Coalfield Communities

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th January 1996.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood 9:34 am, 10th January 1996

I am extremely grateful for this debate about the regeneration of the coalfield communities. This is the first Wednesday debate of the new year, which is a time for reflection and recollection—a time to draw lessons from the past but also to tackle the coming year with new hope and resolution. That is what the coalfield communities are doing. It is also what they were doing three years ago.

The House will recall that in October 1992 the then President of the Board of Trade announced the closure of 31 of Britain's 50 collieries. That decision was taken away for reflection and reconsideration, and in May 1993 the review was finalised, with consequences that are now plain to see: massive job losses in the coal industry and many collieries closed.

I have a new year's resolution of my own, which is not to alienate my colleagues. I know that members of the miners group are to meet my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) at 10.30 this morning—I am sure that they too are tackling the new year with new resolution—so I shall be brief because I know that some of them want to contribute. Indeed, I hope that everyone connected with the coalfield communities will have a chance to speak this morning.

In Nottinghamshire, the consequences of the pit review are clear: six collieries have closed and 10,428 people who used to work in the coal industry have lost their jobs. Moreover, 4,100 people connected with the secondary industries have also lost their jobs, and there has been a loss of spending power in the local economy of £550 million a year—a significant amount.

Unemployment in Nottinghamshire is still unacceptably high and there is real deprivation. To be sure, unemployment has fallen, but I urge the Minister to look closely at the figures. In October 1992 unemployment in Nottinghamshire stood at about the national average. Now it is above it, and in certain pockets unemployment has risen against the trend. I am sure that some of my colleagues will mention the fact that unemployment in the coalfield communities is understated. I have looked carefully at a report by Sheffield Hallam university which suggests that male unemployment in the coalfield areas is in the region of 20 to 35 per cent. That compares with the national norm of 15 per cent., calculated on the same basis.

Even more significant is a comparison between national unemployment figures since October 1992 and unemployment in coalfield travel-to-work areas. Since October 1992, national unemployment has fallen by 17 per cent. In the Mansfield travel-to-work area over the same period, the percentage decrease has been just 7.1. In the Worksop travel-to-work area—another coalfield area—unemployment has fallen by less than 1 per cent.

So unemployment may be falling generally, but the rates differ according to area and the gap between the rich and the poor appears to be growing. The Government were aware that those problems would occur and in their announcement they offered an aid package worth £200 million over three years. I calculate that £30 million of that came to Nottinghamshire.

The first question that I want to ask the Minister is what research has been undertaken on that aid package's effects. I have heard him and his colleagues talk about inputs into coalfield communities. Three years on from the closure announcement, we should consider some performance and output measures. How far has that £200 million changed things in coalfield communities? I suspect that no research has been undertaken and that the reason for that is that the aid package was known to be inadequate at the beginning. It is short term—it will end during this calendar year. There is a scatter-gun approach—a shot at lots of moving targets, but no real strategy. There has been little co-ordination of that package.

I want to consider some of the measures, including enterprise zones. I hope that the Minister will visit the three enterprise zones in Nottinghamshire, announced more than three years ago. Not one brick has been laid on any of those zones and, three years on, not one new job has been created. That is the measure of the success of the Government aid package. That is the position in Nottinghamshire, but the figures are similar throughout the country.

I want the Minister to recall our debates, especially those on the Coal Industry Bill, when a number of us pressed the Government hard on what was to happen to British Coal's non-operational land, where there is a basis to create new jobs and which could be a cornerstone for new development land. Very little has happened. As the Minister knows, the Environment Act 1995 went through the House last year. That transfers liabilities for derelict land on to new owners. British Coal has been set different priorities. It has been told not only to dispose of the land and to create new jobs, but, clearly under section 11 of the Act, to get the best price and value for the land and to dispose of the liabilities.

I understand that almost 80 sites were to be transferred to English Partnerships, the regeneration agency, to create new jobs in England. Three years on, that land has not been transferred. Strong discussions are taking place between British Coal and English Partnerships about who is responsible for the dereliction and who will clear up the liabilities. Clearly, English Partnerships would like to take the land, but it is not prepared to pick up an unlimited liability. If the Minister wants to help coalfield communities, he could intervene in that discussion and ensure that that land comes on to the market straight away.

Smaller schemes that would lift the landscape and enhance the environment are also being held up. The county council in Nottinghamshire would like to acquire six former colliery tips from British Coal. Discussions are well advanced. The Forestry Commission would plant the sites and take responsibility. We could create a new Sherwood forest that would lift the landscape, yet the deal is stuck because there are questions about who is responsible for the liabilities. We want the landscape to be lifted and to see change, but because of arguments about liabilities, that deal too is stuck.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell , Blyth Valley

My hon. Friend touched on a point about the environment and the landscape. I know that the same is happening in Northumberland and parts of Durham. On the landscape, we have seen nothing but opencast mining. All the deep mines have closed, all the jobs have been lost and, all over the place, there have been a load of planning applications for opencast mining, which is a blot on the land.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

It is clear that opencasting can be a blot on the landscape. It should be allowed only where there is local support and where it will lead to environmental improvement. The problem with opencasting is that people want to make a profit out of it and that the profit is to be made out of big green-field sites. That again leads to further dereliction in coalfield communities.

Photo of Hilary Armstrong Hilary Armstrong Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson

I am sorry to intervene, but the issues that my hon. Friend is talking about especially affect regions such as mine, where the mines have been closed for well over 20 years and where, in response to Durham county council's inquiries, developers have identified, in my constituency alone, almost 40 potential opencast sites. If those sites go ahead, and even if they do not, with current policy, there will be a blight not just on people's living environment, but on the attempts of both the public and private sectors to attract new industry that will grow in the community for years to come.

Despite the fact that it has been 20 years since the pits closed, we still have an enormous task to bring jobs that will give the region a future. We have the blight of opencast, on top of the amazing problems that we had early on from dereliction, although the landscape in our county is now green and beautiful. To see it destroyed again would be a dreadful indictment of Government policy.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping , Sherwood

My hon. Friend makes two important points. First, we do not want planning blight in coalfield communities. People have lived with dereliction; they now aspire to something better. Secondly, she makes a strong point that the regeneration of coalfield communities will not be brought about by a three-year aid package, which is short term and limited; as she says, the process will last for 20 years or perhaps longer. It is certainly a generational thing.

As well as derelict land, there is a problem involving organisations such as the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. During the passage of the Coal Industry Act 1992, we were promised that CISWO-associated recreation and community land would be transferred to CISWO and to the National Playing Fields Association. I know that there have been considerable discussions about that, but three years on, that package has yet to be delivered.

Again, the issue involves the liabilities. Both CISWO and the NPFA are charities. They have been advised by the Charity Commission not to take on land where there is a liability. Those recreational lands and sports fields are important for coalfield communities. Again, this issue needs to be unlocked quickly.

English Partnerships aspires to take on 80 sites from British Coal. They may be the best sites. It is also responsible for distributing derelict land grant. There is a feeling among some local authorities that, as the owner of sites and the distributor of grant, English Partnerships may focus derelict land grant on its own properties.

Local authorities have a long history of tackling urban decay and derelict sites. They seek assurances that derelict land grant will continue to be available to them. They do not want to be in a position where they have acquired derelict land and where they and their council tax payers become responsible for the liability. They are happy to work in partnerships—they have done so for years—but they still want access to derelict land grant. I hope that the Minister will give those assurances.

I hope that the Minister will also give assurances to English Partnerships, which is chaired by Lord Walker, a man noted for intervention. His intervention with English Partnerships has perhaps been ineffective. I know that he has pressed hard for extra resources to tackle the tasks that are before the agency. I note that he has been unsuccessful in the Budget. Next year, English Partnerships' budget is to be cut by £7 million or 3 per cent. By the end of March 1999, its budget is to be cut by £26 million or 12 per cent. What hope does that provide for the coalfield communities in the new year? Can an assurance be given that such communities will be given priority by English Partnerships?

British Coal Enterprise is another economic development agency which has operated successfully in coalfield areas since 1984. It is the only agency which focuses entirely on coalfields. It is to be privatised on 31 March this year. While it has been in the public sector and can receive funds it has been a conduit for European funds. It has received £10 million from Europe. Will the Minister clarify whether there is a danger that once it is privatised that £10 million could be clawed back by the European Community?

Although I oppose the privatisation of British Coal Enterprise, I also seek an assurance that the sale proceeds—about £20 million—will be reinvested in the coalfield communities. Surely it is only right and equitable that the proceeds of the sale of an agency that has worked for the coalfields should be reinvested there. Perhaps the Minister will tell us the guidelines for the sale of British Coal Enterprise. Is it merely to be sold to the highest bidder, or will he ensure that the new private sector owner gives assurances that it will continue to focus on and give priority to the coalfield areas?

European funds, too, are important to coalfield communities. We are now two years into the RECHAR II programme and the current objective 2 programme. Despite that, money is not yet trickling through to projects in the Nottinghamshire coalfield or in other coalfield areas. Part of the reason for that is staff shortages. Let me draw the Minister's attention to the Government office for the east midlands—GOEM. I am not criticising the staff who work there because I know that civil service staffing has been frozen for the past three years and that to the year 1998–99 there is to be a further 12 per cent. cut in civil servants.

Letters have been sent from the Government office to local authorities asking for local authority staff to be seconded to the Government office to deal with grant applications. In fact, it is even worse than that. I have in my possession letters from temporary staff at the Government office in Nottingham who have written to local authorities saying that their contract is nearly up. They have worked at that office for two years and are about to be entitled to full employment rights at the office, but they are to be laid off. They are asking Nottinghamshire county council to employ them and second them back to the Government office. That is short-termism in the extreme. A total of £30 million of European money could be drawn into the Nottinghamshire coalfield, but the Government are not prepared to pick up the bill to fund the civil servants necessary to bring that money in. In essence, that is my complaint. We have a short-term solution from the Government for a long-term process that will not be resolved easily.

One of the interesting things about the Budget was the way in which capital spending was slashed. The Minister, with his knowledge of local authority spending, will understand that capital investment is long-term investment. It produces value and resources over a period of time. I believe strongly that if we are to invest in coalfield communities, we must invest in capital projects. I draw the Minister's attention to the Robin Hood railway line in Nottinghamshire. I am delighted that the line, which will connect Nottingham to Worksop and run through the Nottinghamshire coalfield, has been funded by the Government. An announcement of a new tranche of money was made only this week. However, I remind the Minister that in May 1993 the then Secretary of State, speaking to the Nottinghamshire chamber of commerce, promised that Government money would be available to complete the line. We are now three years on and the line still has not been built. It would be a recognition of an approach to the coalfield if that money was forthcoming.

I am keen to see a road to recovery in Nottinghamshire. I want to see a road that links the M1 and the A1 and which runs through the Nottinghamshire coalfield opening up new development sites. That is a widely perceived view in the coalfield and I am extremely disappointed that the first leg of it, the Rainworth bypass, was refused funding in the transport policy and programme announced before Christmas. The lack of funding for that bypass means that the southern and western bypasses in Mansfield, also essential to the recovery, will not be completed before the 21st century. Investment in infrastructure is an essential part of coalfield recovery.

Let me remind the Minister about the former British Coal housing stock which was transferred to housing associations. There are pockets of such housing throughout the coalfields. There are 2,000 former British Coal houses in housing association ownership in Nottinghamshire. They are in a deplorable condition and need renovation and refurbishment. Will the Minister lift the embargo that was put on the Housing Corporation to provide grant to refurbish those properties? That would help to regenerate those communities.

I remind the Minister also about the National Mining museum in Yorkshire which was given national status fairly recently. That museum received a great deal of help from British Coal but when that was no longer forthcoming, Government grant was made available for three years to continue the museum. That grant has nearly expired and the museum faces serious challenges. It is looking to the national lottery to survive and expand, but it will take a change in the rules and criteria if it is to be eligible. Our heritage is as important as our future and I hope that the Minister will look closely at that issue.

People who live and work in coalfield communities are pragmatic, hard-working and resilient. They can take bad news but they cannot take uncertainty. They have had a series of bad knocks over the past decade, but despite that, they are still working for a better future. What characterises coalfield communities is that parents want better for their children.

All over the coalfields people are working for change. The Ollerton and district employment forum has come together in a private-public sector partnership which has had some success with the Ollerton pit site and the Boughton pumping station. In Bilsthorpe local people have got together to form CHUBB, which is a resource centre for the community and the unemployed. Its future is blighted by the lack of money from the European social fund. In Newstead residents are working together to refurbish the housing stock and regenerate the village. Change will happen; it is inevitable, but it is a long-term process.

Last autumn the North Nottinghamshire training and enterprise council produced its evaluation of its coalfield action plan. It demonstrates success but also highlights some failures. I hope that the Minister has had an opportunity to look at it. It concludes that while much has been achieved, much more needs to be done.

Mining communities and the mining industry, in Nottinghamshire and across the country, feel betrayed by a Government who simply walked away from the promises they made to Notts miners. The Government cannot similarly walk away from the coalfield communities. It is not sufficient to make short-term investment over three years. The TEC's evaluation is that new resources, new strategies and renewed partnerships are needed for many years to come.

It is essential to invest in coalfield communities. They need better than they have now. We should be supporting them and investing in their future.

10 am

Photo of Mr James Lester Mr James Lester , Broxtowe

I apologise for the fact that I have to attend a Select Committee meeting this morning. I shall, therefore, speak only briefly and, unfortunately, will not be present for the Front-Bench speeches.

I welcome the debate on the Nottinghamshire coalfield communities and thank the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) for initiating it. He asked some pertinent questions which I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will answer.

We all support the hon. Gentleman's new year resolution to make regeneration the watchword for our local society, but despite what he said, and for the very special reasons that anyone born and bred in Nottinghamshire understands, I cannot think of any other industry going through a period of change that has had the same individual and community support as the coal industry. No other industry that has gone through decline and change—for example, the textile industry—has had anything like the support that has been given to the coal industry.

I made my maiden speech from a spot not far from the place where the hon. Member for Sherwood is now sitting. It was in February 1974, when there were two coal mines in my constituencyMoor Green, famous for all that D. H. Lawrence wrote about it, and Babbington, which became famous in 1984 for a rather less pleasant reason. Both mines were worked out; neither was closed because of recent decisions. Although the mines have been worked out, many miners still live in my constituency. Many of them have transferred to different pits. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman said, they have shown great resilience in moving from pit to pit to stay in work.

Now, my principal connection with the coal industry is resisting the development of an opencast site at Shortwood farm—a green-field site—because of all the problems that it would create. My hon. Friend the Minister has already had an opportunity to look at the site. Although I understand that he cannot comment on it today, he has shown that he understands what it would be like to watch a green-field site being dug up for the next 10 to 20 years.

I hope that the hon. Member for Sherwood will welcome the Eastwood Phoenix project in our constituencies and that of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon). It is a new departure in coalfield regeneration. Eastwood, too, is famous for its connection with D. H. Lawrence. It is not in decline as a result of changes in the coal industry, but it is stagnant. The project, introduced by Broxtowe borough council and enthusiastically supported by me, has been accepted by the Government because it aims to prevent decline, regenerate Eastwood and help it to remain a market town for the community around it.

I warmly welcome the regeneration of the Moor Green site in my constituency, where new factory units providing employment for miners and other people in the area are being developed. We must recognise that careful analysis of the problems, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Sherwood, followed by correct action at the right time and in the right place, is the way to regenerate and prevent decline in areas that once depended totally on a vital coal industry.

Photo of John Cummings John Cummings , Easington 10:04 am, 10th January 1996

Other hon. Members have used a broad-brush approach when speaking about the demise of coalfield communities. I want to focus specifically on Easington colliery—the last colliery in the Durham coalfield to close. It lies in the north-east of the Easington district, which has a population of 98,000 people. The area has been devastated by the demise of an industry which in 1951 employed 81,000 people in the county.

In the Easington district alone, more than 10,000 jobs were lost between 1984 and 1993, and it is estimated that a further 10,000 were lost in related industries. The appalling levels of economic, social and environmental deprivation, which derive from the area's former dependence on the coal industry, are shown in statistics that make rather gruesome reading. They come from a document prepared by Easington district council for Easington colliery's rural challenge submission.

Unemployment stands at 14 per cent. The rate for men is 21 per cent., almost one third of whom are categorised as long-term unemployed. That figure does not include the more than 12,000 people who are on long-term sickness benefit after spending a lifetime in heavy industry. Easington is the third poorest district in the country in terms of average disposable income. It is worth reflecting on the fact that new jobs coming into the area pay only between £2 and £3.50 an hour.

Easington has the 19th highest standard mortality rate in the country, some 47 per cent. above the national average. Life expectancy is three years below the national average. Less than half of households own a car. About 41 per cent. of households have a resident with chronic illness. Between 1971 and 1991, the district lost about 11 per cent. of its population. The percentage of youngsters staying on at school is the third lowest in the country. More than 200 hectares of land is derelict.

As I said, Easington was the last colliery in the Durham coalfield to close. It has a population of just over 5,000. It was and is a typical pit village. It was built under the shadow of the pit pulley wheels and was closely associated with the pit head and buildings. Not surprisingly, its problems mirror those of the whole district. When I talk about Easington, I could be talking about any of the former coal mining villages in the district, which once numbered 13.

Where information is available at ward level, the signs are that the problems are somewhat worse than I have described. For example, population loss between 1971 and 1991 was considerably higher at 20 per cent.; car ownership levels are lower and the main economic activity rates are the sixth lowest in the county. As in all colliery villages, the colliery was the centre of economic and community life—at Easington, it was so for more than 100 years. The colliery provided not only jobs but leisure, social facilities and housing. It nurtured a collective sense of identity which made it a community in the real sense of the word.

With the demise of the colliery, many hundreds of colliery houses have been left to God and good neighbours. Several housing associations, acting quite responsibly, have moved into the area and spent a considerable amount of money, but their efforts are being frustrated by individuals and companies who have also moved into the area—to gain some form of tax relief. They have no intention whatever of underpinning the real investment of the housing associations. That matter will have to be addressed in the colliery village of Easington.

When the colliery closed in December 1993, with the loss of 1,400 jobs, it marked the end of an industrial era for the county and the start of a search for a new and exciting future, but the Minister did not accept the rural challenge submission and we have fallen at the first hurdle. Perhaps the system of bids for rural challenge development and the single regeneration budget 2 should be re-examined. It is run on a competitive basis, but the problems in Easington ought not to be left to chance or, indeed, a form of national lottery.

Too many of the problems faced by the local community are inextricably linked to the demise of the coal mining industry, which has left a legacy throughout the district, and especially in Easington, of economic, social and environmental problems. I have mentioned high unemployment. No fewer than 77 per cent. of all jobs in Easington colliery were lost when the pit closed. There is a very poor and limited range of alternative employment opportunities. Due to the mining culture and the colliery's dominance of the local economy, there is a lack of an enterprise culture. The long-standing dependency on the pit has meant that there is no local post-16 education or training facilities in the colliery village. We have very low levels of educational achievement. There is a mismatch between the skills of the work force and the needs of local and regional employers—and, indeed, employers who are considering coming into the area.

We have a very high and continually rising crime rate, an increase in the fear of crime, a very high incidence of substance abuse among young people, a lack of facilities, especially for young adults, and poor and declining health standards. Colliery housing is in very poor condition, there is a lack of suitable accommodation for the young and the elderly and there has been no private sector development for new housing for the past 40 years. All of those problems emanate from the village's dependency on the pit, the colliery and the National Coal Board.

In the colliery village of Easington, there are 27 hectares of derelict colliery site. Despoiled beaches are a product of colliery waste tipping. In excess of 1.5 million tonnes of solid waste was dumped along the coastline each year. Thankfully, the bid submitted to the millennium fund has been successful and we hope to tackle the problems on the beaches, but are we to be left with beautiful beaches crowned with derelict housing, housing in need of renewal and derelict cliff sites? One does not equate to the other.

The coal mining industry sustained the village economically and socially, but it bred a culture of dependency that stifled enterprise and exacted an enormous price in environmental and health terms. I well remember talking to my illustrious predecessor, Manny Shinwell, on becoming involved with the Labour party at the beginning of the 1960s. I said, "Manny, why have we no car industry in Easington? Why have we no real manufacturing base in Easington?" The answer was quite simple. He said, "As long as the nation requires coal and as long as the people of Easington are there to dig coal for the use of the nation, you will never ever have attractive manufacturing industry in the district of Easington. Coal miners would undoubtedly leave the mines to work in a more attractive environment if they could." The cards have always been stacked against us in coalfield communities.

In the light of the problems that I have just outlined, there might be an inclination among Ministers and Departments to write off Easington village as a viable entity. None the less the community consultation workshops have proved that, although the village might have lost a sense of identity, it has retained its self-esteem and its dignity. There is a growing feeling of optimism in Easington colliery community, which requires and looks forward to positive change. A local community-led generation partnership, which has a clear vision of the future, has been established.

I have mentioned the down side of Easington colliery and district, but it has many physical attributes that could be exploited if Ministers and Departments would only take note. I invite the Minister to visit the area at any time. It lies in a very pleasant rural setting on the coastline—the only coastline in County Durham. There is easy access to the coast, where improvements are being pursued with the help of the millennium fund. Areas of open space could be used by the community and, indeed, industry. There is good access to the A19, an east coast railway, a major road network and it is very close to centres of employment on Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside.

The problems are such that demands on all of those resources are extremely high. Competition is strong and there is much emphasis on gap funding. Notwithstanding the laudable efforts to reverse the decline in the village to date, on-going initiatives are disjointed and inadequate, and the rural challenge scheme might have provided the key to overcome some of those difficulties.

Only towards the end of December did the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration come to Easington and designate six enterprise zones, for which we are extremely grateful. We are looking forward to those enterprise zones being filled very quickly with new, exciting and modern firms. However, may I draw the Minister's attention to an anomaly? The link road proposed to feed the Fox Cover site from the A19 has not been accepted by the Department of Transport. That enterprise zone will therefore have no real link with any major means of communication. No doubt the Minister will hear more about the matter in due course. Nevertheless, we are extremely pleased that the enterprise zones have been designated.

The single regeneration budget 2 bid has also failed recently. Are Ministers really serious about regenerating mining areas? I remember the Minister's colleagues in the then Department of Energy repeatedly painting a rosy picture of the situation and saying that regenerating coal mining areas through a range of approaches would be emphasised, but not one penny piece has been spent in Easington, or indeed—perhaps—anywhere else in the country. The people in coalfield communities are looking to the future. We have established a superb working relationship with English Partnerships, and we hope that great things will come from it in the not too distant future.

I must tell the Minister that the issues are too important to be dealt with through competitive bidding. Why not give a little back to Easington, which has served the nation so well over the past 100 years? I remind the Minister of the awful tragedy of the Easington colliery disaster in 1951. The community of Easington has paid in blood, sweat and tears. The Government should respond accordingly to the needs of that community. I await some positive response because it is now time for the nation to recognise that we have served it well and to give us back a little bit so that we can help ourselves.

Easington is undergoing a period of traumatic adjustment. We are searching for a new role, image and function. The village faces a considerable task if the transition from a working pit settlement to a thriving rural village is to be achieved. I am sure that, by virtue of our resilience and optimism, which is founded on our collective sense of identity, we will rise to the challenge. We look to the Minister to fulfil his obligations and his colleagues' promises to achieve that transition.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 10:21 am, 10th January 1996

I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) was able to put coalfield regeneration on the agenda.

The idea of regenerating the coalfield communities was proposed three years ago, after the Government's closure of the 31 collieries—it was mainly talk on their part. The initial statement was made in October 1992, when the former President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—now the Deputy Prime Minister—was keen to tell everybody, including hon. Members, not to worry about the 31 closed pits because the Government were to institute schemes to enable people to find work, and that everything in the garden would be rosy.

Three years later, we are participating in a debate in which my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has listed the lack of achievement. He comes from an area that most people in Britain—certainly those in the coalfields—recognise as one of the most prosperous among those represented by the National Union of Mineworkers. Nottingham has always had not only the attraction of the pits, but several large firms such as Boots, Plessey, Players and Raleigh. People moved out of the pits and into some of those industries when the money in the pits was bad. Now they do not even have that chance.

The Government do not properly understand that the situation has changed. When the pits were closed in the 1950s and 1960s, people in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood were able either to transfer to another pit or to go to one of the large firms in and around that coalfield. The situation is much bleaker now because they can no longer move into expanding firms and there are hardly any pits to work in.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right when he talks about the unemployment figures being understated. The Government have never taken into account the fact that those over 55 who received the make-up money from the Department of Energy are not included in the unemployment statistics. We can reckon that about 100,000 ex-miners have not been included in the unemployment statistics for the very reason that they took part in that compensation scheme when their collieries were closed. That is why male unemployment in many pit villages, certainly in my constituency, is as high as 50 per cent. Counts have been made in Shirebrook and surrounding areas to prove that.

One would have thought that, in the aftermath of the massive pit closures, there being no employment prospects, the first thing that the Government would have done would have been to tell the Department of the Environment, which made up the budgets for local authorities, that a little extra should be put in for the coalfield areas, especially given what their spokesmen said from time to time about giving those areas a lift. They have never done that. By and large, the standard spending assessment of councils in coalfield areas, including the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood spoke about, has not improved—in many cases it has gone down.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is almost certainly to be in government shortly—in view of all the Conservatives who are transferring to the Opposition Benches, that might happen sooner rather than later—so I am not just speaking to the Minister. When my right hon. and hon. Friends form their Government, I want them to accept that the SSA and the grant paid to local authorities in deprived areas that have been hit massively by unemployment must be adjusted so that we can regenerate them much more speedily.

Why have the Government not tried some sort of pilot scheme for housing redevelopment in the coalfield communities when that idea has been foremost in our minds? We know that, according to their policy, they allow local authorities to build hardly any houses—at the last count, 1,750 were built in a full year. The Government could have encouraged local authorities to build housing in those areas where unemployment is high. That matter should also be addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

It is important to have this debate because my hon. Friend can then go back to the leader of the Labour party, soon to be the Prime Minister, and tell him that the people in the coalfields want a stake in society and they want it to be sirloin. That is what we are asking for. We want to readdress the local problems.

I am not making a case for preferential treatment; I just recall what happened in the 1960s when we had a Labour Government. I remember as a local authority councillor when my own colliery, Parkhouse, near Clay Cross, closed down. I went down to see the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), along with Tom Swain, my Member of Parliament. We wanted some additional help to redress the balance that had been upset by the pit closure. Many miners simply transferred to other pits, but for those who did not, we wanted to set up a scheme to assist the Erewash valley, which included several local authorities running between the borders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

My right hon. Friend granted special assistance to the area with the result that, when Parkhouse colliery was closed, the Clay Cross councillors were able to announce that we had managed to obtain discretionary grants. As a result, 700 people walked down the same pit lane that used to lead to Parkhouse colliery and went instead into a factory, Ashton Containers, and several other new factories on that site. That is how it was done in the 1960s. I want to impress on the Government and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that it is not impossible to overcome the problems of the coalfields with regional assistance. We did just that in the 1960s to offset the effects of pit closures.

My next point was not raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, because he reduced what he might have said so that others could speak. We have heard a lot of talk about cleaning up the rivers in coalfield areas—in Durham, in Scotland and in every other part of the coalfields. For the past two years, we have heard people talk about rivers being filthy as a result of pit closures, as polluted water finally finds its way into the water courses.

Why is there not a big programme for cleaning up rivers, which would create some work? If the Government were bright enough, they would realise that, politically, it would be a smart thing to spend some money on, and would get rid of some of the unemployment problems at the same time. Much could be done in all the coalfield areas, but not enough has been done.

One thing is certain—I do not want the Minister or anybody else to tell me that opencast is a substitute for deep mines. We all know that opencast has a peripatetic work force. Firms do not usually recruit locally because they bring most of their people with them. We do not want to hear any of those barmy suggestions about opencast creating employment in local areas.

That is not all. Opencast operators dig a big hole—they dig very deep holes now—take out the coal and leave the hole behind to be stuffed with all sorts of waste, possibly including nuclear waste if they can get away with it. There will certainly be lots of toxic waste. We do not want that "solution" to the problem. That is why, in Derbyshire, we have opposed opencast wherever possible. Not only can opencast not provide work but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood and others said, as a result of all the toxic waste being dumped in the holes, it might be counter-productive in terms of employment possibilities.

In my opinion, there is another reason why opencast must be opposed. We shall soon be in government. As I said earlier, people want a stake in society. We might want to reopen some of the 31 pits that were closed, but we shall never be able to do that if opencasting has taken place. We all know that opencast working creates instability in the surrounding ground, so we shall never be able to sink a mine where opencasting has taken place 300 ft down.

It is important that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras understands that, as soon as Labour is returned to power, we must take the collieries back into public ownership and stop any proposed opencasting in those areas.

It is possible to reopen some of the pits. I do not claim that that would be easy where opencast mining has taken place—it would be almost impossible—but where there has been no opencast mining, many of the pits could be reopened. In the past, we did not think that that was possible, but after the miners' strike of 1984–85, when the pits had been closed for 12 months, although many of us had said that they would never be reopened, they were reopened. We found that it was possible to mine in the same places again. It is important to bear that in mind when we get back into government.

My remarks are addressed not only to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who will be on his bike at the next election, but to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. I apologise for the fact that I shall not be able to be here to listen to my hon. Friend's speech, but he knows that, in a few minutes, I am going to meet my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to discuss such matters, and other things.

My hon. Friend must bear in mind the fact that we are talking about intervention in the economy. We cannot afford to let market forces operate any longer. In the 1960s we proved that it was possible to minimise the devastation caused by pit closures. We created work by intervening and directing firms here, there and everywhere. We shall need a growing economy, because we cannot direct firms if there is no movement. That must be at the top of the agenda.

I tell my hon. Friend and others that, when we get into power, we must remember that we are talking about jobs. The new Labour Government must understand that jobs are at the top of the agenda. When we have found that creating jobs is possible in some of the devastated coalfield communities, that will become the practice for everybody else too.

If the new Labour Government are searching for a big idea, they need look no further than to say that, if we get rid of the problems in the mining communities, that could set the pattern for all the other areas of high unemployment in Britain. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will measure up to that task; in a few minutes, we shall ask the Leader of the Opposition to measure up to it, too.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington , Sunderland North 10:35 am, 10th January 1996

It is always a great pleasure to be involved in any debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Unfortunately, today I have to follow him, which until now I have always managed to avoid by speaking before him.

I shall be relatively brief, as I wish to raise only one problem—a problem that will not go away, because it is becoming a war of attrition. I am talking about mine water pollution. At one time it seemed that that was mentioned almost every other day in the Chamber, but over recent months the front has gone relatively quiet. However, the problem has not gone away.

We have had vague promises from Ministers, but we need some firm commitments and a definite programme laid down. We need not platitudes but a proper framework to deal with the problem. A long-term problem requires a long-term strategy, and I am afraid that at the moment we do not have that.

I declare an interest in that I am sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers. I also spent many hours in the Committee on the Coal Industry Act 1994, so I have quite a bit of knowledge about mine water pollution, which the Committee spent several days discussing. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be much further forward now, so I have some suggestions for the Minister.

The role of the Coal Authority should be clearly defined and put on to a statutory footing. There should be a commitment to and a preparation of a phased and effective programme of remedial work to prevent pollution from getting into our rivers and water supplies. In conjunction with that, the Coal Authority's funding should be maintained at the current level until such time as the problem has been fully evaluated and solved.

We would also like the water regulator to be required to carry out on a regular or rolling basis an audit of existing and potential incidents of pollution from abandoned mines. I do not like having to repeat myself, but sometimes one has to: the problem will not go away. Our beliefs were stated in the amendments that the Opposition tabled both to the Coal Industry Act 1994 and to the Environment Act 1995 when they were being considered by the House.

The Minister will be well aware that there have been many problems with the water supply in Yorkshire. I shall not go into those now, but he will also know that in the north-east we have recently had the twin problems of flooding and water shortage. So all is not well in the water industry. There are many problems ahead, and I hope that they will not be exacerbated by a lack of action to deal with potential pollution.

The issue is fairly simple when we get right down to it; the coalfield communities have suffered for many centuries in order to create wealth not only for themselves but for the nation as a whole. But the nation as a whole did not suffer the problems caused by that creation of wealth. It would be totally immoral and utterly wrong if the coalfield communities had to pay for the pollution, through either council tax or water charges. The pollution was caused by work undertaken for the benefit of the nation as a whole. It should be paid for by the nation as a whole through the Government.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 10:39 am, 10th January 1996

At the previous general election—particularly in the Nottinghamshire coalfield—Ministers promised that there would be a great future for the coal industry. That was in April 1992. But like a lot of other Tory promises, it proved to be worth not a light because, in October 1992, the present Deputy Prime Minister—the great one-nation Tory—announced 31 pit closures and the expected loss of 30,000 jobs. When he made that announcement, the right hon. Gentleman could not even be bothered to suggest any other way of employing the people who might lose their jobs.

The revulsion that the announcement caused throughout the country forced the Government to phase the closure programme, although they did not stop it. The Government promised help for the mining areas, but that help has been insufficient and slow in coming. As with much else that the Government do, they give with one hand in a publicised way while seeking to take things away with another. That has been their general approach to the coalfield communities.

When European money under the RECHAR programme was promised before the election, the Government tried to snaffle it from the coalfield communities to put into the general rate fund to reduce the poll tax and council tax liability in Tory places such as Westminster and Wandsworth, until the EC rightly insisted that the money was spent in the areas for which it was intended. Since then, the Government have kept up their approach. They have provided some help, but it has been inadequate and late and its benefits have been more than offset by the harm caused by coal privatisation.

As my hon. Friends have pointed out, there are high levels of unemployment, with between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. male unemployment in some small communities. There have been massive reductions in the take-home pay of people who have other jobs—again, the figure is between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. There has been a massive reduction in the number of people in the active population, and therefore there is economic decline as people have no money to pay out. Pubs are closing in mining areas.

There is an increasing threat to the environment, and there have been delays in the clearing up of dereliction. There has been pressure to increase opencasting and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) said—there has been a big increase in mine water pollution. There has also been a massive increase in crime—a 300 per cent. increase in three years in some of the areas affected by the closures. The Government must take some responsibility for that because, while there is no excuse for any young person turning to crime, a young person who sees the Government stealing his dad's job might think that stealing is the order of the day. Poor job prospects have undermined social cohesion. Parents who are out of work lose their authority over the rest of the family, leading to social break-up.

It is believed that the Government saved £200 million by the pit closures, and they got another £1 billion from the sale of the coal industry. The coalfield communities think that they ought to have that money, and why not? Their jobs and their work built up the assets which were sold. But they are not getting a prompt or sympathetic response from the Government, whose response has been characterised by incompetence, delay and a lack of interest.

One example of that is the establishment of enterprise zones. The Government's record in that area has shown that they have acted slower than a two-toed sloth. We were promised enterprise zones by the present Deputy Prime Minister more than three years ago when he announced the pit closure programme. The impression created was that there would be dozens of them, but we have ended up with three—one in the Derne valley, one in Mansfield and one in Easington.

The closures were announced in October 1992, but the Easington enterprise zone was designated in December last year—more than three years later. The Government have tried, as usual, to blame the European Commission, but the real cause of the delay was the coal industry privatisation. There was internal rowing between the Department of Trade and Industry, the Treasury and the Department of the Environment, because most enterprise zones had been based on publicly owned land. The Government were proposing to stop the land being publicly owned and to sell it off as part of privatisation. That has led to the delays, which have been described in The Sunday Telegraph as an "absolute shambles".

The Government's top priority was coal privatisation, rather than the needs of the coalfield communities. That has had the effect—as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) pointed out—of deferring useful investment developments in coalfield areas. Companies that may have been thinking of investing have deferred that investment, because they thought that if they waited until an enterprise zone was established, they might be able to invest on better terms. That is another example of the way in which the Government's incompetence and slovenly approach is damaging the coalfield communities.

Another thing which must be borne in mind is that it is not just in terms of special provision that the coalfield areas are not getting the help that they deserve. They are being robbed on a day-to-day basis in terms of the grant which the Government pay out to every local authority in the country. The coalfield communities are not getting the grants that they deserve. Everybody accepts that if ex-coalfield areas are to survive and prosper, they need better standards of education and training. But in every single one of them, what is currently threatened is not an expansion or improvement in education and training but a cut because the Government are cutting the funding. That is being done for the benefit of Westminster.

The funding that Westminster city council receives per pupil to help pay for education in Westminster should be applied as generously in some of the coalfield areas. If that were so, Nottinghamshire would not be contemplating having to reduce the number of teachers—it would be able to increase the number of teachers by 4,000. County Durham would be able to increase its number of teachers by 2,400, while the figure for Derbyshire would be 4,100. But that is not happening, because the rotten stinking Government are shifting the money into the pockets of their friends in Westminster and are taking it away from everyone else.

As I have explained time and again, all of this springs from the fact that the Government regard Westminster as the fourth most deprived place in Britain, although nobody in their right mind believes that. The House heard my hon. Friend the Member for Easington movingly describe the extent of deprtivation in his constituency and in his district, which is the third poorest in Britain in terms of average income. On the index of deprivation that the Government have drawn up which states that Westminster is the fourth most deprived place, Easington is 338th. I do not know whether that is a tragedy or a farce, but it is certainly unfair, rotten and entirely typical of the Government.

After all of the pit closures, Newark and Sherwood—represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping)—is 156th on the index of deprivation. Barnsley is 319th, while Bolsover—represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—is 331st. If Bolsover received the same help from the Government towards its council spending per head of population as Westminster, the council in Bolsover would not collect any council tax at all—it could pay out a rebate of £1,015 to every council tax payer. That shows the extent to which the Government are fiddling the grant system.

It is not just a question of the special help being insufficient, as the Government short-change the coalfield communities day in, day out. There are the problems of derelict land, and it has been pointed out that the takeover by English Partnerships may result in English Partnerships putting money only into the sites that it has taken over from British Coal.

In the Environment Act 1995, the Government emphasised the concept of the polluter pays, but we must make sure that that concept is not used to the disadvantage of people living in the coalfield communities. If English Partnerships or the Government said to a local council that they would not give the council derelict land grants until it received money from the polluters, that would cause a great deal of delay. It would not be the polluter who was paying, but the polluted. We have to make sure that measures which are basically steps forward are not used to damage coalfield communities.

The Government continue to encourage opencasting. One third of all the coal that is produced in the country is opencast. Opencasting is ugly, noisy, dirty and unhealthy and it deters other investment in coalfield areas. None of the Ministers present would want, I certainly would not want and I do not think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would want an opencast mine in our area or at the end of our back garden, but the Government wish it on tens of thousands of people in the coalfield areas.

There is also the problem of mine water pollution, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood described earlier. In proceedings on both the Coal Industry Bill and the Environment Bill the Labour party made sensible proposals to ensure that the Coal Authority took full statutory responsibility for dealing with mine water pollution, which can be so damaging. It damages the environment and, like opencasting, it is a threat to councils which seek to encourage investment in their area.

All the dangers and problems that we have described are building up for the coalfield communities. Many of them are inherited from the days of absentee thieving coal owners. What we have now is an absentee Government who do not give a damn about the people who live in mining areas.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 10:50 am, 10th January 1996

We have just listened to a traditional rant from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) which showed an appalling lack of understanding—his traditional lack of understanding of standard spending assessments, education funding, the revised mineral planning guidance 3, the planning system and revenue support grant. The hon. Gentleman laughs, but if what he suggested were applied he would be laughing on the other side of his face for his constituency. However, we are not talking about Holborn.

The subject of today's debate is important and important issues have been raised. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) raised one aspect of the vista, although there is much more to it. I regret that I have only a few minutes and will be able to touch on only one or two of the positive things that are happening.

I was interested in some of the points made by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings). I shall read them tomorrow, consider them and perhaps write to the hon. Gentleman. I know that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) always sees a light at the end of the tunnel and that it is an oncoming train every single time. I was interested to hear him load the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras with so many promises that he looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame sitting there nodding to them. Fortunately for the hon. Gentleman, he will never be in a position to implement or even answer for them. He will probably remain where he is, in opposition.

We need to emphasise some of the positive points. While I recognise that it has taken some considerable time, particularly with initiatives involving Europe, to put some of the positive ideas into action and make finance available, they are now under way. The coal industry is now privatised, with 29 former British Coal pits in the private sector—many more than were anticipated by the pessimists. They are successful. I am not picking on the hon. Member for Sherwood—every Back-Bench Member looks at his salary patch—but I am sure that it will hurt him to know that according to a newspaper report yesterday on what is received by the mining community, he would be financially better off working for the privatised mining industry than he is sitting on the green Benches at the back.

The success of privatisation is worth recognising, but time does not allow me to push and promote it. We need to look at the efforts that are being put in nationally by the Government. The Government recognise the needs and the deprivation of coalfield areas. Mention has been made of the £200 million package. It was put in place to help communities affected by job losses. It includes £75 million provided through training and enterprise councils and the Employment Service and £75 million for the three-year English Partnerships programme of factory and site provision. The programme cannot be implemented overnight, as even the hon. Member for Sherwood recognises. We have provided £30 million-worth of other measures and £20 million for various strategic projects.

Regardless of some of the points that have been made, the delay in setting up enterprise zones has been caused by difficulties with the European Community. Considerable efforts have been put into the matter and enterprise zones are now under way. New zones have got off to a good start. To give just one example, in east Durham, 250 jobs are already coming in this year.

Unemployment has fallen nationally by 730,000 since December 1992. It was down again last month. Let us take the east midlands, the hon. Member for Sherwood's area. He mentioned the Robin Hood line. The Government's contribution has increased, as he said, to £9.6 million to meet the cost increases and the cost of the new station at Kirkby in Ashfield. That is welcome and it needs to be pushed. Stages 1 and 2 of the line are now open and doing well. Stage 3 will be funded in 1997–98, subject to the Department of Transport criteria on value for money. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is the correct way to go forward.

The North Nottinghamshire training and enterprise council coal plan has brought in £14.8 million as part of the £75 million that went to TECs. Recent consultants' evaluation has shown that the North Nottinghamshire TEC coal plan has delivered several thousand jobs and training places and has reduced unemployment by between 3,600 and 4,500. The hon. Gentleman asked for an assessment. That is an assessment and it shows that regeneration is happening. NNTEC still has some £800,000 to spend during 1996 plus surplus funds generated by coal-related activities. Those funds will be used in future coal activity.

The coalfield areas fund has been mentioned. It will provide £163,000 of grant to two projects in the Newark and Sherwood district. One of them, the Gwendoline Grove training centre in New Clipstone in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sherwood, has produced nine business starts, 88 training places and 50 small businesses. With the growing economy, small businesses now have an opportunity to grow. That is positive.

A round 1 single regeneration budget grant of £1.5 million is under way in the Sherwood part of the Newark and Sherwood district. The total programme value is £8.6 million. It is set to create 1,690 jobs, 300 new businesses and 4,300 sq m of commercial floor space. That is all extremely positive. Jobs and chances for growth have been created, but the hon. Member for Sherwood did not mention that.

A round 2 SRB grant of £1.13 million has recently been announced to regenerate Newstead village. The total value of the programme is £3.3 million. It will result in 4,000 sq m of new business space, another 80 new jobs, 250 improved houses and so on. A total of six SRB programmes are already under way in the former east midlands coalfield area. That is £28.5 million of SRB grant, levering in £146 million of other public and private funding, thus amounting to a total regeneration package of almost £175 million. That was conveniently forgotten by the hon. Member for Sherwood.

The forecast output from those six SRB programmes is 19,000 jobs, 12,500 people trained, almost 28,000 sq m of business floor space and 500 hectares of land reclaimed. It is happening. Three further SRB programmes were approved in the east midlands under round 2, including one in Newstead village, again in the Sherwood constituency. That is £1.13 million of SRB, giving a total programme value of £3.3 million with leverage.

We created new assisted areas under regional selective assistance in 1993 in the wake of the mine closures. There have been 114 offers of grants since then and £12.6 million of RSA will bring about £130 million of investment and create or safeguard almost 5,000 jobs. The biggest RSA grant of £1.7 million went to Johnson Controls in Mansfield—an American company that has built a new factory and is already employing 450 people.

Unemployment in the area has dropped dramatically. It fell by 5,700 in 30 months—it will extrapolate like a logarithmic graph. I will write to Opposition Members to explain as they obviously do not understand what such a graph is.

I can touch on only a fraction of the various points—the importance of the coalfield areas, the industries there, the hope for the people, housing for the people, the housing investment programme and the housing action grants. Endless volumes of money are going into the areas, with new ideas, strategies and partnerships. There is new hope and there are new jobs and better education. To listen to the gloom and doom described by Opposition Members is to deride the considerable efforts that this nation is making for those communities.