HL Deb 25 March 1976 vol 369 cc844-8

7.2 p.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of ENERGY (Lord Lovell-Davis) rose to move, That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) (Extension) Order 1976, laid before the House on 17th March, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the outlook for the coal industry has changed for the better over the last year or so, but it is an extractive industry, so collieries are bound to close from time to time when reserves become exhausted or grossly uneconomic to work. When that happens the National Coal Board always do their best to find employment in another pit for the displaced men. But some men will continue to be made redundant and have to face the particular difficulties of redundant miners. Many of them live in isolated colliery villages where no alternative work is available. Many of the elderly men, after a lifetime's work in a harsh environment, may be sick or maimed, and find it that much harder to get alternative work.

The Government have therefore considered it right to extend the Redundant Mineworkers Payments Scheme for a further period. The scheme was originally established in 1968 under powers conferred by the Coal Industry Act 1967. It was extended and improved in the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payment Schemes) Order 1973, which was made under the powers of the Coal Industry Act 1973. That Act also allowed the scheme to be extended by order so as to include men made redundant between 10th December 1972 and 26th March 1978. The Coal Industry (Redundancy Payment Schemes) (Extension) Order 1976, has been laid in another place for that purpose. It does not require the approval of your Lordships' House.

The order now before your Lordships is the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payment Schemes) (Amendment) Order 1976. This amends the 1972 and 1973 orders in three ways. First, it amends certain of the definitions in these two orders so as to bring them into line with the Social Security Act 1975 and the Supplementary Benefit Act 1966 which have replaced earlier legislation. Secondly, it extends the application of the 1973 order to include men made redundant up to, but excluding, the 26th March 1978. Thirdly, it substitutes a new table of benefit in Appendix 4 for men made redundant after 6th April 1976. This is necessary because a man's total benefit is made up of basic benefit, as shown in Appendix 4, plus unemployment benefit; the two together need to be equivalent to 90 per cent. of the man's previous net pay. Consequently, whenever unemployment benefit increases it is necessary to adjust the rate of basic benefit. The new table in fact takes into account the increase in unemployment benefit which took place in November 1975.

It will be seen from this that no changes have been made in the benefit a man actually receives. The generous benefits of the 1973 order will continue to be paid. I might add that the unions have asked for certain changes to be made and the Government are considering these very carefully. However, the changes will all cost money, and I have to say that it will not be easy to make any such changes at present. The order before your Lordships for which the Government are seeking approval is a necessary measure to make needed changes in the special arrangements for redundant mineworkers, which are to be extended by another order in another place. We still foresee a need for this scheme, which has worked well over the last nine years, in easing the lot of those who have been made redundant. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) (Amendment) Order 1976, laid before the House on 17th March, be approved.—(Lord Lovell-Davis.)

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, for the speedy, kind and generous way in which he has given us the information we needed on this order. I should like to say at the outset that I find it somewhat depressing that there are something like four orders tonight, three going through another place and one in your Lordships' House, all of which are finance orders, and yet having received one in this House we have not received the other three. No doubt somewhere down the corridors of rower they will link up, and I am wondering whether the noble Lord can give some idea of the reason why all these orders should be floating about in Parliament at the moment and yet we have received only one of them.

The second point I should like to make is that this is a finance order which, as your Lordships know, we may criticise, but that is as far as we may go. Yet recently in your Lordships' House we had a finance National Coal Board Bill which dealt with pensions and other matters connected with finance in the National Coal Board. I should have thought this order could well have been placed in that Bill a few weeks ago. I am somewhat unhappy that once again at this time of night we are faced with an order which, although one would not say it is wasting our time I am amazed that it should come before us when we have already dealt with finance in the National Coal Board.

Having said that, as the noble Lord has said, the order is in fact concerned with concessions to redundant mineworkers and it is designed to bring it into line with the orders of 1972 and 1973 and up to the new Social Security Act of 1975, and we have a time limit that it must be through by the 27th March. In that case, I do not wish to delay it. I believe it can only do good to review these redundancy payments. Any redundant miner must surely have had a feeling of insecurity when he lost his job and he had no money. In the near future two or three mines will probably be closed and there will be more redundancy. This order can only promote good feeling between the miner and the National Coal Board and therefore from this side of the House we welcome it.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for his support of the Government's decision to extend this order. I should also like to return his compliment and thank him for his expedition at this hour on a Thursday evening. The noble Viscount raised a very interesting point as to why this order has to be approved by both Houses, whereas the other four need be approved only by the other place. For the answer, we must go back to the origins of the Redundant Mineworkers Payments Scheme. An announcement was first made that there was to be a scheme in the middle of 1967, and powers to establish it were included in the Coal Industry Act 1967, which was enacted in December of that year. At that time, no one knew precisely what shape the scheme would take, so it was provided that it should be established by Statutory Instrument. This Instrument would clearly have to include many details related to such matters as to who was to receive payment, what the qualifications were going to be, how the payments were to be calculated, for what periods of time, and so on. For all these reasons, it was thought right that both Houses of Parliament should have the opportunity of examining the details of the Scheme before it was finalised.

In contrast, the other four orders being dealt with in another place are simply extensions in each case to an existing provision, all stemming from the Coal Industry Act 1973. The respective provisions in that Act give powers for moneys to be paid out in a particular period of time, which expires later this month. There is no question of the other orders establishing a new system or organisation, as the Scheme orders did. They simply extend to March 1978 the time in which moneys can be expended and through the wording of the 1973 Act this amount of money is automatically extended. This House assisted in the enactment of the Coal Industry Act 1973, which established the shape and character of the various schemes of payment which are thus being extended.

Since their extension is simply a matter of adjusting the amount of money and the time in which it may be spent, I think your Lordships will agree that it was entirely appropriate that those simple orders need receive the approval of the other place only.

My Lords, turning to the second point raised by the noble Viscount, as I have said all tour orders are being made under the Coal Industry Act 1973. The Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) (Amendment) Order 1976 now being discussed depends on the Coal Industry (Redundancy Payment Schemes) (Extension) Order 1976, which is one of the four being considered in another place. Having, I hope, explained that to the satisfaction of the noble Viscount.

On Question, Motion agreed to.