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Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend and I have studied the 1983 agreement long and hard. There is no reason why the Coal Authority could not have the duty to take responsibility for the concessionary coal scheme and to charge the successor companies for dealing with that scheme.
I will conclude my remarks on concessionary coal by referring to another aspect which worries a great number of serving mineworkers. Contractors within the coal industry do not receive concessionary coal, and it is open to the successor companies as part of their licensing arrangements that their employers are sub-contracted to them. In that way, the successor companies can avoid the liability for concessionary coal.
There are a number of other matters on which I had hoped to touch, and I will refer to them briefly.
Mr. Hood : My hon. Friend makes a valid point as he comes to the end of his excellent speech. Is he aware that the example he has given is happening now in the industry? Private mining companies have taken over other companies have had to take over the historical liabilities of the scheme. Those companies are now saying--quite openly, and without any threat from the Government--that they are taking away the concessionary fuel agreement. If that is happening now before privatisation, can anyone be surprised that miners who work in British Coal pits now fear that the same may happen to their concessionary fuel agreement?
Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. In advance of legislation to define a particular industry, companies are ignoring the provisions of a Bill. The same thing happened with regard to Sunday trading ; I will make only a passing reference to the subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Employees have been placed on six-day working contracts regardless of the contents of the Bill.
I will draw my remarks to a close, as I have discussed concessionary coal. However, there are other worries which are not addressed in the Bill or by the Ways and Means resolution in relation to the coal authority. I have mentioned the insurance claims of British Coal. Will the successor companies insure their own risks or take out insurance? What will be the level of premiums? Will they be judged like other companies for employer's liability insurance? That is a big area, in view of the number of accidents which have to be compensated for in the industry.
Column 834I have been involved in that side of the industry and I am well aware that there are claims within my area of Yorkshire which go as far back as 1982. Those claims amount to around £3 million or £4 million pounds per annum in terms of compensation paid. Should the Coal Authority take responsibility for that area?
There are outstanding compensation claims. The successor companies will not welcome with open arms the liability for historical compensation claims, many of which will not be settled before the privatisation legislation is in force. Noise-induced deafness is currently soaking up much of British Coal's resources. There are also other residual compensation claims. Those points must be addressed and must be the responsibility of the Coal Authority.
Insufficient residual liabilities are to be passed to the Coal Authority to protect the public from such dangers as subsidence or for the industry to be viable after privatisation. The privatisation is untimely, unnecessary and incomplete. The Bill and the motion are confused. There are insufficient safeguards and the Bill is hurried. There are major omissions which hon. Members must consider in Standing Committee in the coming months. There will be a bleak future for pensioners and beneficiaries of the pension scheme. Above all, the future for serving mineworkers is bleak.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : I will be brief, as I spoke earlier. However, I want to raise one or two points that I did not have time to mention then. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to my points and, if he cannot reply to them tonight, reply to them at an early and appropriate stage in Standing Committee.
I recognise that the matter is very narrow. Paragraph (a) of the resolution refers to
"the making of the Coal Authority of charges for things done in the exercise and performance of its powers and duties."--
[Interruption.] I recognise that the House is a trifle excited about possible developments, but when the Minister's adviser has finished telling him about the latest dramatic developments, I hope that the Minister will pay particular attention to my points.
Mr. Hood : Perhaps I can be helpful. I am also interested in what is happening between the Government Whip and the Minister. I heard a whisper when I was outside the Chamber a moment ago to the effect that there is a security alert outside St. Stephen's entrance. An unidentified car has been left there and the police are genuinely concerned that there might be a bomb in it. The police are worried about the possibility of a Division, as that would attract hon. Members to the House. I am sure that hon. Members will feel obliged to continue to examine the Ways and Means motion until the security alert is cleared. I am sure that that is what the Government Whip was telling the Minister.
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend has done the House a great service by bringing us up to date with the latest development in the insanities of life in this city. I hope that the car belongs to a representative of one of the foreign mining firms with a bad safety record who might have heard our strictures and gone away.
In an earlier intervention, I mentioned the experience regaled to us by our former good colleague and friend, Allen McKay. When we debated subsidence a few years
Column 835ago, he told us about his experience as a volunteer fireman when he rescued two cows which had fallen into an old mine working. My serious questions on the resolution relate to the fact that my constituency, like the neighbouring constituencies of some of my colleagues, lies in the very heart of the old south Yorkshire coalfield.
There has been mining in our constituencies for 300 or 400 years. The first fatality in the mining industry in my constituency occurred around 1660. The industry is an ancient industry because several seams of coal outcrop and can be found easily in close proximity to Wath upon Dearne, where I live in my constituency in the heart of South Yorkshire. The Warren house seam, which comprises part of the coal being mined today in the Selby coalfield, outcrops at Warren house, which is about one mile from my home. It is close to the Abdy seam, which outcrops 18 in below the surface at the point where the Warren house colliery, which closed many years ago, had its first shaft. The seams bear the names of the localities where they outcrop. Within about a mile of my home there is the Newhill seam, the Meltonfield seam, the Warren House seam and the Abdy seam, all of them outcrops.
A few years ago, there was a fire in the Abdy seam and the mines drainage unit, based at the Westfield colliery site at Parkgate, had enough men to deal with it. As the industry contracted, the mines drainage unit was closed and responsibility was placed on Silverwood colliery, to which I referred in an earlier debate. That colliery may be whittled away ; if it is, who will bear the responsibility and have the capacity to respond to an event such as the Abdy seam fire? That is one of the problems that arise from contraction. Another difficulty is that we are dealing with an old industry whose problems may have their roots in events that occurred a century or more ago. Will manning in the authority be sufficient to understand and appraise such problems, and will it have the resources to organise a response to them?
Using the mines drainage unit, British Coal could respond rapidly to such problems, but many pits have closed or are to close. However, the problems arising from heritage remain. I represent an area in the heart of one of the older coalfields. Can I be assured that the problems arising from the legacy of past mining will be met by public provisions or by the authority under its obligations when that authority may have no capacity to do so?
When I was a student, I was researching the history of mining and happened to be taking photographs with a little box Brownie camera in pursuit of my thesis. In Rawmarsh, which is just a couple of miles from my home, I saw that the land had fallen in at a place where a bell-pit had operated, probably in the late 17th century. No one could prove that date because the records of a mine's workings were not collected then. Some of the mining operations in my constituency are not on official records. I shall give an illustration that is covered by the legislation.
"the making by the Coal Authority of charges for things done in the exercise and performance of its powers and duties".
I shall illustrate what I mean. About 2,000 yd from my home is the site of what was the Rockingham porcelain manufactory. The Fitzwilliam estate, which owned the
Column 836whole area, was a kind landlord to the Rockingham manufacturers, the Brameld brothers. They were given permission to mine coal in that vicinity--
Mr. Hardy : I shall try to make the matter clear. The Coal Authority would be empowered to charge for the exercise of its responsibilities, but who will pay the charges if the pit that is responsible for the problem ceased to exist 150 or 200 years ago ? [Interruption.] I should like to finish this point which you were correct to require me to explain, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
If the pit closed 150 years ago, who will pay the charge ? Who will ascertain the degree of responsibility ? The problem will exist, so who will be identifiable as the person or body responsible ? I do not propose to go further, but the Minister will understand that the questions that my hon. Friends and I have raised tonight will have to be answered in Standing Committee, otherwise we shall be placing an impossible responsibility on the British Coal authority and asking it to perform tasks which are completely insoluble.
Mr. Etherington rose --
Mr. Etherington : My hon. Friend raised a vital point when he used the term "heritage" in referring to the liabilities that have been created in mining areas. He spoke about the problems of pumping and of old pits that have closed. He will obviously be aware that the position will be particularly grim in areas where no pits remain. Does he agree that it is important that the powers and duties taken on by the Coal Authority should involve the responsibility for dewatering areas where a rise in the mine water could lead to pollution and other environmental problems ? It is extremely unfair that the areas which--
Mr. Etherington : I was following the spirit of the interventions which have been made tonight, but I accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does my hon. Friend agree that the cost of the burden should be borne by the country rather than by the people living in the area, who have given quite enough to society?
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has put to the Minister some aspects of the problem which may not have dawned on him and given him due warning that, when we consider the relevant parts of the Bill, satisfactory explanations will have to be made in Standing Committee and on Report. I would stress that a number of noble Lords will take a deep interest in some of those matters. The Government will have to do their homework in the next fortnight. The Bill and the manner it is being dealt with do not give us confidence that any homework is being done.
Column 83712.46 am
The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar) : I have heard speeches from a number of Labour Members. I did not realise what good news was given from a sedentary position by the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley). I must tell him immediately that I shall miss him.
I venture to think that there may be some misunderstanding on the Opposition Benches about the thrust of the motion on the Order Paper. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) for his interesting historical exposition of the outcropping and its relationship with the porcelain manufacturer in his constituency. It was one of the more interesting speeches from the Opposition and I should be delighted to hear the conclusion of that story.
A wide number of issues have been aired, some of which are relevant to the proceedings in Committee. I am sure that Opposition Members will not be surprised or offended when I say that few of them, indeed almost none, were relevant to the resolution, but that is a matter for their consciences, the Chair and the length of time they wish to detain the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central for giving me notice of some of the issues that will be raised in Committee. I am particularly interested in considering how I will deal with the cows.
Much of the debate has been about the range of the Coal Authority's duties. The resolution will, of course, permit the authority to charge for the services that it provides, but it in no way restricts the range of its duties or the services that it provides. That is a matter for the Bill, and I shall not get into a discussion on that now.
It might be helpful and avoid doubt if I outline what the resolution covers. First, it covers charges levied by the Coal Authority. The Bill enables the authority to charge for the services that it provides and a good example would be a licence application fee for services provided in the processing and consideration of an application. The aim is to set fees at a level that will enable the authority to cover its administrative costs. As the House knows, that is a well established practice for such bodies.
Secondly, the resolution covers corporation tax. The Bill contains provisions that deal with the consequences for corporation tax purposes of the transfer under restructuring schemes of property rights and liabilities to successor companies and other public sector companies. There are also provisions to deal with the subsequent taxation treatment of such transferees. The general approach follows that adopted in previous privatisations which involve statutory bodies already subject to corporation tax. Finally, the resolution covers any sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund or the national loans fund.
I hope that it has been of some use to the House to define exactly what the Ways and Means resolution covers. I am upset that we shall not be hearing any further contributions from the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central in Committee--we shall all miss him.
Column 838Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :
The House divided : Ayes 210, Noes 56.
Division No. 77] [12.51 a.m.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Gardiner, Sir George
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hampson, Dr Keith
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Knox, Sir David
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Maitland, Lady Olga
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Mellor, Rt Hon David
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Moate, Sir Roger
Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Neubert, Sir Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)