HC Deb 28 February 1972 vol 832 cc184-209

10.55 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That the Redundant Mineworkers (Payments Scheme) Order 1972, a draft of which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved. This is a scheme to provide pensions to redundant miners and this order proposes to continue it for a further two years. The scheme was started in 1968 as a result of the Coal Industry Act, 1967. I shall introduce the order briefly and will ask the leave of the House to reply to any points which are made.

The House realises the special problems facing older miners since it has always in the past supported redundant mineworkers schemes. Many of these miners have suffered physical hardship and damage through their dangerous work in the past and find it hard to obtain new jobs. This applies particularly to those older workers who are made redundant, especially if they live in some of the mining areas which are remote from other centres of industrial development. It is necessary to replace the present scheme because it expires on 25th March, 1972. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry said during the passage of the Coal Industry Act, 1971, it has been our intention to bring in a new and improved scheme, and this is the scheme.

We have carried out extensive consultations with the National Union of Mineworkers who submitted a memorandum on the scheme. We have had two meetings with that union which were attended either by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry or myself, there have also been meetings with officials. The National Association of Colliery Over-men, Deputies and Shotfirers have been asked to make representations and the National Coal Board has been consulted as to the nature of the new scheme.

We have succeeded in improving the old scheme in a number of respects to meet various representations but we have decided not to change the main principle of the scheme. It will be available for three years to any miner who is made redundant after he has reached 55 to help him to adjust to the new situation and to the difficulties which confront him. We have not conceded that it should be a premature retirement pension. We are not able to agree it should continue, whatever the period out of work, to the age of 65. To do so would have more than doubled the cost of the scheme and would have made it not a scheme enabling the redundant miner to retrain and readjust to altered circumstances, but would have made it a premature retirement pension.

Moreover, we have not felt it possible to reduce the starting age to 55 because I do not think it right this should be made available to younger men who can the more easily find new work. It would have added considerably to the expense of the scheme to have made that concession. Otherwise I think it can be said that we have met most of the points raised by the N.U.M.

In particular I draw attention to two major changes embodied in the scheme. The first is the addition of cost of living increments. Part of the pension is paid through the unemployment benefit and that is to be adjusted annually. The other part is the basic scheme benefit. It is intended to adjust basic benefit by adding to it an increment based on the rise in the cost of living in the year just past. This is a concession which I hope will be welcomed, because it has been generally held that the increase in the cost of living has destroyed a lot of the value of this pension, and this should help to put that right.

It is generally the Government's policy to review all benefits of this sort every year, and this concession brings it into line with general practice. The second major concession is that we have increased from £3 to £6 a week the benefit which can be kept if a redundant mineworker finds a new job and enters new employment, because if he did he would probably incur income tax, perhaps National Insurance contributions, travelling expenses and other expenses which might well have exceeded the £3 which he would have been able to draw if he had continued to draw that from the redundant mineworkers payment scheme.

The increase to £6 gives him a clear incentive to find new work because he will still be able to get a proportion of his benefit.

The other minor points which have been met I will list, but there is one which we have not decided to agree to, and that is the suggestion from the National Union of Mineworkers that we should treat married men in the same way as we treat single men. There are several reasons why this is right. This is a State benefit which comes from the scheme and it would be wrong to extend the same level of benefit both to married and single men because we take into account the expenses, of the married man, and indeed, all State benefits take that into account. To have made an exception in this case would have breached that principle.

Moreover, although the married man is at the present time receiving roughly 90 per cent. of his previous earnings, to have changed to a position where the single man received the same amount would probably have had the effect of bringing down the percentage which the married man received. This would have increased the global total, and would have been far from popular with those married redundant mineworkers who would have suffered. I believe it is right to keep the principle that there is a difference in State benefits for those who are married and those who are single.

We have made concessions on an important point which the N.U.M. raised, which is that days spent in the last year of earnings on trade union duties or social work, or occasional sickness or other unavoidable absences from work should not be deducted from the computation of the last year's pay. This will be met by administrative action, and therefore it does not appear in the order; but it is none the less the intention of the National Coal Board to make that effective from now on.

Secondly, we have made the rent allowance which is payable to a redundant mineworkers transferable to a new house if he were to move his home. Hitherto, he received a rent allowance if he remained in the house from which he was working before he was made redundant, but if he moved home he was disallowed the rent allowance whatever the rent might have been in his new home. That will no longer apply.

Thirdly, we have eased the rules regarding the offsetting of State and other coal industry benefits against the total of the mineworkers' redundancy payment benefit. Fourthly, we have changed the scheme so that in the event of a second redundancy—if a miner is made redundant a second time—his earnings are computed on the wages paid in the year immediately before the second redundancy as opposed to his previous level of earnings.

Fifthly, these last three concessions will apply to men who are in the existing scheme, not only to miners who might be made redundant in future, but to all those who are part of the existing scheme at the present time.

The Government believe that this is a generous scheme which meets as many as possible of the points which were put forward in extensive consultations. It is by far the most generous scheme in existence for any industry or trade in this country. Moreover, it is more favourable and generous than the scheme in effect in the European Economic Community for redundant mineworkers there.

I commend the scheme to the House as the best agreement that can be made. I hope that it will be taken as a generous and helpful contribution to the very real problems which people who have spent their working lives in the coal mines and have been made redundant towards the end of their working lives undoubtedly suffer.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry referred, in his opening remarks, to the fact that there would be difficulties in finding alternative employment in mining areas. I will come to that later.

The hon. Gentleman was right in saying that the scheme has the agreement of the National Union of Mineworkers and that there has been consultation. However, he told us that he was unable to meet the N.U.M.'s points relating to premature retirement and extending the scheme until the age of 65. To some extent there is a contradiction between the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks and this statement. I should like to try to make the case later.

Looking at the order we discover that it has the same basic structure as the 1968 scheme in the sense that there are 12 Articles and 14 appendices. The Under-Secretary outlined some of the changes in the 1972 draft order compared with the 1968 order. We would draw particular attention to 13 which show a difference in the over-55 scheme compared with the 1968 order.

The hon. Gentleman referred, for example, to the fact that the annual cost of living increase will he paid to beneficiaries on a personal basis after they have been receiving benefit for one year and then again after two years. We certainly welcome that.

Secondly, that the general increases in benefits, such as the special hardship allowance and workmen's compensation supplementation will not be offset as at present will be greatly welcomed.

Thirdly, there are the increases in benefits paid to men on workmen's compensation as a result of becoming total or major incapacity cases.

Fourth, there is award of special hardship allowance in respect of an accident or disease sustained after redundancies.

Fifth, any general increase in unemployment benefit between 6th April, 1972, and 6th April, 1973, will be offset against the benefit of men made redundant after 6th April, 1973. The hon. Gentleman commented on that.

Sixth, the maximum amount of benefit that can be kept by those who get a job is increased from £3 to £6 a week. That is generally welcomed.

Seventh, the table of basic benefit appropriate to the various ranges of pre-redundancy earnings set out in Appendix 4 has been recalculated so that the basic benefit, plus the 1971 rate of unemployment benefit for a man and one adult dependant, equals, after tax and on average over the three years, 90 per cent. of previous take-home pay. Since the table in the old scheme was based on the lower 1967 rate of unemployment benefit the figures for the basic benefit in the new scheme are lower.

Eighth, service in the coal industry before nationalisation can now count towards the 10 qualifying years.

Ninth, the other substantial change is that women who are not paying the full National Insurance stamp will be able to get some benefit despite not being eligible for unemployment benefit.

Tenth, days of absence from home which disqualify a person from unemployment benefit, and also from scheme benefit, will be counted as days rather than one day in a week resulting in a whole week's disqualification as at present.

The Under-Secretary commented on the question of penalties. If I may digress on this, the Opposition certainly welcome the interpretation that penalties, for example concerning councillors, should be now removed. We have always thought it was an absurd anomaly that people who sought to serve the community, and indeed some of them gave 20 or 25 years of their lives for the benefit of the community, should be penalised when confronted with redundancy.

Eleventh, a man made redundant within the terms of the scheme and reemployed in the coal industry for more than a year and then made redundant a second time can choose on which of the two pre-redundancy earnings he wishes his benefit to be calculated.

Twelfth, the requirement that in order to continue getting the rent allowance a person must continue to live in the same house in which he was living when he was made redundant, and that this house must continue to be owned by the board, is removed.

Thirteenth, the relevant tax year on which pre-redundancy earnings are based will now be the previous tax year for everybody, instead of being two years ago for those made redundant during April. This again is a concession we certainly welcome.

The Under-Secretary made some comment on the amendments which would be made and incorporated in the 1968 scheme under which men are at present beneficiaries. We should like more of these to be incorporated in the 1968 scheme, but it is right and proper that the House should have drawn to its attention the factors that will benefit men who are at present in the 1968 scheme. Then there are the offset provisions, the removal of the restriction for continuing receipt of the rent allowance, the removal of the ban on women who did not pay the full National Insurance stamp, the counting of absence from home in days instead of weeks and the choice which is given to men who are made redundant for the second time will be incorporated into the 1968 scheme. These changes will apply only to beneficiaries under the 1968 scheme who experience the listed change of circumstances: for example, a general increase in the special hardship allowance, a second redundancy and compulsory purchase of the board's house in which men live after 25th March.

We are entitled at this juncture to draw attention to the discussions that took place. I understand that an understanding rather than an agreement was reached as a result of which the Department of Trade and Industry indicated that it would consider paying something on an ex gratia basis for people who experience such changed circumstances before this date.

When the Under-Secretary replies he might like to make some comment about this. It is of great moment and importance to many miners at the present time. It can be based on the introduction that the hon. Gentleman made when he was presenting the order to the House about the difficulties that men experience in mining areas in finding any kind of employment.

The Minister for Industry (Sir John Eden)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but I am not absolutely clear about the particular change of circumstances which he was drawing to our attention. I wonder whether he would be good enough to recapitulate.

Mr. Eadie

The fault may be entirely mine. I was quoting from a document from the National Union of Mineworkers. The idea is not one from my own head. The document, which I have before me, goes on to say that these changes will apply only to beneficiaries under the 1968 scheme who experience the listed changes of circumstances, and I read out those changes. They are, for example, a general increase in special hardship allowance, a second redundancy and compulsory purchase of the board's houses in which they live after 25th March. We are really talking about dates.

The point is made that the Department of Trade and Industry has indicated that it will consider doing something on an ex gratia basis for people who experience such change of circumstances before that date. I was asking the Under-Secretary, since this is of great importance to people at present on the scheme, whether he would care to comment, because this debate will be read carefully by many men who have a vested interest in the outcome of any amendment of the 1968 scheme irrespective of the order proposing the new scheme in 1972.

The Under-Secretary mentioned that the new scheme had the support of the N.U.M. I do not remember whether he conceded, but I think it is the fact, that most of the improvements in the scheme that I have tried to list were proposed in the first place by the N.U.M. The Minister in replying to the debate can perhaps tell us that the Government had to concede the improvements or the suggestions put forward by the N.U.M.

It is not churlish of me to mention the criticisms that were made by the N.U.M., which argued that the three-year limit on the duration of benefit should be removed. The hon. Gentleman commented on this when he said he was not able to concede that the premature retirement provision should extend until the age of 65. That is the point I am trying to make. The N.U.M.—I am a member of its national executive—argued this on the basis that most of the men who had been receiving benefit, as the hon. Gentleman conceded in his opening remarks, were still unemployed at the end of the third year, and this was particularly the case with those living in areas of high unemployment. This meant that after three years their income dropped from 90 per cent. of their previous take-home pay to the poverty line up to which supplementary allowance brought them.

That is not an assertion but is a fact which is supported, as the following figures indicate. The figures for those still benefiting under the scheme—that is, excluding those whose three years are up—speak for themselves. They show that (a) the number of men in the scheme is 12,330 and (b) the number of men under the age of 60 when they were made redundant was 4,671; (c) the number of those in this category (b) who have found a job is the astonishing figure of 492; (d) the number of men who were 60 and overwhen they became redundant is 7,659 and (e) of those 7,659 the staggering figure of 84 have found a job. (c) is 10.5 per cent. of (b) and (e) is 1.1 per cent of (d). I wonder whether the Minister would like to comment on this because, as I suggested to him, the N.U.M. was not making an assertion but was quoting the facts of the situation, which the Government may wish to consider further.

Before I knew that I was to speak in this debate—it was thrust upon me today—I received a letter from a constituent today describing the plight of his miner father. One could not read it without feeling anger as well as sorrow and pity. His father was made redundant from Easthouses Colliery, which has now closed. He has had to have a lung removed, and is now too ill to work. After 40 years in the industry, he has landed on the scrap heap, and by some quirk he does not even get any concessionary coal. That is a scandalous reward for a man who helped to produce these black diamonds which, as the nation knows from the events of recent weeks, it cannot do without. No wonder the families of miners at times ask whether there is any justice.

We welcome the improvements of the 1972 scheme, but we must ask ourselves whether, when we talk of voluntary redundancy and early retirement, we are talking in fact of a process of premature unemployment, for the rest of a man's life, in the full knowledge that he will not have any adequate pension or other financial provision for the rest of his natural life.

Again, I am not making an assertion. I am relating the rather pathetic facts of life which hon. Members read in their correspondence. I hope that the Minister will have another look at the case made by the N.U.M. on this vitally important point. Workpeople think that it is a scant reward for men who broke the back of the Nazi armies in the Second World War, who, by their industrial contribution, made this country a foremost industrial nation. We will certainly not oppose the order, but we shall not rest content until such anomalies as I have described are removed.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

First, I must acknowledge that the Government have been co-operative and helpful in continuing that part of the Coal Industry Act which affects coal miners over 55 who lose their jobs through pit closures. Second, we must acknowledge the skill of the National Union of Mineworkers negotiators, who, over a protracted period, have been presenting this case—particularly Mr. Buick, one of the back room boys of the union, who was largely responsible for its total presentation—and also of my hon. Friends, who, during the Committee stage of the Coal Industry Act, 1971, made many of the suggestions which have been incorporated in the order.

There are about 13 changes from the 1968 scheme. I will not go through them all, but there are five main improvements. First, the annual cost of living increase, a big improvement, is fair and right. Second, the increases in the special hardship allowance and the workmen's compensation benefits are now not to be offset against the miners' basic benefits. That too is a good improvement.

Third, earnings for part-time employment have been increased from £3 to £6 before the miner's basic is affected—providing that they can find part-time employment in the development areas, where unemployment is rife. Fourth, the tied house anomaly is removed. That is, to qualify for the rent allowance, he was tied to the house, especially the N.C.B. house, in which he was living when made redundant. Fifth, days absent from home are now to count in days only, so that a week's unemployment benefit is not lost if he is affected on only one day. Those appear to me to be the five outstanding points in the improvements in the order.

The original scheme which we brought forward in 1968 was hurried and there were many anomalies. Indeed, it was not then, and it is still not, the right answer. But, based on what I thought at the time was humanity—we foresaw many pit closures, especially in development areas where it is difficult to introduce quickly alternative employment—we hurriedly introduced the over-55 scheme to try to alleviate the distress and suffering there were to be among many miners.

When a pit closes, it can mean unemployment for a thousand men at a time. In areas of high unemployment and with the difficulties of introducing new industries into those areas, to find jobs for a thousand men at a time is an almost insurmountable problem. Thousands of men over 55 have already been involved. It has brought many problems in its train. My fear is that the over-55 block of redundant mineworkers is fast becoming a lost work force to the nation. They are all practically permanently retired. We all know that first there is a period of easement, then a fall in benefits, and then relatively no hope of work. Allied with the Government's dismal failure on the economic and industrial front, with a million unemployed, these men are now being cast upon the industrial scrap heap. I warn the Government that these men must not be forgotten. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman, apart from the order, even in winding up may be able to give them some hope.

In trying to help, I make three suggestions. First, more pits will still close in areas of high unemployment through exhaustion of seams, geological difficulties, perhaps because of lost markets through the last seven weeks, and especially because of Government policy. As has already been announced, they will step up open cast coal mining, import more coal and oil and possibly convert power stations from coal to oil. I hope that at least the hon. Gentleman can make an early announcement that the order, or an improved version of it, will continue well beyond March, 1974.

Second, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider removing the three-year limit. For example, a man 55 years of age affected by a pit closure and declared redundant receives his benefits for three years. At 58 years of age, in cost of our towns and development areas which have been mono-economies dependent on coal for many years, there is no hope of work. Apart from the seven years' production per man lost to the nation, this man becomes lifeless, spiritless. He loses pride in himself. What is more, he becomes a ghost of a man. We are creating now hosts of ghosts in the old mining towns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) mentioned the national figure. Those already involved in the scheme number 12,330. Only 576 have so far found a job. In the Barnsley area, which has been mainly a mono-economy for many years, in which 9 per cent. of the insured population—totalling 6,525—is unemployed, the figure for male unemployment, including temporarily stopped, is 12 per cent. or 4,862. That is a frighteningly depressing figure. But in my town 477 men are involved in the over-55 scheme. Eighty eight have already been phased out. Having had three years of their benefits they are down to supplementary benefit and only one man has so far found work. There is little hope that under present Government policies any of the others will do so. That is the trouble. We are creating hosts of ghosts in the old mining towns.

My third suggestion is the most important of all. I hope the Government will now seriously consider phasing out the over-55 scheme and introducing sretirement at 60 for coal miners. Retirement at 60 has been our goal for many years. I will explain how it can be done. We have to recognise that there is hardly any hope of jobs for these men in other areas. They have been miners all their lives. They need retraining before they can take on other work but they are in areas of very high unemployment. In this industry 765 miners are killed or die of industrial disease in any year. More than 400 contract pneumoconiosis every year and become diseased for life. Nearly 600 are seriously maimed and 82,000 slightly injured a year. Forty thousand ex-miners receive pneumoconiosis benefits. What a toll that is of life and yet much of this could be avoided it we established retirement at 60. I hope the Minister can institute a study, therefore, of the costs of continuing the over-55 scheme compared with retirement at age 60. We need a total sum appraisal of the financial benefits, considering up to 90 per cent. take-home pay for all those miners who will be affected by pit closures, considering all the unemployment benefits, the various supplementals, loss of productive capacity to the nation of the thousands of men over 55 years of age—all that compared to retirement at 60.

The financial cost, the saving of life and the limiting of industrial disease would mean that retirement at 60 would be the cheapest and best for all concerned. This problem will exist for many years and I hope the Minister will treat that final suggestion as of paramount importance. He should establish the study and let us know the outcome.

11.34 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)

Like my hon. Friends who have already spoken I warmly welcome the order. There are many changes between this order and the order made in 1968, which was too hastily drawn up. No time was given to the detail of it. That point has been made by many of my hon. Friends from mining constituencies over the years, in Questions and speeches. Many of the gaps in the 1968 order have now been plugged. Furthermore, that order did not carry out the principle of 90 per cent. take-home pay. Many of the recipients have been given 90 per cent. in the first year but have never reached it in the second and third years that the order had to run.

On Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill, 1971, Labour Members gave reasons why the order should be continued. We were rather worried whether or not it would be continued after a change of Government. On Report, last February we listed the necessary improvements. In speaking to an Amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), we pointed out that the order worked in such a way that after the first 28 weeks the pay deteriorated, tax accounting for much of that deterioriation in the second and third years. I should like the Minister to clarify the position. I have a feeling that this has been accounted for in the basic element the Coal Board has to pay during the period of the order, to take account of tax, so that over the three years as a whole those who are unfortunate enough to be made redundant receive an average of 90 per cent. take-home pay.

We realise that any further increase in unemployment benefit cannot be offset, because if it were not offset some members could take home more than 100 per cent. of the take-home pay. Therefore, although we should have liked to see that in the order we understand why it has been left out.

But we are pleased to see that future increases in special hardship allowance and increases in workmen's compensation will not be offset. In other words, our members will receive the benefit of any such increases. Even full workmen's compensation is taken account of. Another feature of the order as compared with the previous order is that pre-nationalisation service will help people to come into benefit. In fact, a break in continuity of service will be allowed for.

When giving evidence to the Wilberforce Court of Inquiry, the Coal Board said that by 1980 we should need another 100 million tons of coal equivalent extra power, and that coal should retain its 140 million tons share of the market. It is all right projecting into the future, but we had a basinful of that in the 1967 White Paper, which has been proved very wrong in several respects. But if the Board is correct in its projection of 140 million tons, then, provided no coal is imported—and I hope that when we get over the crisis the Government will stop importing coal—there will not be many redundancies. Although this order is much better than the previous one, it would be better still if no one were ever made redundant. The order is only a long-stop.

I support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) said about the pensions scheme. It is much better, as Wilberforce pointed out, that spensions should be reviewed and that we should try to get a decent livingpension for our people when they reach 60, so that everyone in the industry will be able to retire by the age of 60 on a pension that he can live on.

I fully support the order. It will be a relief to the Minister to know that we shall not divide the House against it.

11.39 p.m.

Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)

I do not want to say very much, because most of what needs to be said has been covered by my hon. Friend the Member of Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), who made an excellent job of his first speech from the Dispatch Box at very short notice. I could go on for a long time pinpointing criticism of many of the changes enacted in the order, but as so many of my hon. Friends wish to speak I shall confine myself to one—the question of the cost of living annual increase. We are thankful for the scheme, but it is not very generous. I will give an example.

I had occasion to write to the hon. Gentleman about a constituent who had become redundant about two and a half years ago. Since becoming redundant, he had found that an increase of £3 a week had been given to the miners in his grade, and he felt that he should have got some benefit from that because, had he continued in work, his earnings would have gone up by £3 a week. But under this scheme he was not going to benefit in his take-home pay. The reply sent by the hon. Gentleman said: When Mr. Hamill was made redundant his pre-redundancy earnings of £14.41 per week made him eligible for benefit of £11.15 per week (including unemployment benefit during the first year). This means that Mr. Hamill was getting from the Government, in addition to unemployment benefit, the sum of only £3.85. I do not think anyone could call that generous. It was of great help, but this man would not have been very much worse off had he simply got unemployment benefit, long-term allowances from supplementary benefit, and an allowance for rent and rates. He was not better off at 60 years of age. The letter went on: Unemployment benefit was from £7.30 to £8.10 in November 1969 and under the Scheme Mr. Hamill has benefited from that increase. Unemployment benefit will again be increased next September and the total of his benefit will then be s£13.55. Thus, you will see that the Scheme has worked so as to give him not a static income but an increase of £2.40 in a little over two years. I fear that that means that what Mr. Hamill enjoyed during his period of redundancy others will no longer enjoy, arising from an increase in unemployment benefit after April, 1973. Later in the letter the hon. Gentleman pointed out that Mr. Hamill was entitled to a rent allowance. It seemed that most people locally were ignorant of that, because although Mr. Hamill took the letter to the local office of the National Coal Board it refused to grant him rent allowance because he had had his rent increased under the N.C.B. scheme. I had to write to the Chairman of the Board and get him to confirm what the hon. Gentleman had said. So Mr. Hamill at least is grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

The duration period should be extended. This man was made redundant at the age of 60. Redundancy payments will end in July, and he will still have two years to go before reaching retirement age. That means that his income from July will be depressed to near poverty level. He will be entirely dependent on supplementary benefit. I ask the Minister to think again and try to extend the duration period.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

The coal industry is treated as a total industry, and if a man becomes redundant he can be moved from one colliery to another—in theory, from Wales to Scotland. If he were an industrial manufacturing worker in a factory and were made redundant he could draw his redundancy pay and walk up the road in the Midlands—that may not be true under the present Government, but it was under the Labour Government—and get another job. The mining industry is one of the toughest that there is. The latest tragedy took place only recently at Cynheidre, when three men fell down the pit shaft. Countless friends of mine have been made redundant at one colliery and sent to another on the jeopardy list. That colliery has then been closed, and they have been moved on. Some incipient pneumonconiotics or incipient silicotics are ordered around the country. They have to travel many hours a day leaving collieries to which they have become attached. They can get redundancy pay only when they have been moved three or four times. Surely the miner is entitled to the same treatment as the worker in manufacturing industry.

The miner is shoved around from pit to pit. In the end this Government will destroy what they claim they stand for and rob these men of hope. When they do that the Prime Minister can certainly go on television and talk about the real danger that exists in a system so savage as to rob men of hope. Some reasonable and generous elements are involved in the order, but in treating those in nationalised industries differently from those in the private sector the Government are making the same mistake as when they tried to force an incomes policy on the public sector and not on the private sector.

11.50 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)

I must first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), who has made a magnificent maiden speech from the Dispatch Box and given a very clear analysis of the order. If no other hon. Member had spoken tonight the Under-Secretary would have had more than enough to do in the time available to him to deal with the points made so ably by my hon. Friend.

I have three main criticisms of the order. However, before coming to them, I want to illustrate how those engaged in the mining industry, instead of going from zero to infinity in their wage-earning capacity, unfortunately go from zero right over the scale and back to zero. One of the most regrettable features in the past few years has been the way in which the zero at the latter end of men s working years has become more telescoped with the zero at the beginning. By that, I mean that we have begun to see men being registered as pneumoconiotics at the early age of 25, proving beyond doubt that dust hazards in the industry are affecting men at a much earlier age. As a consequence, a man reaching the age of 50 is almost beyond earning a reasonably high wage in a pit.

Hon. Members on this side of the House hoped that the Minister would consider this point seriously. It was made cogently when we considered the Coal Industry Bill in Committee. We proposed that the age should be brought down from 55 to 50, bearing in mind the point that I have just made, which is only one of many. For example, the reflexes of men become slower because of the more difficult conditions in which they are working, so they become more accident-prone. We on this side still believe that the age should be made 50, thus making the end-product longer.

In 1967, we in the miners' group argued from the benches opposite that the date for the expiration of the order that we were considering then should be extended to 1975. I am of the same view today. I believe that this order should be extended. Although I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) 100 per cent. about retirement at 60, I agree with Jim sGriffiths that miners should be able to retire on adequate pensions at 60. However, that does not seem to be in the offing yet. At the moment, we have what is more of less a compulsory retirement scheme at 58. Assuming that a man is redundant at 55 and obtains his three years' benefits then, because of disability in one way or other, he is compulsorily retired at 58. This amounts to a retirement age two years earlier than usual without the attendant benefits. This situation should be examined seriously by the Government.

I appreciate that the Labour Government's scheme was drawn up in a hurry; it was an expedient, and filled the bill at the time. But the Government should have realised the mistakes which were then made and, on humanitarian grounds, should have corrected them in these provisions.

The Housing Finance Bill, which is in Committee upstairs, will inevitably affect those people who suffer early retirement or redundancy. Rent allowance will be given to married men, but single men who rent Coal Board houses may well find themselves in difficulties since the board has made applications for fair rents to be fixed. In my constituency rents which, in old money, used to be 35 shilling per week, have risen to £4.50. The single man will suffer considerable hardship and in terms of rent, if nothing else, should be treated on a par with the married man.

During the debates in 1968 we sat up until eight o'clock in the morning, and one of the major matters we discussed was whether men who served on local authorities should qualify for redundancy payments, and whether the time that they had lost should be taken into account. The Labour Government saw fit to amend the legislation to bring such lost time into the benefit scheme. The provisions of the Local Government Bill will bring about a fundamental change in the situation. The wider powers given to counties will take up more and more time of people who serve on local authorities, and this trend will continue over the years.

When it is pointed out that 10 years ago there were 14 pits in my constituency and that that number has now declined to four, it can be seen what a rapid decline has taken place in the industry; the number of men employed in the industry has fallen from 14,000 to 4,500. Many of those people who undertake service in the local authority will lose money in so doing. Therefore, I ask the Minister to examine this matter seriously and to say why nothing is done about it in terms of the present order. If nothing can be done on this occasion, I hope that in future we shall have an order which will allow those serving on local authorities to qualify for redundancy payments.

11.58 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I hope that the Minister will take note of the suggestion in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) that those who serve on local authorities should be considered when retirement benefits are being assessed. It is disgraceful when somebody who has served for 35 or 40 years in the mining industry is left for up to seven years with no benefits other than unemployment benefit. I have known men who have given their lives to the industry and who, having been declared redundant at 55, have had no opportunity to find work in the area. That does not happen in any other industry. The Minister knows that in many industries, when a person has served 35 or 40 years he qualifies for a very good pension right to the end of his life.

In the coal mining industry—the most arduous and dangerous in this country—the miners are treated as though they can find other work after the age of 58. In my area, where there is 10 per cent. unemployment or more, what hope is there for a man aged 58 or over to find work? There is no hope whatsoever. Even though the Labour Government's scheme was appreciated at the time, it fell far below what the men in the industry deserved.

This Government have to realise—and they have increased unemployment from 600,000 to over 1 million—that it is almost impossible for a person to get a job when he is made redundant in the mining industry. Does that mean throwing the men on the scrapheap at the age of 58? It has been said that it might happen at 50. Does that mean 54, or 55, or 56? It is disgraceful that any society should accept that kind of decision against people who are still capable of doing a job of work. I hope that the Government will realise that.

I am worried about the future of miners in a contracting industry. What sort of society are we going to be living in—a society that believes that when men reach the age of 55, 56 or 57 they should be thrown on the scrapheap, on unemployment benefit that is far below the standard of living that the Government say they believe in? I hope that the Minister will realise this because the greatest worry to the mining industry now is what is going to happen to those who are working in the industry, as well as those who have been made to leave it.

The benefits that miners used to receive, but will no longer receive, are factors that must also be taken into account. This Government will be condemned unless they are more generous to the miners who have been in this industry for their whole working lives. No other industry treats its employees like the Government are going to treat the miners.

I appeal to the Minister to have another look at the order and make certain that it will ensure more generous treatment to the miners than they are receiving at present.

12.5 a.m.

Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)

I understand that the Minister would like to speak again at a quarter-past Twelve. I shall ensure that he has plenty of time to reply to the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Alex Eadie) on his debut at the Dispatch Box. I used to be his election agent. I was not terribly successful, because I did not get him into Parliament. However, all election agents like to see their candidates progress, and this is a particularly good night for me, having watched my hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box.

I do not want to appear churlish in saying that although the order is obviously a humanitarian Measure, on a fair number of occasions it is likely to lead to less than a humanitarian outcome in the lives of various individuals in the mining communities.

Some hon. Members have referred to miners made redundant at the age of 55 and above. Bluntly, the position is that a man who has been made redundant at the age of 55 finds himself, at the age of 58—certainly in Ayrshire, which I know best—in a fairly hopeless situation in terms of finding employment. At the moment Ayrshire, in which men from the Ayrshire coalfield must seek further employment, has about 6,500 males unemployed and fewer than 200 male vacancies. It is not unusual for a man who has been made redundant in the mines at the age of 55 or over to be told by any would-be employer that he is far too old to be taken on, especially in these circumstances. That is one problem facing the man over 55 years of age.

Another problem, mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), concerns men who have a disease contracted in the mining industry. After an initial period in which they have enjoyed the fresh air, perhaps for the first time for many years, they suddenly come up against the crunch of unemployment, and something dies within them. After miners are loaded with disease to a certain point and the human machine stops working constantly, it seems that it starts to die within and cannot be regenerated.

It is very sad to meet men made redundant under the 1968 scheme, for example, who have started to lose hope of ever regaining what they regard as total manhood, measured by their ability to earn a living. In those circumstances I view the order with mixed feelings.

If redundancy is inevitable—obviously, when pits meet the point of exhaustion some redundancy is inevitable—I suppose it is better that money should be made available. I welcome wholeheartedly the provision for additional benefits being paid to redundant miners—benefits which arise from the pressure by the Labour Party, immediately after the 1970 election, for the Coal Industry Act from which the order arises.

Listening to the Minister introducing the order, one of my keenest disappointments was that he rejected the crucial claim by the N.U.M. that the redundancy payments scheme should continue until retirement age. Although he has met a number of peripheral factors, the crucial one has been rejected. I wonder what would have happened if the N.U.M. had added that to some of the points negotiated in Downing Street on the evening that the Wilberforce Report was considered.

One reason that I view the order with mixed feelings is the knowledge I have that however good a redundancy scheme we make, if we confine it to a three-year period it will only defer the evil day when a man finally has to admit to himself, to his neighbours and to the community in which he lives that he is on the labour scrapheap for the remainder of what is normally regarded as his working life The redundancy scheme merely lulls men into taking early unemployment, and not early retirement.

I doubt very much whether this is the best way in which we can meet the needs of those men who are made redundant in the mining community.

It should not be beyond the wit of any Government to promote special retraining schemes and make special efforts to place these men in employment. They are the victims of special circumstances, and should be considered a special case and given special treatment by the Government. If, because of the employment situation, the Government cannot do this, they are morally bound to accept the point made by the N.U.M. that the scheme should continue until the point of retirement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) suggested that the mining industry is so special a case that the retirement age for miners should be 60. In principle, I think, we all agree with that, certainly on this side of the House.

Many miners still in employment between the ages of 60 and 65 use that time, when their family responsibilities have been reduced, to build up their home, acquire carpets and furniture and set themselves up so that they have no capital outlay after retirement at 65. Miners want the assurance, if we campaign for retirement at 60, that the present poverty level pensions will be raised to give them a more substantial rate of income. They want a pension on which they can lead a full and decent life. Dignity is very important to miners and mining communities.

12.14 a.m.

Mr. Ridley

By leave of the House, I will reply to the points which have been raised. I add my congratulations to those extended to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) who has found himself for the first time on what might be called the coal face of the House of Commons. I assure him that there is a lot of hard digging to be done from it, and I wish him all success. I express my pleasure at the welcome given by the Opposition to the many improvements embodied in the scheme. It is right to acknowledge that it was a comprehensive and reasonable memorandum from the N.U.M. which persuaded us that it was right to make these changes. Representations had also been made to us by hon. Gentlemen about defects in the scheme. Equally, I hope they will acknowledge that we have done our best to meet all these points and that this is reflected in the order.

I will deal with questions asked and points raised and then turn to what was perhaps the major theme of the debate—the suggestion that the scheme should have gone further in various ways. I was asked about ex-gratia payments by the hon. Member for Midlothian. Retrospective application of concessions, such as retention of rent allowance to a man on the present scheme, applies only after March, 1972.

We told the N.U.M.—I am glad of this chance to put it on the record—that we would be ready to give ex-gratia consideration to any individual cases of a similar kind where the change in question happened before March, 1972, if hardship was caused. If there are any special cases in which hardship has been caused and they are put forward to the Government or the National Coal Board, they will be considered very fully.

The hon. Member quoted figures concerning the proportion of miners who had found jobs after redundancy. I cannot confirm or deny those figures tonight but I think everybody would wish to give the greatest possible incentive for them to find extra employment. We do not want early retirement for the sake of early retirement. It would be far preferable if there were incentives to find another job. That, I think, is built into the scheme that is now before the House.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) asked why we did not go beyond March, 1974. I think events have proved that it is wiser to take the scheme for a short period only. If the present scheme ran for another three or four years from now, it would not be possible to make the improvements which are built into this scheme. In due course, therefore, it might well be possible to make further improvements and changes which correct anomalies, and that would be to the advantage of all concerned. To tie ourselves to too long a period, however, seems to me to be too much of a mortgage of future policy. Indeed, the union itself might well feel that it would like to have another opportunity to assess the effect of the scheme in a couple of years' time and make further representations. I assure the House, however that there is no intention of terminating the scheme in March, 1974, or that it should come to an end and there would be nothing to replace it. That is not at all the intention.

The right hon. Gentleman wondered what would be the cost of a different scheme. I shall come to this presently, but it might help the House to know that under all the schemes to date 37,000 people have benefited at a total cost of £30 million. That might be useful information to hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) asked whether 90 per cent. of earnings was ever reached and whether the tax treatment was consistent with that target. What happens is that the effect of taxation falls fairly heavily in the second and third years of the scheme and hardly touches the first year. That is why the initial year is paid at 95 per cent. of previous earnings but the figure falls later. This is in order to give the recipient an average of 90 per cent. overall, including his taxation liabilities, over the three-year period. I know that this is complicated, and it must seem very complicated to the recipient, but the intention, and I think the effect, is to pay 90 per cent. over the three-year period. That is what we hope to consider.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) asked whether unemployment benefit increases would continue to be paid. The answer is "Yes". If there are increases in unemployment benefit, they will of course immediately reflect themselves in the unemployment benefit part of the total payment. The basic scheme part, which is the other part of the basic payment, will also be reviewed annually, so that both parts will be reviewed to make sure that they take account of increases in the cost of living.

The principle applying throughout this scheme—and it has now been enforced by the order—is that the annual increase is related to increases in the cost of living or such increases in State benefits as the Government of the day may determine, and that, therefore, whatever rate of earnings applies at the time of retirement will be continued in real terms for the whole period of the scheme. That, I hope, will be effected by the changes proposed in the order.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) implied that miners were in some way less well treated than other professions or trades. This is not arguable, because no other profession has a redundancy scheme of this sort. I take the point that when a man is changing from pit to pit redundancy pay is not drawable, but of course it is a great advantage that there is a single employer who can offer alternative work at other pits. This is one reason why the party opposite favoured this form of nationalisation—that there was a single, monolithic employer which could provide the most opportunities and the best career structure and employment earnings for those whom it employed.

Coupled with the fact that this scheme is unique to this industry, to have a scheme of this sort makes it difficult to say that mining is treated differently from other industries—unless one were to say that in some ways it receives advantages over other trades and professions.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), talked about rents. National Coal Board tenants, whether married or single, will get the same rent allowance, so that they benefit that way. Equally, although it is not for me to talk of such matters, I believe that the hon. Member will find that, under the Bill to which he referred, rebates are offered for certain levels of income. I cannot say what they are, because I have not studied the details closely at this stage, but this must be taken into account in assessing the effect of any increases in rents on tenants of N.C.B. houses.

I confirm to the hon. Member and to the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) that time spent in working on local authorities or in the public service, or in magistrates' courts, and so on, will count towards the computation of the total number of days in the last year's service. I said that in opening the debate, and I confirm it now It does not appear in the order because it can be effected by administrative rather than legal action.

Some hon. Members argued that we should reduce the age to 50, others that we should extend the duration of the scheme to 65, whatever the age of redundancy, and yet others that we should introduce a pension age of 60 for all miners. Although I appreciate the argument that we are dealing with people with difficult health and aging problems, special problems at work. There are due to the nature of this work, these are not the only people who suffer from many other employments in which industrial diseases and other hazards put men in a difficult position before retirement age.

There is for miners this special scheme, far in advance of that provided in any other industry. It is far better than is provided by any other country for their coal miners. It has been improved by the order, and obviously the total cost is a factor which the Government have to bear in mind. I strongly reject the suggestion that we should reduce the starting age to 50, because to do that would merely put off the time when the redundant miner has to seek a new job.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the Redundant Mineworkers (Payments Scheme) Order 1972, a draft of which was laid before this House on 1st February, be approved.