HL Deb 05 March 1970 vol 308 cc537-40

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment and Consolidation Order 1970, the draft of which was laid before this House on February 5, be approved. This Order amends the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme which was set up in 1948 at the request of both sides of the coalmining industry. As your Lordships may know, the Scheme has provided supplementary benefits for colliery workers, and their dependants, who receive benefit under the Industrial Injuries Scheme for accidents and diseases arising from colliery employment. It is administered by a National Committee comprising equal numbers of representatives drawn from both sides of the industry. The cost of the benefits and administration has been borne by a fund formed by contributions from the National Coal Board and the colliery workers.

Your Lordships may recall that during the past three years, at the request of the National Committee, several amending Orders have been approved which have held the rates of supplementary benefit paid under the Scheme to those applicable before October, 1967. During this time negotiations have been taking place about this and the industry's other benefit schemes. Agreement has now been reached between the National Coal Board and the unions concerned and the present Order is designed to give effect to that agreement as it affects the colliery workers' scheme. The Scheme will, in the main, continue to provide for existing beneficiaries, and for those who, in future, become entitled to its benefits by reason of past accidents. But for the future those who suffer colliery accidents or diseases will rely on the improved benefits of the industry's sick pay and pension schemes to supplement the benefits provided by the State schemes.

The present Order amends the Scheme so that accidents happening or diseases developing on or after March 30, 1970, will not be covered by the Scheme and supplementary injury benefit will not be paid for any day after March 28, 1970. If an accident occurs or a disease develops before March 30, 1970, the Order provides that supplementary disablement or death benefit will continue to be paid at the current rates. Because the Scheme will not apply to future accidents or diseases, the existing contribution arrangements would not be appropriate, and the agreed amendments provide for these to be replaced by a contribution from the National Coal Board only. The Board will pay £125,000 for each of its accounting periods—that is, about £1,500,000 a year. This is the sum which the Government Actuary (he is also the Scheme's actuary) has advised is currently needed to enable the fund to meet its continuing liabilities to existing beneficiaries. Provision is made in the Order for this sum to be revised as the Actuary from time to time may certify necessary. The National Committee's powers to invest the fund are revised to align the Scheme's investment policy with those of the Mineworkers' Pension Scheme and the National Coal Board Staff Superannuation Scheme. Other amendments are of a minor character or are a con-sequence of the changes I have mentioned.

My Lords, the Order now before the House represents the wishes of both sides of the National Committee administering the Scheme, and results from the detailed negotiations between the employers and the unions concerned. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment and Consolidation Order 1970, laid before the House on February 5, be approved.—(Baroness Phillips.)

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining to us the purposes of this Order. It is, I suppose, a milestone in the history of benefits payable in this industry which is so specially liable to in-jury and to disease. Nobody can doubt that the Scheme has played a very useful part in giving additional supplementary benefits to mineworkers under the Indus-trial Injuries Scheme since its inception in 1948. I suppose that one can take it for granted, although of course one does not know, that the benefits to be paid in future will be at least equivalent to the benefits paid at the present time. I understand from what the noble Baroness said that those benefits will be paid under the Mineworkers' Pension Scheme and the Staff Superannuation Scheme. No doubt I ought to know, but it is not clear from the Order whether those Schemes are financed by the employer alone or by the employer and the employees. I cannot help feeling that it is a great advantage in these Schemes if, just as in the case of mineworkers and the Colliery Workers' Supplementary Scheme, they are contributed to by both sides.

I should also like to ask the noble Baroness a question about the continuing benefits to be paid to those who have already suffered injury or who have already, even if they do not know it, suffered damage to health, where this is found later. I understood from what she said that the benefits are to be frozen at their present levels. Is that so? Is that so for all time? Would this not be unusual? Must not one envisage that the rates will be raised if and when the National Insurance industrial injuries benefits, or their equivalent, are raised from time to time in the future? I think that the procedure to be adopted here would certainly come under criticism if these were to be frozen for all time. I have no doubt that it would be possible to overcome this by paying benefits out of the Mineworkers' Pensions Scheme as a supplement, but this is a further complication.

The general gist of what the noble Baroness has said, I gather, is that there will now be a progressive run-down of the Scheme towards gradual extinguishment, and that no further benefits will be paid in relation to accidents or damages to health which occur after March 29, 1970. But I feel that we need to be certain that the interests of those who are beneficiaries at the present time and those who will be beneficiaries up to March 29, 1970, continue to be sustained; and also that the benefits to be paid in the future will be comparable to those which are being paid at the present time. I imagine that this must be so, because, as the noble Baroness said, the Scheme has been approved by the National Union of Mineworkers, and in a sense it is not for us to question this. All the same, one wants to be satisfied, in view of the very great service that the mineworkers give to the nation, that these interests are safeguarded.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for welcoming this Scheme. As he so rightly said, it has been the subject of discussions on many occasions by both sides of the industry. Contributions, of course, come from the employees as well as from the employers in connection with the two Schemes which will now form the major part of this. On the noble Lord's point about the freezing of the benefits, this is not necessarily so. It really rests with the National Committee. If they think it right they can, of course, increase benefits; and I would say that they would obviously be in keeping with the benefits currently given to those who come under the new scheme. I should like to thank the noble Lord for letting me have earlier notice of these points.

On Question, Motion agreed to.