That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for codification of law to ensure public access to the countryside and to define obligations and responsibilities for the public and landowners alike ; and for connected purposes.
I was born the daughter of a ploughman. From the earliest years, my brother and I were taught not only to love our countryside but to respect it. Basic codes of conduct have been ingrained in our minds--codes that are observed by all sensible people. Therefore, I grew up with an instinctive feeling that my country--Scotland--is beautiful, that I and others have freedom to enjoy it, and that the correct pattern of behaviour should automatically accompany that freedom.
It is a view shared by colleagues living elsewhere in the United Kingdom-- the Bill applies to all the United Kingdom and is endorsed by all who love the countryside, whether in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, although it is of Scotland that I can speak with some clear knowledge.
The Bill is particularly relevant at this time, because of various factors that are converging.
I refer first to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. The clauses dealing with aggravated trespass--originally clauses 52 and 53, now clauses 58 and 59 as the Bill has emerged from Committee--have been interpreted by many organisations as a threat to the legitimate leisure pursuits followed by about 60 organisations. There is a general perception--I think a wrong one--that these fears are expressed only by those involved in hill walking or mountain climbing, in which I have a particular interest. But the fear is much more widespread. Leisure pursuits cover a wide range of activities : orienteering, angling, photography, cataloguing of flora and fauna, pony trekking, horse riding, geology and archaeology, to name but a few : there are a host of others. Those involved in all these legitimate pursuits respect the countryside, and have no wish to destroy it or to enter into conflict with landowners.
The threat of criminal trespass could be interpreted under such a new law as denying access to that most precious of any country's assets : its land. The land and the people need an harmonious, not an acrimonious, relationship. The few should not deny the rights of the many.
In Scotland, the possibility of a change from civil to criminal law of trespass is seen a break with existing legislation, which describes criminal trespass as
"exceptionally exclusive of civil action",
as defined in the second edition of Professor D.M. Walker's "Delict", resting on the common law of Scotland and the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865.
There is also great concern about proposals to encourage the sale of Forestry Commission lands. The Forestry Commission has developed sensible and welcome rights of access. It has enhanced facilities for leisure pursuits and has helped to develop tourism, in addition to its highly regarded creation of direct and indirect jobs, which are important not least in constituencies such as mine.
Column 138On 30 March 1993, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced a forestry review group to consider options for ownership and management of Forestry Commission land. In England, there are about 700,000 acres of Forestry Commission land ; in Wales, there are 350, 000, and in Scotland, 1,830,000, representing about 10 per cent. of Scotland's land area. Fifty million visitors a year enjoy the freedom to roam in these lands, but, over the past 12 years during which Forestry Commission land has been sold, it appears that access agreements have become largely ignored.
Many new owners believe that private ownership and public access are incompatible. Research undertaken by the Ramblers Association this year showed that only 14 per cent. of new owners observed the commission's freedom-to-roam policy. One hundred and seventy-five councils throughout the United Kingdom have called on the Government not to jeopardise access any further. If the Government really claim to listen to the voice of local democracy, this must surely be a deafening condemnation of present policy.
One of the greatest problems we have faced is the secrecy surrounding the operations of the review group. Certainly, consultations were requested, and many submissions were made, but even now the Scottish Office, which is responsible for Forestry Commission land, is retaining the final document so that it can make its own recommendations in due course--perhaps in a few months' time. Is it therefore any wonder that there is some scepticism about the deliberations of the review group, given the contradictory statements that have emerged ?
On 3 April 1992, the Prime Minister said :
"There is no intention to privatise the Forestry Commission." That sentence was later said to have been written in the heat of election battles. This strange situation was exacerbated when the Secretary of State for the Environment said :
"Although there would be hurdles to overcome, the key benefits are that it would raise money and get the forestry estate out of public hands."
We know, of course, that a further 100,000 hectares of public land are to be disposed of by the year 2000. That seems to show that there is a clear lack of open debate, a failure to define clear policy and a clear contradiction of the Scottish Office paper of May 1992, which emphasised on page 14 the freedom to roam as part of green rights and responsibilities. Any move to sell further Forestry Commission land and the non-definition of genuine access agreements would be a monumental denial of that freedom to roam.
The continuation--and, indeed, the expansion--of the Forestry Commission is vital both for the industry and for access. It may be useful to remind the House that the percentage of forests that are publicly owned in Canada is 90 per cent., in the United States of America and France it is 28 per cent., and in Germany it is 58 per cent.
I and my party support the continued public ownership of Forestry Commission land in the light of its importance to our economy. Four million visitors to Scotland each year inject £400 million into the Scottish economy.
The third aspect is the continuing investigation by Scottish Natural Heritage into the issue of access. It was recorded in The Scotsman on 10 March that, in a recent letter, the chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, Sir Magnus Magnusson, apparently warned the Secretary of State for Scotland against aggravated trespass, but, at the
Column 139same time, said that it would be difficult to balance all interests. There is a fear that that means that there will be a bias towards landowners.
My fear, and the fear of my colleagues who support the legislation, is that a sensible approach will be lost. The Bill seeks co-operation, not confrontation. I have studied examples in other European nations of the codification of the obligations and responsibilities of landowners and those who seek access. In all those examples, particularly those in Scandinavia, a common-sense code has been established. Everyone knows and respects one another's rights--that is what I want my Bill to achieve.
I am aware that, in my constituency, many landowners have a responsible attitude towards access to land, but many fears are caused by the fact that tracts of our land are being bought by faceless bureaucrats and conglomerates who have no interest in enabling and encouraging access to land. That is particularly important at a time when many people require access to leisure facilities.
People and the land are national partners. Let us prevent separation or divorce, and build a lasting, respectful mutually beneficial relationship.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Cynog Dafis, Mr. Robert Hicks, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Elliot Morley, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. Eddie McGrady, Mr. Alex Salmond, Mr. Paddy Tipping, Mr. A. Cecil Walker, Mr. Andrew Welsh.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing accordingly presented a Bill to provide for codification of law to ensure public access to the countryside and to define obligations and responsibilities for the public and landowners alike ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 22 April 1994, and to be printed. [Bill 78.]
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance. I have heard today that my local authority, Labour-controlled Waltham Forest, is about to be investigated for maladministration by the ombudsman. Has a member of the Government made a request to make a statement on that matter ?
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
That the Coal Industry Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, New Clauses, Amendments relating to Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 12, Schedule 2, Clauses 13 to 15, Schedule 3, Clauses 16 to 21, Schedule 4, Clause 22, Schedule 5, Clauses 23 to 43, Schedule 6, Clauses 44 to 49, Schedule 7, Clauses 50 to 52, Schedule 8, Clauses 53 to 65, Schedules 9, 10 and 11, Clause 66, New Schedules.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
.--(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, designate any other mining museum as a "designated mining museum" for the purposes of this section provided that there shall be only one designated mining museum within each coalfield area. (3) Each designated mining museum 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 any 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 the designated mining museum for 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, artefacts, etc., as they become obsolete, to the designated mining museum for 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.'.-- [Mr. Hinchliffe.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
4A. In preparing restructuring schemes for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the Corporation, the Secretary of State shall take into account the operational requirements of those mining museums, designated under section ( Mining museums ) of this Act, which include underground areas open to the public.'. No. 11, in clause 28, page 23, line 47, at end insert
(8A) Conditions included in a licence under this Part may provide for the provision of rescue and maintenance services to mining museums designated under section ( Mining museums ) of this Act.'.
Column 141No. 12, in clause 55, page 50, line 26, at end insert
and which will provide sufficient cover for any mining museums designated under section ( Mining museums ) of this Act.'.
Mr. Hinchliffe : It shows the impact of Government policy on the coal industry that, in moving the new clause, I am, as a representative of Wakefield, primarily concerned with the future of a museum. My constituency has a proud history of coal that goes back hundreds of years. Vast numbers of people have been employed in the coal industry. Sadly, during the present Government's time in power, all our pits have been wiped out, and we are left simply with a museum. Some 20,000 miners and people with mining -related work have lost their jobs since 1979 in the Wakefield district. Our mining engineering industry is struggling to survive because of the impact of Government policy on the coal industry.
The purpose of new clause 1 is to ensure the continued operation of a number of mining museums, including the Yorkshire mining museum that was established in my constituency at Overton in 1982 on the site of the former Caphouse colliery. Since its opening in 1988, that museum has attracted more than half a million visitors, about half of whom have been children. It receives about 80,000 visitors a year, about 20,000 of whom are in organised school parties. I stress the importance of the museum's work in the education of children and young people from various parts of the country, including many districts where there is no experience of the coal industry. Fifty people are currently employed at the Yorkshire mining museum, which is obviously a major employer in my constituency. A number of those employees are former miners who have been made redundant. As well as offering--as you are well aware, Madam Speaker, having been to the establishment--underground experience with underground tours and a realistic picture of the working life of miners, the museum has offered a range of exhibitions over a number of years, including exhibitions on mine lighting.
Recently, there was an exhibition on the Bevin boys which was opened by the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat). Another exhibition on mining art is currently proposed. You, Madam Speaker, will recall the exhibition on the 1842 legislation that took women and children out of work in the mines.
On a personal note, I was proud to take my two children to look at the exhibition. I am proud of the fact that I come from a mining family of many generations of Yorkshire miners. My great grandfather worked, as a 10-year- old boy, in the pit at Silkstone near Barnsley when the Husker disaster occurred and 28 children died. That disaster led to the 1842 legislation that ended the involvement of children and women in the mines. My great grandfather would have known many of the 28 children who lost their lives in that disaster, which was crucial because it led to an important change in history. As you, Madam Speaker, will be aware, there are other ancient exhibits at the museum, including a unique picture of the Featherstone Rovers under-17 Rugby League team that won the Yorkshire cup in 1946. That unique picture featured Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse)--one of many reasons for us to ensure the future of the important museum. I shall describe some of the background to the new clause. The Yorkshire mining museum, the Big Pit museum in south Wales, the Scottish mining museum and
Column 142the Chatterley Whitfield mining museum in Stoke-on-Trent were set up in the 1980s to preserve the mining heritage of the nation. The first two mines and the Chatterley Whitfield museum have been the only places where visitors can go underground and experience the reality of coal mining. Last year, the Chatterley Whitfield museum was taken into receivership, and it has subsequently closed.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : Is my hon. Friend aware that Chatterley Whitfield is in receivership and that, at the eleventh hour, we are trying to save the entire national collection ? Local contributions have been made to Chatterley Whitfield, underlining how important it is that we should retain the mining museum.
Mr. Hinchliffe : We all support the efforts of my hon. Friend and local people in her constituency to ensure that the collection is retained for public exhibition. Since that museum closed, there are only two mining museums where people can take underground tours and see the background of the mining industry. It is important to ensure that that experience is available to future generations.
We are worried that the Bill will result in the existing museums no longer being able to survive. I want briefly to set out why that is the case, and why new clause 1 is particularly important.
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : Has my hon. Friend considered the significance of the mining museums as tourist attractions ? As local authorities, particularly Wakefield and Huddersfield, now have to rely more on tourism, will my hon. Friend dwell on the importance of the mining museums in attracting tourism into areas that are not usually designated as tourist areas ?
Mr. Hinchliffe : My hon. Friend speaks with unique experience, as he was a miner for many years. In Wakefield, we are increasingly looking to tourism to create jobs and increase employment opportunities.
Near the mining museum at Overton is the Yorkshire sculpture park at Bretton, which also offers an important tourist facility and attracts thousands of people from many parts of the country. Returning to our concern about the future of the Yorkshire mining museum and others, when that museum was established in 1982, the then National Coal Board promised that, although it could not supply cash to the project, it would give all possible help to the setting up and operation of the museum in the form of technical assistance and the provision of equipment and machinery.
The Yorkshire mining museum opened to the public in 1988, with investment from local authorities in West Yorkshire, the European Union, sponsors and various Government bodies totalling some £4.5 million. Since then, it has received help from British Coal for such items as rope testing, testing suspension gear and analysing air samples--important features in offering visitors the experience of a working pit. If the museum has to buy those items and services on the open market, it will have to pay some £100,000 each year--money it simply does not have. The Big Pit mining museum in Wales is in a similar position.
The new clause provides that the coal authority should provide or secure the necessary maintenance and other services to enable the designated mining museums to continue, and that the Secretary of State should take into
Column 143account the operational requirements of mining museums with underground areas open to the public in preparing the restructuring schemes for the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the corporation.
The Yorkshire mining museum is the museum for the Yorkshire coalfield and has an obligation to collect historical mining items and a representative selection of machinery and equipment used in the coalfield up to and including the present day.
At present, the museum receives from British Coal all items of historical interest found in Yorkshire from deep mining and opencasting, and obsolete machinery as it goes out of use. Those items are supplied to the museum free of charge. The museum estimates that it would cost a further £60,000 a year to acquire such items second-hand from licensed mines. That is also the case for the Big Pit mining museum and the Scottish mining museum, which collect material from their respective areas.
New clause 1 requires that any historical artefacts found during mining operations should pass to the Coal Authority, which will offer them to the designated mining museum for the area, and that licensees of collieries should be required to offer equipment, machinery, tools and other artefacts to the designated mining museum for the area once those items become obsolete.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : Although the Rhondda valley has no designated mining museum, it has a heritage park which fulfils exactly the same function as the Big Pit museum, except that it has no underground facility. Might it not be a little restrictive simply to pass all artefacts and historical items to the one designated museum ? As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) pointed out, facilities such as the heritage park are extremely important to the development of the local tourist industry.
Mr. Hinchliffe : I take my hon. Friend's point, and I would expect the Big Pit mining museum in south Wales to take account of it : it is entirely reasonable. I know of other facilities that might wish to use exhibits that--under the new clause--would be passed to, for instance, the Yorkshire mining museum ; I do not think it unreasonable for the various bodies to agree at local level on who can make the most effective use of the exhibits involved. If the help required in the new clause is not forthcoming, the mining museums will be in grave danger of being unable to fulfil their obligation to collect, preserve and display material that illustrates the development of an exceptionally important aspect of the history of our nation, and of constituencies such as mine. In view of the heavy financial cost of running a museum with an underground section open to the public, there is clearly a danger that the Yorkshire and Big Pit mining museums will not be able to survive much longer. Without them, there would be nowhere for people to be shown the history of coal mining in the environment in which it was practised, and to appreciate at first hand exactly what working underground was like for coal miners.
The sums involved in securing the future of the three mining museums are minute in comparison with the overall costs of the privatisation of British Coal. If the museums are forced to close, we shall have lost for ever a vital part of our natural heritage, which cannot be restored in the future. I hope that the Minister will listen to those who support the new clause-- not just Opposition
Column 144Members but members of his own party, including those in the other place who have actively supported the preservation of the Yorkshire and other mining museums. I hope that he will accept the new clause.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : I, too, support new clause 1, to which I have attached my name. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) has said. Although I have visited neither the Big Pit mining museum in Wales nor the Scottish mining museum, I have visited Caphouse colliery--the site of the Yorkshire mining museum--a couple of times as a tourist, and, on a more serious visit, discussed its future with Dr. Faull.
The museum is a wonderful example of a working colliery, and a very good example of our industrial heritage. It has educational facilities, and--as we have heard--many schools visit the museum and use those facilities. In future, this will be the only way in which they can see how the coal industry has progressed over many years. I, too, have seen the picture featuring Mr. Deputy Speaker ; I am sure that it is one of the museum's prize possessions. I am not sure whether my hon. Friends the Ministers have visited the museum, but I know that our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage has done so, and was extremely impressed by what he saw. The maintenance of the fabric of the mine itself is essential to its future : clearly, no one can be taken so far underground without the existence of the proper health and safety provisions that would obtain in a normal mine. Those provisions must be closely monitored and checked.
Mining museums have always been recognised as a welcome addition to our industrial heritage, and should be available for young people, not only now but in future. In one respect, I am wholly at odds with the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, which was passed on 10 August and which prohibited females and boys under 10 from working down the mines. I am not suggesting that children should work down the mines, but they should be allowed to visit.
During my most recent visit at the new year, very small children were enthralled at being taken on such a visit. They scrabbled about in the dirt and, although they were tiny, they asked lots of questions. If the museums were to disappear, we shouldhave lost a great part of our industrial heritage which we, especially in the north of England, treasure greatly.
The museum is not resting on its laurels and asking for money. It raises much of its own finance and is very well run. It has a well-managed cafeteria which brings in money. However, the museum will continue to need support, support that I believe the Coal Authority or the Department of National Heritage should be able to give. I look forward to hearing what my Front-Bench colleagues have to say.
Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) : The Scottish mining museum, which is worth visiting, is in my constituency, based at the old Lady Victoria colliery. It is a living museum, in that it contains exhibits showing life in the village in the 1920s and even some about the old coal owner, Mungo MacKay, who was a rather dominating character. He was also a very fine mining engineer and many of the exhibits are unique. It has one of the largest
Column 145steam winders in existence. It wound the hatches and the coal up to the surface in a circular shaft. In other words, this was engineering way ahead of its time.
The same mining engineer and company had the use of arched girders, way before anyone else, and tubular steel props. From an engineering point of view, and in respect of cutting coal, the colliery was ahead of its time. The model village built at Newtongrange is still in existence. After a great deal of renovation, many of the houses have become desirable, and are attracting people to the village. The museum is part and parcel of our heritage. I worked at the colliery across the road--the Lingerwood colliery --which belonged to the same company. We were far better producers of coal than the Lady Victoria--that is obvious, as I was working there. Seriously, last year the museum had 13,000 visitors, an increase of 20 per cent. on the previous year. Bearing in mind the fact that it opens only between April and September, and the fact that we are hoping for a further 20 per cent. increase this year, it is clear that it is part of the heritage trail in and around the city of Edinburgh. I am very proud of the people who run the museum, who are bringing in more money all the time. They plead with the Government to accept new clause 1 which I support whole-heartedly. I also congratulate those who tabled it. People who work in such museums argue that they need to be provided with more equipment, and their plea is taken up in the new clause.
Any new mining company that comes across old mining machinery should ask the mining museums whether they would like to inherit it at no cost. Such machinery should be excavated rather than scrapped or melted down, which would be criminal. At the moment, British Coal hands over a considerable amount of surplus machinery. It does not want that to be lost.
The new clause is not asking very much of the Government. It protects our history. I agree with the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) that some of the young children who visit the museums have not even seen a piece of coal and have no idea what one looks like--which includes people in my community. The museums are an important educational facility, which enable children to see for themselves how the wealth of the nation was built and especially to congratulate the men and women who studied hard and put in a lot of effort to ensure that we had the resources to make the engines and other utilities function.
I throw my weight behind the new clause, and I hope that the Government take cognisance of it, because it is an important facet of the Bill. The people in those mining museums are not only paid for but dedicated to managing the resources which are given to them ; they, as well as the museums themselves, should be supported.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South) : I ought to declare an interest, as I am a trustee of the Yorkshire mining museum. However, it is an unpaid position, since to be a trustee is voluntary. I am a trustee because I have been associated with the museum since it began. The origins of the museum lay in the desire of many local people to see a museum that represented the Yorkshire coalfield area. While I was leader of West Yorkshire metropolitan county council, it considered one or two
Column 146mines that it knew were not to continue in existence as mines for much longer. It is on the basis of that research that the mine at Caphouse was selected to be a museum.
As my. hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) said, it was a long time between the conception of the Yorkshire mining museum in 1982 and its opening to the public in 1988. Part of the reason for that was the long dispute in the coalfields in 1984-85 ; the completion of mining at Caphouse took some time and the opening of the museum was, therefore, much delayed.
Great support developed for the formation of the museum. Not only West Yorkshire county council, but South Yorkshire county council and British Coal supported it and the area was one of the few in which, during that period, there was co-operation and support between British Coal and the National Union of Mineworkers, because the NUM was anxious to see a museum that represented the coal heritage that it had created in Yorkshire.
The Caphouse museum has fulfilled our expectations and our hopes. It has been superb. You have seen it yourself, Madam Speaker. The Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage has visited the museum and has spoken of its high quality. It has won national awards for the quality of its work, which has been provided with help from the local authorities and the European Community, and we all wish to see it remain in existence.
I recognise that, in debating the new clause, we are not dealing with the mainstream points of the Bill, but we are dealing with an unintended possible effect of the legislation. We must make some provision for the service that the Coal Board is making available to three mining museums. We must ensure that there is help available. When I spoke to the Under- Secretary of State on the subject, he referred me to the Minister for Energy and said that it was a matter which needed to be dealt with on Report.
I shall illustrate British Coal's present important role by reading from a letter written by the director of the mining museum, Dr. Margaret Faull, who has directed the museum from its inception and is responsible for the good things that have been created there. In that letter, which was written to the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage following his visit, Dr. Faull spelt out clearly the provision that British Coal now makes :
"At present British Coal supplies the Museum with up-to-date equipment for inclusion in the Museum collections and for display to the public as examples of state of the art mining machinery ; we do not pay anything for these items, nor for the cost of transporting what are often very large items to the Museum. British Coal also supplies the Museum with a wide range of services and equipment for use in the running of the Museum, again at no charge. Some of the equipment which has recently been supplied includes fencing, electrical cabling, environmental monitoring and statutory inspections. The services cover a variety of types, including for example, assistance underground when there have been maintenance problems. Throughout the time that the Museum has been open, all design work and costings for new buildings and for major repairs or conversions to existing buildings have been carried out by British Coal free of charge, together with the letting of tenders, overseeing the contracts and authorising payments. We estimate that the amount which we would have to find to pay for all these services and equipment would be in the region of £80,000 -£100,000 a year, and we have no moneys in our already tight budgets to cover this amount." When we were setting up the museum, British Coal said that it could not afford to put any money into it. We accepted that, but the House will realise from the letter that I have quoted that British Coal is none the less at the centre
Column 147of maintaining the museum. It also has places on the board of trustees, so that its interests can be expressed and taken into account.
If there is no substitute for the provision that British Coal makes, it is highly unlikely that the museum will survive far into the future. Yet, as my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield and for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) have already said, it is a vital tourist attraction for Yorkshire. It is well supported by Wakefield metropolitan district council, but I do not believe that the council could bear that burden alone.
I know that certain agreements on safety are likely to be made. When other mines in the area were closed there was a danger of flooding, which could have affected the museum. That has had to be taken into account, and there have had to be safeguards to ensure that the mine can remain open to the public--one cannot put the public at risk. It would all be included on the face of the Bill if we accepted the new clause and the amendments.
The three museums--I know the one in Yorkshire best--are part of our national heritage. We have been forced to witness the rundown of the mining of deep coal, and we think it important to ensure that we do not also lose the heritage that the museums represent and preserve. I urge the Minister to accept that the cost of the amendments to the authority would be minimal in comparison with overall costs, and a vital part of the culture and heritage of Yorkshire and other areas would be preserved.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : This is the first subject in our proceedings, so is ironic that we are discussing museums, when the Government are doing their level best to consign coal to history. The new clause, which I strongly support, insists on private mine owners and the Coal Authority being obliged to support the museums. Effectively, they piggybacked on British Coal in the past. Like Wakefield, which has been eloquently described by my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell), Big Pit in Blaenafon in south Wales has extensive underground workings and is hugely dependent--it has been for many years--on British Coal. The absence of British Coal has meant the loss of a source of artefacts for display in the mining museum and the loss of a vital source of spare replacement parts for working machinery for the museum, much of whose equipment is now obsolete and unsupported by the original manufacturers. There has also been a loss of the reservoir of technical expertise, particularly on health and safety matters, where British Coal's recommended practices are accepted by the inspectorate as having virtually the force of law. 4.15 pm
Another loss has been that of the repair, maintenance and testing facilities for a whole range of colliery equipment and requirements, such as air sampling, which have been provided free of charge by British Coal in many museums, especially in Yorkshire. Although there has been a small charge at Big Pit in Blaenafon, it has benefited from economies of scale such as shared transport costs with other local collieries.
Our argument is that the museums are effectively supported by local British Coal pits. Without that support, they would be unable to function. The Yorkshire mining museum in Wakefield has estimated that the additional cost
Column 148that would fall on it once British Coal has withdrawn from the scene would be some £80,000. Blaenafon tells me, through my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), that that is an underestimate ; it has found additional costs of more than £100,000 as all the mines in south Wales, with the exception of Tower, have closed.
Although the Scottish mining museum and museums such as Cefn Coed in the Dulais valley in my constituency and the Rhondda heritage park in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) do not have underground facilities, they still rely on British Coal for the sort of support in other respects that I have described.
It is no good the Government's saying that the burden should fall on local authorities. In many mining communities, the local authorities are hard pressed and operating on the edge of viability. I hope that the Government, who showed a Scrooge-like approach towards accepting any amendments moved by my hon. Friends in Committee--and, undoubtedly, they will be the same later--will at least accept new clause 1. It would be a sad epitaph to the Government's philistinism if not only coal was destroyed but a vital part of our heritage and culture of which we are extremely proud in south Wales.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : In addition to mining museums, will my hon. Friend acknowledge that another major part of our heritage is mining records, and another act of vandalism is the way in which mining records have been taken out of the community and deposited centrally ? Access to mining records is becoming more difficult.