§ 8.40 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No. 85:
After Clause 56, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Designated mining museums
§ .—(1) The Big Pit Mining Museum in Wales, the Scottish Mining Museum and the Yorkshire Mining Museum shall each be a "designated mining museum" for the purposes of this section.
§ (2) The Secretary of State may, by Order made by statutory instrument, after consultation with the Authority, designate any other mining museum as a "designated mining museum" for the purposes of this section.
§ (3) 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.
§ (4) 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 artefact to a designated mining museum in the relevant area within one year of its becoming the property of the Authority.
§ (5) 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.
§ (6) 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, 1096 artefacts, etc., as they become obsolete, to a designated mining museum in the area in which the mine at which they were used is located.
§ (7) The Authority may, with the consent of the Treasury, make grants to any designated mining museum.
§ (8) Any Order made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment deals with the mining museums, which seem to have been forgotten by the Government when they introduced this Bill. There are three—one in Wales, one in Scotland and one in Yorkshire. Two of them—the one in Wales and the one in Yorkshire—have underground sections. I shall speak mostly about the one in Yorkshire because that is the one that I know. I am sure that other Members of the Committee will speak about the museum in Wales and perhaps about the museum in Scotland too.
§ The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who unfortunately cannot be here this evening and sends her apologies, gave a detailed description of the Yorkshire Mining Museum on Second Reading on 11th April. She described it in depth, and that is reported at cols. 1330 to 1332 of Hansard. Therefore, I need not go into great detail about the history or give a description of the museum because any Member of the Committee who is interested will find all the details there.
§ As I said, it is an underground museum which is set out quite beautifully. One goes down in the cage and when one gets down there, one can walk around. I thought that I might have some trouble because I am not the smallest Member of your Lordships' Committee, but I moved around quite easily. There is laid out a series of tableaux depicting mining through the ages. They illustrate extremely well the great tradition that we have in this country. They illustrate coal mining, the Industrial Revolution and all that followed in our industrial prosperity.
§ The fact that mines are being closed and have been closed makes it all the more important that those exhibits should be there for parties of schoolchildren and other people to see. The fact that the museum is in an old disused coal mine makes it all the more difficult to ensure that safety is maintained. British Coal has done so much over the years not only by providing the expertise to ensure that safety standards are maintained but also by providing obsolete equipment. If that is no longer available, that may be fatal for the museums.
My noble friend may well say that in future it will be for private industry to maintain the museums and that it is not up to British Coal because it will no longer exist. It is true that British Coal will no longer exist, but I know that the director of the Yorkshire museum has had conversations with some of the representatives of the new independent companies. The museum has always had good relations with the independent companies as well as with British Coal. Those companies have said that there is no possibility that they will be able to provide the money to keep the museums going or, indeed, to provide the necessary expertise.
§ This afternoon we have been discussing opencast coal mining. It is important to bear in mind that the expertise will simply no longer be available to look after mine safety. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will 1097 commend itself to the Committee. I also hope that it will ensure that the mines are preserved so that schoolchildren, young people and, indeed, old people can see what the history of coal mining means to this nation. I beg to move.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
I warmly support all that the noble Earl said when he moved the amendment. In fact, this matter is exciting a great deal of public interest. That was demonstrated by a letter —of which the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, was a prime signatory, but which was also signed by other noble Lords—in The Times yesterday.
I have been approached more on the subject of museums than on any other single issue in connection with the Bill. So it has excited a great deal of interest. I believe that it has excited interest for two reasons. First, there is a feeling among people that the coal industry has been hard done by and that it would be (I do not like to say adding insult to injury) doing it even more harm if the memory of it were to disappear too.
Those three mining museums have preserved well not only the memory of the past in the mining industry but they also give some hope for the future because they demonstrate modern mining techniques. They have attracted the interest of a great many schoolchildren. The museums have a great educational value. Therefore, the museums do not merely sound the death knell of an industry; they record what has been achieved in the past and indicate what can still be achieved in the future.
I believe that the widespread support for those museums should cause the Government to think again about how they will deal with this matter. I have read carefully what they said in the fairly lengthy discussions on the subject in another place. In spite of considerable pressure from all sides, the Government's view at that stage—and I hope that it will be different now—was that this is a matter which must be left to the new private owners of the industry.
I cannot conceive that among the many matters with which those new owners will have to contend, supporting the mining museums will have very high priority. They will obviously all say, "Yes, they are highly desirable but let's get on with the job of organising ourselves. Let's cope with all the liabilities that we have. Let's get our safety measures in place. Let's get our coal out to market. Once we have established ourselves, perhaps we can think about the museums". Therefore, there is a very strong case for the Coal Authority to be empowered under the legislation to ensure that, at least for an interim period—and the letter sent by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, suggested a three-year interim period—the museums are maintained. During that period the museums would be able to look for other sources of funding and by then the new coal companies may be sufficiently established to be prepared to look seriously at providing whatever support is required.
I believe that the proposal inherent in the amendment is eminently reasonable. There were a number of achievements while the industry was under public 1098 ownership; and the establishment of those three very successful mining museums is just one of those achievements. We say that that achievement should be preserved.
§ Lord Saint Oswald
As the noble Earl has already said, with the progressive rundown of the deep mining sector of the coal industry, the need for national museums to safeguard and preserve the history of coal mining becomes increasingly significant.
Digging or excavating for coal has a very long history going back probably well over 1,000 years, certainly to the times when the monks from local priories and monasteries spent their working hours digging coal out of the hillsides.
My family was involved in the industry from 1699 to 1947, during 248 years of slow but continuous progress in the methods of mining for coal. Conditions under which miners had to work were appalling until the end of the last century. Since then, there has been a steady improvement in both conditions and pay. It is, in retrospect, horrifying to recall that right up to 1842 not only adults, men and women, were employed at the deepest levels of the coal pits, but boys as young as five years old—although seven was actually the minimum legal age—had to work eight-hour shifts under Stygian and airless conditions.
The main purpose of a mining museum is to ensure that members of the public can be made aware of the history that has gone into the making of the industry by exhibiting artefacts that contribute to the history and showing conditions under which miners had to work, but also they should exist to commemorate the courage and skill of miners throughout the centuries and be a memorial to all those who lost their lives, particularly in the terrible pit disasters which have occurred from time to time.
The West Yorkshire coal field which is one, like the noble Earl, that I know best, has had its share of such disasters. Perhaps I may recall three of the most poignant. First, there was the Hasker Colliery disaster in 1838, when 26 boys were drowned as a result of a flash flood in the pit. Secondly, in the Oakes Colliery disaster in 1868, 365 miners perished—the highest number of recorded deaths in any single disaster. Then, of course, much more recently, there was the Lofthouse Colliery disaster of 25th March 1973, from which only one body was recovered. The rest are still buried inside the mine workings.
Of course, there are many other aspects of the history of coal mining that are recorded and should be exhibited. The Bill is causing some concern about the future viability of the three existing museums and the advice from government sources as to alternative ways of replacing the invaluable benefits provided by British Coal seems to be seriously flawed. For example, it has been suggested that the local authority should assume the transfer of those additional burdens. However, local authorities are already—and, indeed, have been for many years—under pressure from government to cut spending and such an imposition could only be contrary to government policy.
1099 Another suggestion that has been made is that, in order to cut maintenance costs, the museums should construct mock-ups on the surface of the underground workings of a drift coal mine, thereby, presumably, abandoning the genuine ones to which the public now have access. I understand that such an experiment has been tried but that it was not effective. In fact, the museum that built the device has since gone into liquidation.
The fact is that a coal pit is a coal pit and facsimiles will not take its place. It is certainly not possible to simulate the sensation of walking or crawling along a deep mine drift gallery knowing that there are several thousands of feet of earth above. Those are the conditions under which miners have to work and that is what the public are interested in experiencing. It may not be everyone's wish to partake of such an experience, but I can tell Members of the Committee that, of the 80,000 men women and children who visit Caphouse Mining Museum every year, something like 90 per cent. take advantage of that facility. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to accept the importance of the proposed new clause and that, if nothing else, he will undertake to put forward proposals which will be of a more practical nature.
§ Lord Dainton
Although I was brought up in an area where coal mining was one of the staple industries and, therefore, I have always been aware of the peculiar characteristics and especially the social cohesion and traditions of the mining communities, my support for the amendment does not depend on that sentimental reason. Indeed, it derives from something very much more substantial, which is that coal mining is, and has been, a major element in the British economy over almost two millennia.
At one point in our debate, the Minister referred to the Romans. Of course, there is plenty of evidence to show that the Romans took coal and burnt it. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence in the mid-ninth century Saxon Chronicle, that coal was being developed, cut and used. Even more important, I suppose, is the fact that, from the 13th century, we had handed down to us the phrase "coals from Newcastle" with coal being shipped south to London as it was for many centuries thereafter.
However, in my view, the most important thing is simply that coal provides by combustion the heat required for the steam engine which transformed the position of the nation. It gave us motive power for engines which enormously augmented the feeble power of the individual workman and enabled us to be a great manufacturing nation. It also gave us, as the reducing agent for the iron oxide of our land, the means of making pig iron and, from that, steel—and, from that, steam engines, steel rails and a system of transport which was quite remarkable. I believe it is fair to say that, by the middle of the 19th century, Britain with the United States and Germany—both of which also had an ample store of coal—were the most prominent industrial nations. That is something that we should never forget. It seems to me that we can only remember it by going back to the prime cause and ensuring that our children 1100 and others are made aware of where coal comes from, how it was won and at what cost, and of everything else that is associated with it.
As a former Museums and Galleries Commissioner, I have no doubt that Britain should—indeed, I would say, must—have museums which preserve that part of our history. I am beginning to gain the feeling that that view is rather widely held in this Chamber. My experience on the Museums and Galleries Commission also tells me that, to be fully effective and fully evocative of the past, at least some mining museums must be working and must be partially underground.
I visited mining museums in Germany—notably in Bochum—where attempts lave been made to construct replicas of underground galleries above ground. I am bound to say that they completely lack conviction and that they are clearly seen as not the genuine article. That essential requirement to have at least one part of the museum below ground does add to the cost of maintaining a mining museum. Of course, there is another cost; namely, that of ensuring the safety of the visitors and the staff who work there.
In this country we are fortunate in having, in Wales and in Yorkshire, two such mines with underground galleries, both of which have already been referred to and which do the job admirably. In large measure, that has been possible because British Coal has given—and one cannot stress the point too strongly—much support in kind; for example, artefacts, including some very large pieces of machinery, and services such as essential monitoring, maintenance, repairs and so on. In the case of the Caphouse Museum, assistance has been given to the tune of £150,000 a year.
I share the concern of the Museums and Galleries Commission, and as expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, that it is quite unrealistic to expect that the private firms which are to take over British Coal's present primary activities will at the outset of their ownership wish to burden the debit side of their annual balance sheets with such a sum. But, if underground workings are not properly maintained, they quickly become unusable and, in the long term, will not be recoverable unless vastly larger sums of money are spent.
In my view, the only sure way to guarantee that the Welsh and Yorkshire Museums survive is either for the Government to accept the amendment—which, as was evident from the debate which took place in another place on 22nd March, they will be reluctant to do—or, failing that, for them to underwrite those expenses which have hitherto been met by British Coal, subject to review after a period of, say, three years. That latter course would at least give the museums and the new mine owners some time to negotiate while those mine owners are finding their feet, not just in terms of working the pits but financially.
There is an adequate precedent for such an arrangement in the transitional funding which the Government provided in 1986 for those museums which had previously been funded by the metropolitan county councils, which, as the Committee will remember, were abolished in that year.
1101 The amendment as put forward seems to me to provide a better solution than those two suggestions that I have made in that it gives a secure and enduring method of providing the funding which the museums need. I therefore commend the amendment to the Committee as a very necessary provision if an important part of our industrial heritage is to be properly preserved in the future. The amendment is also in the spirit of liability passing to the licensee, to which favourable reference was made by the Minister I notice, although in this case British Coal had no legal liability to provide support to the museums but did so voluntarily. Nevertheless, it is a precedent which I hope the Government will be prepared to follow.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Baroness White
We have a strong team here in my noble friends who come from Wales. We are very glad to know that there is also a very strong team of those who come from Yorkshire. I am not sure whether the Minister is single-handed in representing Scotland—or at least there are not so many from Scotland —and in any case, the Scottish museum, admirable though I am sure it must be, is nothing like as important as the two deep mine museums in York and in Blaenavon.
Some Members of the Committee may not be familiar with Blaenavon, so I should tell the Committee the good news which was confided to me when I spent three hours at Big Pit —Pwll Mawr—on Sunday. Pwll Mawr is in Blaenavon and is the most important single exhibit there. I had been there before, of course; but I wanted to discuss the current situation with the people responsible. A very interesting piece of news appeared this very morning in our Welsh press:A Welsh industrial mining town is being hailed as a unique piece of world heritage. Blaenavon in Gwent is considered to be one of the 25 most important sites of industrial heritage in the world"—I hope that the Minister will take that in—and one of the top six in the United Kingdom. The Royal Commission for Ancient And Historic Monuments in Wales has applied for world heritage status for the town and its local mining environment".Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, and others have not exaggerated in saying that this is not merely a small domestic matter. It is extremely important that we should safeguard the heritage on the site, which has been remarkably protected and preserved.
It is very much appreciated by those involved in education. Between January and last weekend almost 20,000 school party members visited the site. Curiously enough, nearly one third were from France. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, and others that it is no good pretending that one can make do with videos in a theme park. One has to experience it. It is fatuous to say that one can just have something which the children can watch. That is entirely different from the experience of spending a couple of hours underground, accompanied by people who were themselves miners and who can answer the questions which the children or other visitors wish to put from their own experience. It is very important that we should try to protect these manifestations.
1102 The museum is important in archaeological, historical, scientific and technical terms. It has the most remarkable exhibits. It is not a charity. It pays Her Majesty's Treasury some £200,000 per annum in VAT and other taxes. It has no regular annual subsidies, but it has had considerable help from European Community funds and other public money as sources of capital expenditure. However, there is now anxiety about where it will find its regular running costs. In the past three years our Welsh museum has been drawing on reserves for its maintenance and it is expected that it will have to continue so to do.
I do not wish to weary the Committee with too many details. I am sure that some of my noble friends will wish to add something. However, it is stated that privatisation of the remaining collieries, especially losing their support services, will add a further £200,000 a year to the museum's net operating costs. That is quite a large sum added to other normal expenses. Because of pit closures in the districts, some areas have already been in difficulties before privatisation. The museum states that it has already had to strengthen its mechanical and engineering staff because the back-up facilities provided by British Coal via neighbouring pits in the past are no longer available. Net cost of additional appointments is approximately £42,000 per annum.
On equipment it states that it has previously been able to borrow specialist equipment, through British Coal from other mines, at no cost. It will now have to hire or purchase such equipment.
An example is given regarding an emergency winder for evacuating trapped personnel from a cage in the shaft. We are not certain how the demand for such safety mechanisms will be met in the future. If the museum had to buy the winder, it would cost about a quarter of a million pounds. It is a complicated piece of mechanism.
The museum authorities cite various other difficulties. They are now faced with a requirement to install monitoring equipment in the main shaft. Compliance will cost at least £30,000, possibly more, unless the museum can obtain most of the equipment from a closing colliery. No doubt it can obtain a good deal of equipment from closing collieries, but by no means will all the equipment which they require be in the state in which they need it.
Perhaps I may refer to the Yorkshire list. The net cost of the underground tour is nearly £70,000 per annum. The support towards the surface running of the museum is another £24,000, and so on. The day-to-day running costs are something over £150,000. The museum will have to meet these now in a way which they have not had to do hitherto.
I do not wish to labour the point but it is perfectly clear that if one is to maintain these extremely exciting manifestations, we have to think sensibly and carefully about the situation. Museums cannot rely on obtaining the equipment from the small licensed mines which will continue to grow over the next few years. It is therefore up to the Government to make certain that there is some other rational pattern of maintenance for those extremely exciting places and that we do everything we can to sustain them.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
I speak as the chairman of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Of course, industrial archaeology is part of our responsibility and the recording of the industrial heritage. Hence I warmly support the clause.
I believe that it is vital to ensure that future generations can, through access to the mining museums, learn something of the dangers and difficulties which were faced by miners and of which the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, spoke so movingly at Second Reading. I shall long remember that speech.
The museums are an important part of our national heritage since our prosperity, as the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, reminded us, was founded on industry and particularly on coal. I believe, with the signatories to the amendment, that museums are a proper subject for national governmental support.
I intend to spare the Committee a lot of detail because your Lordships have already had many details from other people. British Coal has an honourable record of support not only in supplying and delivering items for the collection but also in providing a wide range of equipment and services free of charge as well as design work for the building and major repairs and conversions for existing buildings. The cost of services and equipment for the Yorkshire Mining Museum, for instance, one of the three mining museums, has been of the order of £100,000 per annum. The Government will presumably have to set aside fairly considerable sums to meet and continue British Coal's statutory responsibility for, for instance, subsidence and the effect of polluted water. Accepting the very minor continuing financial commitments to the museums, whether to the authority or in some other way, would surely be both right and acceptable, even if it has to be only for an interim period. I therefore support the amendment. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give it sympathetic consideration.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
I support the amendment. My noble friend Lady White has made the case for the Big Pit in South Wales and I need not repeat anything she said. However, I wish to echo her last comment about the infectious enthusiasm of children and other visitors when they visit this pit. It is a genuine pit; it finished being worked only in 1980. It has hardly been cleaned up, although at least one can get around it now. The conveyor belt works and the coal is on the belt. It is a joy to countless generations of children to see it. In addition, as my noble friend said, there are the overseas visitors, not only French but many of them American. It is a tourist attraction but it cannot support itself, and I hope the Minister will think again about the matter.
It is an important element in our national history and, after all, there were the days when South Wales was the largest coal exporter in the world and when no city in the world exported more coal than Cardiff. Our ships sailed throughout the world to remote coaling stations in the Pacific—to do what? To maintain the imperial grandeur of Britain. It is part of our national history.
My noble friend put the case of the miners and he was right. it shall always put the case of the miners because 1104 I am proud to say that, when the only national office in the Labour Party was that of the treasurer, who was nationally elected, it was the miners who first nominated me as treasurer of the Labour Party. I do not know whether I did any better at it than I did as Chancellor of the Exchequer, but at least the Labour Party survived. I have always had the deepest admiration for the miners but I do not put that case this evening. The case I put is that it is part of our imperial history and should be regarded as such. We have the National Maritime Museum and the Imperial War Museum, of which I am happy to be a supporter. We treasure those relics of our past because, unless we value our past, we shall have no call for the future. In the coal industry, 900,000 men were employed in hundreds of pits throughout the country, as the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, told us. To preserve that history is a national responsibility. We are throwing away part of our national heritage if we do not support it.
I am deeply grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, for putting down the amendment and even more grateful to him for giving up his dinner to move it this evening. I know that that affects him deeply. I was sorry to hear him say that he did not think that financial support would be forthcoming. I can understand that there may not be all that much profit in the new mining industry, but the museums must be safeguarded.
I say to the Minister in all earnestness that we ought to build up a head of steam on the subject, we have right on our side. After all, one of the most famous poems that John Masefield wrote was about the,Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March days, With a cargo of Tyne coal".Much of our greatness was founded on that when we were in the industrial 19th century. Do not let us forget our past; in my view the preservation of these museums —the Big Pit Mining Museum in Blaenafon, the pit in Yorkshire—is as important to us as the preservation of any of our other museums. If it is necessary to call on the Government for financial support, I believe that the Committee would support it overwhelmingly.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lady Kinloss
I shall be brief, as much has already been said from all sides of the Committee in support of mining museums. The Yorkshire Mining Museum Trust was set up in 1982 to convert Caphouse Colliery into the museum for the Yorkshire coalfields. Those coalfields are well known and I understand that the museum attracts many tourists, thus also creating jobs. The museum is one way in which the history and culture of a coal mining area such as the well known Yorkshire coal mines can be kept alive, especially where mines are closing.
I understand that the seam at Caphouse was specially constructed, but all the same it is vital to have safety arrangements in place if people are to be allowed underground. During the passage of the Bill through another place, the Government expressed the opinion that mining museums should develop links with the private mining sector. The Yorkshire Mining Museum has always had strong links with the private mining 1105 sector, but the help it can give is not sufficient to cover the mining museum's loss of British Coal's support once British Coal is privatised.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, the museums have excited a great deal of interest. Do the Government agree that it would be a pity to lose what could be an interesting history lesson for children, particularly those who are at school near the mine, to have a little of their local history brought alive for them? Therefore, I support the amendment.
§ Baroness Brigstocke
Members of the Committee who have already spoken have made my point for me. Think how much we have learnt this evening. We have not only learnt about English literature through poetry but also history, including oral history, not to mention technology, engineering, physics, science and geology.
I do not know whether Members of the Committee realise that at the moment there is talk between the Department for Education and the Department of National Heritage on the subject of museum education. They are working together. I would, very humbly, as a current member of the Museums and Galleries Commission, ask whether the Department of Trade and Industry could also come in on those talks. The whole question of education through museums is very important indeed.
The mining museums contain national treasures. But they also contain priceless teaching aids. We have only to look at the history syllabus. The new history syllabus in the national curriculum emphasises the importance to pupils of access to primary sources, of handling real materials and of being in real situations as much as possible. I am not sure that I altogether approve of the word that is used, namely "empathy", but this way of teaching history is so much more vivid than many of the older methods. Here we have the mining museums, rich in history, in the story of the past, as we have just heard. They are such a strength to the schools in their area. The Department for Education rightly wants pupils and teachers—although for teachers it is not always quite so easy—to think across narrow subject barriers. Mining museums are an unbelievably rich source of material for all those subjects. I beg my noble friend the Minister to preserve these treasures for our children's sake by making sure that the Coal Authority has the responsibilities clearly set out in this amendment.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
I should just like to add a few more points which perhaps have not been made. (So many have been mentioned.) I visited Caphouse a few weeks ago. The most important thing that I found was that it was a really genuine place. It was an exciting place and it catered for everybody. The facilities for disabled people had been especially well thought out. A disabled person in a wheelchair could go right down to the bottom in the cage and be taken round by a real miner. Everything was genuine. That was what was so important.
As we have heard, it is a very excellent place for history lessons. It took one right back to the beginning, to the time when the women wound down their children and wound them up again if they lived. It showed one 1106 how the Shaftesbury reforms took place. That is what is so important. It is interesting for children. If they see a thing they can remember it. It showed how miners had their baths and how they changed their clothes. It also showed the safety provision: how people had to wear torches and how they had to carry a coin. This is all part of learning.
The museums themselves are doing all that they can to earn money. They have restaurants and shops. Also, there are pit ponies and canaries. I do not think that they have forgotten anything. Then there is all the machinery. That is of course good for people with engineering interests. There is something for everybody. I ask the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who has visited Caphouse, how he rates it out of 10. I rate it very highly. So much taxpayers' money is wasted. As a taxpayer this is something that I should like to see my taxes go on. I hope that the Minister will find ways to support these museums and keep them going for future generations.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I rise to support the amendment. The Minister too should support it or react to it properly. He often singularly fails to react. But he should support the amendment in view of the widespread influence in this country among the signatories to the amendment. It is supported by his noble friend Lord Swinton, with whom I am in some sympathy because I too have certain difficulty in getting through small apertures. My noble friend Lady Lockwood also has her name to the amendment. It is supported by a cross-section of the Committee.
It is absolute nonsense that the Government should refuse to support the history of mining. The prosperity of the whole country, breaking out from agricultural poverty, depended on the miners, the deep pits and so on. It is absurd for the Government not to support these museums, even the one in Scotland, which I have not heard mentioned quite as often as the other two.
It is absolutely essential that even this Government should pay attention to the vital part that deep mining has played in the history of the development of this country. I hope that the Minister will depart from his usual obscurity when replying and give a definite answer in this case.
§ Lord Parry
It was a week ago that I received a letter which began:Greetings from the last deep mine in South Wales!".The letter continued:Little did we think, back in 1978, that our innovative tourism project would ever acquire such significance. 40 pits and the best part of 30,000 mining jobs later, its a strap line we would happily have done without".That letter came from Gareth Gregory, the director—he has been the director since its beginning—of Big Pit, Blaenafon.
Some 10 or 15 years ago, or perhaps more than that, say 22 or 23 years ago—it was before the Minister was born and I can understand his impatience (his gentle impatience) as he has been sitting for a long time on that Bench—when I was still teaching, I took a party of young children to the National Museum of Wales. This House is remarkable. At times it takes small issues and elevates them. We have had an interesting debate which 1107 is part of our history. As I said, with some teachers, I took a party of children to the National Museum of Wales. We were taken to the foundations of the building and we crawled through a cardboard mine. I agree that crawling through a cardboard imitation mine gives little idea of the experience of people like my father when, between the age of 19 and 29, he cut coal in coal mines in the Tredegar district. But it was a fascinating experience and it taught us a little about our history.
However, the man who was with me—who was called Peter Jones and who subsequently became the director of arts for the Arts Council in Wales—said, "This is useless. We should have a mine dedicated to this in Wales". In the way that such things go, some years later I found myself as chairman of the Wales Tourist Board. I was talking about that experience with a young man called Gareth Gregory, who was an in-house manager for the Wales Tourist Board. He said, "There is a plan". The plan was taken down off the shelf, dusted and Big Pit, Blaenafon began to proceed. It was the most amazing thing that I have ever been involved in. We all know the frustrations of public life, even for young Ministers. The frustrations come because you try and try but things become more difficult.
Because of the coalition of interests that we were able to bring to this very issue that has been illustrated tonight from all sections of the Chamber, the situation got easier as we went along. Suddenly, the Coal Board came and said, "Big Pit, Blaenafon seems to be ideal. It is running out of productivity. It will become available. It has a deep shaft and a safety walk-down and walk-up shaft. If we can only get this thing together we might be able to present a core activity of our heritage in the Blaenafon district.
I found out later that Big Pit, Blaenafon was not originally sunk as a coal pit but as an ironstone pit. In sinking it they found coal. It was the proximity of ironstone and that specific coal that made the Bessemer process possible. When they began the rudimentary experiments in the puddling of steel they found the juxtaposition of those two elements in steelmaking—the Minister must be patient; I have listened to him speak for many hours without interrupting—actually confirmed that it was possible to produce the Bessemer process. Incidentally, the company sold the process on to America, saved itself from bankruptcy and another part of our history was reassured.
That is all we are asking the Government to do. If I were asked to advise the Government—God forbid!— on how they should proceed to win back the confidence that they seem to be losing, I would advise them to appoint a Minister to sit on the Benches, one in this place and one in another place, to look for the good ideas. They would say, "My God, here is a good idea! It is dirt cheap. It is obviously popular. It commands the support of almost everybody in the House. Why do we not utilise it?" The Government should say to the Secretary of State, "We have got a good one. Here is something that commands the respect of the House; it is clearly of massive advantage to do it; all the arguments are for it. Why do we not fund it?"
1108 The amounts of money involved are tiny compared with the money running to earth every day in plans that do not work at all. These plans are approved. Therefore I say with all the friendship in the world to the young Ministers, do not be impatient of us; by all means be amused—that is the privilege of youth. But take away the positive in this amendment. Do not try to find arguments for persuading the Secretary of State that he was right all along. Tell him that here is a better idea. Take up the amendment and fund it.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
I want to say just a brief word in favour of the amendment and in favour of the Scottish pits which have already been mentioned. I was at school in the area and once went down a real mine. It was an unforgettable experience and one which I should like our children and our children's children to share. I therefore support the amendment.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, will be very satisfied with the support he has received from the House for this important amendment. I am sure that the three mining museums will do everything possible to avoid closure. But if they fail to produce the' funds that are needed—I believe it is in the order of £300,000 per annum, which is not a large sum in terms of government expenditure—then they face closure.
What will the Government achieve if those three museums are closed? Or is that their intention? Is it their intention that the people of the mining communities should not be reminded of their heritage and their past? I find that difficult to believe. If it is, then it would be evidence of a depressing lack of vision.
The Government, through their policies, have closed the pits. I hope that they will not undermine the museums which record the history of mining over the ages. Having closed the pits, I hope that they will look again at the situation and see what funds they can make available to underpin the financial viability of the museums in the future.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
Perhaps I may add another Scottish voice to the debate and apologise to the Committee for the fact that I have not taken part in the debate on the Coal Industry Bill until today. This for me is a sad occasion in the sense that we are debating museums dedicated to the mining industry rather than the preservation of the industry itself. Tonight is a watershed in the history of the mining industry. We are debating the preservation of the memory of the industry rather than the industry itself.
Over the years it has been my experience that if you speak about mining in this country you have, to place on the table your credentials. I speak from the background of my late father being 51 years a miner in the same pit in my native Fifeshire. Within two weeks of his retirement date on his 65th birthday the pit in which my late father was employed was closed down. I say with great respect to my socialist colleagues on these Benches that I never really noticed any great difference between the old private coal owners and those who managed the industry after nationalisation. I exclude my 1109 good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. Instead of saying to my father, "Well, Willie, you have only two weeks to go. Take two more weeks for your retirement", they found a job for my late father to do in that last two weeks before his 65th birthday. That was after 51 years in the same pit. Two of my brothers were miners and so I speak from a background of knowledge of the mining industry.
I wish that what we were discussing tonight was the preservation of the industry rather than these museums, important though they are. I was very friendly with the late Lord Gormley. This is one of the evenings on which I wish Joe Gormley could join us in this debate, not to reminisce—we are all good at reminiscing; they say it is a sign of old age when you start reminiscing—but to talk about the need to preserve the coal industry in this country. However, the Government have waged a campaign over the past 15 years—indeed, yesterday was the 15th anniversary of this Government coming to power—and the coal industry has been decimated. I predict that we shall live to regret what has happened over the past 15 years.
Be that as it may, what we are discussing tonight is the preservation of a memorial to the coal industry in the shape of these three mining museums. Two of them are deep mining museums. One is in Scotland. With great respect to them, I doubt whether the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, even know where the Scottish museum is located. If they know, I am quite prepared to sit down and give way. It is located in Newtongrange in Midlothian. I thought I would impart that piece of knowledge. It is not the only Scottish mining museum. There is one in Carton Den in Fife which has been solely financed by a philanthropist, a man called Bill Braid, who was fortunate enough in life to become quite wealthy. He has solely financed the mining museum in Carton Den in Fife which is a tribute to the Fife coalfield. There is also a further mining museum in Fife in the shape of the Lahore Meadows Country Park, where Fife Regional Council invested substantial sums of public money in preserving what was then a colliery which is still there. It is a wonderful place to visit. You can have a day out not only with your family but with a whole host of other relatives. That is why this amendment is so important. How are these memorials to the mining industry to be preserved if the Government do not provide the finance? The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, unfortunately is not with us this evening. He is head of the consortium which is about to bid for the last deep mine in Scotland, the Longannet complex. The market is purely and simply the Longannet power station and there is no other market. How are these memorials to the mining industry in Scotland to continue if the Government are not to provide the finance?
I hope with all that has been said tonight that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who is visibly very impatient to leap to the Dispatch Box, will tell us that he is prepared to accept this amendment. I am against privatisation and I make that absolutely clear. If privatisation is to go ahead I hope that the Minister is 1110 prepared to say that, as part of it and as part of the conditions on which the pits will be sold, those private coal owners and the private people who are coming to bid for the coal industry will have to give an undertaking to preserve the mining museums which have been the subject of this debate.
I finish with this: possibly I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who is an honorary member of an organisation called the Ancient Lodge of Free Colliers. Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, I should say that that ancient lodge was the forerunner of the miners' union. The term "free colliers" meant that they were trying to buy the freedom of the men from the coal owners. The coal owners owned the pits, the shops, the houses in which the miners lived and, ipso facto, they owned the men as well. In the early 1800s this organisation was the forerunner to the National Union of Mineworkers. The Free Colliers organisation was set up to try to buy the freedom of the men from the coal owners. There is only one lodge left in the United Kingdom—in my old constituency of Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth. So I speak with some feeling on this matter. I have a family background in mining.
I leave with the Minister the slogan of the miners' union "The past we inherit; the future we build". We have inherited from the mining industry a wonderful past. It is for the Government to make sure that that past is not forgotten by building the future through the mining museums that are the subject of this amendment.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
The Committee is obviously grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, for bringing forward this amendment, judging by the number of people who have spoken to it. I do not doubt that he is grateful for the support which he has received. His noble friend Lord Saint Oswald put his finger on the heart of the matter straight away when he used the word "memorial". One of the things which has excited your Lordships' passion this evening is the fact that these museums are memorials to the thousands who died underground just as those others who died on the field of battle. The feeling is very much the same.
I referred to the Big Pit at Blaenafon in the first words that I spoke in the Second Reading debate on this Bill in your Lordships' House. I was for some 15 years a member of the Museums and Galleries Commission, in which a place was taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, who has spoken this evening. For the last five years, I was its chairman. We argued, we fought, to enable Big Pit, the Yorkshire Museum and Newtongrange in Scotland to be set up to tell the truth about coal mining to all generations so that it shall not be lost to our descendants. I would not now willingly see that work destroyed—and it has started. We have just lost one mining museum in the independent sector, Chatterley Whitfield, which has gone into receivership and its collection sold off.
So seriously is that situation regarded that the Museums and Galleries Commission has already commissioned Robert Shorland-Ball to produce a report, make a survey and produce some guidelines on 1111 the coal mining museums in this country to enable the commission to make representations to government. That should be available by the autumn.
We are not asking for all the coal mining museums in this country to be retained. There are plenty. There is the Woodhorn Colliery Museum at Ashington in Northumberland, which is not underground but which has a good collection. There is the Washington "F" Pit in 'Tyne and Wear; the Sunderland Museum; the Salford Mining Museum; the Leeds Industrial Museum; the Doncaster Museum; the Black Country Museum at Dudley, which has a wonderful collection; and the Snibston Discovery Park in Leicestershire. I think also of the North of England Open Air Museum, which has a wonderful underground display. Any Members of the Committee who are taken down there by some of the old miners (who go down doubled up into what is a drift mine) will realise that the Labour Party has no better recruiting sergeants than a few old miners in the North of England. I think also of Afon Argoed, the Welsh Miners' Museum at Cynonville near Port Talbot in South Wales. I think of the Summerlee Heritage Trust at Coatbridge in Scotland, which my noble friend Lord Ewing inadvertently forgot to mention.
There are plenty of such museums. They must take their chance. We are asking only that the three designated museums, the Yorkshire Mining Museum, the Big Pit Mining Museum at Blaenafon and the Scottish Mining Museum at Newtongrange, shall be kept and funded by government in whatever form they choose. That is the minimum that the nation needs and, in our view, the state must retain them. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, begged leave to move this amendment. I beg the Government, in the cause of historical truth and humanity, to get up and accept it. This Government, after all, have killed the coal mining industry in England, Scotland and Wales. In all decency and in all charity, the least that they can do is to pay up for these three excellent tombstones.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and I have pre-empted many other noble Lords who might have thought of contributing to this debate. The debate is no less interesting for its length. Indeed, it has been immensely interesting and, in some cases, moving also.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, started his speech very well, but he then went on to bring in politics and, in particular, the record of the past 15 years of Conservative government. The noble Lord should reflect rather more on the record of the last Labour Governments. He would perhaps then understand why the Conservative Government have been in power for the past 15 years. I am sorry that the noble Lord has not been able to appear at any of our other deliberations on the Bill because his experience as a constituency Member of Parliament would have been useful. But I have a far more difficult job to do this evening, because I recognise the tremendous strength of feeling that has been demonstrated all around the Chamber; the strong sentiments; and the arguments that have been put forward.
1112 The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, talked about the UK in the mid-19th century being at its most prominent, largely because of the wealth it created out of coal. The noble Baroness, Lady White, talked about an extremely exciting museum. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, spoke with infectious enthusiasm about the infectious enthusiasm of our museums. I join with them all. I join particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who talked about the Caphouse Colliery. As she knows, if visited the Yorkshire Mining Museum some years ago and was tremendously impressed by the quality of what it was offering. The underground experience was an excellent one. Like the noble Baroness, I met—if that is the right word—the pit ponies. I am convinced that many people would find that experience useful.
Another feature of the debate has been that many Members of the Committee have read what occurred in another place. There is not a great deal that I can acid to the debates that took place there. We naturally want to ensure that the privatised mining companies offer support on a voluntary basis similar to that which is currently offered by British Coal. It would be difficult to impose a requirement on the private sector. That leaves me in a difficult position, given what has happened this evening. To talk about funding in general, it is plain that many museums suffer financial problems because of the lack of support from local authorities. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, whose party is so much in favour of local democracy, not upholding the case that it should be local authorities rather than central government which should support the museums.
§ Lord Parry
Will the Minister give way on that point? If we followed that argument, one smallish local authority would be asked to bear the cost of the entire heritage collection of the Big Pit Mining Museum at Blaenafon. That is impossible.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I do not believe that it should just be the local authorities. There are many funding organisations which could club together to support the museums, because every Member of the Committee who has spoken has spoken about the importance and the excellence of the museums. That is the fundamental problem I have with the amendment. My noble friend Lord Swinton has clearly worked hard on the drafting of the amendment because he has covered almost every conceivable issue. But that is my difficulty, because the amendment allows no room for manoeuvre and no incentive for the museums to try to reduce their costs. It places an immediate burden upon the taxpayer; and many Members of the Committee would agree that that should be for the private sector.
Another suggestion has been that of the interim period. I cannot give any commitment. I came to the Committee this evening to listen to the views that were being put forward. I go away under no illusion as to the strength of feeling. If my noble friend were to withdraw his amendment, I could perhaps consider it with other departments, if that is what is required, to see whether there is a way around the problem. There may not be. I am not giving a commitment. But I believe that this is such an important issue that it would be wrong to decide 1113 it this evening. I shall obviously speak to my noble friend during the next few weeks before we reach Report stage to let him know whether we feel that there is anything to be gained from moving forward. I hope that that meets with the approval of the Committee. Perhaps it is not as much as Members would like but it is as far as I am able to go tonight.
§ The Earl of Swinton
I am extremely grateful. Indeed, I am flabbergasted by the amount of support that the amendment has received from all sides of the Committee. Members from far-flung parts of the British Isles have spoken in support. I thank them all, especially as they stayed here to do so. I know of several other Members of the Committee who would gladly have given their support and weight had they not had to go home. To all Members who have stayed, I am most grateful.
I shall not mention all the speakers because that will take too long. However, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said that we must build up a head of steam on this. We have built that up—I felt the boilers going kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk! The steam was such that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde got the message.
I think that I bowled him with a googly. I was told that the danger with my amendment was that it was hybrid. I thought that that would be the first thing that he would say and that he would sink me without trace —collapse of stout party! He did not and instead most generously said that he would talk.
I am happy with that. There is a danger that the amendment is hybrid and I was not going to press it in any event. I am grateful for the way in which my noble friend has taken it and I am grateful for all the support that I have received. I assure my noble friend that, if we do not reach a fairly sensible compromise, the head of steam will blow him off his seat on the Front Bench. Therefore, it will be in his interests to talk and I look forward to that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 57 [Public access to information held by the Authority]:
Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 85A:
Page 53, line 5, after ("above") insert ("to the information in the possession of the Corporation immediately before the restructuring date, which information the Authority shall take into its possession at the restructuring date,").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 85A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 85B to 85F. We are in the year 1797. William Thomas proposed an office in Newcastle for the collection and registration of local colliery plans and sections in order to prevent accidents caused by breaking into the old workings filled with water and noxious gas. It was the beginning of mining records on a systematic basis in this country. There were further moves with the Geological Survey of Great Britain authorised as part of the Ordnance Survey in 1835, Thomas Sopwith, the geologist, reading an important paper to the British Association in 1838, and so on.1114
§ After the 1830s activity became greater until now. We have a huge collection belonging to British Coal and we are left to secure its future. The corporation's collection of geological information comprises data derived under the 1946 Act from Home Office mines department records, Coal Commission records, by transfer after 1947 from the British Geological Survey, the Mining Records Office, the MRO public appeal and the NCB or BCC papers. In addition, in the course of the board's, the corporation's, normal activities it has accumulated geological information from its own deep mining and opencast exploration working, from Section 36 of the 1946 Act relating to licence geological information and plans, from the NCB appeal for plans of old workings and many, many more sources.
§ The collection must be maintained as a whole. It must be kept up to date (with information from Part II of the 1994 Bill relating to licensing activities) for reference and for ultimate incorporation into the National Geoscience Database, which is maintained by the British Geological Survey. To secure all that is the purpose of this amendment.
§ Until 1958, when Section 51(1) of the Coal Nationalisation Act was repealed, NCB records were public records. In practice, those records continued to be made freely available to inquirers until about 1992, when the regional collections were consolidated at Bretby in Derbyshire.
§ British Coal is still publicly owned and the records would seem to be public property. I should be interested to learn whether the noble Lord or the noble Viscount could inform me authoritatively whether they are in fact legally still public property. But their future and the future accessibility of those records, if privatisation plans go ahead, is a matter of vital public concern.
§ Provisions in this Bill and information documents circulated by the DTI would indicate that there would be a very limited access for individuals and researchers. I gather that a fee will be charged for the right of access to that data. We regard that as totally unacceptable in principle. If that is not to be the case, I should be grateful if the noble Viscount would assure the Committee categorically that that is not the case.
§ The national collection of geological information is vitally important in understanding the structure and statigraphy of the United Kingdom and its Continental Shelf. For maximum understanding of national resources, it should remain intact. It should not and must not be dispersed during restructuring.
§ However, it is not absolutely essential that the entire collection should be held centrally. Recent reorganisation of the holdings by the corporation has resulted in loss to the regions and some absurd anomalies; for example, the transfer of the Scottish oil shale workings records down to Bretby when they should be in Scotland. We shall not argue about exactly where they should be held. But those records must be preserved; public access to them must be given; and it must be free. I beg to move.1115
§ 10 p.m.
§ Viscount Torrington
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 85D in particular. I scratched my head and I have no great interest to declare in this matter except the interest of someone who has spent about 35 years working in extractive industries of one form or another.
We have had a very spirited debate on the subject of mining museums. Mining museums are the repository of the spirit and history of the mining industry. But the records to which the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, referred, are the real benefit to the nation which have come from the mining industry over 200 or 300 years.
In extractive industries, the information which comes from the successes and the failures of those who worked before is the lifeblood of the industry. In the oil industry, each dry hole, each well which does not discover oil, tells other people who come later where oil may be. Therefore, that information is a resource which should be made available as freely as possible to industries, to universities and to anybody who wishes to work in the field of the sub-surface structure of this country.
If, as has been the case in one or two instances of which I know in recent years, access to that information is made difficult by exorbitant fees being charged, it will make it impossible for people to follow up their ideas. The young geologist working in a mining company or an oil company cannot go to his boss and say, "Look, I have got this great idea. I need some information but the Coal Authority has told me that it will cost £Þ million". His boss will not be interested unless, as at the DTI, he can go and look free of charge at records of oil wells which are more than five years old.
We need access to this information in order for the nation to benefit from it in the future. It must not be a curiosity available only to a select few either with some special right of access or through a large bank account. I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he can give us some assurance that the reference to an appropriate fee in Clause 57 will mean a reasonable fee; that is, a fee, perhaps involved in the reproduction of information, which is not a ransom for such information.
§ Viscount Goschen
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for raising the important matter of information availability. It is an important function of the authority. The authority will take over a great deal of information from British Coal and will obtain further information as it carries out its functions. Clause 57 of the Bill places a specific duty on the authority to establish and maintain arrangements that it considers appropriate under which anyone would be entitled to be furnished with certain categories of information, to have access to certain of the authority's records and to be provided with copies of those records.
There are safeguards to protect information relating to individuals or companies where disclosure would seriously and prejudicially affect their interests, and information provided under a licence will be protected by the terms of the licence, although neither of those safeguards applies to the disclosure of any information relating to matters which may be relevant to safety.
1116 It is not desirable for the authority to take over all information held by British Coal on the restructuring date as sought by Amendment No. 85A. The corporation holds a vast amount of information covering a wide variety of subjects: for example, it holds information about its past and present employees; and it holds sales, marketing and financial information. None of that information is needed by the authority, but it will be needed by other bodies. I hope that Members of the Committee will recognise that some of British Coal's, information is not needed specifically by the Coal Authority but is genuinely needed by other bodies.
Amendment No. 85B would require the authority to hold geological and related information,in whatever form that information is kept".Clause 57(1) already makes it clear that the arrangements that the authority is required to establish and maintain to make information available do apply to "any" of the relevant information which is for the time being in the authority's possession.
If the authority possesses, in whatever form, information that is caught by the requirements of Clause 57, it will have to make that information available. Therefore, we do not believe that it is necessary to spell out that provision on the face of the Bill. Similarly, we do not believe that we should prescribe on the face of the Bill the precise details as to how the authority should fulfil its duty under Clause 57 as envisaged by Amendment No. 85C.
The authority will have a chairman and a board of members. They will be responsible for running the authority and, ultimately, for the authority's actions. They must be given the discretion as to how they manage information in the authority's possession; how and when they update it; and how they make it available to fulfil their duty under Clause 57.
I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that Clause 57(2) allows the authority to charge such fees as it thinks appropriate for making information available. Amendment No. 85D would prevent the authority from charging any fees whatever in that respect, as detailed by the noble Lord in his remarks.
Schedule I to the Bill empowers the Secretary of State to determine the authority's financial duties. The authority will have to take account of any determination in deciding the charges it will make to recover the costs of making information available. I believe that I can reassure my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that, as we made clear in the Coal Industry explanatory note, it is envisaged that the authority will recover the full cost of establishing and maintaining its registers and providing access to information through fees payable by those to whom the information is provided.
The Government believe that it must be right that the authority has the power to charge for providing information. Its geological information could, for example, be of commercial value to potential licensees. It would not be right to give away such information without recovering the full cost of providing access to that information. I believe that the provisions in the Bill make certain that that would not be the exorbitant cost which has been suggested.
1117 Clause 57 contains two exceptions to the requirement on the authority to make information available. The exception to which this amendment relates is set out in Clause 57(3). This does not require or authorise the disclosure by the authority of any information (other than information contained in a register) relating to the affairs of an individual or a company if, in the opinion of the authority, disclosure would or might seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of that individual or company.
"Seriously and prejudicially" is a very severe test. It was deliberately drafted to be so. Our intention is that information should be made available unless there are good reasons why it should not be made available. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck. We believe that the discretion we have given the authority to decide whether the disclosure of information would or might seriously and prejudicially affect someone's interests is the right balance. Indeed, it is worth considering whether it would be right for information to be disclosed if the authority believed it might seriously and prejudicially affect someone's interest.
Turning to Clause 58, this requires the authority to maintain arrangements for keeping confidential information that relates to the affairs of individuals and particular businesses. That requirement does not apply in the circumstances specified in the clause, including, at subsection (2) (b), where information is disclosed in pursuance of arrangements made under Clause 57.
It is widely recognised that research and education in the earth sciences is important. It is the categories of information specified in Clause 57(1) that are most likely to be of interest to earth scientists. As I have indicated, that information is not covered by Clause 58, which is in any case primarily aimed at the protection of business and personal information.
As I have indicated in a somewhat full and detailed reply to the noble Lord and my noble friend, there is a balance to be struck between "openness" and "privacy". We believe that we have struck the right balance in the Bill. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for a remarkably detailed reply at this hour of the night. It is something of a curate's egg so far as I am concerned. He gave with the left hand and took back with the right. I am not sure that I have fully and totally taken on board the purport of the noble Viscount's reply, but I shall take care to read it tomorrow.
My initial response is that I feel slightly grateful. I am moderately cheered. To a certain extent, and reserving the right to consider it tomorrow, I am a little reassured, certainly by one or two things that he said, although not all of them. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 85B to 85E not moved.]
§ Clause 57 agreed to.
§ Clause 58 [Information to be kept confidential by the Authority]:
§ [Amendment No. 85F not moved.]1118
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 86:
Page 55, line 46, at end insert:
§ The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 86, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 87.
§ Clause 58 requires the Coal Authority to maintain arrangements for securing that certain information relating to individuals or particular businesses is kept confidential. The clause also specifies the circumstances in which the authority is not obliged to keep information confidential.
§ One case where that requirement does not apply is in relation to information relating to water pollution. In England and Wales that is already provided for by the inclusion in Clause 58(3) (e) (iii) of a reference to the National Rivers Authority. Amendment No. 86 is a technical amendment required to ensure that the same principle is extended, to Scotland, where the relevant authorities are the river purification authorities referred to in the amendment.
§ Amendment No. 87 is a similar technical amendment to Clause 58(4) required for Scotland, which permits disclosure of information in relation to civil proceedings under the legislation under which the river purification authorities operate. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 10.15 p.m.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 88:
Page 56, line 10, at end insert:
("( ) this Act;").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the subsidence adviser can obtain all the necessary information to carry out his investigations. Under the present situation, compensation for planning blight can be claimed against British Coal in respect of land earmarked for coal production. Obviously compensation for blight will be more difficult to administer under a fragmented coal industry. Nevertheless, compulsory acquisition powers are being retained for up to five years and planning authorities are likely to be required under the forthcoming revised mineral planning guidance—we have referred to it before; it is now in draft—to earmark suitable sites for coal extraction in their development plans. The loss through planning blight to individuals will be no less and the right to compensation should in our view remain. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Goschen
Clause 58 requires the Coal Authority to keep confidential information that relates to the affairs of individuals and particular businesses.
That requirement does not apply in the circumstances specified in the clause, including where information is disclosed to Ministers and certain public bodies to enable them to carry out their functions under the relevant enactments. Clause 58(4) lists those relevant 1119 enactments. The amendment seeks to add the Bill to that list. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary. Clause 58(2) (a) already provides for disclosure by the authority to carry out its functions under the Act and for its disclosure to the Secretary of State and the Treasury so that they may carry out their functions under the Act. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I thank the noble Viscount for what he said. I have elicited from him what I wished to elicit. The amendment is concerned with the confidentiality of certain parts of information. I wish to consider the matter. I may well return to it at Report stage. We are concerned about the limitations of confidentiality. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 58, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 59 to 62 agreed to.
§ Clause 63 [Interpretation]:
Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 88A:
Page 60, line 13, at end insert:
§ The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 88B. The purpose of Amendment No. 88A is to ensure that the definition of the word "controlled" is consistent with that set out in all previous legislation.
§ The purpose of Amendment No. 88B is to ensure that "environment" has the same definition as set out in previous legislation. I should be grateful for confirmation of those two facts by the Minister. I beg to move.
§ Lord Strathclyde
It is not often that I am not clear about the amendment moved by the noble Lord. I have to say that this amendment mystified us because it did not seem to make any sense.
It is a rare occurrence not to have understood the noble Lord's amendment. Now that he has explained it, perhaps I may consider the matter and let him know whether there is force underlying his argument. I therefore shall consider the points and respond to him before the Report stage.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I hope that I have not caused him any mystification. It is a perfectly straightforward probing amendment in each case to make sure that the words used in these specific situations have exactly the same meaning as in previous legislation. Perhaps we may correspond about the matter between now and Report stage. In token of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 88B not moved.]
§ Clause 63 agreed to.1120
§ Clauses 64 and 65 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 88C to 89 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ Schedule 9 [Minor and Consequential Amendments]:
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
Amendments Nos. 90 to 92 were to have been moved by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, but at his request and with his permission, I shall not move them.
§ [Amendments Nos. 90 to 92 not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 93 not moved.]
§ Schedule 9 agreed to.
§ Schedule 10 agreed to.
§ Schedule 11 [Repeals]:
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 94:
Page 156, leave out lines 47 to 51.
§ The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 94, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 95, 96 and 97. Clause 66 and Schedule 11 to the Bill currently provide for the repeal of the references to British Coal and the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) in Schedule 1 to the Public Records Act 1958 from, respectively, the dissolution date and the appointed day. We believe that the records of both British Coal and CISWO, unless transferred to bodies not subject to the Public Records Act 1958, should retain their public records status. This can be done by removing the references to the repeals of British Coal and CISWO from the 1958 Act from Clause 66 and Schedule 11. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
We have looked at Amendments Nos. 94 to 97 carefully and we are happy to give them a guarded welcome. They appear to allow more information to be made available than was formerly the case, but they cover a lot of ground and we shall need to check it all not only for possible subsidence but for unexpected land-mines which may lurk there.Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes".We fear the Greeks when they come bearing gifts. We give the amendments a welcome but a guarded one.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Viscount Goschen moved Amendment No. 95:
Page 159, leave out lines 27 to 30.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 66 [Short title, commencement and extent]:
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 66, as amended, agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.
§ House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past ten o'clock.