HC Deb 30 March 2000 vol 347 cc481-2
3. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

What representations he has received regarding surpluses in the mineworkers' pension schemes. [115662]

The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

I have received a number of representations on the subject of coal miners' pension surpluses. Some have called for a re-examination of the deficit guarantee-surplus sharing arrangements that were established in 1994 to safeguard members' pension entitlements; some have drawn attention to pension entitlements in respect of pre-1975 service, and others have urged greater access to early pensions.

Mr. Illsley

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is she aware of reports from the coalfield communities campaign that the Government are about to take about £4 billion from the mineworkers' pension scheme surplus, which is their entitlement under the 50 per cent. division rule? Is that the case? Does she agree that as the mineworkers' pension scheme will no longer be in deficit and the Government will no longer have to guarantee a deficit, it is time to negotiate the 50:50 split of surpluses and allow more money to be retained in the pension scheme to enhance the pre-1975 low pension entitlements?

Mrs. Liddell

I studied in some detail the document from the coalfield communities campaign. It is very interesting and quite perceptive about the changes that have taken place in the industry over time. I have to say to my hon. Friend that the agreements arranged at the time of privatisation were made with the full support of the industry and the unions. As a consequence, the Government have to date received £519 million from the two coal miners' pension schemes—not just the mineworkers' pension scheme—and, over a 10-year period, will be paid about £1,670 million. In return, the Government give a guarantee about miners' pensions. That has allowed for a much more aggressive investment strategy, leading to 20 per cent. increases in miners' pensions. The trustees of the scheme are happy with the arrangement. Indeed, it is the envy of many mature pension schemes.

A revaluation of the scheme is now taking place. I have asked the trustees to consider whether there are other ways in which, in particular, those on extremely low pensions under the pre-1975 arrangements can receive assistance from the scheme. I will certainly keep the matter under constant review.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Is it not the case that the Government will never be called upon to meet the guarantee? Although the Government may be legally in the right, they are certainly morally in the wrong.

Mrs. Liddell

The hon. Gentleman should do his homework. The Government have already paid £400 million into the coal miners' pension schemes since 1994. Some £132 million was paid into the mineworkers' pension scheme to meet deficiency contributions in respect of the additional cost of benefits payable to members made redundant, and an additional £268 million was paid into the staff superannuation scheme to provide early pensions.

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