§ EXTENSION OF POWER TO MAKE REDUND
ANCY PAYMENT SCHEMES
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 46, at end insert:(4) In any redundancy payment scheme made by the Secretary of State under the Act of 1967 and this Act there shall be included a requirement that the benefits payable shall be calculated on the appropriate existing wage equivalent of the employee's pre-redundancy accupation.(5) In any redundancy payment scheme made by the Secretary of State under the Act of 1967 and this Act a redundant person who in all other respects satisfies the criteria laid down by Article 4 of the Redundant Mineworkers (Payments Scheme) Order 1968 shall not be disqualified by any employment of not exceding six months' duration entered into by the coal industry employee subsequent to his dismissal by a coal industry employer but his pension shall during such period abate.
§ Mr. Speaker
It will be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 29, page 2, line 46, at end insert:(4) In any redundancy payment scheme made by the Secretary of State under the Act of 1967 and this Act there shall be included a requirement that the benefits payable shall be calculated on the appropriate existing and prospective wage equivalent of the employee's pre-redundancy occupation.
§ Mr. Varley
These Amendments have been tabled primarily to enable a discussion to take place on certain aspects of the Redundant Mineworkers Payments Scheme.
The Minister for Industry told the Standing Committee on 21st January that when the present scheme comes to an end another scheme will be drawn up. He said:We must be quite certain that any new scheme takes account of the needs of the individuals concerned and of all the circumstances. This means that there has got to 863 be a proper review."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 21st January, 1971; c. 150.]We agree completely with that and would like to offer suggestions for the review. We seek to get the principle accepted by the Minister that in drawing up a new scheme he will have regard to changes in the wages pattern taking place in the mining industry.
At the moment, beneficiaries under the Redundant Mineworkers Payments Scheme have their payments or benefits calculated on a definition of pre-redundancy earnings. This is related to the mineworkers' average weekly earnings during what is called the period in the relevant tax year. Once the calculation is made and the amount fixed, the level of payment remains constant, with very few minor exceptions into which I need not go. For the 156 weeks that a mineworker qualifies, his entitlement to payment is static. Currently about 22,500 redundant mineworkers are receiving benefit under the Redundant Mineworkers (Payment Scheme) Order. They are in various stages of their benefit entitlement. Some have just started and some are coming very near to the end of their three years' entitlement. About 1,300 have ceased to benefit under the scheme and have not yet reached the age of 65.
We were very sorry that the Minister was not able to accept our Amendment in Committee, which would have continued the entitlement to benefit. We hope that he will honour the undertaking which he gave in Committee and look at the review to see whether the 156-week period can be extended.
The first part of the Amendment applies to the 22,500 redundant mineworkers who are still benefiting under the scheme and, perhaps equally important, to those miners who may not yet be affected but who could be affected if any pit closures took place in future.
I shall not refer to the second part of the Amendment because we now believe that the reasons for which we sought to make that part of the Amendment have now been dealt with. We are concerned about the first part of the Amendment. We seek to establish how far we can get some inflation-proofing into the redundancy benefits. I am not suggesting that 864 the principle that we seek to establish is an easy one. It is a difficult one. We hope that the Minister will take note of our views.
There are many difficulties, but the basic philosophy behind the redundancy payments scheme was to see how far it was possible to provide a benefit to compensate for loss of expected earnings. Many difficulties have arisen and some have been sorted out with the Minister's Department and have been accepted, as they were previously sorted out when my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) had responsibility for these matters.
Calculations of pre-redundancy earnings penalised miners, for instance, who had suffered chest diseases and who had not worked regularly. The pre-redundancy earnings provision created hardship for many mineworkers who served as magistrates and local councillors and who had taken time off work. That was excluded. There were cases in which pits had closed and men who had worked previously as power loader operators, for instance, in highly paid jobs, were kept on at the pit for a few months as salvage workers. They were downgraded as a consequence, and that affected their pre-redundancy earnings.
Notwithstanding those examples, there are now 22,500 people at varying degrees of entitlement whose benefits have been eroded by the calculation of pre-redundancy earnings. The philosophy behind the scheme, which is crucial to my case, was to see how far we could compensate for the loss of expected earnings.
The main aspect is that there have been three increases in wages to mineworkers since the scheme was introduced. I am not very prophetic when I say that there will be many more increases while the scheme is in operation. We are arguing that, when a general wage increase takes place in the industry, redundant workers benefiting under the Redundant Mineworkers (Payment Scheme) Order should also have their payments re-adjusted.
It is not a novel suggestion for the industry. Many of my hon. Friends can no doubt give examples. I cite the example of the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme, related to accidents and diseases, where a pre-accident earnings 865 review takes place after adjustment in general wage increases within the industry. The same principle could be incorporated within the Redundant Mineworkers (Payment Scheme) Order by accepting the definition—the words of the Amendment may not be precisely right—of pre-redundancy earnings and prospective wage equivalents.
Mineworkers have had three wage increases since 1968. Taking the average earnings of all workers in the industry since the scheme started, the pattern has been as follows. The figures I give are from the Coal Board's accounts which also correspond with tax years. The average earnings of all workers between 1967 and 1968 were £21 2s. 8d. Between 1968 and 1969 they had risen to £22 7s. 6d. For 1969 to 1970 they were £23 16s. 5d. At the end of this tax year my guess is that they will be about £25.
It will be seen from those figures that there has been a serious erosion of the basic philosophy of the assurance given that it was to compensate for loss of expected earnings. Many of my hon. Friends have said that this is not a redundancy scheme at all but a mineworkers payments scheme.
We know that the Minister will meet all the parties interested in this matter when he makes a new scheme. He will meet the National Union of Mineworkers and the other trade unions involved. We should like him to say how his thinking goes on the new scheme. It should be inflation proof. I have demonstrated by the figures that there has been a serious erosion of the basic philosophy. I hope that the Minister can give some encouragement on this matter.
§ Mr. Richard Kelley (Don Valley)
A term that was used some months ago in the House could be applicable to the idea put forward in the Amendment—the question of built-in dynamism. We shall probably read more about that in the New Statesman than we shall hear in the House of Commons. Nevertheless, that is the idea we have in putting forward the Amendment.
Changes of a very volatile character are taking place. We are living in a highly inflationary period when wages are adjusted from time to time to meet the external consequences of something 866 over which miners, redundant or otherwise, have no control. The House should be concerned at present about protecting redundant miners from any erosion of their standard of life as a result of these changes.
A man who has his benefit fixed according to the scheme prepared in 1968 has a payment frozen for all time, more or less. So long as he is entitled under the scheme he shall not have a review of the kind which we are seeking. A man whose wife dies during the period of his redundancy payment, has his unemployment benefit, a substantial part of his income in some eases, reduced by the loss of the dependant's allowance. But there is no adjustment, by the redundancy payments scheme, to compensate the man for the difference between the loss of the dependant's allowances and any adjustment of income tax which would have taken place in his earnings had he been a single man before he became redundant.
These matters ought to be much more relevant. A week is a long time in politics, but three years is a long time in a redundant miner's life. These matters ought to be very carefully considered under any scheme which the Minister intends to introduce.
Under the old Workmen's Compensation Act, and to some degree under the Industrial Injuries Act, there was the concept of what were known as notional earnings. In other words, we could argue for a man's pre-accident earnings, upon which his compensation was based, on the ground that his notional earnings would have been a certain sum at a certain point. The old Workmen's Compensation Act, 1911, enabled such a review to take place. Unfortunately, we have neglected to incorporate such a provision in the legislation governing the scheme which the Minister is now concerned with.
I would not say that the extravagance of the previous Government in operating the scheme was proverbial. I thought that the previous Government were too narrow. The Minister now has an opportunity to take cognisance of the gross deficiency in the Bill.
If a redundant miner feels able to do a job, if he seeks and obtains such a job, and if he then finds at age 58 or 59 867 that his physical capacity is not what he thought that it was, so that after three months in the job he must relinquish it, there is no provision that the period of his entitlement to benefit will be extended by the amount of time for which he was not chargeable to the scheme. The Government should take this into consideration so as to give men the opportunity to chance their arm and take on jobs which they think they are physically capable of doing but later find that they are not.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The £24 million which has been allocated is not referred to in the Amendment. That enhanced sum was allocated for use under the Clause to take account of the inflation which has occurred since the previous Bill was before the House. That Bill contained the figure of £22 million. If the Minister accepts, as he does accept, that it was necessary to increase the amount by £2 million to take account of the intervening inflation, he is conceding the point of the Amendment.
What the Government were not aware of, although they have mentioned it many times in other debates, was the fact that inflation would soar at an even greater rate. That inflation is already penalising the many thousands of redundant mineworkers over the age of 55 who benefit from the scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)—an adjacent constituency to mine—knows a good deal about the parallels that can be drawn between pre-accident earnings and post-accident earnings in calculations for special hardship and disablement pension scheme. There are examples where the Coal Board recognises that a man's ability to earn is impaired when he becomes disabled and must, as a consequence move to a job which is less well paid. This is another factor which must be borne in mind in seeking to make these payments reasonably proof against inflation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has recently had a case where it has worked in the exact opposite way. A man who came into the ambit of the scheme in 1967 had to pay back to the Board about £78 to take account of the 5 per cent. interest rate. 868 Therefore, not only is it the case that most of the beneficiaries have been subjected to massive inflation which is reducing the value of their 90 per cent. payments, payments which in some cases are as low as 60 per cent. It is also the case that some men must pay part of their awards back as a result of having taken advantage of the scheme in 1967.
On Second Reading the Minister made it clear that the figure was being increased to £24 million to take account of inflation. He must take account of the roaring inflation that now abounds and accept the Amendment, which will go some way towards ensuring that these 20,000 redundant miners and any miners who may be made redundant in future get real value and not sums which are greatly eroded.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
This is one of the most important Amendments which has been tabled to the Bill. I want to quote the comparison between the day wage earner and the contract wage earner—or the higher wage earner, as he is now described, as contracts no longer exist in the calculation of wages. If a man finished work on 31st October last as a day wage earner, his redundancy pay calculations will be made on the basis of the previous year's earnings. On 1st November day wage earners received an increase of £3 per week, which was scaled down strictly in accordance with the amount of money that men earned on the higher rates of pay. Some men received only about 16s. of the £3.
The two examples I shall use are, first, the redundant day wage earner and, second, the redundant contract wage earner. The take-home for a contract wage earner whose earnings were £18 a week would be £16 a week under the scheme. If the Amendment is not accepted, the day wage earner will fall farther behind, not only in wage calculations, but also in redundancy pay calculations.
I ask the Minister seriously to consider this matter. The mining industry has been a golden example in wage negotiations and has made valiant attempts to narrow the gap between day wage earners and contract wage earners. The differential which now exists and which was narrowed by the last wage negotiations and which will be narrowed in the next 869 negotiations should be taken into consideration. The Minister, in his discussions with the National Union of Mineworkers, should pay serious attention to this matter of escalation referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley).
In my constituency six pits have been closed since the 1967 Act came into operation, which has meant that a high percentage of men in the 55–65 age group are receiving redundancy pay. The benefits of a man who finished work at the age of 55—which was inevitable under the circumstances because of the mass closures during that period—would expire when he was only 58. This is really a tragedy, because if his benefits expire at 58 in an area like that at the southern end of my constituency, where we have a 10 per cent. unemployment problem among the male population, the possibilities of that individual getting a job in that area outside the mining industry are zero, to say the least; and there are no pits left on the perimeter of Clay Cross, so again the possibility of getting a job back in the industry in that area is zero.
It is vitally important, therefore, that the Minister should give this very important Amendment some consideration and give those of us on this side of the House to understand that he will look at it with sympathy, in the interests of fair play and of the men who have been made redundant and will in turn be made redundant; because whatever may be the situation regarding coal, oil or other fuels in the country today, there will inevitably be pit closures arising from exhaustions. There may be no pit closures arising on economic grounds, but where reserves have been exhausted there will have to be pit closures with a consequential number of redundancies in the particular areas where those take place.
It is, therefore, of vital importance not only to those at present on the list but also for those who will have to be on it in the not-too-distant future. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us today that he has given this Amendment some consideration and can give us an affirmative answer.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
In the first debate on the first sitting of the Committee stage of this Bill upstairs an Amendment was moved not dissimilar in principle; because 870 were this Amendment accepted this afternoon it would add to the costs of the National Coal Board which would, of course, be obliged to increase still further the price of its products. I said in Committee upstairs in my very first speech that the fixation of hon. Members opposite sitting for mining constituencies is the productive interest; that they never, never mention the interests of the consumer. We on this side of the House represent not only coal-mining constituencies. I correct the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). They are not minor exceptions, they are realities.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I expect they have gone for a cup of tea. I might point to the fact that there are 250 Labour Members missing this afternoon from the benches opposite. We all know that we have duties outside this Chamber, but there are important coalmining constituencies occupied by Tory Members today. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees)—[Interruption.]
§ Sir G. Nabarro
—includes within his constituency boundaries the Betteshanger collieries. My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith)—[Interruption.]
§ Sir G. Nabarro
—is a splendid successor to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, now in another place.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
And my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) who, when he tipped out the former Member, registered the biggest changeover in vote ever—these are passing points.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
A point of order, Mr. Deputy Chairman. There are, as you will know, a number of hon. Members who represent many miners in this House who were not able to be members of the Standing Committee because there has to be a limited 871 number. They are naturally very keen to hear a serious debate on this Amendment and I suggest, with respect, that all these comments are completely out of order and deprive us of the time we need to discuss a serious Amendment.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Far be it from me to be protected by a lady, but I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as always. As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted, the greatest turnover of votes in the country was in Cannock, a mining constituency, now occupied with great distinction by the present incumbent of the office. All of us represent large numbers of consumers of coal and the point I am endeavouring to make is a repetition of what I said in Committee upstairs, but to a larger audience today on the Floor of the House: if these Amendments were accepted the cost of mining coal would be thereby increased and the National Coal Board would perforce be required to advance the price of coal on the market. The price of coal is already exorbitant.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I will give way in a moment when I have finished this paragraph. The price of coal is already exorbitant and I had to put a Labour Member representing a coal mining area in his place a few weeks ago when I said that solid fuel for cooking purposes in my own village costs £23.50 a ton. I was outstripped by a lady resident locally who pointed out that she was paying £25.50 a ton for processed solid fuel for cooking purposes.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I will give the pithead price to the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) who in his usual incarnation is a Whip and therefore silent; but I am glad to have him intervening today. It is nice to join issue with him again on a coal-mining debate, for I have been doing so for the last 18 years. The pithead price is about £17.50 but the price is exorbitant.
§ Mr. Kelley
A point of order. Would the hon. Gentleman for Worcestershire, South try to give the House information as to the amount of increase in the price of coal which would result from the Amendment which is being discussed at this moment?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
These irrelevant, bogus points of order really are to be deprecated as a waste of time.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The exorbitant price of coal today is pricing coal out of the market and putting coal miners out of jobs. Hon. Members opposite who represent mining constituencies should get this simple point into their minds, however opaque their minds may he on an issue of this kind: coal is continuously being priced out of the market by the exorbitant figures now demanded by the National Coal Board. I will give the House figures in extenuation of this simple proposition which I have put to hon. Members on all sides of the House as a reality. Between 1950 and 1970, a brief period of 20 years, the output of coal in this country has dropped from—[Interruption.]—
§ Mr. Michael Foot
A point of order. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you and the Chair will agree that it is perfectly proper to discuss all the matters the hon. Gentleman is raising on the Third Reading of the Bill or some other occasion. But if we are to discuss on this Amendment, which is concerned with redundancy payments to miners, the figures of the price and production of coal and the general state of the industry, I do suggest it will make our proceedings somewhat disorderly; so I invite you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rule that it would be better for the hon. Gentleman to reserve his remarks until the Third Reading of the Bill.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Chair will 873 rule when he or she thinks fit. I do think that the hon. Member was coming to some link between is reasoning and the Amendment. I trust that my belief will be substantiated.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am demonstrating that this Amendment will lead to an increase in the price of coal and because of that it is furthering the disastrous trend manifest in the output of coal in the last 20 years. This is a perfectly valid proposition to which all men of intelligence should lend their ears. In 20 years the output of coal in this country has dropped from 216 million tons in 1950 to an output of approximately 140 million tons this year.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
On a point of order. I am in favour of discussing the whole question of the position of the coal industry, but I am in favour of doing it on the parts of the Bill where it would be appropriate and I would submit to you that it would be appropriate on Third Reading or possibly on some other Amendment but not on this one. If we do discuss the whole situation of the coal industry on this Amendment dealing with redundancy payments then the discussion on the Bill will become disorderly and we will not be able to proceed properly. I do suggest that you should rule that the hon. Gentleman should reserve his remarks on the general situation of the industry to some appropriate Amendment.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Chair must judge when the hon. Gentleman is out of order. The hon. Gentleman's argument to date could have led, as I understand it will, to the question of redundancies and consequently to the question of redundancy payments. This would be perfectly in order and I hope that my assumption as to what is in the hon. Gentleman's mind will prove to be correct.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
On a point of order. I fail to see the relationship between the redundancy payments scheme and the price of coal. My reading of the Bill is that the financial provisions for the redundancy scheme come direct from the Treasury—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That too is a point of argument, not a point of 874 order. I hope, as I have said, that the hon. Gentleman will return to the subject of the Amendment.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I was about to complete very shortly this comparison. Whereas coal has declined by 70 million tons a year in the short space of 20 years, from 1950 to 1970, oil has increased in terms of coal equivalent from 9 million tons in 1950—
§ Mr. Jeffrey Thomas (Abertillery)
On a point of order. Is there not a limit to the number of times that a speech can be repeated in this House?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The speech that may have been heard elsewhere is different from the speech being made now on the Floor of the House. I take the hon. Gentleman's point and hope that the hon. Gentleman will sense the feeling of the House and realise that there are many people who want to speak to this Amendment.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I propose to complete this sentence which I have been endeavouring to finish for the last ten minutes. Oil consumption has increased from 9 millions tons of coal equivalent in 1950 to 105 millions tons of coal equivalent in 1970. The faster coal goes down the faster oil consumption rises. This is due in large measure to coal pricing itself out of the market. The reason why these Amendments should be rejected is that they add to the cost of mining coal whereas I want to see the costs reduced.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is intervening will intervene in accordance with the subject of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Stainton
On a point of order. I would resubmit my previous point. With the greatest respect, I do not think that it is a matter of argument. It is clearly stated that the source of the funds for the redundancy scheme is the Treasury and the accounts of the National Coal Board are in no wise concerned. I submit that 875 that is not a point of argument but a matter for a clear Ruling by the Chair.
§ Mr. Swain
Is he aware that I too represent consumers? In my constituency I have 321,000 consumers and they are not all apple-growers, they are all workers. Along with my hon. Friends I represent consumers. Is he aware that there have been serious discussions and decisions taken in the oil fields of the Middle East—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. There have been points of order raised and I do not think that interruptions which wander are helpful.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The principle here is that we should not vote for any Amendment which increases the costs of production of the National Coal Board. If this Amendment were accepted production costs would be increased and I therefore invite my hon. and right hon. Friends to reject the Amendment and not to help the oil industry any further, which is what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale would be doing by causing his friends to support this Amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Harper
I do not want to continue the vaudeville act but I would like to pick up some of the points made during my Second Reading speech in which I referred to the complex formula for fixing redundancy payments. I support the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley). When a man becomes redundant he is entitled to 90 per cent. take-home pay. For the first two weeks he draws unemployment benefit, which does not attract income tax, plus a supplement from the Board equalling 90 per cent. of his take-home pay.
For the next 26 weeks he draws, under the National Insurance Act brought in by the Labour Government, short-term 876 benefit with which he gets unemployment benefit plus a rate of supplement equalling 90 per cent. take-home pay. Neither the short-term benefit nor the unemployment benefit attract income tax so that he has no income tax to pay during this period. At the end of 28 weeks the short-term benefit ceases so that the miner is left with the unemployment benefit and the supplement, which reverts back to the rate of the first two weeks—90 per cent. of take-home pay. At the end of the first year the unemployment benefit ceases, short-term benefit having ceased 24 weeks earlier and he is left with a supplement from Coal Board funds of 90 per cent. which attracts income tax. Not only does the real value of the payment fall—and going by the last nine months the mind boggles at how much it will fall in the next three years—but the man has to pay income tax at a time when he is less able to afford to pay it. The miner is therefore penalised twice.
I hope, if the Minister cannot accept the Amendment today, that he will undertake to give serious thought to how we can give the miner a better deal.
§ Mr. Caerwyn Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
I support the Amendment since it concerns many of my constituents. No collieries are open in my constituency and this part of the Bill is vital to my constituents, many of whom, unlike the Chairman of the National Coal Board, have not been offered directorships in other industries.
Like the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), I too represent consumers. The consumers I represent live near redundant miners and would not wish to have cheap coal at the expense of these good people. Redundant miners should be able to derive the maximum benefit from the scheme and the redundancy payments should take account of wage awards. Many of my constituents have performed magnificent public service by belonging to public bodies, and this has involved financial loss which affects the calculation of the benefit to which they are entitled. It would be inhuman and against the public interest for further injustices to occur.
I am concerned about men whose payments under the 1967 Act have just ended or are about to end. These men are in the 58 to 65 age group. Everyone will 877 recognise that they have no hope of other employment, especially those who live in areas with chronic employment shortages, where younger men cannot get work. In Committee the Minister promised to listen to representations for an extension of the period of payment to those in this category. He said in reply to a letter which I wrote to him that this was one of the matters which would be fully considered in consultation with the industry and other departments which have an interest in this.
I want to plead the case for these men and their families as strongly as I can. This is a diminishing category. The numbers are small by national standards, yet in a local context these men form a considerable proportion of the population. Why should these men, who already feel so hopeless because of their premature retirement, also suffer financial indignities which are brought about by no fault of their own?
If no extension of the period of payment can be allowed, the Minister will be responsible for encouraging deceit, because these men will have no alternative but to claim sickness benefit. There would be no difficulty in doctors certifying sickness since, after so many years in mining, the majority of the men are suffering some form of disease. I plead with the Minister when consultations take place to consider an extension of the scheme for those who are over 58.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I wish to say a few words about the men who have been declared redundant. When collieries in my area have been closed, the National Coal Board at the receiving pits did their best to persuade men of between 55 and 65, especially those who were incapable of doing heavy work, to become redundant. If the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) had given a little more thought to what is behind the Amendment he would not have given the performance he gave us this afternoon.
When a miner reaches 55 his earnings have started to drop. By the time he reaches 60, his earnings of the last two or three years have become much lower than they were. Receiving pits want to absorb the younger men from the pits that have been closed and men who have given their working life to the mining 878 industry are being persuaded to leave and to accept the three years' redundancy payment. Some believe that they will have three years with reasonably good wages, but those who became redundant at 55 and have now reached 58 have found out that not only has the value of the payments decreased but that at 58 they are now out on a limb.
Many of these men are suffering from disease or accidents. There are men with bronchitis and men with emphysema. A greater percentage of men are suffering from these diseases in the mining areas than in the rest of the country. Some may be suffering from pneumoconiosis, but not to such an extent as to entitle them to receive a reasonable income.
The price of coal has no relevance to the Amendment. The money is being granted by the Government and the amount is small. Whatever the cost, whether it be an extra £2 million or £3 million, no one can justifiably say that these men are not entitled to help.
I am disturbed that the man who reaches the end of the three-year period will be thrown on the scrap heap. We are, unfortunately, not getting jobs in our district and these men are not being trained for other work. The least the Government can do is to accept the Amendment and play fair with these men, some of whom drifted back to the industry from the Army after the war. If we are not careful we shall be treating these men unfairly.
§ Mr. G. Elfed Davies (Rhondda, East)
I wish to say a few words about the many people who have suffered the fate of becoming redundant in the mining industry. One great problem in my constituency is that of the calculator, and the Minister should have a serious look at this when he formulates his new scheme.
In determining the amount of take-home pay, a man must first put himself to a test. His wages for the previous income tax year are divided by the number of weeks he has worked. If a man has pneumoconiosis and continues to work but loses one or two days in some weeks, those incomplete weeks are counted as full weeks. On the other hand, if a man is out with an injury for six or eight full weeks the calculator is reduced by that amount. This has a bad effect 879 on the man who is struggling and perhaps loses one or two days of work a week. I hope that the Minister will take a serious look at this problem.
There are one or two other matters which the Minister might consider favourably. It must be remembered that over the years many men in the mining industry have had a long record of public service; many serve on local authorities and some as lay magistrates. In some instances this means that they lose wages in the public interest which, in the final result, affects the number of weeks worked. For example, when somebody in the mining industry becomes chairman of a local authority during that period of office he may not do much work in the industry. The net result is that when an assessment is made there is little take-home pay for that period. Again the Minister should give this matter serious consideration.
There is a further matter I wish to raise on the Amendment. When a pit closes, although the mass of the people may become instantly redundant, 30 or 40 men may remain at the colliery for a period of 6, 9 or 12 months to undertake salvage work at reduced rates of pay. Although originally they may have been power-loading workers earning top rates in the industry, their take-home pay would have to be calculated on the reduced payments during the nine months or so as salvage workers. This is an injustice to those men who are asked to do a necessary job for the Coal Board. The Board has found it difficult to get men to do salvage work on many of these faces because they would rather get away from the pit and get higher pay elsewhere.
Reference has already been made by my hon. Friends to the difficulties which face men when the three-year period comes to an end. Many men of 58, 59 or 60, who for many years have had a good take-home pay, will suddenly face having to live on social security benefits. It will be a great hardship to those men. Would the Minister consider in some of these cases extending the Period concerned? The Amendment refers to a person not being disqualified if any employment does not exceed six months' 880 duration and it would be of advantage to extend the period concerned. I hope that this situation will be looked at by the Minister.
We should consider why the scheme was introduced in 1967 in the first place. The reasons are clearly set out in the Act, namely, to form a cushion for people who became redundant as a result of colliery closures where no employment is available. If it was right in 1967 to take such action, is it not even more right now, having regard to the situation in South Wales where unemployment is now three times what it was when that legislation was produced and when work opportunities are now far less than they were? Therefore, the matter should be looked at again and the Minister should go ahead with this scheme as quickly as possible.
I asked the Minister in Committee not to wait the full twelve months before making a review if in the meantime he could bring forward a scheme within an earlier period. This is of great importance. Certainly the unions are very concerned that the Minister should not wait twelve months from March, 1971, to March, 1972, but should introduce a scheme far earlier.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
I should like to make one point in regard to the second subsection of the Amendment. At present the Government appears to be moving towards a change in the system of regional policy away from grants and towards a change in infrastructure, and so on. This means that in the development and intermediate areas there will be many jobs of short duration, work on new roads, derelict sites, and so on. If this occurs there will be some employment opportunities for redundant miners, but only in the short term—perhaps for three, four, five or six months. If the Minister does not accept the Amendment he will virtually be telling those men that they cannot work and will not be able to make the contribution which they so desperately want to make. I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment to enable those men to make the contribution that the nation requires of them.
§ Mr. Stainton
I should like to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for 881 Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) and anybody else who suggests that this discussion is anything to do with the price of coal. We are here talking about funds from the Treasury. We could go into arguments about inflationary effects which would ultimately be related to the price of coal, but such arguments are irrelevant. The Coal Board in the past few years has been faced with the critical problem of closures and it is to that situation the scheme is addressed. The profitability to the Coal Board does not come into the matter at all. What we are concerned with is the operating efficiency of the Board. We should be well advised to keep the two matters distinct and separate.
The penalties of inflation are by no means peculiar to redundant miners. They abound in the constituency of Sudbury and Woodbridge, just as they do in Worcestershire, South and elsewhere in the country. It is a terrifying situation. Since the miners are not unique in this situation, I would find it difficult to support the first part of the Amendment.
Reference was made to the basic calculator which refers to the various Statutory Instruments. I am sometimes somewhat bewildered—and perhaps my hon. Friend could take up this query—about how the weekly basic benefits have been computed in terms of the amount of pre-redundancy earnings.
Taking various levels, at £14 13s. 4d. to £15, the weekly benefit is £4 2s. On a rough reckoning, that is 27 per cent. At £19 13s. 4d. to £20, the weekly benefit is £7 11s., which is 38 per cent. Further up the scale, at £24 13s. 4d. to £25, the weekly benefit is £10 16s., or 44 per cent. of the basic benefit.
§ Mr. Skinner
Perhaps I may assist the hon. Gentleman. The reason why he is able to produce these kinds of figures is that, in the total attributed to each miner, one has to take into account the amount that he would otherwise receive in unemployment benefit. My point was that, when we talk about 60 per cent., we are discussing the single man who does not claim any dependants' allowances. A man with a wife would get £8 2s., plus the amount that the hon. Gentleman has quoted. It is a theoretical 90 per cent. However, in the case of single men it can be as low as 60 per cent.
§ Mr. Stainton
I accept that; indeed, it is self-evident. But it is supplementary to my basic argument.
I come back to the figures for individuals. At the top of the scale, at £29 13s. 4d. to £30, the benefit is £14 a week, or 47 per cent.
These payments should be kept apart from the additional supplementary benefits, which are spelt out at great length. I have been at pains to have discussions with hon. Gentlemen opposite about how this works out in practice. The point is that, irrespective of the supplementary benefits, in terms of inflation, curiously enough the better-paid have a better percentage relationship and, therefore, a better hedge against inflation. Perhaps my hon. Friend will look at this point within the overall context.
It was significant that, in moving the Amendment, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) did not attribute a cost to it. The arithmetic is not too difficult. Various assumptions can be made about the rate of inflation and the numbers benefiting from the scheme. In addition, the outgoings are known. I am surprised that he shied away from any attempt to estimate the cost of the Amendment.
Redundancy is not a unique problem to miners. However, there may be an element in the basic calculator situation to which attention can be given. It is immune from the other point made by the hon. Gentleman, which I accept.
I find the second part of the Amendment highly commendable, and I look forward with critical expectancy to my hon. Friend's remarks on it.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
It would be a pity to miss the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) on his temperate and wise remarks. They contrasted strongly with the intemperate irrelevance of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) in his comments on the Amendment.
Perhaps I might enter a plea in support of the case put forward in passing by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) about the problems of 883 public servants such as local councillors, county councillors and lay magistrates who probably amount to hundreds if not thousands of Coal Board employees and who currently, because of the existing redundancy payments scheme, pay what is in effect a fine on social conscience. I know of two cases in my constituency of men whose redundancy pay has been reduced by as much as £200 because they have been heavily engaged in public service in the latter years of their working lives. It is time that we started to pay attention to the fact that we have unpaid, voluntary, selfless people engaged in local government and other voluntary activities.
The hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge pointed out that the coal industry is not unique in this respect. However, I doubt whether he would care to take his attitude to its logical conclusion and support the dog in the manger case that, because this condition affects people in other industries, the redundant miner who has subscribed to the welfare of our society by being a voluntary local representative should be fined for his sense of public service.
I hope that the Minister will take full account of the importance of the first part of the Amendment and exercise what compassion and common sense he has. Without any real additional cost, due reward can be given to those who have done so much for the communities which they serve.
§ The Minister for Industry (Sir John Eden)
I accept that this is an extremely serious Amendment. It would affect considerable numbers of people. I agree with the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) that we should bear in mind the people whom we are discussing and the circumstances in which they might find themselves.
I am sure that the House will recognise that it is not possible for me to accept the Amendment. It would seek to prescribe in a detailed form certain aspects of the scheme which will come under review. When it comes to be devised, the new redundancy payments scheme will have to take account of the points which have been put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite in support of the Amendment, as well as a number of other matters. It would be wrong to deal in 884 isolation with any one of them, however strongly it might merit special attention, in advance of the comprehensive review which it to take place as soon as this Measure is on the Statute Book. These are points which will be considered during the preparation of the new proposals for the remainder of the period to March, 1974.
If I might take up the point made by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), in saying that I cannot accept the Amendment I do not mean that there is no hope for the future. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not mean to imply that. It is important to make it clear that the review will be entirely objective and must take into account the considerations which hon. Gentlemen opposite have advanced as well as other factors which have been and will be brought to my attention by the National Union of Mineworkers and others whom I am pledged to consult.
§ Mr. Kelley
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he also undertake to consider the kind of case that I put forward earlier where a man thinks that he may be able to do a job but discovers that, because of advancing years and certain physical disabilities, he cannot continue in that employment? Will a man in that position be entitled to have his case reviewed, and will it be posible to extend the period of 156 weeks so as to meet the period when such a man was trying to do an honest job of work?
§ Sir J. Eden
I certainly shall not exclude anything from the review. I shall take into account every point which has been put forward in the debate as well as those points which are brought to my attention in any other form of communication. I shall also study the record of the debate. However, I must emphasise that I cannot commit either the Government or myself to adopt any particular proposal which has been advanced. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite recognise that.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), talking about the philosophy behind the scheme, said that it was to see 885 how far it might be possible to compensate the men for loss of expected earnings. I agree that, up to a point, that was the case. But the reference by the hon. Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. G. Elfed Davies) to the provision of some kind of cushion was an accurate description of the intention which lay behind the preparation of the original scheme.
The right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), in the debate on the Coal Industry (Borrowing Powers) Order, said:We are, therefore, preparing a scheme whereby mineworkers who become redundant and have to leave the industry at or after the age of 55 will have their income supplemented by the Board for a period so that they can adjust themselves to their new circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1967; Vol. 750, c. 1872.]That was the purpose of the scheme. It was conceived as a scheme of short-term duration designed to assist eligible men affected, for the purposes of the scheme, to adjust themselves to their new circumstances. I shall certainly bear that aspect in mind.
The first part of the Amendment is the dynamic part. It is an attempt to provide some built-in hedge against inflation. This has been attempted in other retirement schemes of various kinds. It has never been possible to find a suitable formula. This is one aspect which will have to be looked at. Obviously the wish of the House would be to bring inflation under control. This must be the primary objective of all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Stainton
Whilst not dissenting from that view, may I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the Report of the Government's Actuary-General in which, in reviewing all pensions schemes, he points out that over 30 per cent. have an in-built hedge against inflation?
§ Sir J. Eden
I agree. The dynamic element has a great deal of attraction and there are many ways in which it can be provided. Whether it can be adapted to suit the purposes of this scheme I do not know. However, I shall certainly study that aspect further in the light of the arguments which have been put forward. The basis of the scheme was to try to find an effective means of cushioning the men for a comparatively short period.
886 The second part of the Amendment imports other considerations which seek to have regard both to men who temporarily take a job outside the coal milling industry and to the circumstances of those who are now employed within the industry after having been declared redundant.
There are two aspects, although only one is advanced in the Amendment. These matters would fall to be prescribed in the regulations if they were to be adopted. The fact that these matters are not enshrined in the Bill do not, in the first instance, debar their proper consideration and, if accepted, certainly would not debar their inclusion in the scheme. That is the procedure—a sensible procedure—which was followed in the original preparation of the scheme. It provides for maximum flexibility and enables all the aspects of the changing economic circumstances and the environment in which redundancies take place to be taken fully into account.
I turn now to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton). These are complex matters. The exact formulae adopted and prescribed for are set out in the regulations which govern the method of payment now and its relationship to the original pay.
The aim is to maintain the income of a married miner at about 90 per cent. of his pre-redundancy take-home pay with a somewhat lower percentage for unmarried miners. These percentages are now somewhat higher since basic unemployment benefit was raised in November, 1969.
As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, a number of factors can affect a particular individual's payment under the scheme. The amount of supplementation is in any case offset by certain State benefits, including the earnings-related supplement, and also by certain coal industry benefits which become payable in the event of redundancy These matters are prescribed for in the regulations.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
The Minister will be aware that the Bill is not intended to fight inflationary tendencies. What the hon. Gentleman said about having to keep inflation under review all the time would be wrong in 887 principle if applied to the Bill. I do not know whether the Government intend to use the Bill as an anti-inflationary measure, but I believe that it is wrong to apply this principle to some of the poorest people in the community.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Gentleman is distorting what I said. I am merely emphasising that the purpose of any new scheme is to provide a realistic cushion for the men who become eligible for benefits under the scheme. That is no different from the intention which lay behind the preparation of the original scheme. When reviewing the nature of the scheme as it now exists I shall take account of the changed circumstances which may affect the men and also any representations made to me either inside or outside this House.
§ Mr. Skinner
May I ask the Minister to take account of a further point which has not yet been mentioned? We have talked about all kinds of pensions, but there is the question of the disregard. According to a Question which I put down, this has fallen in value since November, 1966, just prior to the introduction of the 1967 Act, by 8s. out of the 40s., irrespective of the disregard. Will the Minister also take that into account?
§ Sir J. Eden
I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that he and I and other hon. Members could list a considerable number of factors which must be taken into account. This is why I cannot advise the House to accept these Amendments.
§ Mr. Varley
There have been some powerful pleas from this side of the House and some up-to-date and expert knowledge of how the scheme has operated. We are grateful for what we take to be the Minister's firm assurance that the points raised will be considered in the review. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 46, at end insert:() In any redundancy scheme made by the Secretary of State under this section there 888 shall be included a requirement that the rent on a house owned by the National Coal Board and occupied by a person benefiting from such a scheme shall not be increased.I do not want to go over the arguments already pursued about the scheme itself, but, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, a man of 55 or over who is made redundant has basically 90 per cent. of his take-home pay for three years, or until he is 65, whichever is the shorter period. So for three years, his take-home pay remains virtually static, while at this time, as pointed out on the previous Amendments, inflation has begun to roar ahead.
In my constituency, the rates are going up by 15p in the £, and in addition there are the higher rents this year and the increase due to Government policy which will take place next year. The Board's policy on rents for its own houses is in future to be determined by the new rent regulations. But the older miners who live in the older type of National Coal Board houses and depend on the district in which they work and live, rightly thought that the house was part of the job.
The wages received and the rents charged for the houses were to some extent interdependent. When the mining industry was nationalised in 1947, the Board inherited a large stock of houses built by the collieries themselves to rent to the miners. They built houses as the only way in which they could obtain labour when pits were opened up in previously rural areas. They took into consideration the fact that it was cheaper to provide the houses at low rents—sometimes rent-free—instead of paying the men a worthwhile wage to cover the payment of rents.
But in future, with the so-called fair rents policy of the Board, the rents will be increased at a very fast rate. However, to avoid hardship—some of the fair rent assessments around Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire mean that some rents have increased by 200 or 300 per cent.—the Board has said that it will not apply this all at one go but will limit it to 7s. 6d. per week per year.
For those miners who are made redundant and who are living in Coal Board houses, the effect of this on their 90 per cent. and all the other costs over the next three years will be that, by the end 889 of that time, the 90 per cent. will have shrunk tremendously in value.
The Amendment seeks to cushion the effect of one aspect of the rise in prices which they and we can expect over the next three years—that those in this position who benefit from the redundancy scheme should not have their rents increased while under the terms of the scheme. We should remember that those men who have given their lives and health to the mining industry and the nation would be receiving a very small token if the Minister would accept this modest Amendment.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
The proposal in this Amendment, like that in the previous Amendment, will attract a good deal of sympathetic support from both sides. I want to question one aspect of it. I believe that only a minority of the miners concerned live in houses of this kind. I believe that the figure is only about a quarter. Presumably the proportion of those who are redundant would also be a minority of the total number redundant at any particular time.
Therefore, obviously, if this were embodied in an Order, there would to some extent be a different consequence for those who were living in houses like this and those who were not. This is not a fatal objection, but I imagine that the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Con-cannon) would concede the point. However, I do not say that much would be gained by refusing this principle.
If the rent were suddenly to be pushed up at a time when a person was redundant, in most cases I suppose the extra rent would still come from public funds, from another source. Presumably the person concerned would receive increased supplementary benefit to pay for any additional rent—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am posing this as a possibility: I do not say that it would be so in all cases, but it might be in some cases. However, this is another instance of something which it is very difficult to include in the Bill.
If I understood my hon. Friend's answer to the last Amendment, this also is appropriate for the consideration which would go to the formulation of the Order. I hope that he will give an assurance that this is another consideration which he will bear in mind in framing the Order.
§ Mr. Kelley
This Amendment should be thrown out without a great deal of trouble. It has sympathy but is lacking in wisdom. The people who occupy National Coal Board houses have their rents subsidised to some degree by the industry. If we are to take seriously the Minister's admissions on the previous Amendment, about this thing called "dynamism"—I saw his eyes light up with interest when he used this term—that would take care of this situation.
People who were receiving 90 per cent. of their take-home pay in real terms would have rents subsidised by people who had to go to work every day, getting up at five or six o'clock in the morning to go and "wrestle with the black man", as we used to call it. That is ridiculous. We should rely simply on the principle of dynamism.
I believe that the Minister was perfectly honest in what he said. Where benefits would be adjusted according to influence in the wages system, that should take care of the kind of thing which the Amendment is designed to give. I think that it should be rejected without much trouble.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley), I consider that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) has done a service in drawing attention to this matter, which is particularly pertinent to redundant miners.
The Minister has some responsibility for fuel and power. He cannot deny that in mining localities there has been a great deal of indignation about N.C.B. rents. This has arisen particularly when miners have become redundant and have been induced to move from N.C.B.-owned houses to other accommodation and have found themselves paying more rent because, for example, they have come under the jurisdiction of the fair rent machinery. As there is only a faint possibility of some of these miners ever gaining employment again, they should not be persuaded to move to alternative accommodation if they are likely to be asked to pay more rent.
§ Mr. Kelley
I admit that there is something in this case and that where a man's benefit under the scheme have ceased after 156 weeks, arrangements 891 should be made, perhaps in an agreement between the N.U.M. and the N.C.B., to ensure that violent increases in rent do not occur. However, that has nothing to do with the Bill.
§ Mr. Eadie
My hon. Friend has anticipated me, though I trust that he appreciates that what is and what is not in order is a matter for the Chair and not for him.
For some redundant miners, employment prospects are remote. I have had to live with this problem in my constituency for some time and I assure the Minister that miners have discovered that on moving they have had to pay higher rents. We must ensure that because a man becomes redundant he is not asked to pay increased rents for the rest of his life. The Minister has been conciliatory in his remarks so far and has expressed a willingness to examine the matters which we have raised. I trust that he will examine this question of N.C.B. rents.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Swain
This is a very important subject and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Con-cannon) on enabling us to discuss it. It is inevitable that we should consider an Amendment of this kind strictly in relation to the areas we represent, though while some hon. Members who represent mining constituencies are greatly affected by redundancies in this context, others are not. This is the difference between us. It is not a difference of principle but one of emphasis.
In the area in which my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and I live, the N.C.B. has a number of housing undertakings. The Board owns, among others, Arkwright, Netherthorpe Estate, Poolsbrook, Martington, part of Brimington, part of North Wingfield, part of Derishaw and part of Fillamarsh. At present I am dealing with the local Rent Assessment Committee at the appeal level concerning the North Wingfield estate, which comprises 230 houses. Twenty-nine occupants there were over 55 but under 65 when the William Thorpe pit closed in March of last year, and as a result became beneficiaries under the old scheme. Their properties are now being dealt with by the Rent Assessment Committee, 892 the rent officer stage having been completed and a recommendation that they be put on a fair rent basis having been made. [Interruption.]
May I appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to call for order? At present the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) is conducting a conversation in undertones with the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder).
§ Mr. Swain
In other words, the hon. Gentleman is making one of his rare speeches that will not be reported in the Press.
In reply to questions from me, I was informed by the rent officer that my constituents would not receive the benefits to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield referred—of rent increases up to the limit of 7s. 6d. per week. If, in his wisdom, the rent officer fixes a rent of 10s., that will be 30s. over three years and those who have become redundant will not be able to afford this. They will be asked to pay the full economic rent, which will be their present rent plus 10s. [Interruption.]
Again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask you please to ask the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South to stop showing his ignorance. His conversation with his hon. and learned Friend is now proceeding at a volume which must be attracting your attention.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
I am listening with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) and I am able to hear him. In other words, the noise of which he complains is not percolating to this end of the Chamber. I suggest that if he pays no attention to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), the rest of the House will pay no attention to him either.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We should leave this matter. The hon. Gentleman has a most important point to make, and he should be allowed to make it quietly. I ask him not to be diverted by other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Crowder
"Rumbleguts" is an expression that is perhaps a little unkind. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. If he spoke up, perhaps we should hear what he is saying.
§ Mr. Swain
If the hon. and learned Gentleman would keep his mouth shut, other people would hear what I am saying.
The unfortunate people who have been made redundant will no longer enjoy the benefit of the subsidy which has been enjoyed and will continue to be enjoyed by those who continue in the Board's employment. They are suffering a double penalty—a reduction in their total income per week and an increase in their rents of up to 10s. a week, or its equivalent in new pence.
§ Mr. Kelley
I have lived in the same house in a colliery village as that in which I went to live in 37 years ago, when I went to Yorkshire, and no case has been brought to my notice of the rent of a redundant miner having been increased because he has ceased to be employed by the National Coal Board. Does my hon. Friend believe that a person who is redundant on 90 per cent. of his previous earnings for the 156 weeks—I am not talking about afterwards—should be subsidised by someone who has to go to work every day to get 100 per cent.?
§ Mr. Swain
That is rather a tragic statement coming from my hon. Friend, whom I respect as much as any hon. Member and who is a very dear friend 894 of mine. When all is said and done, those miners who have been declared redundant are very unfortunate people. The Bill deals with the men who are made redundant as a result of pit closures in their areas.
The Amendment has been called by the Chair. Therefore, it is strictly in order. It is framed with the specific purpose of bringing to the notice of the House and the country that these circumstances apply in the case of redundant miners. In my area I am dealing with appeals to the rent assessment committee concerning four estates and it has already been pointed out very vividly to me by the rent officer that these circumstances will apply.
§ Mr. Kelley
Does my hon. Friend mean that they apply only to redundant miners or to all the occupants of the houses belonging to the National Coal Board?
§ Mr. Swain
If my hon. Friend had been listening as attentively as he nearly always does he would have heard what I said. I said that it applied to redundant miners. The application for the houses to be put on a fair rent basis is for all the property owned by the National Coal Board, but the redundant miners who occupy some of the houses will not continue to receive the subsidy they enjoyed whilst they were employed. I do not think that I could be clearer than that. I am not being disrespectful to my hon. Friend. I am merely pointing out that those miners will suffer a reduction in their income through no fault of their own, and then, as a result of someone else's machinations beyond their control, will suffer a rent increase greater than that of the people who continue in work. That is a very valid point.
I hope that the Minister will look at the Amendment sympathetically and consider its implications. I appreciate that it may be very difficult to incorporate it in the Bill, with the result that it may have to be dealt with as a separate entity. I appreciate all the difficulties. But I want it to be on record that the increased rent is one of the penalties the poor unfortunate victims of the rundown of the mining industry have to suffer.
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) has made a most important point 895 about some of the problems he faces in his constituency. I live in it, and know only too well how true is what my hon. Friend says about those who have left the industry.
There is another problem, associated with the means test philosophy. The people whom the Amendment concerns fall outside the range of supplementary benefits as a result of receiving a theoretical 90 per cent. of their former take-home pay. I do not totally agree with the means test system, but the fact is that we have it. There is to be another benefit called the family income supplement. The people we are discussing will not qualify for that either. The bulk of the redundant miners we are talking about receive between £12 and £16 per week, and they fall outside the supplementary benefit scheme. Therefore, any additional increase of rent as a result of the withdrawal of the £4 million subsidy by the National Coal Board two years ago, the effect of which is now permeating throughout the rows of terraced houses owned by the Board, cannot be recovered by those miners in our means-tested society.
Although I do not applaud the fact that this is necessary, a married couple with an income of only £8 2s., because the man retired normally at the age of 65, will have their rent paid by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Redundant miners, because they are in the £14 to £16 range, fall outside that category and so feel the full weight of the withdrawal of the £4 million subsidy. That is the main point.
What my hon. Friend said about the problem of the North Wingfield Estate is absolutely correct. I have dealt with a similar case in my constituency in the Cann Vale Model Village, and there will be another similar case in the Cresswell Model Village. These are matters for the Minister to take into account.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
In the South Durham area it appears that out of a stock of 9,500 houses owned by the National Coal Board only about 250 are occupied by redundant miners. During the period from 1967 to 1970 about 3,200 miners were made redundant within that area, so the number of redundant miners who remain in N.C.B. houses in the South 896 Durham area is a very small fraction of the total. As long as they are in receipt of statutory make-up pay, their rents are not referred to the county rent officer. Thus, de facto, what is suggested in the Amendment is operating in the South Durham area at this time.
This brings with it, however, the difficulty that, when they cease to be in receipt of the three years' 90 per cent. pay, at that moment, precisely when their income comes down, their rent goes up. Therefore, in framing any Schedule under the Bill, I invite the Minister to look at this sort of problem. I suspect that South Durham may be different from other areas in the way it has operated its letting policy for houses for redundant miners, but, as I understand it, if they move directly from being on redundancy make-up pay on to full retirement pensions, they escape the rent officer, but if they are retired at, say, 61, and then go on to supplementary benefit at 64, even though it is only for a year, their rent level is referred to the rent officer. It is this sort of anomaly which, in following up the Amendment, the Minister should look at very closely.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Arbitration has run into some difficulties generally over recent weeks and I would not wish to arbitrate between my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) and Don Valley (Mr. Kelley). That would be an extremely difficult operation for anyone to embark on, certainly if we wish to make full progress with the Bill.
As I understand the situation, these matters are covered by Article 5(2) of the Scheme that has hitherto been in operation, and no doubt that part of it will be examined by the Minister when he discusses the matter with the N.U.M. Under that Scheme, additional benefit is payable in respect of rent increases consequent upon a man leaving the Board's employment. But I hope that, just as he gave an undertaking that he would discuss the previous matters which were raised with the N.U.M. when he came to work out further schemes, the hon. Gentleman will take full account of the representations which have been made on this Amendment. On that basis, I hope that we shall be able to proceed.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) made it clear that the purpose of the Amendment was to try to ensure that, for a mineworker eligible for payment under this redundancy scheme who is also a tenant of a National Coal Board house, rent shall not be increased. Perhaps it might help the House if I gave a short survey of the existing position.
As has been shown by a number of hon. Members, many mineworkers live in N.C.B. houses now either rent-free or at nominal rents. If one of these men becomes redundant, it is often possible for him to continue to live in the same house. But as he is then no longer in the Board's employ, the Board can increase his rent or charge him a rent if he has previously paid none.
Both the Board and the N.U.M. have approached the Department on this matter and it is certainly one of the aspects which will be brought into the general consideration provided for under the review procedure. For the present, the maximum increase of rent in N.C.B. houses is being limited to 37½p. per week for mining, or 50p. per week for non-mining, tenants. The effect of the Amendment would be to guarantee beneficiaries under the Scheme no increase in rent for the duration of the benefit they were getting, so long as they remained in an N.C.B. house throughout that time.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) was right when he drew attention to the conditions of the existing regulations which cover this point. Under Article 5(2) of the Redundant Mineworkers' Payments Scheme, a supplementary allowance is provided equal to any increase of rent at the time of redundancy, within a maximum of £1 a week, for so long as the man remains a tenant of the Board in the same house. The present arrangements, therefore, protect beneficiaries against rent increases of up to £1 a week at the time of redundancy, related to continued tenancy of the same N.C.B. house.
If, however, the man moves to another house, whether owned by the Board or not, or if the ownership of his house passes from the Board to someone else because of the expiry of a lease or some other reason, the rent allowance under the Scheme ceases. This is because no present or past employee of the Board has 898 a right to indefinite enjoyment of a favourable N.C.B. rent, and all who do so at any time do, I think, accept the risk of losing it because the Board finds that it needs the house for another purpose or disposes of the house to another property-owner.
§ Mr. Eadie
The hon. Gentleman is on a theme which I should have liked to develop. I want to take the example of an old couple moving into another N.C.B. house at the Board's behest and discovering that it is smaller. It is then decontrolled and they find themselves in a serious position. I have had many such cases and I must say that I did not get very sympathetic treatment.
§ Sir J. Eden
I understand that, and it is one of a number of points which the Board has itself put forward which certainly will be under review. I want to emphasise that the Scheme does not distinguish between the redundant mineworker over 55 who qualifies for benefit and any other present or former workman of the Board in providing for a continuation of a specifically favourable rent beyond the time when the man loses the tenancy of a particular house owned by the Board.
But I am aware—and this is a point raised by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) and others—of the fact that a number of men subject to the Scheme have lost a rent allowance because they have had to move house for whatever reason, or because their house has passed out of the Board's ownership, and that this has caused a considerable amount of concern and some complaint. The whole question of the circumstances in which rent allowance should be payable under the Scheme is one of the points which will be reconsidered carefully during the forthcoming review of the arrangements, and I will, of course, bear in mind the observations made during the debate.
§ Mr. Concannon
I think that the matter has been very well aired, which was the purpose of the Amendment. I am sorry that it has apparently caused some friction between some of my hon. Friends, because we all usually work so very closely together. I am sorry for any misunderstanding there may have been between some of my hon. Friends 899 and myself. I am glad that the matter has been aired because the Minister now knows some of the problems we face. With his assurance that these matters will be taken into consideration, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.