§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What progress is being made to resolve the dispute between British Coal and English Partnerships over the valuation of costs and benefits associated with the land owned by British Coal.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has today announced, by Written Parliamentary Answer in another place, the transfer of British Coal non-operational properties to English Partnerships which will be responsible for their regeneration, reclamation and development. As a result, 55,000 jobs will be created and £850 million of private sector investment is expected to be attracted. For your Lordships' convenience, I am repeating the full text of my right honourable friend's answer by way of a written reply.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the trouble that he has taken in making me aware of the Written Question in another place and in providing me with a copy of the Secretary of State's decision. I should point out, however, that as I received it only a short while ago and as it is a long statement, it will require careful study. On what criteria were the statements about the creation of 55,000 jobs and private sector investment of £850 million based? They sound rather optimistic. English Partnerships has estimated liabilities of £53 million, but it is to receive 634 £12.5 million from British Coal. Will the Minister comment on that huge difference? Finally, receipts from sales will be used for the costs of reclaiming and servicing other sites. Will they include sites that are usually referred to as "difficult sites"?
My Lords, it was decided that English Partnerships should take over those responsibilities. As a result, it will be spending £386 million. English Partnerships' entire operation is carried out in connection with private industry. It is expected that the private sector will bring in £850 million over the same period. It is anticipated that that will create the 55,000 jobs to which I referred in connection with the regeneration of old pits. The noble Lord asked whether the sites would include "difficult sites". I should explain that originally 81 sites were to be transferred to English Partnerships. Fifty-seven sites will be so transferred; the other 24 sites will be sold on the open market by British Coal in December and the proceeds will go to English Partnerships.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, is the Minister prepared to answer the second question relating to the huge discrepancy between what English Partnerships says will be needed and the £12.5 million that it will receive?
My Lords, I do not believe that there is a discrepancy. This has been discussed with English Partnerships, which is content with what has been agreed. If the proceeds of sale next year do not amount to £12.5 million, that sum will be made up.
§ Lord Mason of Barnsley
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I welcome this news? It is a pity that it has taken two years to develop this plan, with all of the misery and unhappiness in the coalfields during that time. I have read the communiqué and am very pleased with it. Is the Minister aware that of the 57 coalfield sites to be developed by English Partnerships, local authorities and the TECs, backed up by the Coalfield Communities Campaign—which has played a great part in this and is due great praise-24 are in Yorkshire and the biggest single site in the country is at Grimethorpe in Barnsley? Is he further aware that that is regarded as the hardest-hit community because of pit closures? To take that as an example, if all goes to plan it may result in 400 new homes and 2,000 new jobs in that community which will rejuvenate it and bring pride back to that district, so it will be welcomed. Can the Minister give an assurance that the local authorities will be involved in these developments with English Partnerships?
My Lords, I am very glad that I have been able to please the noble Lord, Lord Mason. That is always an achievement. I am sure that it is not the first time, nor will it be the last. English Partnerships is the largest funder of land reclamation in the United Kingdom and finances a large proportion of local government's reclamation activities. I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, that it has taken 635 so long, but he will understand that this is the largest transfer of a portfolio of derelict and contaminated sites that has ever been achieved in Europe and therefore it is bound to take a certain amount of time. Of course, the local authorities in the areas concerned will be involved in their regeneration.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that we welcome this announcement? It is particularly welcome because it resolves a longstanding problem and appears to be a positive resolution. I have a small quibble about the noble Earl's reading of the text of the Written Answer in another place. He implied that 55,000 jobs were expected to be created. The text of the Written Answer says that 55,000 jobs will be created. My first question is whether that is underwritten by the Government and the Secretary of State? Will those jobs be created? Secondly, is there a similar arrangement for Wales?
My Lords, I am glad that I am also able to please the noble Lord, Lord Williams. That is always a triumph, and it is not as easy as pleasing the noble Lord, Lord Mason. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, is always very careful in his scrutiny of documents. He is quite right that there is a change. I made the change for the very reason that I believe that if I said that the jobs would be created somebody like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, would ask, "How do you know?". I thought that to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I would make it quite clear that they were expected to be created. The noble Lord asks whether this is underwritten. One cannot underwrite anything at all. One has to take a reasonable view, and that is a reasonable view.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, as someone with experience in the coal industry, I should also like to welcome the announcement made today. However, I should like to express some concern about the delay that has already been referred to. I ask the noble Earl whether the delay has in any way held up the efforts to find jobs for mineworkers who have been out of employment for some time.
My Lords, I am unaccustomed to hearing so much approval round your Lordships' House. I also welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is pleased. The answer to the noble Lord's question is that all this time work has been going on to try to help miners and ex-miners in those areas. The great stumbling block is that someone eventually has to be responsible for regenerating these areas. Once one has decided who is to do it, one can do it much more effectively and quickly than would be possible before the matter was decided. It took a long time but it was a very large operation.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the noble Earl has satisfied a good many people. I hope that he can satisfy me. Does this announcement apply to Wales? If it does not, he will not satisfy me; if it does, he may.
§ Lord Clark of Kempston
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the extra jobs to be created provide further proof that the privatisation policy of Her Majesty's Government has been highly economically successful?
My Lords, as usual my noble friend hits the nail right on the head. Of course, the Government's privatisation policy has been enormously successful, and this is one of the results of it.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I should declare that my family has an interest in the site of one abandoned mine. Can the Minister confirm that all environmental liability, past, present and future, will be transferred to English Partnerships under the proposed deal? If the answer is yes, will the Government undertake that English Partnerships will at all times in the future have sufficient funds to meet those liabilities?
My Lords, the liabilities of the sites transfer with the sites to English Partnerships which will be responsible for dealing with them in the best way it can. The noble Lord asks whether it will be sufficiently funded. As it is, English Partnerships is funded to the tune of £209 million per year in grant in aid. It is up to English Partnerships to use that money in a way that ensures that the coalfield sites are properly cleared.