§ The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. John Moore)
I beg to move,That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
With this it will be convenient to take motion No. 3:That the draft Mineworkers' Pension Scheme (Limit on Contributions) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.
§ Mr. Moore
I am sure that most of the hon. Members present tonight will know that two orders of this type are needed in March each year: the Redundant Mineworkers (Payments Scheme) Order to introduce an updated table of benefits paid by the Government under the redundant mineworkers' payments scheme to persons redundant in the coal industry on or after 6 April and eligible for the scheme, taking account of changes in unemployment benefit and any other amendments to the social security system; and the pension scheme order, to adjust the Government's reimbursement of deficiency contributions to the mineworkers' pension scheme to take account of cost of living increases in pensions. This is the fourth time I have moved approval of these two orders, and I think I can reasonably say that I am now nearly as old a hand at it as the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie).
Some of the RMPS orders that I have introduced have confined themselves to updating the benefits in this way, and perhaps making minor changes to eliminate any anomalies or difficulties in the operation of the scheme. By contrast, the order I introduced two years ago made substantial improvements to the benefits available under the scheme, for the first time since 1973. There were substantial increases in the lump sum payments, and these were extended for the first time to persons aged 55 to 59 at redundancy. The duration of weekly benefit payable to people aged 55 or over at redundancy at about two-thirds of previous earnings was extended from three years to five years. At the same time, the benefits paid by the industry's pensions schemes to such people once their benefit at two-thirds earnings had expired were increased, and immediate pensions were provided for all people aged 50 to 54 at redundancy. The Government reimburse the pensions funds, through the board, for the cost of doing this; this has required a small extension of existing statutory powers, which, as the House knows, we took under the Coal Industry Act 1982.
The present RMPS order comes somewhere between the two. It makes some useful improvements to the benefits, and also tidies up several anomalies and difficulties, but it does not represent by any means such a substantial improvement as was made in 1981.
The age group in which improvements are concentrated is that of persons aged 50 to 54 at redundancy. Under the present scheme, these people receive lump sum payments, but no continuing benefit—although, as I have mentioned, they do receive a pension from their industry scheme which might, in typical cases, amount to about £25 per week. Those redundant on or after 6 April will continue to receive all these benefits and, in addition, two continuing scheme benefits.
First, once their entitlement to unemployment benefit has expired—normally a year after redundancy—as long 819 as they remain unemployed, the scheme will pay a continuing benefit equal to the rate of unemployment benefit they would be receiving but for the expiry of their entitlement—currently £40.45 per week for a married couple without dependants. Secondly, the scheme will pay a supplement, making their pension up to £35 per week. Thus, under the new scheme and the pensions schemes most persons redundant at ages 50 to 54 will receive total benefits of around £75 per week. In addition, they will now receive concessionary coal on the same basis as do those aged 55 or over at redundancy.
There are some improvements also for those aged 55 or over at redundancy. The limit on earnings used in working out their weekly benefit at about two-thirds of earnings is to be raised from £140 to £160 per week, and a minor change is made to the procedure for calculating these earnings to bring the RMPS into line with the board's own voluntary early retirement scheme. Once the five-year period of earnings-related benefit has expired, these people already receive pensions, as I have pointed out, and also unemployment benefit equivalent payments if they have not reached the normal retiring age. They will now receive the same supplementary payment with their pension, taking it to £35, as will the 50 to 54 age group.
People made redundant below the age of 50 will continue to receive lump sums only, on a progressive scale related to age, service in the industry, and final earnings. The maximum level of payments per year of service is not increased, but the rate of progression through the scale is increased so that this maximum is reached at age 40 instead of age 47.
In addition to these changes, there are several which rectify anomalies and difficulties in the scheme for those redundant on or after 6 April. I am very pleased to see the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) in the Chamber tonight. He has raised with both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and myself the fact that individuals whose service in the industry is broken for more than 26 weeks through injury can suffer a large reduction in those lump sum payments under the scheme which relate to payments under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act, with its use of continuous service in assessing payments. The National Union of Mineworkers has also raised the matter with us. This order stipulates that periods in which a man is receiving an incapacity pension do not break the continuity of employment for the purpose of the scheme.
By making this change we are rectifying an anomaly which has threatened to affect the benefits of a few people who have suffered injury during their employment in the industry. I am delighted to be able to do this, and I commend hon. Members on the pressure that they have applied on behalf of their constituents in the industry.
Difficulties have also arisen in respect of people who emigrate; their entitlement to benefit has in the past depended on the provisions of reciprocal treaties between their country of destination and the United Kingdom. Under this order, the Government will be able to pay benefit under slightly wider criteria.
All this is to be done by introducing new schemes, the 1983 schemes, for persons redundant on or after 6 April. These schemes are set out in the schedule to this order. People already redundant continue on the existing schemes, and there are a few minor improvements in their 820 benefits. However, many of these people will benefit from the fact that in his Budget statement on 15 March my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced changes in procedures that will effectively mean that persons aged 59 or over on 5 April who have exhausted their entitlement to unemployment benefit will no longer have to sign on at a benefit office every three months in order to remain eligible for RMPS benefits. I know that that will be welcomed. As I have said, all these changes add up to a useful package of improvements to the RMPS. But they are not comparable in scope to those which we introduced two years ago. Nor do they represent any dramatic change in policies for the industry.
Many of the hon. Members present today will recall Mr. Siddall's speech to the Coal Industry Society just over a fortnight ago. He referred then to the burden that worn-out capacity placed on the industry—a burden that could threaten the enormous progress that has been made under this Administration and their predecessor towards creating an effective and viable coal industry that can play an increasing role in the United Kingdom energy sector. He stated that the board's intention was to tackle this burden with determination, but also with compassion for the people involved, many of whom have given a lifetime of service to the industry and cannot be held in any way responsible for the difficulties at their pits. He pointed out that during the last few years the board had been very successful at finding other jobs in the industry for those who wished to stay, and that the board intended to go on doing so as long as possible. The improvements in the 1983 scheme are intended to facilitate this, but decisions about individual pits and the men employed at them will, of course, continue to be made by the board in consultation with the men involved and their trade unions.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The Minister referred to tidying up some anomalies, and to one anomaly in particular. He mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) in that respect. Does he recall that not only during the lifetime of the present Government but under previous Governments we have raised the anomaly—it is a large anomaly, but is shrinking—of those persons, some of whom had more than 40 years in the industry, who were part of the pit closure programme before 1965 and who do not have concessionary coal because they did not fit into the local pool scheme which was arranged at that time? There are many such people in the southern end of my constituency and in other constituencies. Will the Minister consider this anomaly and try to provide concessionary coal for those who, because of their lack of entitlement under the local pool scheme, did not receive concessionary coal? Although they are reducing in number and are becoming very old, they should be receiving that coal.
§ Mr. Moore
I know of the point that the hon. Member has legitimately raised. He fairly pointed out that Governments of both persuasions have considered it with sympathy but with little else. I shall consider it again, although I cannot give any commitment. It is obviously not included in the present order. It involves the pre-1968 people and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the group is becoming smaller. I shall consider those points with care.
I now turn briefly to the second order, which follows the standard form of earlier years. The Government have 821 continued the policies established by their predecessor through the National Coal Board (Finance) Act 1976, whereby the cost of meeting the deficiency in the mineworkers' pension scheme fund resulting from the need to pay pensions to the large numbers of people who left the industry before 6 April 1975 is being reimbursed through Government grants over the period to 1995.
Each year the level of pensions is increased, resulting in a higher level of deficiency contributions; the Government may reimburse these up to the level necessary to maintain the real value of pensions if they are satisfied that the National Coal Board's finances do not permit of its taking on the additional burden itself. In a statement which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has laid before the House, he gives the reasons why he is satisfied on this count. He points out also that this year the increase in pensions has taken them a little ahead of the change in the retail price index since June 1974, which is, I understand, the established basis for comparison. For this reason, the statute does not permit the full cost of the current increase to be reimbursed by the board, though we are reimbursing as much as we can under the statute.
Both orders represent a continuation and development of the policies on the coal industry which have applied for some time. I seek the agreement of the House to both orders.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
The Opposition do not quarrel with the orders that the Minister has introduced. I am conscious of the late hour, but it is unfortunate that we are restricted from dealing more generally with the affairs of the mining industry. That does not mean that some of the proposed changes are not important. Of course they are, and I shall deal with them in a moment.
Some of the difficulties of the mining industry have been highlighted by commentators in a bigoted, prejudiced and almost jaundiced way. That attitude reveals to Opposition Members an appalling ignorance of the industry and the part that it must play in ensuring that this country has adequate energy.
The orders make some extra provisions for redundant miners. Why not? Parliament has a duty to provide for miners who will lose their jobs or who are retired because of age. I do not consider that the improvements are overgenerous. The miners have served the industry and the nation well. Although the orders contain concessions, miners will see themselves in early unemployment rather than early retirement before they have exhausted their expectancy of gainful employment.
Make no mistake about it, miners are proud and believe that there is dignity in toil. They are a credit to any work force. The Minister has announced some concessions, but not all Ministers in the Government's lifetime have come to the Dispatch Box to announce concessions. It will be seen by many miners, and I am afraid portrayed in the media, as the Government paving the way for a further contraction of the coal industry. Some will put it more bluntly as selling jobs in the coal industry.
The Minister can properly point out that the orders provide for the spending of several million pounds. That is not the only money that we see associated with mining. We are told that another £1 million, £1.5 million or £1.75 million is to be spent in inveigling Mr. MacGregor to become chairman of the National Coal Board. I and some of my hon. Friends have spent a great part of our lives 822 working or associated with the coal industry. We have an emotional involvement with the industry and the men who work in it. I have never apologised for that and nor have my hon. Friends. It has been said before that only those associated with the industry understand that coal dust is embedded in their whole being. With all the experience that I have described, I have never known anything more bizarre or ridiculous than the saga of the impending appointment of Mr. MacGregor. This great industry deserves better. Mr. MacGregor is not acceptable to the broad band of opinion in the coal industry.
The concessions outlined in the orders, to which the Minister properly referred, are not unacceptable to the Opposition. We must weigh the whole of the redundant mineworkers' scheme against what has been happening in the industry. I take as my starting point the period 1974–75 to 1982–83. Since then 63 pits have closed. The men affected total 22,886. Of that total 5,793 became redundant and 15,299 were transferred. In addition to the men made redundant as a result of pit closure since 1973–74, 42,739 other men have accepted redundancy terms. It must also be borne in mind that a substantial number of those redundancies were made on a "one for one" basis, to accommodate men transferred. But of that total of 48,532 men accepting redundancy terms 90 per cent. were over 55.
I refer to those figures for one purpose alone. Some sections of the press have been screaming that the miners must accept pit closures and redundancy, as if a great light of awakening and wisdom had struck them and as if they had invented a new solution, whereas the reality is that pit closures and redundancies have been with us for some time and in the main have been accepted by the industry. What the men and the unions are not prepared to accept is the wholesale butchery of the coal industry, with all the social consequences that would flow from that, not just for the men but for the nation.
I shall look at some of the detail of the orders. We endorse the amended proposals dealing with the redundant mineworkers's pension scheme for those aged 55 and over. I know that the unions have been pressing for changes. I know that the miners' parliamentary group has been pressing for changes. The current scheme may have had some attractions for those over 55, but there has been increasing evidence that the men in that age bracket are concerned about the drop in income after the initial five-year benefit period has elapsed.
As we know, at present a married mineworker who has been made redundant under the terms of the redundant mineworkers' pension scheme receives about 90 per cent. of his pre-redundancy earnings for the first five years. Then, if he remains unemployed for the remaining time until he is 65, he receives from the mineworkers' pension scheme an amount equivalent to the rate of state unemployment benefit plus a pension from the scheme. The Minister referred to that. The reality of the present scheme is that that could mean a drop in weekly income of approximately £30 per week.
In the orders, for mineworkers aged 55 and over who are made redundant on and after 6 March 1983, a new redundant mineworkers' pension supplementary payment is proposed, which will make up the miners' pension scheme to £35 per week to alleviate the drop in income after five years' redundancy. That is to be welcomed, as is the Minister's proposal to increase from £140 to £160 823 the limit on pre-redundancy earnings which may be used to calculate the level of basic benefit for the first five years of redundancy.
The Opposition also welcome the proposal that applies to those aged between 50 and 54 who are made redundant. It means that those people will receive, in addition to benefits that already apply, payments that are equivalent to unemployment benefit for as long as they are unemployed once their entitlement to unemployment benefit has expired. The amounts paid will be abated by any pension received that is in excess of £35 a week. If a man's pension is less than that, the scheme will bring it up to £35 a week. A significant proposal that the Opposition welcome is that those men will also receive their concessionary coal.
We do not quarrel with improvements in the scheme for people aged between 21 and 49, which the Minister announced in some detail. The order provides for a limited enhancement of lump sums. Nevertheless, it would be a tragedy if miners in that age group were lost to the mining industry for all time.
The Minister also referred to the new provision under article 17(2) of the draft order, which will help men who have a break in their continuous service of more than 26 weeks because of injury or sickness. Weeks for which they qualified for an incapacity pension under either the mineworkers' pension scheme or the National Coal Board staff superannuation scheme during that break in service will no longer be regarded as a break in continuity of service for calculating the lump sum, which is equivalent to the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 lump sum, which is payable from the redundant mineworkers' pension scheme to men aged between 50 and 59 on redundancy.
The Minister generously conceded that there has been considerable pressure from the NUM, other unions in the mining industry and my hon. Friends in the miners' parliamentary group. He was right to comment on the role of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), who was so diligent that he sent circulars to many of my hon. Friends about the case and the anomalies as he saw them. He can claim that his campaign has had a response from the Government. The Opposition welcome that, although we campaigned with him.
There is one significant change that the Minister referred to briefly. I am not criticising him, but we should give the issue due consideration although it may seem trivial to some people. It is the payment of benefit, at the same rate as if he stayed here, to someone who emigrates, subject to the provision of the regular declarations about other income. The Minister will agree that we may be talking about an aged widow or aged mineworker who wishes to join a son or daughter living abroad. To some extent, that gives the lie to the Government's claim that this is a nanny state and that the young do not wish to look after their older relatives. This is a good measure that deserves more prominence than it will be given, because it will give great pleasure, satisfaction and independence to older mineworkers or their widows who go abroad to join their children.
There is provision in the order for one anomaly that I wish had been dealt with more fully, involving the special hardship allowance. Perhaps the Minister will deal with 824 the matter in reply. Under article 6(2) of the present order and article 7(1) of the draft order, provision is made for the reduction of the basic redundant mineworkers' pension scheme benefit by the amount of special hardship benefit awarded after the last day worked in respect of an industrial accident sustained, or an industrial disease developed, before the date of redundancy. This part of the scheme, more than any other, causes considerable anxiety to miners, because it results in the recovery of overpayments to them by offsetting their entitlement to a lump sum under the mineworkers' pension scheme.
The redundant mineworkers' pension scheme benefit is based on P60 earnings in the last complete tax year preceding the date of redundancy. Therefore, a mineworker who has an accident or who develops a disease during that year will suffer a reduction in his earnings and will fall within one of two categories. First, if special hardship allowance is awarded before the last day worked, it is not offset. That is quite right, because the miner's P60 earnings would have affected his redundant mineworkers' payment scheme benefit. However, if special hardship allowance is awarded after the last day worked, it is offset. I suggest to the Minister that that is illogical because the accident or disease would have reduced his P60 earnings and thus offset his redundant mineworkers' scheme benefit entitlement. This anomaly is also reflected in the mineworkers' voluntary early retirement scheme because it is based on the redundant mineworkers' payment scheme structure.
Another question that I must ask the Minister was mentioned briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but we must get it on the record. The Minister mentioned the number of occasions on which he has dealt with such orders. I have been dealing with them for at least 10 years, and I always ask this question because, although the entire populace may not read about this order, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the miners will read about it. It is necessary to get certain things on the record so that they can understand and comprehend any changes that we are proposing to make this evening.
The question that has to be asked for the purposes of the record is whether, when the submission for the 1983 mineworkers' pension scheme says that it will come into operation on March 23 1983, and proposes some changes, there is any element of retrospection in these orders. The Under-Secretary may claim that he has already answered this point in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. It was a very generous answer. Although he gave no commitment, he said that he would be prepared to look at the matter. I rest my case on that, but, for the purposes of the record, the question must be answered because we know from experience that when the terms of the order are made known questions and inquiries will be made by the miners.
The same question must also be asked about the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order 1983. As has been said, the order comes into operation on 6 April. I can see that questions will be asked about that, and the question that must be answered is, again, whether there is any element of retrospection in the order. As some of my hon. Friends will bear out, every year we get questions in our post about concessionary coal and entitlements. Therefore, I hope, for the purpose of the record, that the Minister will make some comment about any aspect of retrospection.
825 It is not our intention to divide the House. It would be churlish of us if we did not state that the orders give improved concessions, and we endorse that.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)
I am grateful both to the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) for the kind remarks that they have made about me this evening. I am grateful also for some of the new provisions in the draft orders.
However, before I come to them, I associate myself with the speech of my hon. Friend because it seems that this could be a concession that redundant miners will find more acceptable, certainly the younger ones, and one that could smooth the path for Mr. Ian MacGregor if he eventually finishes up on the board with his big axe. The provisions of the orders may be the first cushion to enable him to do so. I remind the Government that cushions have two functions. They can comfort, and they can smother. I hope that we shall not see too much of the mining industry smothered.
I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members want to speak. Mineworkers who unfortunately suffer such severe injuries that they cannot start work again within 26 weeks have to be taken off the colliery books for administrative purposes, in accordance with an agreement between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board. When such people have been offered redundancy, the calculation of continued service has been from the day they restarted work after injury. In anybody's language that was an injustice. I am delighted that the new provisions will put an end to that. Miners will welcome the change.
It would be less than kind of me not to say that I appreciate the efforts and the understanding of the Minister during the past 16 months, and the kind ear and understanding I have received from both the Secretary of State for Energy and the Secretary of State for Employment. It is not often that such a view can be expressed in the Chamber.
I am sad that I have not had the same understanding and sympathy, in many ways uncharacteristically, from the National Coal Board. The Secretaries of State to whom I have referred cleared the matter many months ago and made it clear that the National Coal Board should not have tried to hide behind the shield of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. It could have paid these unfortunate men if it had so wished. After I got this assurance from the Secretary of State, I talked to the board. I got the most stupid, unsympathetic letter from a chap who has recently left the service of the board—on much better terms, I assume, than miners get.
The Minister shook his head when retrospection was mentioned. I draw it to his attention and to the attention of the House that probably no more than a dozen or 15 men would have been affected before the operative date of the order. There are two in my constituency. If it is accepted that there is an injustice now, it must have been an injustice for the others. The board should consider making ex gratia payments to the men who will not be covered when the order becomes operative.
I appreciate that when orders are drafted—the same is true of all laws, regulations or rules—it is impossible to cover every eventuality. My attention has been drawn to the case of people who have worked for the National Coal 826 Board ever since they came out of the armed forces after the war. There may be half a dozen such people; no more. I have here the contract of employment of one of my constituents. He signed on for the NCB at its brickworks at my old colliery at Ackton Hall at Featherstone on 2 May 1949, directly after he came out of the Army. In June 1973, he received a letter from the Midland Brick Company Limited, informing him that the company was taking over the NCB activities and that he could continue in employment if he wished.
The letter said:To accept this offer, all you need to do is to carry on working after 15th June, 1973 in the normal way. If you are away from work on that date you can accept the offer by reporting to your Works Manager at the earliest convenient time. In either event you will become an employee of the Midland Brick Company Limited instead of the Board, but your service with the Board and Midland Brick Company Limited will count together as continuous service, and you will continue to be a member of your present N.C.B. pension or superannuation scheme".My constituent did not want to work for the Midland Brick Company. He had always worked for the National Coal Board. So he applied to continue as one of its employees. On 19 June, he was accepted by the board at Kellingley colliery, and he has worked there ever since. Now he is told, in a letter from the NCB Yorkshire area:With reference to your memorandum of the 24th May 1982 and Mrs. Shaw's subsequent telephone conversation. I confirm that service at Brickworks cannot be counted towards the qualifying service in respect of the Redundant Mineworkers Payments Scheme".If he had left the coal board's services in 1973 and worked for the Midland Brick Company he would have qualified for all his pension, and so on.
I bet that there are not more than half a dozen people who are in that position. I ask the Minister to consider the case of these unfortunate people such as my constituent, who since 1949 has had continuous employment with the NCB and who is now told that he qualifies for redundancy payments only from the time he joined Kellingley colliery in 1973. I hope that the Minister will give careful thought to the matter. I am grateful for the understanding that has been shown, and I am sure that redundant injured mineworkers who have suffered this injustice will also be grateful.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I shall be brief. I do not wish to keep out of the debate any Opposition Members who wish to speak. It is, however, right that there should be at least one Back Bench speech from the Government side. I have the honour to have a coal mine in my constituency. I do not suppose that a single miner there votes for me but there is no group of constitutents that I am more proud to represent. I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has succeeded in gaining the confidence of both sides of the House in his commitment to the industry.
Any debate on the coal industry produces many phrases about the dignity of labour. Those phrases are amply justified in the case of the coal industry. It is not a mere empty ritual. The pit in my constituency is among those that stand to benefit from a policy of concentrating investment on successful producers. It is a successful pit with a bright future. I shall always be found arguing on the side of those who say that we should concentrate on backing success. I recognise, however, the tragedy that is involved in talking glibly about natural exhaustion and 827 closing down uneconomic pits. When a pit is closed, it is a tragedy for those who work in it. It also means the death of a whole community. We should beware of accepting too easily the jargon of economists who suggest moving on to wherever happens to be successful.
It looks pretty clear that Mr. Ian MacGregor is to be the new chairman of the National Coal Board. I have to confess that if I had been responsible for making the appointment, he would not have been my choice. That is rather typical of me. It is, however, perhaps typical of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to meet all difficulties head on. I can understand that Opposition Members, when Mr. MacGregor is appointed, will wish—
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
It has been raised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and there are only about three sentences that I wish to utter. I am replying to points that have been made from the Opposition Benches. I hope that Opposition Members will recognise the success that Mr. MacGregor has achieved in the steel industry in restoring to that industry a pride in its achievements. It would be a great mistake if they were to fall into the trap set for them by Mr. Arthur Scargill and allow themselves to be driven into a dead-end of opposition to everything that Mr. MacGregor is trying to achieve. There is need for a successful coal industry if the schemes under discussion are to be financed in perpetuity. Otherwise, the Treasury will be asking, sooner or later, why large sums of public money are being poured into an industry that loses money for the nation.
It is essential that the coal industry, in the long run, should pay its way. So long as my hon. Friend the Minister remains in his post, we can be reasonably sure that the pace of change will always be tempered by the needs of the industry and those who work in it. I hope that the Opposition will not allow themselves to be trapped into an attitude of destructive opposition.
§ 11.3 pm
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I do not wish to rehearse the arguments already made about those who were left out of the coal schemes before redundancy payments were initiated. I am relatively pleased with the Minister's speech but I hope that he will be more forthcoming when he replies. We should stand a fair chance of seeing included in the scheme the special hardship cases mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse). I take into account the fact that Mr. MacGregor is to receive his special hardship payment for loss of earnings. Mr. MacGregor is to receive his loss of earnings from the Government. If he can receive £1.75 million loss of earnings on top of the other loss of earnings that finds its way back to Lazard Freres, my hon. Friend's suggestion of special hardship rings true. It should be pursued.
The problem about the redundancy payments is that we have to nod through the orders tonight against a background of a great feeling of mistrust and ill will towards the Government and their attitude in recent years in general terms.
The orders should not be considered only in the light of what miners aged between 50 and 65 will receive. The 828 Government have a duty to expand the economy and to increase the use of coal. They should curb oil and coal imports and, where possible, expand exports. Less money will then need to be spent on redundancy payments. The coal industry is declining while the House continues to discuss anomalies such as have been referred to tonight and the general sweep of redundancy payments. There must be a real attempt to establish more markets for coal to get rid of some of the 50 million tonnes. The miners can play their part in doing that. We should not then need to spend so much on redundancy payments.
That is the message that should reach all miners who read reports of the debate and examine the orders. They want to see a growing and thriving coal industry in south Wales, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They are looking not for redundancy payments but for work. That is the message that we should spell out tonight.
§ 11.6 pm
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
I welcome the orders unreservedly. I stress that because I was perplexed by the speech of the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie). He seemed to imply that there was some kind of a conspiracy to facilitate the closure of pits when Mr. MacGregor took over. I hope that I have misunderstood him, but that seemed to be the implication. His logic was a little at fault. Supporting the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), he mentioned the position of those who retired before the pooling arrangements. I echo the plea that something should be done for such people. I am sure that they would have been pleased if the present scheme had been in operation in their day. It cannot be regarded as some design for Mr. MacGregor; far from it.
I welcome not only the orders but the fact that each successive order has, even if only marginally, improved in one or two particulars. The Minister has spelt out several improvements, especially the fact that 26 weeks' incapacity will not be regarded as a break in service. Such matters are welcome.
Two particular improvements might be made in the future. First, we should look at the principle rather than improving marginal arrangements. We should consider whether it might not be a good thing to base payments on individuals rather than jobs.
Article 3(a) says that an employee shall not be eligible for weekly payments under the scheme unlesshe is a redundant person and … became a redundant person by reason of the cessation or reduction of the services or facilities at that place".It might be a step forward if those arrangements were designed to make it easy for an employee willingly to accept change rather than simply to ease a change that is sometimes gratuitously forced upon somebody. That is what happens in practice. It might appear a little pedantic to want it written into the legislation, but I put it forward as a suggestion.
The Government give payments to the board for concessionary coal. In some cases, half the cost is paid by the Government and in a few cases the full cost. The cost of concessionary coal to the board is substantial, and is a social cost that the industry should not be obliged to bear.
To illustrate the scale of the cost, I shall cite the experience of a small coalfield which was in my constituency. There were six collieries in the coalfield, but today there is one. As successive collieries closed, the 829 concessionaires drew their coal from the remaining collieries. As only one colliery is now producing coal for concessionaires who were made redundant at the other five collieries, it means that the colliery, which at one time employed about 700 people and had 2,000 retired or redundant concessionaires on its books, is obliged to work for two days a week simply to provide concessionary coal. The Government should pay that cost in its entirety. It is unfair that that substantial cost should fall on the industry. I trust that in a future order the half payment support from the Government will become full support.
§ Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)
I echo the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) in paying a fulsome tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for his part in introducing this order. However, it has its anomalies.
I am obliged to bring to the notice of the House and that of the Under-Secretary of State the case of Mr. Raymond Earp who resides at 117 Inksfield lane, Bolton upon Dearne, and who is one of my constituents. Raymond is nearly 60 years of age. He left school at the age of 15 and started work at Goldthorpe Highgate colliery as a boy. He has worked there virtually all his life. Unfortunately, seven or eight years ago Raymond was working at the coal face when he saw his buddy accidentally killed in a terrible accident. He was so upset that he vowed that he would never go down a mine again. He left the employment of the board to the great regret of his colliery manager, who said to him, "Raymond, if you ever want to come back to the pit, come and see me and there will be a job for you."
Raymond took a job with a gas works for three weeks. He missed the comradeship of his mates and, unfortunately, he had to travel a long distance, so he returned to see the colliery manager six weeks after the fatal accident. His colliery manager said, "Sign on and start work as soon as you like." Raymond signed on and has worked at that colliery all his working life with the exception of six weeks. When I saw him two months ago, he said, "Mr. Woodall, I'm knackered. I want to get out. What is the board going to offer me?" He said, "I know—peanuts." His redundancy payments are tied to the date of his re-engagement. For the sake of six paltry weeks, Raymond Earp will lose £7,000 to £8,000, which he cannot afford to do. Raymond Earp, more than anyone else, wants an amendment to the employment legislation. God in Heaven, I have done my best to explain to him that his case is exceptional.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford has mentioned the accident cases, which might involve six people like Raymond Earp in Yorkshire. Because Raymond saw the accident when his buddy was killed beside him and left for a short while, he is now excluded. The board, for all its words about being a perfect employer—as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford has pointed out—is not as perfect as it might be.
I worked in the coal industry for 41 years before I became a Member of Parliament and the NCB always told me that a man could not do enough for a good firm. My reply to it is that a good firm cannot do enough for a good workman. It certainly has not done fair by Raymond Earp, but it is tied by the Act. Therefore, will the Minister please look at such cases, just as he has sympathetically 830 considered the cases taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford? I hope that the Minister will consider the case of Raymond Earp, because that man has given his life to the coal industry. He wants to finish work because the NCB has virtually had all the work out of him. He has told me that he is knackered and wants to finish work, but he will lose money.
Why cannot the Minister consider such cases? It is a simple case, and I hope that the Minister will understand.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Every hon. Member has rightly spoken about the men in the industry. Indeed, I welcome the improvements submitted by the Minister, because they are very important to the men in the coalfields. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will seek further improvements, because there are still quite a few anomalies, as my hon. Friends have pointed out.
For example, some widows' husbands worked in the pits until they were 60 and took some type of benefit. I do not think that it took the form of redundancy pay, but it was still a substantial sum. When their husbands died, some of the wives lost their concessionary coal or coal allowance. I should like the Minister to consider the case of those widows, because it is very important. They gave the whole of their lives to their husbands who worked in the pits. In the days that I knew, it was not easy. I remember my poor mother getting up, as was the custom, to get my father off to work at 4.30 am. Miners' wives did that. It was an awful practice, but it was accepted that the wives should do it, and they did it. They then got the children off to school. When I started work, my mother did that for my father and me. When my father gave up work, I got my younger brother off to work too, and if I was on the afternoon shift I got the younger children off to school. I did that to try to help my poor mother.
I have had a case on my files for four or five years and I shall send it to the Minister. The NUM has tried its best to obtain concessionary coal for this old lady, who is now 65 or perhaps 70, but who cannot get any own coal allowance. We tend to think too often about the male side of this great industry, because only males are employed in the getting and winning of coal. The poor widows are often forgotten. However, hundreds of widows do not receive the benefits that they should receive, because some unfortunate incident has occurred that deprives them., because of the agreement reached between the NCB and the NUM.
I do not blame the NUM, because the NCB is often too hard-hearted in granting concessions to help the widows of its old employees. Many of those employees, of course, were not old when they died. However, those husbands took some benefit and did not think about what would happen to their wives if they died first. From the records I saw when I was a branch secretary, I know that in the industry there are 10 times more widows than widowers and six times more widows than wives with retired husbands. I hope that the Minister will give special consideration to concessionary allowances for widows to ensure that we play fair with them and recognise the contribution they made to keeping their men folk working in this dangerous industry.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I shall take only a few minutes because I know that other colleagues wish to speak. I wish to reinforce the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and which has been graphically illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright). I, too, ask the Minister to look upon this as another exercise in a long series of welcome exercises in which we have improved the lot of people who, until Wilberforce, were left behind. Wilberforce opened the floodgates. It has been a flood of benefits because before that benefits were notoriously absent. We have found more and more anomalies as we have gone on. Both my hon. Friends are right in this respect. Hon. Members, especially those from mining areas, of whatever political persuasion find cases at their surgeries of husbands who worked a lifetime in the pit and were sometimes in receipt of a pneumoconiosis benefit, which was then taken away by the pneumoconiosis medical board because it diagnosed illness through natural causes. I have had to tell such people that, unfortunately, that is the end of the road.
A second category is widows whose husbands worked a lifetime in the pit but left before these schemes came into being. The widows therefore receive no concessionary coal. Most areas, including my area of north-west Lancashire, formed pooling schemes through the generosity of the miners themselves. The miners realised this heartfelt need. It was a feeling almost of deep sentimental attachment, a recognition that the widows should be given something.
The miners started a pension scheme for the old men who had worked all their lives in the pit before the introduction of the 1952 scheme. Most Members from mining areas will remember when miners received 10 shillings a week in old money—50p in modern money. The old men were blinded with tears by the fact that they were receiving 10 shillings a week that the miners were providing by paying 2d a week. The old men lost 10 shillings of what was called national assistance, but the pride in receiving that 10 shillings knew no bounds.
Special hardships have been mentioned tonight in probing question form by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie). My hon. Friends the Members for Midlothian and Bolsover and other colleagues remember pushing Labour Ministers to do something on this issue. I remember the special hardship case of Neddy Holland, who died only a few months ago, who had worked for 52 years in the pits. He was a member of a committee of which I was the secretary. I am convinced that I obtained for him special hardship status not so much on the medical evidence but through pleading with the chairman of the panel and his colleagues that they had it in their gift to give him the special hardship payment of 37 shillings a week which would supplement his pension after 52 years in the pit. They did not believe what I said. Special hardship has always been dear to our hearts, and my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian was right to draw attention to it.
We have now built a good platform of benefits. Miners are being rewarded. In many other countries they retire a good deal earlier and their benefits are secure. So we are not doing anything out of the way. We are not doing anything out of the ordinary, but we are doing it differently. I urge the Minister, who has been generous and who, we know, is receptive to our requests, to see 832 whether there is some way of giving the widows of men who spent many years in the pits some retrospective allowance. It would be to the credit of the Tory Government if they could give some tangible proof to those who are outside the present scheme that we recognise their late husbands' contributions. It would remove their feeling of being left out.
I had a case this week in which I tried to do my best. I hope that the coal board in my area—my colleagues will understand the phrase—will work a "flanker" on the basis that if there is any roguery let us be fair about it. I hope that the widow involved will receive something. Not all widows go to their Members of Parliament. Some take their anguish, hide it away and carry the cross. I hope that the Minister will give those widows some comfort tonight. I welcome the order.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
There will be a general welcome for any improvement in the miners' pension and redundancy scheme. Miners deserve every penny that they can get if they are made redundant.
I should like to reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the need for more investment in the industry. Increased investment would avoid more unnecessary redundancies. I am afraid that there is a cloud hanging over the industry at present about the closures that are taking place and those that are threatened. It has been said that that is perhaps part of the reason why the scheme has been introduced.
I should like to give a couple of examples of the National Coal Board attempting to close pits that would affect my constituents, because I think that there are lessons that can be learnt.
The first case relates to Polmaise colliery in my constituency. The NCB proposed to close it about seven years ago. As soon as I heard about it I raised the matter in the House. That weekend there was a mass meeting in Fallin miners' welfare club. Mick McGahey, the president of the Scottish miners, the local NUM delegate John McCormack and I said "We are going to fight this closure." John McCormack asked whether there were any questions and one man asked, "How much redundancy money will we get?" John McCormack saved the day by falling on this person like a ton of bricks. He said in no uncertain terms "There will be no talk of any redundancies at Polmaise colliery. We want jobs, not redundancy money."
A tremendous cheer went up, which almost lifted the rafters of the miners' welfare club. I knew from that minute that the fight to save Polmaise colliery was winnable. We went on to win by a combination of parliamentary action and what has been described as extra-parliamentary action. We convinced the NCB that it should invest more money in the pit. That investment led to the present development.
The other example that I should like to give is that of Kinneil colliery in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I have his permission to raise this matter because some of my constituents work there. When the NCB proposed the closure of the pit, the men of Kinneil mounted a heroic fight against the closure, involving a courageous sit-in down the pit over the Christmas period. Unfortunately the men did not get the support that they deserved from miners in other pits. It was proposed to close the pit despite 833 reserves of thousands of tonnes. Miners at other pits were persuaded not to oppose the closure because of a promise made by NCB spokesmen that all the men of Kinneil would be offered alternative employment and that there would be no compulsory redundancies.
Since then it has emerged that some of the tradesmen in the pit have not been offered other jobs in their trades. I accept that they have been offered other jobs in the industry. I wrote to Mr. Wheeler, the Scottish director of the NCB, about the case of Mr. Gerry Fullard, from Dunipace, but many others are similarly involved. I hope that the Minister will put some pressure on the NCB to ensure that these men—many of them are young—obtain alternative employment in the skills for which they have been trained. These are people who want jobs and not redundancy payments.
There is the possibility that this man MacGregor will be appointed chairman of the NCB. He is a renowned hatchet man. We know what he has done in the steel industry and if he gets his hands on the coal industry, heaven help us. If that happens, the redundancy scheme that we are debating will itself be redundant, or it will prove to be grossly inadequate. That will happen unless we make MacGregor redundant and ensure that we find a much better, more positive and more constructive person to lead the industry, who will ensure that there is a viable future for the coal industry instead of the cloud that is hanging over it now.
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
I ask for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to be fair to the Minister, and I should like to know when he wishes to reply to the debate.
§ Mr. Haynes
That leaves me only a short time. I wish to be fair to the Minister and allow him adequate time in which to reply.
It is clear that the Minister has been sincere, but sincere only within the remit of Government policy. When I go to bed I look at the ceiling, and I see a vision. The picture that slowly forms is one of further closures in the mining industry, and the proposals before us are part of the preparation for them. The parts of the picture fit together well, especially when I remember the remarks of Ministers, the chairman of the NCB and those of the National Union of Mineworkers and all the other unions that are involved in the industry. It is clear what is happening. The Minister will have to return to the Dispatch Box time after time to provide more and more money. I do not know where he will get it from—perhaps the Bank of England or the North sea—but he will have to get it to pay the many more who will come within the terms of the order.
There have been two recent pit closures in my constituency. The NCB claims that mineworkers can stay in the industry because there are jobs for them, but the workers who have been made redundant cannot be soaked up for ever. Some of the pits that have taken those who have been made redundant as a consequence of closures and who wanted to continue in the industry have 834 themselves become uneconomic. The men who have been transferred to two of the pits in my constituency have made them uneconomic, and they go on the closure list. The position will become worse. It is high time that the men who work in the industry realised what is going on.
That is the picture that I see. I am sure that I am right I hope that we can stop this Government doing what they want to do with the mining industry.
The Minister has a grin on his face, but the Government's nuclear energy programme will have a serious effect on the coal mining industry.
It would be unfair to many people who have worked in the industry, and to their widows, if they did not receive the concessionary coal to which they are entitled. There are variations in entitlement in each area. Some suffer, and others do not. The Government should consider the issue and table a different order, bearing in mind the pressures from hon. Members, particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
§ Mr. John Moore
I apologise if I cannot answer all the points raised by hon. Members, but I have only a limited time in which to reply to the debate. I shall write to hon. Members about issues that I cannot cover tonight. As the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said, they are important to the mining community. I wish that we could have more time to debate what those of us in the Chamber now regard as the most important issue.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Midlothian has welcomed the orders. With the exception of what I hope is a late night dream by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), most hon. Members have seen in the orders an attempt by Governments of both parties to ameliorate the difficult conditions in an industry of constant change. That seems to have been the general view.
I have come across the few cases of emigration. They are more important than most people understand. I am delighted that we are able to make modest chalges.
The hon. Member for Midlothian and others referred to the special hardship allowance. The Government have examined it with the NUM. The allowance is a continuing state benefit paid to some persons who have suffered injury in the course of employment. If such a man were to be made redundant, his pre-redundancy earnings would be assessed as they were prior to injury, and if he received special hardship allowance on top of basic benefit, assessed on the basis of such earnings, he would be better off than a man who had never been injured. Clearly he should be no worse off, but to make him better off would cause considerable anomalies. That has been the position for many years.
One change that the order makes is that pre-redundancy earnings are now to be assessed on the basis of average earnings during the last tax year worked, not the earnings appropriate to the grade in which a man was employed at redundancy. This will benefit someone who is downgraded following injury.
The hon. Member for Midlothian asked important questions about retrospection. The topic is difficult. There is no basic retrospection. We do not wish to hinder people in the industry. There is no statutory retrospection, and the order will apply only to those made redundant after 6 April 1983. People made redundant in the coal industry are normally given three months' notice. Therefore, one could 835 say generally that anyone given notice of redundancy from the middle of January this year will benefit from the new terms.
The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) is trying to further his successful blandishments. I shall look at the point he raised. I am aware of the particular problems with regard to brickworks. The power to create the redundant mineworkers' pension scheme is limited by the Coal Industry Act 1977 to payments in respect of men made redundant by the closure of coal mines or through consequent reduction in ancillary services. Under present primary legislation, the scheme cannot be extended to cover any redundancy in any business, such as the brickworks in which the NCB used to be involved. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I think he will know that changes in primary legislation would be required.
I said that I would look at the point made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I shall look at it with care. When concessionary coal for persons aged 55 or over at redundancy was introduced in 1973, a generous measure of retrospection was given back to 1969. I understand the point that the hon. Member and many others made. I shall personally look again at the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) was extremely kind. I appreciate his remarks. I recall with pleasure the time when I visited the Point of Ayr colliery, when he was there. I cannot accept his underestimation of the support that he has in that area, certainly from the miners of that colliery.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) referred to Raymond Earp of Bolton upon Dearne and the 836 problem of the interruption of service. I think that we are trapped in the statutes here, but I shall examine the matter with considerable care, as I shall examine the points of the hon. Members for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) and for Ince (Mr. McGuire), both of whom referred to the problem of widows. I am conscious of that. I shall look at it. I cannot give a commitment, but I shall look at it with care to see what one can do.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) for not following the point that he was seeking to make. I shall look at it in Hansard to see whether I can understand it better.
The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) referred to Kinneil. I shall consider the point about the tradesmen. The board gave certain undertakings about jobs. I shall look at the matter with considerable care. However, at the end of the day, that must be a matter for the board in its relationship with its employees. The hon. Member for Ince referred to the problem of medical panels and pneumoconiosis. I have already answered a question by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas). There is a report in the Library. I have studied this—
§ 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.
That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.
That the draft Mineworkers' Pension Scheme (Limit on Contributions) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.—[Mr. John Moore.]