HC Deb 27 February 1989 vol 148 cc4-6
6. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy, further to his answer of 30 January, Official Report, column 5, if he will now indicate what measures he will take to resolve the problems for redundant mineworkers created by the restart programme; and if the will make a statement.

Mr. Michael Spicer

We intend to make an announcement about this problem shortly.

Mr. Skinner

At the last Energy Question Time we had the same sort of reply from the Secretary of State for Energy. I hope that the Minister will be more helpful and that the harassment of redundant miners will cease as soon as possible. When my hon. Friends recently met Ministers such as the Secretary of State for Energy, they were given answers such as, "I would love to do it but I cannot find a way." It is time that a way was found, that it was communicated to the Department of Employment and that miners were treated like mine managers who were made redundant and who finished up with £100,000-plus in golden handshakes. When we try to find out the facts the Department of Energy and Hobart house will not tell us. Let us have everybody treated in the same way.

Mr. Spicer

One or two legal and administrative complications remain outstanding. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and for Employment are agreed that these must be resolved urgently.

Mr. Andy Stewart

My hon. Friend knows that Sherwood has more miners than any other constituency, and that more than 5,000 miners in Sherwood took advantage of the generous redundancy scheme. Those people have been treated fairly and courteously, and have had no complaints, but will my hon. Friend ensure that they are exempt from certain provisions of the Social Security Bill, and will he agree on that with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment? Will my hon. Friend also ensure that it is recognised that they are officially retired, and that they are removed from the unemployment register?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that this was one of the most generous redundancy schemes ever known. Many other industries would have welcomed a similar scheme. My hon. Friend will have to wait for the final decision and the announcement that we shall make as to what will be done in the future.

Mr. Eadie

The Under-Secretary of State must be aware that when the miners' parliamentary group met the Secretary of State for Energy and the Minister of State, Department of Employment, they specifically said, and the group accepted, that they wish to resolve the problem. I do not know how long it will take to do that, but as they have said that they wish to resolve the problem, will the Minister consider issuing an edict to the Department of Employment and others saying that they should stop harassing ex-miners?

Mr. Spicer

We are certainly considering whether some administrative arrangements can be made along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Rost

Does my hon. Friend accept that many miners who were made redundant would have been able to obtain jobs if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had not reneged on his promise to free the private sector and to allow private sector investment to compete with British Coal, which would have resulted in many more jobs being available?

Mr. Spicer

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy announced in the autumn that it its our intention, after the next general election, to privatise the coal industry. We think that that is the best way to handle the future of the industry.

Mr. Barron

Restart interviews are not for everybody but for a group of people made redundant between 1983 and 1986 and aged between 50 and 60. The Minister says that this problem will be resolved. The Minister of State, Department of Employment, had this brought to his attention in July of last year but we are still waiting for a decision to be taken and for the harassment of this small group of ex-miners to stop, allowing them to go on with what they were led to believe was a retirement from the coal industry. Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that this was even stated in written evidence given to the Secretary of State for Employment?

Mr. Spicer

The hon. Gentleman will know that it was always made clear that the terms of the redundancy agreement, rather than being as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, included availability for work. Now the question whether any special consideration should be given to them arises. There has never been any doubt about the availability for work conditions being applied—

Mr. Barron

indicated dissent.

Mr. Spicer

The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but the question now is whether we should make special exemptions on top of that.