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Amendments made : No. 38, in page 83, line 20, after transfer' insert
(aa) the predecessor ceases, by virtue of any provisions of a restructuring scheme coming into force at the same time as the transfer, to carry on any trade or part of a trade which is not transferred to the transferee,'.
No. 39, in page 83, line 23, after continued' insert
or ceases to be carried on by the predecessor'.-- [Mr. Eggar.]
( ) The Secretary of State may at any time before the restructuring date make a scheme for the transfer of property rights and liabilities from the Corporation to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation or a body or person to which its functions have been transferred under Section 12(3) of the Miners' Welfare Act 1952.
( ) A scheme made under subsection (4) above may only provide for the transfer of land in the freehold possession of the Corporation and associated property where :
(a) the land and any buildings thereon are leased to a Miners' Welfare, Charity or Friendly Society in pursuit of their charitable objectives ; or
(b) the land and any buildings thereon have been consistently used for the pursuit of Miners' Welfare objectives during the past five years, regardless of whether or not any rent has been paid or demanded ; or
(c) the land and any buildings thereon have been used for purposes which accord closely with the social, recreational, educational and cultural objectives of the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation.
( ) Where a Miners' Welfare Charity or Friendly Society is unable to maintain recreational facilities it owns, either by freehold or leasehold, a local authority may agree to accept responsibility for maintenance of these facilities.
( ) Where a local authority considers whether to exercise its powers under subsection (6) of this section, it may apply to the Secretary of State for an increase in its standard spending assessment to cover the maintenance costs for a period not exceeding five years.'.
( ) The charitable aims of the successor body to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation established under subsection (3) of Section 12 of the 1952 Miners' Welfare Act shall incorporate the charitable aims of that Organisation.
( ) The Charity Commissioners shall have due regard to subsection (4) of this section when determining the allocation of residual funds left after the winding up of Miners' Welfare Trusts and Charities.'.
Mr. O'Neill : We now come to one of the aspects of our coal heritage. In the previous debate, the Minister queried the uniqueness of the coal industry. I do not want to labour that point, but some areas are not only scarred by the extraction of coal, but have many attractive features that exist largely as the creation of the coal industry, and especially of the coal miners. I think of the sports facilities, the welfare halls and the health facilities that have grown up as a consequence of the miners' aspirations and recognition of what ought to be reasonable social provisions in a civilised community.
Those of us who represent mining communities and former mining communities know of a variety of such facilities. We also know of the valuable work that is carried out by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. This work extends to the provision of counselling and assistance for elderly and retired miners and support for injured miners. People injured in pit accidents in Yorkshire, for example, may be provided with special orthopaedic facilities. In all these fields, the miners themselves have been the main source of inspiration for developments and, in large measure, the sources of finance.
To an extent, this has been recognised. There have been protracted negotiations with the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. I shall hereafter refer to that organisation as CISWO, pronounced with a "S", in the certain knowledge that the next hon. Member to speak will pronounce the name with a "K". If we can agree to differ on that pronunciation, if on nothing else, I shall be more than satisfied. 7 pm
As a consequence of the strength of the argument put forward by the trustees of CISWO and the organisation's chief executive, Alan Vernon Jones, the Minister has gone some way towards meeting their case, although not as far as we should have liked. We recognise that there may very well be further work to be done in this area.
One of our concerns is that there is a gap between what has been promised by the Government to cover the current levels of expenditure and the cost of perceived requirements and that this gap may well be filled by the sale of some facilities. People assume that, in the main, welfare organisations have facilities that could be described, at worst, as drinking dens and, at best, as village social centres. It is true that, in some cases, the sales of alcoholic beverages are no longer sufficiently high to sustain social facilities. A number of difficulties have therefore arisen. In my own constituency, indeed, clubs have experienced problems.
It may well be that, in the face of these difficulties, it will be necessary to sell off some properties. What we do not want, and what these two amendments seek to guard against, is undue pressure on CISWO to dispose of properties that are of considerable value. Local authorities--in particular, those in Nottinghamshire--have identified the importance of the contribution made by CISWO facilities to the general sporting life of counties. In Nottinghamshire, provision extends far beyond football pitches to cricket grounds and so on. I do not wish, as a Scotsman, to intrude on the private grief of the English about cricket, so I shall refer to the fact that, in Scotland, one of East Lothian's premier golf courses-- hitherto called the Royal Musselburgh--is now
Column 334owned by CISWO. This links course, which is not very far from Muirfield, has been supported substantially by CISWO over the years. My recollection is that it is not too far from the home of a Mr. Cowan, who is the chairman of the board of trustees of one of the coal industry pension funds. I believe that Mr. Cowan makes use of it. As this is being recorded in Hansard , I had better be careful, although I am covered by parliamentary privilege. In every part of the United Kingdom, there are sporting facilities that exist because of mining communities' support. I have spoken about England and about Scotland, and I am sure that in Wales there are rugby clubs that have benefited from such sponsorship and support.
We want to make clear our recognition that some properties may have to be disposed of as they are no longer useful. However, a number of facilities are of considerable use, and are of great significance to communities. Their future must not be jeopardised by what we consider inadequate financial arrangements between CISWO and the Minister. We are not complaining that the Minister is being tight-fisted. We are probably aware of the role of the Treasury in these matters. Indeed, the Minister has travelled a considerable distance from a somewhat unrealistic starting point. But he must go further.
The assets of social welfare organisations across the country should not necessarily be plundered to make up a financial shortfall. These facilities are part of the country's legacy. They are a manifestation of the vision of the men who worked in the coal industry and wanted a better life for their communities. In the absence of state funding and of a local government commitment, they made provision on their own behalf.
They did so by building welfare halls, which became community centres, where meals on wheels are served and where
mother-and-toddler groups meet. In some instances, basic health services are provided on a collective basis at these locations. Such facilities are important--indeed, vital. They are part of the fabric of the community.
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend may recall that, in the course of the debate, there has been mention of St. John Ambulance, and of that organisation's important contribution in some areas. I understand that it is assisted and accommodated by CISWO. Will my hon. Friend suggest to the Minister also the importance of maintaining the collieries' musical tradition, which is demonstrated not least by fine brass bands ?
Every part of the British coal industry has sought to identify areas of need and has itself made provision. The passage of time has in some respects reduced need, but in certain areas CISWO has sought to make provision that ought to have been made by the community as a whole.
Mr. Hain : My hon. Friend has referred to the funding gap. Can he confirm that CISWO's current budget is about £2.5 million and that, even with the Minister's concessions, given in Committee--the trust fund and the £1 million a year for five years, about whose source we are still uncertain--we arrive at £1.4 million ? In other words, there is a funding gap of more than £1 million.
Mr. O'Neill : It was my intention to finish on this point. I agree with my hon. Friend, although the position is actually worse than he has described. The financial and management arrangements of a number of organisations are at least overseen by CISWO at national level. In accounting terms, that can be an inestimable contribution. Not only are auditors' and bookkeepers' fees met and their needs provided for, but there is also a steady hand on the tiller. Thus, organisations are able to go forward. Many of the people who run these self-help bodies--that is, in effect, what they are--do not have the financial skills to enable them to handle today's problems. This is a very important issue, which goes to the heart of our concerns about sustaining coalfield communities. We can expect to hear, during the course of the debate, of a number of examples right across the British coal field. Facilities must not be put under the hammer to meet the funding gap, which has been identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) and which will, I am sure, be underlined by other hon. Members.
The discussions between the trustees of CISWO and the Minister should not be regarded as the end of the road. We want to see the pressure maintained so that even better terms and conditions may be secured. At this stage, we wish to put down markers about the seriousness of the problem as we see it and to bring home to Conservative Members, some of whom, I am sure, will echo our concerns, the major contribution of the social welfare organisation and its myriad facilities to coalfield communities, former and present. We do not wish to see this jeopardised as a result of a shortfall of several hundred thousand pounds per annum.
Mrs. Peacock : Let me begin with an apology. It was rather remiss of me yesterday not to place on record my interest in the coal industry. That original interest is some 18 months old. My more recent interest, which must be registered, is very well documented ; because it is so well documented, and often commented on, I did not mention it initially. I wish to put that right now.
I welcome the funds already proposed for CISWO. When I visited its establishment in the constituency of the Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), I was very impressed by all the facilities that it provided. Those facilities are available not only to miners, but to their families. Some of our larger industrial companies provide sports facilities in a similar way, including some in my constituency.
I appreciate, however, that, despite the funds that have been announced, there will be a gap. Having seen many of the sports facilities, I feel that it would be a great shame if some of them had to be sold off to plug that gap. Many of my colleagues will say that the cost of such facilities should not be borne entirely by the businesses concerned ; that will clearly have to be discussed later. As well as sport and welfare facilities, CISWO provides brass bands. I am very partial to brass band music--although I should add that it is not provided only by colliery bands : in Yorkshire, we have some very good textile company bands, some of which are almost as famous as the colliery bands that may be cited by other hon. Members.
There is a more serious aspect of the matter. The pit has been the centre of many people's lives and work ; another important feature of their existence has been the surrounding welfare, social and sporting provision. The
Column 336working part of a number of those lives is going, or has gone. In some areas, the surrounding facilities are all that are left. Because the National Coal Board and, more recently, British Coal provided such good facilities, local authorities have not made similar provision in the areas involved. If all those facilities were lost, the authorities would have to start building them again. Surely, in the present climate--in which we encourage authorities not to spend too much--they should not be asked to undertake such expansion. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to add a little to what has already been decided. It is not clear yet where the extra £5 million a year will come from.
Mr. Ashton : I have represented a mining constituency for 25 years. One of my most stunning experiences was attending a widows' tea at Manton colliery two or three years ago. It was attended by 249 widows from a single pit area ; the youngest was about 28 and the oldest about 88. It was an astonishing experience.
Nothing brings home the true price of coal with more impact than attending a miners' welfare occasion of that kind. In such communities men die much younger than women, but the existence of a community spirit and welfare facilities means that no one forgets the widows. In the inner cities, pensioners are found three weeks after dying of hypothermia because they could not afford a bag of coal and there was no one to look after them. Pit villages--or towns, rather ; some towns in my constituency have populations of between 8,000 and 10,000--have an enormous, fantastic welfare facility.
The tradition continues. It centres on welfare provision, but there will also be a couple of football pitches, tennis courts, a bowling green and perhaps some pigeon fanciers in the neighbourhood ; the whole arrangement has been a tremendous crutch for people living in mining towns. Indeed, it has formed the bedrock of their existence. These people grew up together, went to school together, married women living on the next street and went down the welfare together on a Saturday night. Their grandmothers and grandads went for the bingo. Everyone knew everything.
The welfare is handed down from generation to generation. It provides pre- school playgroups and maternity clinics ; if the pit is closed, unemployed benefit is paid there, because the labour exchange--or, rather, the unemployment benefit exchange--may be eight miles away, and there may be only one bus an hour. The welfare centre is the focal point of the pit town or village, and its closure along with that of the pit would be a disaster.
Mr. Tipping : My hon. Friend has mentioned many sections of mining communities. I know that he has taken an interest in youth clubs in various pit villages. As pits close, we must find opportunities for young people ; welfare organisations provide such opportunities. Unless Nottinghamshire, for instance, receives more generous support in that regard, we may face real problems.
Mr. Ashton : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There have been other changes. At one time, everyone who lived in a pit town or village worked in the pit ; 20p, or 50p, was stopped from their wages each week to fund the whole business. Now, following requests for voluntary redundancies, the situation has changed. Until the recent closure of two faces at Harworth, in my constituency, it had 600
Column 337employees ; now, only about 40 people live in the town, and those who do not live there are not particularly interested. They will drive 10 miles to another pit village, and, because they may not contribute to the upkeep of the welfare organisation from their own wages, it starts to decline.
Fewer and fewer people use the bar facilities, because young people tend to go down to the discos in Doncaster or the nightclubs in Sheffield. There are still wonderful facilities for pensioners who want to play dominoes, but if the beer prices go up they cannot afford to go in. If the prices remain the same, the loan from the brewery cannot be paid off. It is a vicious circle.
We are not suggesting that everyone should have free beer, or even cheap beer. We are saying that these wonderful sporting and entertainment facilities must be preserved. My heart bleeds when I visit the site of Worksop colliery, which was closed about four years ago. The grass on the cricket pitch is now 2 ft high, the sport pavilions have been vandalised and gipsies have moved on to the site and parked their caravans. Because the pit no longer exists, there is no organisation to employ a groundsman. The council wants to maintain the facilities, but it has no cash : its standard spending assessment has not been increased to take account of the position.
CISWO is not just a one-off for each pit ; it is an organisation. The coalfield communities and local councils must get together, with the Minister's assistance, and form a co-operative--a
non-profit-making company that can do CISWO's work if necessary. A sports ground requires more than a tractor to cut the grass for half a day a week ; it needs a tractor to go around perhaps 10 more grounds in the area with special equipment. An area organisation is required, rather than individual action involving individual councils.
The Select Committee on National Heritage, of which I am a member, interviewed the east midlands sports council on Thursday. It is very concerned about this colossal waste of sporting facilities. In Nottingham, for instance, the kids at Hyson green are desperate for a playing field. They experience all the inner-city problems of drugs, car stealing, rent boys and vice while, just a few miles away, magnificent sports facilities are going to waste. That is crazy, in view of the unique heritage involved.
A long list of international footballers originated from the pit villages : even Barnsley could name a team of 11 who were born in the area, and probably played for England. We had cricketers such as Freddy Trueman and Larwood ; the whole culture of where they came from is simply vanishing. There are floodlit football pitches in my area, but the clubs cannot afford to switch the floodlights on. They have wonderful facilities, yet they cannot afford to run them. International cyclists, such as Tommy Simpson who wore the yellow jersey right across Europe and won the tour de France, came from mining villages. Those villages and towns are beginning to experience the inner-city problems of crime, stealing cars and vandalism. People would use up their energy working down the pit. When they came up at night, they were so tired that they had two or three pints of beer and a game of snooker before going to bed at 10 o'clock--after all, they had to get up at 6
Column 338o'clock in the morning. The sporting facilities that took up their strength and energy at weekends are being vandalised and are a disgrace to us.
The miners' welfare is the hub of the village, not just for the footballers and the kids ; it provides the pensioners' Christmas teas and chicken and the few quid they give them and day trips to the seaside in the summer. We are talking about the destruction not of a job but of a way of life and a culture that has continued for 100 years. We are asking the Government to accept the amendment because the coalfield communities want it. They are asking not for a handout, but for the continuation of an organisation that can bring together the facilities and continue the culture of mining areas.
Mr. Beith : If I have an interest to declare, it is simply that the Lynemouth miners' welfare institute allows me a room for my constituency surgery ; that is a useful facility. I ask the Government not to add to the disaster of pit closures the collapse of facilities in pit villages at a time when young people desperately need them.
I seek some greater assurance from the Government. They must give the mining and coalfield communities time to build up new sources of support for sporting facilities--not least from the companies that might take over pits and produce new jobs. We do not want to frighten companies off by giving them a shopping list, but we should approach them to see whether we can get support from them for facilities which in the past were supported by the coal industry and the miners themselves.
In the parts of Northumberland that were mining areas, sports fields, welfare institutes and other associated facilities, many of them well used, are developing partnerships with the local authorities. Castle Morpeth council, which covers Lynemouth, Ellington, Widdrington and Linton, has had to take on more responsibility for what in the past have been miners' welfare facilities ; the partnership is developing, but it is a painstaking and difficult process, particularly given that local authority resources are strained. We desperately need breathing space to develop more partnerships so that we do not lose the facilities. Sporting facilities are particularly important. We need to be able to offer them to the many youngsters who feel that there is nothing left in the village except crime or messing around on street corners and getting involved in vandalism and trouble. Sport is a constructive alternative activity and we ought to keep it available. As someone who was brought up on bands and who played in a brass band in an ex-mining village in my youth, I have the privilege of being the president of the Ellington colliery band. We are determined to keep the band in existence, whatever happens to the colliery in future. It provides a greatly valued community facility for all the events it attends, as do bands in all the mining areas.
Many extremely good bands are ex-colliery bands which grew up in the coal industry, but, because of the price of instruments, for example, some smaller communities will not find it easy to find the resources for that wonderful voluntary musical activity in which such high standards are achieved unless they continue to receive some support from the traditional mining industry welfare provisions. Those important social facilities are needed more than ever in communities where mining has either gone completely or is much reduced in terms of the numbers that
Column 339it employs. Quite a number of companies are already showing willingness to sponsor community activities in such areas. In my constituency, Alcan sponsors local activities, as do Northern Electric. Racal Decca, a company that does not even employ people locally, is now backing shore-based watersports in Amble. We hope to find other sources of business backing in future.
We ask the Government to give us time and to give us the opportunity to keep the existing facilities by ensuring that all that CISWO has built up does not disappear overnight because it does not have the funding to continue.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : I shall be brief as I know that time is limited. Like the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), I wish to declare an interest. Entered in "Who's Who" under my name is the fact that I am honorary president of the Fegg Hayes sports and social club, formerly the Fegg Hayes miners' welfare club. I want to draw to the attention of the House what happened to that club as an example of what could happen if our amendment is not accepted.
During yesterday's debate, we heard an impassioned plea from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
Ms Walley : My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) also made a valuable contribution ; I put that on record too. We heard an impassioned plea from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover who said that the coalfield communities are dying on their feet. In addition to all the waste and dereliction of disused mines, with people becoming unemployed and not being retrained because of lack of support from British Coal Enterprise, we face the further waste and disruption that will no doubt come to our communities if we do nothing about clubs such as Fegg Hayes, which was a miners' welfare club supported by CISWO.
Anybody who was born and brought up in a mining community knows only too well that the sports and welfare clubs are the heart of the community. We have heard about various clubs and sports facilities. We really cannot tolerate buildings and sports fields being left to die. I read with great interest that, in the Standing Committee--in which I did not participate-- the Minister made some concessions concerning the long-term future of CISWO, but they are not enough. Three years ago the Fegg Hayes miners' welfare, which is now the Fegg Hayes sports and social club, was about to go into liquidation. The trustees, even with the support of CISWO, could not keep that community centre going with all its facilities. At the eleventh hour they came to me, as the local Member of Parliament, to see whether there was some way in which it could be saved.
As I pointed out yesterday, company law overrides charity law. Only the Charity Commission stepping in at the eleventh hour and a brewery being prepared to come in and save it stopped the miners welfare club closing down. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength and it continues to be an important part of the local community. If the House does not accept the amendment, and if the Minister cannot give the House an assurance that there will be long-term funding, how can we be sure that similar facilities to those of Fegg Hayes will survive ? We certainly
Column 340need an audit so that we know where all the different sports and social clubs are. We urgently need co-operation between CISWO and local authorities and the coalfield communities to save the land and the buildings and to ensure that, instead of the waste and dereliction, those clubs have some future in the aftermath of the terrible effects of pit closures.
I hope that in his reply the Minister will take into account what happened in Fegg Hayes and give us an assurance that what happened there can happen elsewhere in the country too.
Mr. Redmond : I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being called. I apologise to the Minister for my previous remarks, which he stated lowered the standard of the debate. I was trying to fetch it down to your level.
I want to deal with two separate issues. The first concerns the paraplegic service in Pontefract, which does an excellent job, as did the Firbeck hospital and the convalescent homes. Better health treatment and the improvement in mining conditions mean that people are living longer. Miners retire a damn sight sooner and will, we hope, live a little longer. That shows that there is a need for convalescent homes where the lads and lasses can go to recuperate and enjoy themselves for a fortnight each year.
The amount of cash offered by the Minister for Energy is not enough. He is trying to lead us to believe that he is compassionate. If that is so, he will ensure that much more money is made available. Once we start to reduce the facilities available, it will be a downward spiral. There is a need for more money. Regrettably, he needs to argue with the Treasury to get that money.
My second point deals with the welfare organisations in mining villages. They are part of the mining heritage and of the culture in mining communities. The lads tossed money in and kept the local community alive when no one else was interested. They showed their foresight by attempting to provide facilities that would be used by all in the community. Regrettably, because of the decline of the coal industry in the past few years, the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation is in an embarrassing financial position.
The local authority in Doncaster has reached an agreement on maintenance and other matters with nine of the welfare organisations in Doncaster. It costs the authority about £250,000 to help maintain facilities and ensure that they remain available.
I do not have to tell the Minister that the Department of the Environment is seeking to bring about the demise of local government by placing cash restraints on local communities and local authorities. Given those restraints, there is no way in which local authorities can raise enough funds via the council tax to ensure that those facilities remain. There will, therefore, be a decline in the facilities available.
Already I have been approached by old age groups in Rossington, where the pit was closed by British Coal, although I hope that it will reopen. Because of the lack of
Column 341funds at the colliery, there is a proposal to charge groups that use facilities provided by the welfare organisations. We are not in the game of ensuring that people in the twilight years of their lives, who enjoy a little get together in the week and the facilities provided by the welfare organisations, should have to depend on charity. Charity does not exist any more. To be charitable, one must be able to afford to give to charity. There is, therefore, a problem.
I ask the Minister not to consider the short term, what the cash on offer does, and the market forces that the Government operate, but to consider the long-term needs of those communities. Will he ensure that if anything should happen as a result of CISWO being given charitable status--which it seeks--and having cash flow problems, local authorities will manage the facilities ? People in the mining communities raised the cash in the first place to provide facilities for future generations and the Minister is beholden to ensure that those facilities remain well into the next century.
Mr. Eggar : I think that I made it clear in Committee and when I wrote to hon. Members on both sides of the House that I fully recognise the important role of the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and other welfare organisations.
Sometimes we make a mistake when we identify CISWO with the welfare organisations, many of which are fiercely independent and rely only to a limited extent on the services provided by CISWO. Other organisations rely on it to a greater extent. It is one of the strengths of the social welfare system in coal mining communities that each region, and in many cases each village, has developed services, health facilities and buildings which are particularly appropriate for those villages and often very small communities. The House is aware of the announcement on funding that I made in Committee. It might be helpful if I report to the House a discussion that I had with many members of the CISWO council on 17 March. I do not think that I am misconstruing what they said to me when I say that they gave a cautious welcome to the idea of replacing CISWO with a charitable trust. The council has said that it will examine how it can make a contribution to securing the future of CISWO services by raising external funds--a point raised by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)--and recognises that a restructuring of CISWO assets may be necessary to make better use of the funds available within the structure and that it may also have to make administrative savings.
I am sure that the House will agree that, in the light of the CISWO response, the best way forward is a constructive dialogue. Its council members will keep in close touch with my officials during coming weeks and, if necessary, I shall meet them again.
Mr. Clapham : The formula involves an endowment of £10 million, followed by one of £5 million, to be made up of a payment of £1 million each year. Will the Minister confirm that that £1 million will come from the private sector once the industry is privatised ? Will he tell the House the mechanism that will be set up to ensure that private companies contribute ?
Column 342be conveyed and calculated. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned that it may be a royalty and that it will therefore be related to production, which has been one of difficulties with British Coal, I assure him that we are concerned about the sum and the delivery of that £1 million per year rather than about the mechanism. I assure him that the sum will be £1 million.
I do not think that I am misconstruing the attitude of the CISWO council when I say that it accepted the need for change. It would not be appropriate, therefore, to accept amendment No. 23, which locks CISWO and its successors into its current charitable aims, which the council would not want.
Amendment No. 22 relates to physical assets. Much has been made, understandably, of sporting facilities. I yield to no one in my belief in the importance of team sports. I can tell the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) that my preference is cricket rather than golf--not that golf is a team sport. I may add that part of the reason for recent developments in English cricket is that village cricket does not play as large a role in the life of this country as it once did, which has shown through in the quality of county and English cricket.
The amendment calls for the transfer of assets to CISWO. Most of the sports facilities are organised not by that body but by local welfares, many of which would be appalled at the prospect of their facilities being run by CISWO, centrally or regionally. The amendment refers also to freehold land and properties, but much of it is held on long leases.
I acknowledge the importance to local communities of identifying land holdings. Many are not entirely sure of the basis on which they hold land-- whether it has been gifted to them by British Coal, a lease exists, or a rental agreement existed that has not been maintained. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) nods, so obviously she has experienced that with her own welfares. I asked British Coal to identify the land which it believes it owns and which is currently used for coal industry social welfare purposes, including recreation. We shall make decisions on the disposal of the land identified, who should receive the benefit of the use of that land and any safeguards required.
A point that arises from the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) is that some land is no longer actively used for recreational purposes, and is unlikely to be so used in future--because of a shift in the population or other reasons. We must be careful not to build in a totally inflexible system because some land--particularly that not used for some time--could readily be used by the community in other ways. It could be put back to recreational use, developed and so on.
I want to be sensitive to local needs on the basis of the best local information that I can obtain. As I made clear in Committee, I am wary of imposing from the centre a series of rules that, although they make sense in theory, do not work in practice locally. Several hon. Members rose
Column 343because of population movement. If the Minister will give an assurance that discussions will take place before the Bill returns from another place, I will withdraw the amendment in the hope of reaching agreement.
Mr. Eggar : I explained that we asked British Coal to draw up a list of assets. We have powers under the Bill to safeguard the use of land, where we are clear that British Coal owns it. I am confident that we can reach a series of arrangements without laying down hard-and-fast rules in legislation.