I have taken an intervention and I am going to make some progress.
As I was saying, these staggering sums are born out of the 50-50 surplus-sharing arrangement. Let us not forget that, as has already been pointed out in this debate, this agreement was made without any actuarial advice—it is simply staggering. This agreement simply must be reviewed and amended to give miners a greater share of what I believe is fundamentally their money. It is patently unfair that these miners, who powered our nation, are left to fight for crumbs off the table.
Leaving aside questions of fairness, the sharing-surplus arrangement no longer makes financial sense either. The Government claim the risk they undertake in underpinning the pensions in their role as guarantor justifies this huge price paid and they suggest that without their backing the current value of the pensions would be considerably less. That is certainly up for debate, but what is not is that the landscape has changed drastically since this original agreement was made. For instance, the risk they assumed in 1994 in acting as guarantor has decreased substantially since then. The membership of the scheme alone has fallen considerably, for example. In 2006, there were 280,000 members, whereas there are now fewer than 160,000—by 2026, there will be just 125,000. So the financial risk for the Government has decreased and will continue to do so, yet miners in the scheme are still essentially charged the same price for the guarantee as they were 25 years ago. From a financial perspective, the scheme is no longer proportionate or providing value for money, yet the Government are willing to ignore this in order to continue boosting the coffers of the Exchequer.
On that note, in my previous Adjournment debate the Minister further attempted to justify this income by stating the Government have spent about £1 billion in coalfield communities over the past two decades—but that still leaves billions taken from the miners unaccounted for. Surely, the Government should at least tell us where that money has been spent?
Rather than in the Treasury, money should be in the pockets of retired miners. Along with the scheme trustees, the Government have the authority to make that so, by amending the surplus sharing arrangement, providing genuine value for money and righting this injustice—so will they? Will they, like the Labour party, commit to an immediate review of the current scheme as it stands? As part of that review, will they consider the NUM-commissioned report that suggested a 90-10 split in favour of the miners? Will they meet me, other coalfield MPs and the NUM to discuss that recommendation further? Will they acknowledge that the benefits brought to miners’ pensions by the Government’s guarantee simply no longer provide value for money? These are good, hard-working people who toiled for decades for the good of our country. The Government should put right this wrong and give miners what is rightfully theirs: a decent pension that they have earned and paid for.