planning permission would be involved in heavy costs.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I do not believe that that issue arises at all. The issue of planning permission and the granting of a CRO are entirely different. There was some anxiety in Committee that if an applicant received planning permission, that would make it more likely that a CRO would be granted. That is not true. That is simply not the case. It makes no difference and would not act as a point in the applicant's favour. CROs will be granted on their own merits.
It would for the applicant in each case to put forward his case for the confirmation of the order being in the public interest, citing whatever evidence he could to support his case. The Secretary of State would have to weigh the relevance of that submission against the objections of the landowner and any other representations which might be made in reaching an overall judgment as to whether, in his view, the public interest in granting the right would justify the overriding of private interests. I agree with my noble friend that that is an extremely important power and right. I do not believe that very much can be said in the abstract about how the judgment would be arrived at but I make the 1571 point that the Secretary of State would have to give proper weight to all objections which might be made against the confirming of the order.
Having outlined in broad terms how we would expect these central issues to be addressed in the interim period, I shall speak only briefly about the amendments. It will be clear that there are key points in each which I cannot accept. And there are other points, particularly in Amendment No. 55, which do not need to be covered in the Bill because they have already been covered procedurally. But there are matters on which I would be prepared to make further changes to the Bill.
First, we have already amended the Bill to provide compensation for any non-coal minerals worked with the coal. Further discussions have identified what I think are reasonable doubts that this works in the the way that both sides would wish. I would wish to respond to those concerns, and I undertake to bring forward some corrective amendment at Third Reading should that be found necessary.
Secondly, my noble friend made an interesting point in Committee about the very reasonable practice of British Coal that its best offer is always left on the table and can be accepted by the landowner even after a CRO has been made and confirmed. I think I can respond to that also. As I have said all along, it is our firm intention that CROs should be used to the minimum extent possible and that the necessary rights should be secured by agreement rather than compulsion wherever possible. To that end, and as a further safeguard for landowners, we are giving thought to how British Coal's practice can be preserved in the new circumstances. I undertake to bring forward a new amendment next week for that purpose should it be found necessary to amend the Bill.
Finally, there are concerns about the working of Section 14 of the Act which have not yet been resolved. I also wish to respond to them and I undertake to bring forward a clarificatory amendment if necessary.
On the detail of the mineral clause mentioned by my noble friend, I only wish to say at this stage that we are not persuaded that 12.5 per cent. is too low. However, we are looking for measures of clarifying the meaning of market value and the time at which it is assessed. Therefore, I believe I can say that we are, indeed, looking at two of the three points raised by my noble friend.
I apologise for speaking at such length. However, I hope that what I have been able to say tonight has been of material reassurance to my noble friend and that he will find the further amendments to the Bill helpful. If there remain concerns which I have not addressed, I emphasise that I shall do what I can to meet them either tonight or, as the hour is late, by separate discussion before Third Reading. I hope that that is helpful.
§ 11.45 p.m
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I hope that I shall not be accused of being ungrateful, although I have no doubt that I shall be. I begin by saying that I believe my noble friend's smooth words really accepted many of the minor points in my amendments and, possibly, did not accept some of the major ones. But we shall see 1572 what happens. I have to say that at this late hour, and as opposed to other noble Lords, I prefer to work at six in the morning rather than late at night.
I shall not go into the reasons of how we arrive at a fair market value, but I am prepared to follow that up with my noble friend at another stage. However, if he thinks that it is impossible to establish an open market, I shall have to consider seriously going back to straight abolition of CROs, which is something upon which I have been trying to reach a compromise with the Government, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It will depend on what amendments my noble friend tables. I have to say that my noble friend did explain what was reasonable and relevant so far as concerns evaluation. I hope that, as he promised, he will put how that will be decided on the face of the Bill.
On a technical matter, I should like to ask my noble friend when he intends to table the amendments. I cannot say too strongly that having amendments tabled at a very late stage makes it extremely awkward for part-time, non-political animals such as myself to study them. It makes the discussion on the Floor of the House longer than it need be. I do not know whether I am allowed to sit down now in order to allow my noble friend to say that he will do so tomorrow—
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, with the leave the House, I wish to table the amendments as quickly as possible so that my noble friend can study them. I know that we can have ongoing discussions. I cannot confirm that it will be tomorrow, but it will certainly be as early as possible this week.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that response.
Finally, I should like to thank all noble Lords from all sides of the House for the support that I have received. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that I was being moderate and that he expected me to produce a more: vicious amendment. I have to remind my noble friend —and he knows as well as I do—that I was pressed very strongly to table a much more vicious amendment. However, the amendment now before us is what was eventually produced. Of course, I could do what I did once before; namely, divide the House at a late hour when I did not like a particular Bill and encourage the Opposition to stay put. However, on that occasion, there were insufficient Members to make up a quorum and the result was that the proceedings of the House were suspended. It would teach the Whips quite a lesson, but I am a kind and gentle person. I shall only do it once in my lifetime. At present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 56 not moved.]
§ Viscount Goschen moved Amendments Nos. 57 to 61 en bloc:
Page 121, line 41, after ("(2) (c)") insert ("—
(i) for "authorisation" there shall be substituted "opencast planning permission";
Page 121, line 43, at end insert:
("(iii) for the words from "under" to "applied" there shall be substituted "under the provisions of the Act of 1990, applied";").
Page 121, line 50, at end insert ("; and
(c) for subsections (8) and (9) of that section there shall be substituted—
"(8) In this section—
statutory water undertakers" means—
Page 126, line 34, at end insert:
("(aa) for "has been made" there shall be substituted "has been confirmed";").
Page 136, line 8, at end insert:
§ ("Application to Scotland
§ In section 52(3) (construction of references to water authorities in relation to Scotland) after "shall" there shall be inserted ", except in so far as the context otherwise requires,".").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the above amendments I shall, with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendment No. 75. The amendments relate to Schedules 8 and 11 are all drafting amendments to correct minor defects in the provisions of the Opencast Coal Act 1958. Amendments Nos. 57 to 61 relate to Schedule 8 and are designed to ensure that the provisions of Section 7 of the Opencast Coal Act 1958 correctly reflect changes in terminology used in that section following amendments made by other enactments since 1958. The amendments, as I have said, are purely technical. Amendment No. 75 relates to Schedule 11 and amends the repeal of provisions of Section 25 of the Water Act 1989. The amendment is consequential on the other amendments to Schedule 8 and again is purely technical. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 53 [Environmental duties in connection with planning]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 62 to 65 not moved.]
Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 66:
After Clause 54, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Limitation on enforceability of conditions
No condition attached to any planning permission for coal mining operations shall be enforceable against any person other than the licence holder for the relevant land, the Coal Authority or, where it retains an interest in the land, the Corporation.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment follows up the problems raised in Committee in Amendment No. 83 at col. 1057 of the Official Report. I warned my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that I would return to the problem of eventual liability falling on the surface occupier, in particular if the licence holder became insolvent. I think the Government's explanatory note that we have just had envisaged this problem.
§ It must be wrong for any liability to fall on the surface occupier bearing in mind that it was the operator who made the money out of the extraction who caused the problem. This amendment makes it clear that those 1574 who are involved in and profit from coal-mining activity, who could be the licence holding operator— British Coal or the Coal Authority—must be made responsible for complying with those planning conditions which, if not complied with, could result in a £400 a day fine, apart from the cost of rectifying the problems. This again emphasises the problem of the innocent bystander of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, which we have debated at times, not least as regards contamination, which we discussed fully on an earlier amendment. I look forward to a more helpful answer from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde than he gave me in Committee. I beg to move.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, perhaps it would assist noble Lords if I outlined what the position will be in future under the Bill. Generally speaking, landowners who are approached by mineral developers and who do not want to sell outright have to consider what safeguards they want to give as assurance that obligations such as restoration will be carried out. This is reasonable: after all, they are to obtain an income from the development.
Where the mineral is coal, the landowner has in some respects less to worry about because—exceptionally— there will be a licensing body in the Coal Authority who will not permit the development until it has considered the financial standing of the developer in the light of Clause 2(1) (b). The proposers of the amendment are seeking explicit statutory protection for landowners from the consequences arising from the use of their land for coal-mining. Some landowners will choose to sell outright to the coal company. Indeed, British Coal owns the majority of the surface acreage on its sites. Others who wish to avoid any planning risk may sell the freehold but insist on a right to buy back once the coaling and the restoration have taken place. Landowners who do not wish to do either will have every opportunity to ensure that there is reasonable security, as they do with other mineral developments. A landowner will quite naturally wish to consider which course will bring him the greatest financial benefit.
It is a general principle of planning law that permissions and their conditions run with the land. The amendment depends for its justification on the proposition that the state of affairs I have described is so inequable to landowners as to justify interference with this general principle. I cannot agree that this is so, particularly when one remembers the comfort afforded by Clause 2(1) (b). I hope that my noble friend feels we have included enough safeguards to protect the landowner.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
Not really, my Lords. On the question of financial standing which my noble friend has mentioned two or three times, I do not know how one can possibly say that a firm or a person has financial credibility. I can refer to two cases off the top of my head. Recently possibly the oldest farming co-operative, Eastern Counties Farmers, has just gone home carrying a lot of farmers with it. I would never have expected that. Dare I mention Maxwell? That is a small point.
I am very concerned about the matter. I cannot see how one could possibly justify such a situation.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, perhaps I may make a point for clarification. The point that I made was that the landowner can demand a security. That can take a variety of shapes, including the coal in the land. That should give the landowner some comfort. I also pointed out that the landowner does not need to have a lease on the land. He could sell the land with a right of pre-emption. I only wanted to provide information.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I shall consider the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 55 [Health and safety regulations as to rescue service]:
[Amendment No. 67 not moved.]
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 68:
After Clause 57, insert the following new clause:
§ Liability for inaccurate information furnished to the Authority
- (".-(1) This section applies where the conditions of a licence under Part II of this Act contain provision stating-
- (a) that information of a specified description which is furnished to the Authority in pursuance of the conditions of the licence may be disclosed by the Authority for specified purposes in pursuance of arrangements under section 57 above; and
- (b) that any information of that description that is disclosed by the Authority for any of those purposes is to be treated, for the purposes of this section, as information whose accuracy the operator has undertaken to secure.
- (2) The licensed operator shall owe a duty to the Authority and to every person likely to be affected by any inaccuracy in information disclosed by the Authority for any of the specified purposes to exercise all due diligence to secure-
- (a) that the Authority is furnished, in accordance with the conditions of the licence, with all the information of the specified descriptions which the operator is required by those conditions to furnish to the Authority; and
- (b) that the information of those descriptions which is furnished by the operator to the Authority is accurate in every material particular.
- (3) Where a duty is owed by any person to another person by virtue of subsection (2) above, any breach of that duty which causes that other person to sustain loss or damage shall be actionable against the person in breach at the suit or instance of the other person.
- (4) A person shall not be liable for any breach of a duty mentioned in subsection (2) above except—
- (a) in respect of a disclosure of information made by the Authority for a specified purpose; and
- (b) to the Authority or the person to whom the disclosure was made.
- (5) This section shall be without prejudice to the liability of any person for breach of the duty to comply with an enforcement order (within the meaning of Part II of this Act).").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 46. I beg to move. On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 58 [Information to be kept confidential by the Authority]:
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 69:
Page 55, line 28, after ("under") insert ("this Act or").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 69 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 70. Amendment No. 69 would amend Clause 58(2) (e) to allow disclosure of information for all civil proceedings brought under the Bill. Amendment No. 70 further extends Clause 58(2) (e) to cover arbitration under Clause 47(2) and to proceedings before the Lands Tribunal or the Lands Tribunal for Scotland under Section 40 of the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991
§ In short, these are technical amendments to enable disclosure in further circumstances where that seems appropriate.
§ I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle; Morris, will recall that he proposed a similar amendment to Clause 58(4) at a previous stage. The present amendments result from further consideration of the noble Lord's proposal, and I am grateful to him for making it. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 70:
Page 55, line 29, after ("enactment") insert (", of any proceedings before the Lands Tribunal or the Lands Tribunal for Scotland under the 1991 Act or of any arbitration for which provision is made by regulations under section 47(2) above").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 63 [Interpretation]: [Amendments Nos. 71 to 73 not moved.]
§ Schedule 10 [Transitional Provisions and Savings]:
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 74:
Page 153, line 37, at end insert:
("( ) under or in pursuance of a restructuring scheme,").
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the Government have decided that purchasers should not have to meet the cost of subsidence claims already admitted by British Coal. The amendment permits restructuring schemes to provide purchasers of successor companies with an indemnity in respect of the cost of meeting those claims. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 11 [Repeals]:
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 75:
Page 159, column 3, leave out lines 8 and 9, and insert:
|("In Schedule 25-(a) in paragraph 26, sub-paragraphs (1) (b) and (3); and(b) paragraph 50.").|
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the amendment has already been spoken to with Amendment No. 57. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ House adjourned at two minutes before midnight.