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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Will the Minister clear up a point that worries all of us? Some valuable land currently being used mainly for recreational and sporting purposes has come out of the ribs of the miners and off the shovel in years gone by. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) said, that is where the wealth was created. We want an assurance from the Minister that, by passing this order or any other such order, none of that land will be sold off for development, or by some speculator to make some money for whoever wants to develop it, and that the land will remain for recreation and sporting purposes, because the miners in the area provided it for that reason. We want a guarantee.
Mr. Page: The order provides that CISWO recreational land will remain CISWO recreational land. CISWO will discuss the best way forward with the National Playing Fields Association and British Coal, and they must agree any changes in the use of the land. So the matter is entirely in the hands of CISWO. It has the authority and control, and this is the best way for it to proceed.
Mr. Rogers: The Minister is being kind, but I am sure that he will recognise our general fears. Many of the grounds, certainly in the south Wales valleys, have been supported by local collieries that are now closed, and therefore the cost of maintenance has reverted to local welfare organisations or to CISWO itself. If no support is coming from British Coal funds to maintain those grounds, the pressure will be on, if the National Playing Fields Association cannot take them over, for them to be sold. We would like to see moneys put aside or made available so that they can stay in the ownership of the people who provided them.
Mr. Page: Although I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, I do not feel that it would be right for me--I do not
Column 791think that I have the power--to tie CISWO's hands in that way. It wants to be a living and growing organisation and it must decide the best way forward for the charity that we are establishing tonight.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he tell the House exactly who owns all those different tracts of land? Do they belong to CISWO, the Coal Board or, as has been suggested, the local miners, who may have paid over many years? If my hon. Friend does not have all the answers now to tell the House, perhaps he will write to me.
Mr. Page: I will have to write to my hon. Friend, because the ownership of the land, whether the leases involved were given to local authorities or to organisations at peppercorn rents, will be an immense puzzle to unravel. [Interruption.] No. We are not going to withdraw the order, because the order is at the request of and to the benefit of CISWO, and I would be surprised if any hon. Member tonight did not want to give CISWO the opportunity to go forward to become a charity and fulfil the original obligation that was wanted back in 1952.
Mr. Enright: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Page: No, I wish to make some progress.
The Government took careful note of the depth of support for existing services and arranged funding of some £17 million to secure the future of those core services for the disabled, the old and the infirm. The funding falls into two parts: £5 million taking the form of an annual payment of £1 million a year for five years from the new coal companies; and £12 million taking the form of capital endowments from British Coal.
There was also widespread concern on a separate but linked issue, which many hon. Members have raised--namely, recreational facilities. Ministers gave assurances that British Coal land currently in active use for sports and recreation will be retained for those purposes. That remains our position. I have said that before and say it again. CISWO and the NPFA are closely involved with our discussions with British Coal.
Why should CISWO move to a charitable trust? First, essentially, to improve flexibility. As a Companies Act company, CISWO presides over some 400 area trusts, miners' welfares and convalescent homes, each of which is a trust. Yet it does not enjoy the benefits of charitable status. The change of status increases the range of options for making the best use of resources in the system.
Secondly, CISWO will be looking to a wide range of sources of support and funding. As a charity, it will be well-placed to do that.
The directors of CISWO agreed, in a meeting on 15 February, to a supplemental trust deed. The trust will now be able to perform all the functions of CISWO Ltd. The supplemental deed also puts in place new arrangements for the governance of the CISWO trust.
In brief, there will be three groups of trustees: four will represent employers; four will represent employees; and there will be four general trustees, bringing experience and knowledge of the voluntary sector to the CISWO
Column 792trust. To ensure continuity in CISWO's strategic direction, four British Coal trustees and four trade union trustees will be appointed as employer and employee trustees.
The role of trustee places substantial obligations and responsibilities on individuals. That will be well appreciated by hon. Members with experience of the voluntary charitable sector. I can say that, having been an honorary treasurer of a national charity. People with knowledge of how charities work and how they best operate are valuable. Therefore, I am pleased that members of the CISWO council, who have guided and supported the activities of CISWO over the years, are prepared to continue their commitment and give their time and energy to the future development of the coal industry's social welfare.
Mr. Kevin Hughes: The Minister referred to four trustees from the employer, four from the employees and another four. Who will be appointing those other four?
Mr. Page: As I understand it, four will come from the trade unions, four from British Coal and four general trustees will bring additional expertise. We must recognise that CISWO is moving on and will require that extra support.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Page: No, I must bring my remarks to a close.
The charitable trust is therefore in place. The specific purpose of the draft order is to enable the transfer of the functions of CISWO Ltd. to that trust in accordance with section 12(3) of the Miners' Welfare Act 1952.
That section provides that if a resolution is passed or an order made for the winding up of CISWO Ltd., any functions of that organisation shall be transferred to such body or person as may be prescribed by an order made by the Secretary of State. Such a resolution was passed on 10 March and I ask hon. Members to support the decision made by CISWO council and trustees of the CISWO trust by affirming the draft order. I commend the draft order to the House. 10.36 pm
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan): I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity available to him to reply to the debate. I realise that he has already accepted several interventions, but we spent a fair amount of time on this issue during the passage of the Coal Industry Bill because we considered that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation played a significant part in the life of coal communities in a number of ways.
As has already been made clear, CISWO is significant because it was set up before the establishment of the welfare state. It started in 1920, partly with funding from management but largely on the basis of funding which came from the men who worked in the industry who, conscious of the inadequacy of the facilities that they had around them, felt it necessary to provide additional services not only for recreation but for the very basis of health and welfare in their communities.
It is therefore with a certain sense of regret and chagrin that we debate the order today. We recognise that, as the ownership of the coal industry has changed, so the basis of funding must change, as it must in so far as the price per tonne has fallen since the demise of the coal industry.
Column 793Twelve months ago the Government were singing from a rather different hymn sheet from the one that they are using tonight. When the Bill was in its embryonic stage, Opposition Members had a number of discussions with the trustees. The Minister for Energy and Industry met the trustees and it became abundantly clear that he had precious little understanding of the importance and significance of CISWO and its associated organisations' activities.
To some extent the Minister has moved, as he has been made aware of the social welfare organisation--the welfare clubs and the sports facilities. To an extent, we must recognise that that movement has meant that there has been an improvement in the funding of CISWO. We shall have to wait and see whether the improved method of funding will be sufficient to cover the continuing functions of the organisation.
The Minister has paid tribute to the extensive social welfare provisions which still exist. It would be wrong to assume that, because only about 10,000 men are now employed in the coal industry, there are only 10,000 potential beneficiaries; that figure could be multiplied 20 or 30 times, given the families and communities who have depended on the counselling, disablement assistance and grants which have constituted part of the fabric of coal-mining constituencies. It is important for the new funding arrangements to be clear, and for the best use to be made of the money.
The Government have made it clear that they are prepared to provide an endowment of £10 million, which will attract some £600,000 per annum in interest. The licensed operators have committed themselves to contributing £1 million per annum for five years. That will be done on the basis of some form of covenant. Will the Minister assure us that it will be as tax-efficient as possible, so that the nascent charity can benefit fully from the money that the new licensed operators will be required to contribute? I understand that the draft covenant still has some way to go before it can take best advantage of the appropriate tax breaks.
Mr. Enright: I hope that my hon. Friend will deal at some point with British Coal, which none of us trusts. It gave certain undertakings about Frickley colliery. People living in the area who were sold their very small cottages are now left without roads, lighting, cleaning or any other facilities, and we fear that British Coal will do exactly the same in regard to CISWO unless we know who is to appoint the four other trustees. The Minister was coy about that.
Mr. O'Neill: I hope that the Minister will deal with that point when he winds up the debate. I understand that the legislation must also go through the House of Lords, and that the procedure must be completed by 31 March, when there will be a further diminution of the role and responsibilities of British Coal.
I do not think that many Opposition Members--or, I imagine, many Conservative Members who take an interest in the coal industry--have much trust in, or affection for, the rump that constitutes the remainder of British Coal. It has failed to defend the industry and the communities; indeed, it has walked away from them. I am reluctant to say this, but it almost bears testimony to the
Column 794campaign that was waged by Opposition Members and the trustees of CISWO that the Minister was able to give CISWO some support. Indifference has been the hallmark of the commitment given by British Coal in the recent past.
We are concerned about the nature of the funds from the new licensed operators. We want to ensure that they are as tax-efficient as possible. We also want guarantees from the Government that if any of the licensed operators for any reason default on the payments that they are required to provide, adequate steps will be taken to ensure that the money is forthcoming. Already, in the three months since the change in the coal industry pension schemes, a number of the new, smaller operators--not the three licensed operators mentioned earlier--have reneged on their commitments to the miners' pension schemes. They are defaulting on their payments. We therefore require clear and express guarantees that the Government will undertake correct policing to ensure that the charity is able to expect the funds that the licensed operators have committed themselves to making available. One expects that that might be one of the first things that they would default on if they got into difficulty.
We are told that the threat of licence withdrawal will be the Coal Authority's greatest sanction against licensed operators, but we are concerned that they may not come up with the goods. It may be only £100,000, but such sums are critical to the funding of CISWO. We need guarantees that the back-sliding that has taken place in relation to pension scheme contributions will not take place in this context. Land is the other point that has exercised most hon. Members. We are talking here not about wee parcels of land dotted around the country, but about 1,000- acre areas, many of them located in prime sites in mining communities. Those sites could be used for industrial or housing developments, but they are desperately required to provide adequate social and welfare facilities.
The Minister was somewhat disingenuous in his replies. I understand that his officials have arrived at an agreement with CISWO that the terms of the leasing of land are cut and dried. The Under-Secretary of State and the Minister for Energy and Industry have yet to put their signatures to the agreement. What the Under-Secretary of State has said today is not good enough. He has not made his point in any threatening way, but he should recognise that Opposition Members know that they are up against the clock, that 31 March is the date by which this has to be signed, sealed and delivered, and that the statutory instrument must be agreed today so that it can go to the Lords and complete its passage.
We do not understand why the Minister is not prepared to go the extra yard to secure the agreement and to allay the anxieties of my colleagues and of many people engaged in sporting, welfare and recreational activities across the country. It would not take much. We want to know what is required and why he has yet to do it. The impression that we get is that it is somehow up to the welfares, but that is not the case: it is up to the Minister to come across. I take second place to few people in my appreciation of the distance that the Government have already travelled. At one stage, we expected the demise of the welfares and we were concerned about what would happen to the myriad activities for which they are responsible. It would be a shame and a disgrace if those
Column 795activities were denied to mining communities simply because of the inability or unwillingness of the Minister to get off his backside and to argue with his colleagues in Government to secure the last piece of the jigsaw and to get CISWO on a good footing.
The improvement in the deal is in large measure due to the work of the trustees. We are concerned to ensure that the people who will have the sizeable responsibility for taking care of a substantial amount of money and for myriad social working activities and other matters will be accepted and trusted by the mining communities. We should like a greater degree of frankness from the Minister as to who will appoint those people and what their credentials will be. We want to ensure that they will enjoy the trust of all people involved in mining. I doubt whether many people currently working at or associated with Hobart house and British Coal would be included in the list of the great and good from which the names will be taken. I doubt whether all the trade union organisations will enjoy the greatest degree of confidence across the spectrum of mining communities. I would certainly be concerned if there was not a truly representative group from the other element in this--the communities. People from the communities will be aware of, sympathetic to and enjoy the confidence of those communities.
At this late stage I want to mention what we have achieved. I use the word "we" because my colleagues on the Standing Committee, those who fought the Bill on the Floor of the House and all our colleagues in the trade union movement went a great distance to secure the compromises and advances embodied in the order and I should hate the ship to sink for the lack of a ha'porth of tar. This is important to the areas that many of us are privileged to represent, to those who have given their lives and to families who have given substantial parts of their weekly wage to ensure that there were common facilities in the communities. We want to ensure that that communitarian tradition will be sustained and that it is in the hands of people whom we know and trust. We want the Minister to assure us as to the manner of the financing and the way in which the guarantees will be established; we want an assurance that the land will be available to our people in perpetuity and that those who will have overall responsibility will be people whom we know and trust. 10.51 pm
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) referred to the Coal Industry Bill, which explored a number of important issues. There are three main issues that we need to clarify: first, funding; secondly, the suitable structure; and, thirdly, the leasing of the recreation land.
The Minister said that there would be four trustees from the union side, four from the management side and four other trustees to be appointed. I am sure that he is aware that previously there was always an even number of trustees from management, an even number from the union and a rotating chair, so things have changed. There may be, for example, a disagreement over land. The union trustees would be easily outvoted on that sort of issue. We are concerned that the situation has changed so radically and we hope that the Minister will elaborate on the arrangements for the trustees when he replies.
Column 796Another issue of concern is funding, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan referred. Funding is significant because of the important role that CISWO has played in mining communities. It does a great deal of work for disabled and sick people and for the disadvantaged generally.
The funding is insufficient. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan explained, over the first five years, there is £1.65 million. That is much less than previously. It means that many of the services that CISWO has offered in the past will no longer be provided. In the sixth year, things become even more dire. Between the sixth and ninth years, the amount per year will decrease from £1.65 million to £1.63 million. I understand that it has been suggested that the trustees should be able to raise £500,000 between the sixth and ninth years to augment the moneys from the annuity. At the same time, I understand that a special expenditure fund is to be drawn on, which will be exhausted by the 10th year. In effect, CISWO will face a very difficult situation by that 10th year because, no matter how enthusiastic the trustees are, raising £500,000 a year for a good number of years--at least six years--will tax that enthusiasm. It is rather unlikely that they will be able to continue raising such amounts of money.
Does the Minister have plans for further funding? Are there plans, for example, to assist CISWO from the sixth year to the ninth year if the trustees are unable to raise £500,000 each year? What plans does he have for after the 10th year?
There is also great concern over leased land. Much of it is leased from British Coal. The Minister will be aware that we withdrew some of the amendments to the Coal Industry Bill on the basis of assurances that we were given. It now appears that some of those assurances may not, in some respects, be fulfilled in the way in which we thought they might. For example, we were given to believe that some of the land might be transferred to the Coal Authority, yet when the Minister opened the debate, he made no mention of that. I shall draw the Minister's attention to two great concerns in my constituency. First, the North Gawber welfare is currently in receivership, but its football pitch is used regularly by the community. Will the Minister ensure that that football pitch is kept as a leisure amenity in the community? Secondly, there is concern regarding land in the village of Worsborough. The girl guides' camp is on a piece of land covering 3.34 acres which is owned by British Coal. The area is regularly used and it is important to the village. I hope that if the Minister cannot give an answer at the Dispatch Box, he will be prepared to look into the matter with a view to ensuring that the land is handed over to CISWO. If that is not possible, the land should go to the local authority.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): My hon. Friend is being typically modest when he refers to some of the CISWO land in his constituency. Will he reflect on one of the cricket pitches in his constituency in the village of Cawthorne, which traditionally wins the title of the best kept village in Yorkshire? For a village in Yorkshire, that is no mean achievement. Will he reflect on the fact that a number of private entrepreneurs would like to buy the cricket pitch in Cawthorne from CISWO? The cricket pitch is a marvellous village amenity and is likely to be
Column 797sold to the private sector if there are four union trustees, four management trustees and four trustees from the voluntary sector--
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. This is a very long intervention and it is time that the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) was allowed to resume his speech.
Mr. Illsley: I would just like to ask my hon. Friend--
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. No more.
Mr. Clapham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for prompting me. Cawthorne cricket club rests in a very beautiful part of Yorkshire, in a small village, and property developers have had their eye on it. The issue may well have to be determined by the vote of the trustees. The interests of the community may take second place to business interests, which may influence the vote of the trustees. We are concerned about the composition of the trustees. We would be much happier with the previous structure of an even number of trustees and a chair by rotation.
I ask the Minister for an assurance that the lands that are leased from British Coal will be handed to CISWO and that the two areas in my constituency to which I have referred will continue to be available for recreation.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): We are having to discuss these matters because of the privatisation of the coal industry. It is a pity that the Tory rebels were not around at the time. They could have joined us and prevented the privatisation from taking place. Perhaps it is futile to think along those lines when pits have shut throughout Britain. They are still closing. I hear that one in Nottingham is on the skids.
We have seen the devastation of mining communities. We now find that the welfare organisation, with its grounds and recreation facilities, is placed in jeopardy. It is little wonder that we are greatly concerned about the order to deal with CISWO and its activities on behalf of the injured, including paraplegics. I have in mind visiting, for example.
The recreation grounds could be called the glamour part of CISWO. Most people know about the cricket and football grounds. We are talking of grounds where the Charltons played and where Kevin Keegan learnt his trade. Some of the most famous English cricketers used the grounds during the early years of their careers. Those of us who represent mining communities are here tonight to defend the grounds. We are anxious to ensure that a tradition continues.
We are naturally peeved that the pits have gone. We have a duty to protect local amenities in what were mining areas. It has already been said that all the amenities were provided by miners in the past. They were not provided
Column 798by the Budges of this world. Budge has made no contribution to the welfare amenities. He has produced nothing.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): He has opened some pits.
Mr. Skinner: He has helped to close them.
The welfare facilities have come from miners over generations. Along comes R. J. Budge and, from what we have heard, it seems that he will recommend about half the CISWO trustees. It is a fine state of affairs when the man is operating on a shaky financial basis. He won a tender on one of the most crooked proposals in any privatisation package. He makes a £900 million bid and wins the tender. He then has discussions with the Department of Trade and Industry and the bid is reduced by £100 million. The fellow will be able to have four of his henchmen on CISWO. We cannot be satisfied with what the Minister has told us about the trustees. Where will they come from? How many of them will be scabs? How many will come via Mr. R. J. Budge and such people?
The net result will be that the whole thing will turn into a Tory quango. The Minister has not satisfied us. In a few years, or in an even shorter time, some of the welfares will be cherry-picked. They will be sold off and there will be yuppies in every pit village, who will gradually change the cricket and football grounds into parts of leafy suburbialand. They will have pampas grass in the gardens. We are not satisfied with what the Minister said. We know that there is a 31 March deadline, but unless he can give us satisfactory answers and a guarantee that no land will be sold, and unless we hear today who the trustees will be and who will appoint them, some of us feel that we have no alternative but to oppose the order. 11.5 pm
Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian): My speech will be short, too. I am disappointed that the Minister is not sitting beside the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Energy, because he, like us, went through the Bill with a fine-toothed comb. He was the one who gave us many of the assurances that such problems would not arise. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), I was under the impression that the land would be given to the new Coal Authority, yet all of a sudden we found out that British Coal was auctioning it all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) said that he had paid for these assets. In fact, we all paid for them. At Roslin colliery, the first colliery where I worked, the baths and the bicycle sheds were provided by CISWO through the men's contributions. They were then transferred to the jurisdiction of British Coal. Many of the assets were paid for by the men and the communities themselves. Even when we talk about a few collieries, the House must realise that thousands of people provided the assets there. Those assets--the miners' welfares and recreational facilities--make life tolerable in the villages to which they belong. Many of the individuals who, quite rightly, take advantage of them have given their lives and their health to the industry. They are worried about the future and about what is happening to CISWO.
Column 799The Minister had given me the impression that the facilities were protected and the land would remain, but now I wonder what is happening to the money paid for the land being sold by British Coal. Is it going into a central fund or will it go directly to the Treasury? Those are the questions that worry and frustrate us. Will the money gained from the cherry picking that will take place go to the Treasury, too?
Sometimes the assets can become liabilities, and local authorities cannot inherit them without some sort of grant to get them into condition and to provide for their upkeep and maintenance. There is not the money for people to contribute directly to the funds now, because most of those who use the facilities are retired or redundant miners and their families.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) that the order is a leap forward--indeed, it is a light year forward from what we were offered originally. I agree that it is constructive. But, like everybody in all parts of the British coalfield, I am worried that we may again be being hived off as a problem. The Government wanted to privatise the coal industry, so they had to get rid of us awkward characters who were worried about our communities.
I am sorry that the Minister has to answer the debate; but he is a member of the Government, so he should answer it. There are questions that need to be answered and blank spaces that need to be filled in by the Government and by the Minister in this debate. I hope that, if he does not have the answers now, we will get them in the future. I also hope that dialogue will continue even after the motion is passed today.
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): It would be churlish not to recognise the movement that has been made on CISWO. When the debate on British Coal started, there was real anxiety among some of us that the Government did not understand the value of CISWO and thought that they could discard it. I am pleased that we have moved to a position where there will be a charitable trust and CISWO is to be funded. We will return to the issues because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) said, the funding is relatively short term, and I am anxious about the future of CISWO. It has been given a lifeboat, but times are difficult in the coalfield communities and we may well have to revisit this part of funding in 10 years' time.
The problems of the coalfields will not go away. It is okay for people to talk about regeneration, but we must understand that that regeneration will take time. The recreational land about which we have talked to the Minister is important as part of that regeneration. We must try to nail the issue tonight, because the trust will be set up from 31 March. The clock is ticking and assets must be transferred into that new charitable trust.
There are three problems about the land. First, it is my impression that British Coal frankly does not know what it owns. An example of that is the allotment land by the old Linby colliery site, where there has been an absolute denial of ownership of those allotments. British Coal says that it does not own the land, and that the county council owns it. The county council, however, denies that it owns the land.
Column 800I note that British Coal is taking rents from allotment holders. It is vital that British Coal decides quickly who owns the land and transfers those lands and properties. One of the problems is that, in the rush to privatise and get rid of British Coal, the staff have been left in flux. There is nobody there to do the work, and the issues need to be resolved quickly.
Secondly, I must draw the Minister's attention to the issue of allotments. If he wants to have a fight, he can take on the allotment holders of England who are firmly tied to that land. There has been no consideration at all of what will happen to allotment land. Can the Minister give us an assurance tonight that allotments will be transferred across to CISWO and that we can then talk about the kind of co-operatives and partnerships we might need to keep the allotment holders happy? My postbag is full of letters from allotment holders. If the Minister wants a fight, they will take him on, and they are a powerful group to consider.
Finally, while we are talking about recreational land, it is clear that advanced discussions have taken place between British Coal, CISWO and the National Playing Fields Association. I have the impression--the Minister may tell me that I am wrong--that a schedule has been drawn up. That needs ratification. Yet the clock is ticking. We have an opportunity tonight to question the Minister about the way forward for the land. Can he not give us a little more clarity about what will happen? What land will go to CISWO? What will go to the National Playing Fields Association? My colleagues speak with passion on those subjects because we have seen the passing of British Coal. We want to maintain the best traditions of the mining communities. CISWO can embody that. It can be a step into the future.
I hope that the Minister will do his best to reassure not only us but coalfield communities, which have had a tough time in the past few years and now look for some real messages of hope.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): I should like to take the Minister back to his opening submission. He said that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation was a limited company formed in 1952 under the Miners' Welfare Act 1952. He went on to say that it had never achieved charitable status with the charity commissioners as a result of an oversight or mistake. I think that those were his words. He will intervene if I have got that wrong.
I should like to take issue with the Minister on that one point, which goes to the heart of the matter. I do not for one minute believe that anyone forgot to register CISWO as a charitable organisation with the charity commissioners. I believe that CISWO was set up as a company for a particular reason. I suggest to the Minister that CISWO was set up as a company by the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers. They had an equal number of shares and made an equal contribution to funding. The chair of the company rotated from the National Coal Board to the National Union of Mineworkers in alternate years. I could be wrong, but the Minister might want to answer that point when he replies to the debate. I have a little experience of CISWO as I once applied to be its chief executive. In applying for that position, I went in some detail into the structure of CISWO. I dispute
Column 801the assertion that someone in CISWO overlooked the fact that it had to seek charitable status with the charity commissioners rather than be set up as a limited company.
Let us take the matter a stage further and consider why CISWO should have been a limited company rather than a charity. To do so we have to examine trust law and charity law and consider whether a body can achieve charitable status with the charity commissioners for a tightly defined group of beneficiaries. Will the charity commissioners accept an application for charitable status where the beneficiaries are solely mineworkers? I suggest that in 1952 the charity commissioners would not grant charitable status to a group of beneficiaries restricted solely to mineworkers and their families, hence the need for a limited company. There was never any intention for CISWO to seek charitable status, which the Minister says it overlooked.
Under the order, we are now to leap from a limited company set up in 1952 to a new CISWO, a new charity. I understand that the application for charitable status has already been accepted by the charity commissioners. The terms are that there will be four trustees from the mineworkers' unions, four trustees from management and four trustees from certain voluntary organisations which the Minister has not identified. He has not even identified a range of voluntary organisations from which those four trustees could come.
We move on from there being a limited company whose directors are equally divided between the union and the company, with a rotating chairman. There are now three groups--a union group, a management group and a separate group. Let us consider each group in turn. There are now two unions--the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and the National Union of Mineworkers, a split group with four trusteeships. On the management side, four trusteeships are available to 29 or 30 different companies. Several private companies now operate in the mining industry, the most well-known of which is RJB Mining, but in South Wales and other areas there are many private companies. There are four trusteeships among a great many companies there.
There are four trusteeships for charities, of which the only one mentioned this evening is the National Playing Fields Association, which has never previously been in the ball game, as far as I can remember. Why should the National Playing Fields Association be included? We are talking not only about playing fields, but about substantial land holdings, miners' welfare premises, licensed premises, clubs, pubs and so on.
In one leap we go from a company with an even spread of directors from the NUM, British Coal and the National Coal Board, to a charity with trustees who are appointed from three separate areas. CISWO's property holdings give some cause for concern. Its property holdings in mining areas are specific to those mining areas but it also has fields--substantial property holdings that could be attractive to outside bodies.
The split of trustees--four from management, four from the unions, four from voluntary organisations--means that the unions, which traditionally represented the opinions of the mining areas and previously held 50 per
Column 802cent. of the vote, can no longer voice those opinions in the new organisation. They can be overruled, so the wishes of mining areas are likely to be overruled.
Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) suggested--that we could be seeking funding in about 10 years' time--the new charity may sell off the assets of CISWO very quickly, not to local authorities inside whose boundaries those assets are situated, but to the highest bidder, not for leisure purposes but for development. I give the Minister an example that occurred in my constituency recently, whereby a brewery applied for planning permission to build houses on a bowling green alongside a public house. It wanted to do away with a leisure facility and build houses on what has been a bowling green for many years. That is the sort of situation that may confront us.
Will the Minister explain why CISWO is to become a charity? Why cannot it remain a company? Why is CISWO now subject to three different groups of trustees? When was it agreed that four of its trustees should come from the voluntary sector, as opposed to the trustees being derived from management and the unions within the industry? Why are trustees from outside being thrust upon CISWO? Will assets now be sold off to the highest bidder in the private sector because the trustees who represent mining areas--that is, trustees from the mining unions--will be out-voted?
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): My remarks will be brief because other hon. Members have already made many important points. The process of privatisation has been very traumatic for mining communities throughout the country. Retired miners in north Warwickshire have been extremely concerned about what will happen to the many facilities that they use and upon which they base their entire social lives.
Those retired miners will hold their annual general meeting tomorrow morning to discuss, among other things, the future of Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation Ltd. They will be concerned to receive answers to the questions that my hon. Friends have asked tonight. I think that they will appreciate that the Government have moved a long way since the privatisation process began.
The order appears to rush the process and, in that rush, there is a danger that certain questions may be left unanswered. On the face of it, they may not appear to be particularly important questions; but they may give rise to issues which may involve the new trust in legal complexity and controversy which would severely obstruct its ability to undertake the tasks that it has been set up to perform.
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck): I wonder whether my hon. Friend has the same problems in his constituency as I have in mine. There is an agreement between CISWO and the local authority about the mining welfare facility in my constituency, which was extended by the local authority. It is organised and run on a trustee basis by the local authority and CISWO trustees. I understand that there are about 500 similar agreements throughout the country. Local authorities are already under financial pressure and are concerned about their continued
Column 803operation and when CISWO also comes under pressure the demands to dispose of those facilities will become intense.
Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Unless many of those issues are addressed--and, in undertaking this process, the Government have a responsibility to address them and to come up with some clear answers, if not tonight then as soon as possible thereafter--CISWO may experience a great deal of difficulty in carrying out its designated duties, in terms of not only its various agreements with local authorities but its dealings in leased land under private ownership. All those legal problems must be resolved sooner rather than later.
In his reply, I hope that the Minister will address the legal problem that he ducked earlier. He must set out clearly how the trustees--particularly the trade union trustees--will be selected. My final point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping). Allotments are one of the main issues that concern many retired miners. I very much hope that we can have some clear answers on what will happen to those allotments and on what promises and undertakings the Government can make to allotment holders that their future will be protected.