Coal Industry

– in the House of Commons at 12:43 am on 11th July 1989.

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Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy) 12:43 am, 11th July 1989

I beg to move, That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payment Schemes) (Amendment) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 15th June, be approved. I have such good news to tell my hon. Friends that I must spell it out for a few moments.

I am sure that the order will be welcomed by both sides of the House, as it follows and confirms my announcement on 10 April that the Government would modify the redundant mineworkers' payments scheme so that receipt of benefits under the scheme would no longer be conditional upon the beneficiary making himself available for work.

As hon. Members will know, it has always been part of the scheme that beneficiaries must attend unemployment benefit offices, be available for work, and therefore be in receipt of national insurance credits, in order to receive benefits under the scheme. Over the past year or so, however, the restart programme has been testing more rigorously whether claimants are genuinely available for work. A number of RMPS beneficiaries have been failing adequately to show their availability. That has meant that they have lost entitlement to RMPS benefits.

Payment of RMPS benefits has always been conditional upon the ex-mineworker signing on for employment at the unemployment benefit office unless he was certified as incapable of work through sickess or injury. Nevertheless, there was a general perception that those who took up offers of weekly benefits associated with voluntary redundancy under the successive schemes were in effect taking early retirement from the coal industry.

Consequently, concern was expressed by hon. Members in all parts of the House, and especially by my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), for Elmet (Mr. Batiste), for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth), for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles), for Newark (Mr. Alexander), and for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin).

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees that representations were made by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House representing mining constituencies—but nowadays the majority of them are Conservative Members.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

My hon. Friend makes his point very well. Certainly concern was expressed by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House that ex-miners who regarded themselves as retired after many years' service in the coal industry were being required to demonstrate their availability for work.

The effect of the draft order is to create a new option for RMPS beneficiaries. They may choose to continue, as at present, to sign on at unemployment benefit offices, to make themselves available for work, and to receive national insurance credits. Alternatively, beneficiaries may choose not to sign on, and consequently not to be asked about their availability for work.

In that case they will still receive RMPS benefits as before. They will also receive further benefits under the scheme equivalent to contributory social security benefits to which they will no longer be entitled because national insurance credits will no longer be awarded to them. Those further benefits are equivalent to sickness benefit and invalidity benefit. Beneficiaries will also be eligible to receive sums sufficient to pay class 3 national insurance contributions to maintain entitlement to state retirement pension.

The key element of the amending order is the new article 9, paragraphs (1) to (3), which have two main effects as regards payments to RMPS beneficiaries entitled to weekly payments under the scheme.

A beneficiary who is not incapacitated will be paid a weekly sum which, together with any social security benefits to which he is entitled, will equal the total benefits to which he would have been entitled had he continued to sign on at the unemployment benefit office. That means that the beneficiary will receive a payment under the scheme equal in value to unemployment benefit when his entitlement to unemployment benefit is exhausted—and irrespective of whether he makes himself available for work.

On days of sickness, when the RMPS beneficiary is no longer eligible for sickness or invalidity benefits from the social security system, the scheme will pay a weekly sum which, taken together with any social security benefits to which he is entitled, will equal the total of all the benefits to which he would have been entitled had he been eligible for contributory social security benefits. That means that the beneficiary will receive a payment under the scheme equal in value before tax to either sickness benefit or invalidity benefit. All RMPS benefits are liable to tax in the case of those beneficiaries falling in the tax bracket.

The new article 18 provides for the Secretary of State to pay such number of an employee's voluntary class 3 national insurance contributions as will be sufficient to secure his entitlement to state retirement pension at the rate to which he would have been entitled had he continued to receive national insurance credits. In general, we expect payments of such contributions to be made as a single lump sum at age 59, taking into account the individual's past employment record and his being in receipt of automatic national insurance credits between the ages of 60 and 65.

Article 18A fulfils the other promise I made in my announcement of 10 April—that beneficiaries will be recompensed for lost RMPS benefits arising from changes in the availability-for-work procedures. That generous provision provides for full retrospective award of lost benefits arising from the effect of restart to 3 January 1988. That will fully compensate those who have been adversely affected.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

I am sure that the House welcomes the Minister's announcement that the position of redundant mineworkers will be restored to that for which they understood they had bargained when accepting redundancy. The news that losses will be repaid is also most welcome. However, perhaps the Minister will address himself to the position of mineworkers who were harassed into accepting low-pay employment under the restart programme and who, because they accepted such employment, may have lost their entitlement to benefit from other aspects of the scheme. Can anything be done to assist such people?

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

We do not accept that there has been any harassment—that is the wrong word to use. There is no way in which one could recompense somebody who has taken on another job. If people have not been able to take on a job, they will get compensation.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

All the mineworkers in my constituency are grateful to the Minister and the Departments for bringing about this satisfactory conclusion. The Minister will recall that a few months ago I presented to him two cases of 59-year-old men, one of whom was called Harry Cryer. As recently as last week, Harry Cryer received a letter from the Department of Employment demanding repayments and telling him that he would not get his benefit or credits. I hope that, after tonight, such action by the Department of Employment will cease.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

No harassment is involved. It is our intention that all repayments should be made by the end of August. I hope that that deals with the hon. Gentleman's two constituency cases.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

At the weekend, I had a telephone call from a member of the clerical staffs association who had a certain amount of superannuation. She asked me whether I would ask the Minister whether women working in offices who had been made redundant would be treated in the same way, notwithstanding the fact that they had some superannuation from their pension fund, and whether any difference would be made up.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

I shall check that matter and get in touch with the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure whether that case falls into this category.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

I thank the Departments of Employment and Trade and Industry for doing this great thing. Will the hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to a question that I put to him some time ago about people who have lost their national insurance credits? They are likely to lose their pension benefit when they are 65. Will there be back credits? Can we ensure that the pension is not lost or reduced?

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that the credits will be made up in the form of a lump sum at the age of 59 if there are credit deficiencies.

Photo of Mr David Ashby Mr David Ashby , North West Leicestershire

Can my hon. Friend explain the morality of the order? Can he explain why the mineworkers should be separate from trawlermen and other people who have lousy jobs? Has he considered why miners, as opposed to people in other employment, should be singled out in what one could call the lousy job factor?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am sure that the Minister will not go down that road but will deal with the order.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

It is perfectly fair that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) should ask for justification. There was, however, a perception when the arrangements were made—the arguments for them are perhaps not matters that are properly debatable tonight, as you have said, Madam Deputy Speaker—that people would not lose out and that the availability-for-work criteria would not be applied with the rigour that is being applied under restart. One can argue about whether that perception was well founded. British Coal made it clear at the time that people had to be available for work, and the Government accepted the case for these arrangements.

It was perfectly proper for my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West to make the point that miners who have been made redundant have been given exceptionally generous terms, for which the taxpayer is paying. There is no question about that. We hope that there will be benefits for the industry. Productivity is rising, and the industry is becoming able to stand on its own feet against competition.

I am sure that hon. Members recognise that the RMPS is one of the most generous redundancy schemes that has ever been set up for a group of industrial employees—that makes the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West. On joining the scheme, beneficiaries could receive weekly benefits of up to 90 per cent. of their pre-redundancy earnings and a lump sum payment. By this order, the Government have demonstrated their continuing concern for ex-mineworkers by allowing them, if they wish, no longer to make themselves available for work, and by paying them benefits equivalent to those they would have received from the social security system.

This is a further example of the Government's commitment to the coal mining industry. The Government require that the industry maintains its present pace of putting its house in order so that it can stand on its own feet and compete fairly against all corners. That is in its own hands and in prospect, contrary to what some Opposition Members sometimes say.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 12:56 am, 11th July 1989

I am tempted to take the Minister up on his assertion of the Conservative Government's commitment to the coal industry. We will wait for the outcome of the negotiations between British Coal and the new generators before we decide what type of commitment the Government have to the coal industry. Everyone knows that the Government have control over all of the organisations that are involved in those negotiations.

At long last, an injustice in the British coalfields is being put right tonight. It is a great pity that we have had to wait some 19 months since the introduction of the Government's restart scheme for mineworkers who have retired on weekly redundancy payments to get what we could only call fair treatment. Much has been said about who is responsible for getting the Government to take this corrective action aimed at the anomalies that restart threw up, but the public record will show quite clearly that it was Labour Members who first raised the issue—in July 1988 —of the treatment of retired mineworkers.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us why the Labour party opposed any amendments to the restart scheme when it was considered by the House?

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The public record will show where the argument about the treatment of retired mineworkers under the Government's restart scheme came from. It came from my predecessor on the Opposition Front Bench—my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie)—and from me on the Back Benches. Conservative Members can read the list of hon. Members who are supposed to have got the amending order before the House tonight, but although many of them took part in the debate in July 1988, not one of them mentioned the problem that retired miners would have with the Government's restart scheme.

When the matter was first raised, the Minister said that the matter comes under employment legislation and is not for my Department."—[Official Report. 14 July 1988; Vol. 137, c. 674.] Tonight we find that he was wrong. It is, indeed, a matter for his Department. That is why he is at the Dispatch Box presenting this order to put the injustice right.

No immediate action was taken after that debate. Letters and discussions were followed by delegations to the Department of Energy and the Department of Employment led by me and many of my hon. Friends. By March 1989 the Department of Energy was still unable to settle the issues that we are debating. Yet at that time an order dealing with restructuring grants in the coal industry was brought before the House. One would have thought that after 14 months of restart and months after the issue had first been raised, this order could have been brought forward then in order to end the injustice done to many people who took redundancy under the scheme.

It was only on 14 March this year, in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), that the Secretary of State said that he would introduce an amending order, and that is what we are debating.

The Opposition thank the Government for the order. The Minister may be aware that about 60,000 recipients will be covered by it. Many of them are under 60 years of age and are therefore eligible for restart interviews or could meet the availability-for-work test under that scheme.

In effect, the original orders make such people retire. Many British Coal officials who offered redundancy terms said that the men would retire when they finished at their colliery, only to find out that that was not true. I am pleased to say that when this amending order is passed tonight they will be officially retired.

The Minister may be interested to know that the major trade union in the British coal industry, of which I am proud to have been a member for many years now and of which I am a sponsored Member in the House, currently allows men to retire at 55 years of age. We should be congratulating the Government on beating that target by up to five years.

The order deserves the support of the House because it puts right an injustice. It ensures that an amount equivalent to unemployment benefit due or class 3 national insurance contributions are paid by the Department of Energy and so removes the anomaly that existed between that Department and the Department of Employment. It will compensate those who have lost many hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds as a result of the way in which the restart interviews were applied to people in receipt of a weekly payment and a coal allowance from British Coal.

Photo of Mr Andrew Stewart Mr Andrew Stewart , Sherwood

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Sherwood is the largest mining constituency and so has more miners who have retired under the RMPS than any other in Britain. Why is it that not one miner in my constituency has lost a pound of his entitlement? Why does that happen only in Labour constituencies?

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The hon. Gentleman may have answered another question. If nobody in his constituency lost any money under the restart scheme, that may be why it was not until February this year that the hon. Gentleman appears in any records of the House as wanting to do anything about the problems of retired miners under the restart scheme.

When I raised the differences between constituencies in July 1988, nearly 12 months ago, the Department of Employment was not operating the restart interviews in the way that it did later in my constituency. The scheme was introduced gradually throughout Britain, and its effect was felt first in areas such as Leicestershire and south Wales.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I think that there is a more sinister interpretation of what the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) has had to say. I am of the opinion that some of the bureaucrats in the DSS and unemployment benefit offices have been instructed to go for the Labour constituencies. The hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Perhaps the Minister would like to answer that point when he replies. I would not care to make such a suggestion; it seems to me to credit the Conservative party with far too much forethought and political wisdom, although I may be wrong.

Opposition Members welcome the order, although we wish that it had come sooner: we have been at the forefront of the argument that this injustice should be put right. We hope that, if anomalies recur in Government legislation that seem to be aimed at frightening people away from becoming unemployment statistics—and, on occasion, aimed at massaging the statistics—people who have spent a lifetime working in coal mines expecting retirement rather than redundancy will not be treated so callously.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire 1:06 am, 11th July 1989

As it is late, I shall be brief.

I have three thank-you's to offer my hon. Friend the Minister. As hon. Members will remember, I mentioned in my maiden speech that I represented thousands of coal miners, as I did at the time. Now the pits have closed, or are about to, and relatively few miners are left. The fact that that transition has taken place with relatively little pain or disruption to the constituency is due entirely to the redundant mineworkers payment scheme.[Interruption.]

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

My first thank-you is to my hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessors for implementing the scheme and making it as generous as it has been during the 1980s. My second is for the changes contained in the order. I am sure that my hon. Friend realises that miners were indeed encouraged to see themselves as retired rather than redundant, whatever may have been written in the paperwork at the time. They felt that they had completed their service down the pits with honour and dignity, and that the reduction in numbers had been made in the national interest.[Interruption.] We have a saying in my part of the world, and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is proving the truth of it: "Derbyshire born and Derbyshire bred—strong in the arm and thick in the head". I have been waiting for six years for the opportunity to say that to the hon. Gentleman.

When interviewed by restart and told that their benefits were to be withdrawn, my constituents were very upset. They came to see me in my advice bureaux, just as others went to many of my colleagues. They explained why they felt so upset. This may answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), who is my neighbour. They felt that they had already done their bit by giving up their jobs and what they saw as their status in life—because that goes with the job—and also by giving up the prospect of a future career in the industry. They believed that they had become retired people, so it was difficult for them when they were told that they were not retired and that they would have to return to the job market on a compulsory and not a voluntary basis.

The most effective pressure of all came from the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. That is true of many of my constituents. I put it to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) that when men have stayed at work despite the most horrendous provocation, as my constituents did thoughout the 12 months' strike, they deserve extra recognition and consideration, and they got it from the Minister.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Can the hon. Lady tell us when the UDM sat down with the Government to discuss redundant miners and the restart scheme? Did the union do that when closure of the south Derbyshire coalfield was being discussed?

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

If it is in order, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall refer in a few moments to some of the closures. It is typical of the Labour party, both in my constituency and elsewhere, that all it can do is to pick and poke at what happened in the past. Most of my hon. Friends, and my constituents, are much more interested in the future.

Thirdly, I thank my Government colleagues for bringing the scheme to an end. The last entrants were in March 1987. That was entirely right and proper. The reconstruction of the coal industry has almost drawn to a close. Coal is now extracted by fewer than half the previous number of miners. Future miners who are made redundant who go on to schemes of this kind will have to bargain for their money with the employer. That is absolutely right. It is far better that the employer should get costs down so that he can chase big customers and serve them properly.

I look forward to the day when British Coal (Enterprises) starts to be a taxpayer and to contribute instead of taking taxpayers' money. I am convinced that that can happen. We should work towards the eventual disappearance of schemes such as this. We should not be subsidising the industry with money provided by private businesses, often in the same constituency, which may find it hard to compete.

As a result of the redundant mineworkers payment scheme, huge changes have taken place in the industry and also in my constituency. This is the first time in nearly four years that I have been able to speak about the reconstruction of industry in my constituency. My constituents have no regrets whatever about leaving the coal industry. They were given a choice. They could choose either to leave the industry under the RMPS—which meant that they had some security and some financial certainty for the rest of their lives—or to stay in the industry.

On 24 June I visited the mine workshops in Swadlincote— the main workshops centre in the midlands. They are flourishing and looking forward to the day when they will be privatised and can serve customers way beyond British Coal, and I look forward to the day when I can have shares in the business.

Most of the men took the opportunity that was offered by the scheme to say goodbye to the industry, and they did so without a backward glance. All Conservative Members with mining constituencies worried very much about the effect on employment, but we need not have done so. Those miners turned their backs on a dirty and dangerous industry, which still takes a terrible toll on men's health—we know that from our advice bureaux when people ask us if we can help them to get compensation for appalling lung diseases which are the legacy of deep coal mining—and our fears were unfounded.

Unemployment in my constituency started to come down before the pits closed, and it has been coming down steadily ever since. As a result, we are now in a totally different ball game. We need the skills of the men who have left the industry and many of them are returning to the job market. That is most welcome. The only other change that I hope to see, and which I hope that the Minister will encourage, is British Coal getting rid of and selling the many derelict acres of land that it owns in my constituency and elsewhere so that we can get on with further reconstruction. If the transition is successful and we reach the point where we say that British Coal should get rid of the land and make it available to other industries which will offer employment to the sons and daughters of my ex-miners, it will be mainly because of the Government's generosity in this scheme and others. I should like to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend for that.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian 1:14 am, 11th July 1989

I do not give such a qualified welcome to the order as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). I extend to the Minister my full appreciation for the order.

I do not give a damn whether the miners concerned are members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers or of the National Union of Mineworkers. They all suffered from the restart legislation. I do not want to become involved in a brawl about who did this and who did that. The order rectifies the position of 60,000 miners. I could probably claim to be the first person to raise the problem, but that is not important. It is unseemly that we have one voice from the Conservative Benches that challenges the merits of the order. That is a pity. I expected the order to receive a unanimous welcome from the House.

I was perturbed to be told that there were no problems in the Sherwood constituency when thousands of miners throughout the country had problems. It makes me suspicious that miners suffered not only harassment but political harassment because of the restart programme.

The history of the matter must be put on the record. The Minister knows that the miners' group had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Energy. On behalf of the miners' group I want to be fair to the Secretary of State. At that meeting the right hon. Gentleman told us that he warned the Department of Employment of the consequences of forcing the order through, but that it insisted on it. I do not intend to make party political points or to indict the Under-Secretary of State for the legislative mess that was created.

The miners' parliamentary group met the Minister of State, Department of Employment who extended to us the greatest courtesy and understanding. He told us that we were the only people who had submitted documentary evidence to show the mistake that was made. He was anxious to rectify the problem and kindly assured us that he would do his level best to ensure that there was amending legislation.

The miners' group was persistent and met the chairman of British Coal. He assured us that the problem was not of his making and that, although he had tried to advise the Government of the anomalies, unfortunately Governments do not always listen. Ex-miners and redundant miners who are involved will welcome this retrospective legislation. Not only do I think that they will welcome the retrospection, but I believe that they will welcome it even more because the Minister has said that there will be retrospection until January 1988. That is important for many of the redundant mineworkers involved.

We have all seen such mineworkers at our surgeries. I had one lad coming to me with his wife and he was actually crying about how they were going to make ends meet. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) could probably tell the House about more threatening circumstances as a consequence of redundancy. The House should be under no illusion. This legislative mistake caused much distress among redundant miners, many of them in their early 50s or late 50s, who had given a lifetime of service to the industry. After having given that lifetime of service, some were practically unemployable.

I warmly welcome the order. It will give succour to 60,000 mineworkers. I do not give a damn about what union or what area they are in and I do not give a damn who takes the credit for it. Those miners are the people who will benefit and we welcome the order.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet 1:20 am, 11th July 1989

It was, I believe, the late President Kennedy who once said that success had a thousand fathers, but failure was an orphan. As the announcement tonight is an undoubted success for the Government in responding to what is widely perceived to have been a serious injustice in the redundancy scheme, there are, inevitably, many hon. Members who are perhaps introducing a jarring note into what should be a response of wide acceptance of the scheme by Conservative and Opposition Members.

Undoubtedly it was correct, as my hon. Friend the Minister said in early debates on the subject, that technically the details of the scheme meant that those who participated in it would be subject to programmes such as the restart scheme. The reality, as was made clear by representations from many hon. Members, which they heard from many of their constituents, was that when the scheme was sold on the ground in individual pits, it was made clear to the people concerned that they would be taking early retirement as part of a restructuring scheme. I see no immorality or inconsistency in that and I believe that the Government have acted properly and responsibly in treating what is widely perceived to have been a great injustice.

Much of the debate tonight has been about who was responsible for the process and how they were responsible. There may be those hon. Members who belong to the rottweiler tendency who believe that barking and biting is the only way to achieve anything. Equally, it is clear that there are many other hon. Members who believe that more patient and careful argument is more likely to succeed. It is immaterial who was jumping up and down in the House. What really mattered was that as the problem and its seriousness became manifest in constituency after constituency, all hon. Members who represented mining constituencies joined in representations to the Government, which have been so successfully vindicated.

One must recognise the complexity involved in coming up with such a scheme and its interaction with so many other parts of the legislative framework. It is good to see that both the Department of Employment and the Department of Energy are represented here tonight by Ministers. That reflects the complexity and considerable interaction the scheme has with legislation on a wide basis.

Clearly, this part of the restructuring has been concluded very satisfactorily and brings to a substantial conclusion the major restructuring of the coal industry which, it must be emphasised, has taken place without a single compulsory redundancy. It is only right to record clearly the thanks of the House and all hon. Members who represent mining constituencies that not only has that restructuring been achieved, but that it has been achieved with manifest justice. I speak on behalf of all Conservative Members in saying that this restructuring should lead to even greater success when the mining industry is returned to the private sector and miners can own a stake in the pits in which they work.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 1:24 am, 11th July 1989

I represent a mining constituency—the only one in Northumberland with a working pit left. I warmly welcome the scheme and I decline the invitation of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to join in a competition to see who contributed most to the achievement of this most welcome outcome. I congratulate the Government and express the thanks of the redundant miners in my constituency.

The order restores the position to what the miners thought it was in the first place. Let there be no doubt that miners believed at the time, and were led to believe, that they were taking early retirement. They were told, "You have worked for many years in the industry, but the industry now has to change. We should like you to retire early." In many cases, the miners' health was not all that good, and their chances of alternative jobs were almost non-existent, so they were told, "We will ensure that you have a satisfactory basis on which to retire early." Much of the literature that the men received at the time referred to pensions, because early pensions were part of the package. If one talks to people about pensions, they tend to assume that they have retired. They tend to think that they have entered early retirement rather than a temporary interval after which they will be asked to go for interviews for another job. It came as a shock and a blow to a great many miners to be presented with the awful choice between losing their benefits through not taking part in the restart scheme and entering the restart scheme and taking a badly paid job that probably would not last very long and permanently losing their right to all their benefits. Either way, they would lose, and that was a frightening prospect.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I think that the hon. Gentleman may wish to widen the terms of the debate—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Is the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) giving way?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I give way to the hon. Member for Bolsover.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The hon. Gentleman referred to the restart scheme. In view of the contest in which he was engaged some time ago, does the hon. Gentleman think that Paddy Backdown would benefit from a restart scheme?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My right hon. Friend has plenty of excellent and useful work to do, as have I—both of us in the positions that we each now occupy.

As the Minister must realise, the miners who had to face that terrible choice have been through a miserable year, in which they have not known [Interruption.) Some hon. Members seem to think that the position of the redundant mineworkers who have been through what I am describing is amusing in some way; I must tell them that it is not. To be faced with the prospect of not being able to keep up the payments on their house or maintain their families in ordinary circumstances as in previous years was not at all amusing, and it is a great relief that that cloud has been lifted from them.

If the Minister is in the business of righting injustices in redundancy payments schemes in the industry, there are a few other things that he could do on the basis of his experience. I am sure that he would like to repeat the experience of gaining all-party support for his proposals. He could examine the position of opencast workers as we approach 1992 and the single European market. Opencast workers are still not treated in the same way as those covered by the scheme. The Minister could usefully consider that problem, because European money would be available to sort it out. He might also consider the position of the widows who did not get full housing benefit because the cash that they were receiving in lieu of concessionary coal disqualified them The Minister has started on the useful course of righting injustices in redundancy payments and concessionary coal schemes. I hope that he will continue on that course, and will not be discouraged by those of his hon. Friends who say that the Government have no place in such activities and that we ought not to have such schemes. The Minister recognised in his speech that a major reconstruction of the coal industry could not have been achieved without unacceptable social cost without a scheme such as this. I hope that he will reject the criticisms—some of them implicit and some of them confused because they were associated with congratulations—that have come from Conservative Members. My hon. Friends and I and Labour Members have warmly welcomed the steps that he has taken to put right what would otherwise have been a serious injustice.

Photo of Mr David Ashby Mr David Ashby , North West Leicestershire 1:30 am, 11th July 1989

I welcome the scheme in that it back-dates the original package to restructure the coal mining industry. Basically, early retirement has been provided for miners to put them in the same position as employees in many other industries. It was wrong to say in the original negotiations, "It doesn't matter, fellows—you can take your redundancy and effectively you will be retired; there will be a nod and a wink and you will not be asked to take part in any restart scheme; you will not have to look for another job, but you will be able to take unemployment benefit." That is a rather slipshod approach.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr David Ashby Mr David Ashby , North West Leicestershire

Perhaps I may finish my point before giving way.

A rather slipshod approach was adopted and it is a great pity that that was not recognised at the beginning.

There were many other industries which needed restructuring and in which employees worked long and hard hours doing dirty jobs. Britain has moved from heavy industry to light industry, and the system that we have introduced in the coal mining industry could have been used in many other areas. It is clear that there has been great injustice over the years. I accept that the miners suffered an injustice and I am grateful that it has been rectified. In any other restructuring of an industry we must ensure that we take account of the overall package. Let us be fair to all, not just to those in one industry.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley , Barnsley Central 1:32 am, 11th July 1989

I am surprised that so many Conservative Members are in their places to welcome the order. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) has said that not many of them were affected by the background that led to the introduction of the scheme and not many faced constituency problems.

I had a problem last year when a constituent committed suicide after he was put on a restart scheme. As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, this is no laughing matter. It is even less funny when we find that certain areas have been targeted for the restart scheme. My constituents were confronted with specific dates when 8,000 redundant mineworkers were to be brought in for interviews. I was informed of the dates, and it was obvious that the Department of Employment had a phased programme for bringing in redundant miners to complete their restart application forms and their interviews. I should imagine that that is a matter of record. I ask the Minister whether he will supply the terms of the record to hon. Members who are interested in them. We shall then be able to establish whether certain mining areas were targeted before other areas.

Perhaps I should remind Conservative Members that the redundant mineworkers payment scheme started in 1968, when miners received £200 or £300. They did not enjoy concessionary coal or weekly payments. The restart scheme was not introduced until the 1980s. The RMPS was not updated to its present level until 1983.

It is rather surprising to find in the Union of Democratic Mineworkers newspaper of last month a short quote from the Secretary of State for Energy suggesting that Roy Link was responsible for the order. It makes me wonder why the Minister bothered to come to the Dispatch Box today to tell us about it—it might have been better to announce it at the UDM conference at Weymouth. I ask the Minister again to supply a list of the targeted areas for the phasing in of restart interviews.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy) 1:34 am, 11th July 1989

The last point that was raised by the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) sounds highly unlikely, but I will certainly look into it.

I am grateful for the warm and sincere comments that were made by many hon. Members. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) said that he thought that the order would receive a unanimous welcome. I thought that it did. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was pretty sour throughout the debate, but hon. Members might have expected that from him. It has to be said that he has been pressing this matter upon us over several months. I should have thought that we would have detected from him a sense of exaltation and gratitude, but we did not.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

I will not tempt the hon. Gentleman. He has already made his feelings clear.

I am sorry that I did not add my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) to the roll of honour of those whom I mentioned—I am happy to do so—and who have been pressing hard on this matter.

I have nothing more to say to the House, other than that we have done the right thing tonight, and I hope that the House will approve the order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payment Schemes) (Amendment) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 15th June, be approved.