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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the decision not to renew government funding of the central administrative costs of the Access Committee for England (ACE) from April this year was reached only after very careful consideration, and was agreed jointly by Ministers from the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department of Health. The decision followed a recent inter- departmental review which concluded that future funding of ACE by the Government should be for specific projects, and not towards its central administrative costs.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, does she agree that deducting what is effectively a very small funding figure--some £150,000--from a body which has acted as a secretariat for over 430 small individual groups acting at local level may well involve cutting off local people from decisions about local events, and may also cause a great waste of time and money for various departments as they will have to chase matters through individual channels?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: No, my Lords, we cannot agree with that suggestion. Much of ACE's work now overlaps that of other bodies--for example, the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee, and to a lesser extent the National Disability Council. There are also other voluntary organisations working in the field. The Centre for Accessible Environments is a notable one. I opened an exhibition sponsored by that group and by
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend may be aware of my involvement, as the then Minister for Disabled People, in the inception of this important body. As the millennium approaches, is the Minister's department aware of any organisation of disabled people that is content to contemplate its demise?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, of course I am aware of my noble friend's extremely important record in the field. As I hope I suggested in my answer to previous supplementary questions, there are other bodies working in the field which take on many of the responsibilities that ACE originally undertook. I suspect that the organisation is one of those whose unique contribution was important in the 1980s, but it has now been overtaken by other bodies.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, did I understand the Minister correctly when she said that it is now government policy to remove all core funding from charities which are supported by miscellaneous government departments?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I did not say that, but under the Section 64 grant system which the Department of Health administers, it has been and is the policy not only of this Government but of previous governments to try to reduce core funding for voluntary organisations and to encourage them to take on project funding.
I understand that this voluntary organisation was informed by the then Minister for Disabled People in 1996 that this was likely to happen in two years' time. However, it did not take action to avoid the position.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that someone contacted me only yesterday about the Disability Discrimination Act in relation to golf courses and access to them? Does she agree that disability and access are complex because there are so many different disabilities? If the wrong action is taken it is much more expensive than taking the right action at the right time.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Yes, my Lords. Of course I support that sensible position taken by the noble Baroness. However, there are organisations with specific responsibilities in that field. For example, I recall the Centre for Accessible Environments which is a prominent body working in the area. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I opened an exhibition called the "Universal Access Centre" at the Building Centre where precisely the problems described were addressed.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of how warmly the Government's initiative in the matter has been welcomed in the former coalfields? That is particularly so as the proposals contain much more than the creating of jobs, which is of great importance. However, is he aware of some concern that the money involved may be dispersed, particularly in the regional agencies? To that extent, does he agree that there should be some ring-fencing of the resources which he announced today?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his words of welcome for the Government's efforts. As for his other point, some schemes specialise in the regeneration of coalfields only. For example, English Partnership's coalfield regeneration project is limited to coalfields and has a 10-year programme to reclaim 56 former collieries. RECHAR is a community initiative specifically for coalfield areas. There are eight eligible regions in England, Scotland and Wales. Again, it is an initiative specifically for coalfields.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the task force will take full account of the high skills of all those who have worked underground, not only mineworkers but also craftsmen? I need only remind the noble Lord that an electrician who works underground has to have a much higher degree of skill than an electrician working on the surface. Will the task force ensure that those great skills are used to advantage?
Lord Haskel: Certainly, my Lords. I know that the task force is paying particular attention to that in its aim of trying to find new employment in the coalfield areas. Those skills are available for industries other than coalmining.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are aware of the widespread concern about the impact of open-cast coal-mining. However, they are also aware of its importance to the coal industry. That is why the Government have undertaken a review of open-cast planning policy, which will allow the views of all those concerned to be heard. That review is being carried out by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that with the looming collision between the Government's environmental policy and their energy policy, all existing coalfields threaten to become former coalfields in as few as three to five years? Do the Minister and the Government recognise that if the Environment Agency's latest proposals on the reduction of emissions of sulphur dioxide were to be introduced, something like half the current production of coal in this country would cease and more than 20,000 people would lose their jobs?
Does the Minister recognise that it is all unnecessary because the existing levels of emissions in the United Kingdom are more than sufficient to meet our international obligations? Without breaching those international obligations, we could in fact increase coal production in the United Kingdom.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am not aware of the facts given by the noble and learned Lord. As noble Lords know, the matter is being reviewed and of course the Government are aware that there are problems of emissions from coal. That is a matter of which the task force reviewing the coal industry is very much aware. When it reports, the Government will take the appropriate steps.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that an important element in the rehabilitation of coalfield areas is the rehabilitation of coalfield sites? Can he say whether, in the case of sites which have been transferred by British Coal to the Coal Authority, the liability for environmental pollution and contamination has also been transferred, or does that still remain with British Coal?
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