I agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. The history of our coalfields is littered with examples of the sacrifices that our communities and miners made, and it is important that this is recognised.
In more recent years, conditions improved and so did the terms of employment. The Government acting as guarantors for the scheme in 1994 was the right thing to do to make sure that the value of the pension fund did not decrease. That is why it is now essential for the Government to address the injustice and unfairness felt by miners over the pension scheme and the way it has been handled over the past 25 years. As we have heard, the Government have benefited from huge payments over the years. However, we must ask them to reconsider their position and whether it is still appropriate for them to benefit from such huge payments. Miners in areas like mine, and across the country, did so much to support the generation of power for the nation. Indeed, the coal and iron works in my constituency helped to power the country for many years, going way back to the industrial revolution. Those former miners therefore deserve fairness and a guarantee that that they are looked after.
Miners have had to fight injustice before, for compensation for pneumoconiosis and other diseases. Many former miners feel that the way in which the pension fund is currently administered is certainly not fair and equitable. Too often, they have been let down. My first involvement in politics was as a 14-year-old during the miners strike in 1984 when communities like mine were supporting the miners in the year-long fight for jobs against an uncaring Tory Government.
In April, I was pleased to co-sign a letter co-ordinated by my hon. Friend Nick Smith, who has done so much on this issue over a number of years, calling on the Government to review their position on the sharing arrangements with the fund. It seems grossly unfair that miners are receiving an average pension of £84 per week—in some cases, a lot less. If we contrast this with the £4.4 billion the Government have received, it is hard—in fact, nigh-on impossible—to justify. It is indeed, as others have mentioned, a disgrace. It is certainly not fair, as the Government have not had to contribute anything to the scheme. They must have made far more money than was ever forecast to be the case. It is therefore time for a review.
The balance of risk was very different in 1994, when British Coal ended. People are much more informed all these years later. At the very least, the Government should conduct a review to ensure that they treat miners and their families with fairness. That does not appear to be the case at the moment.
The surplus share arrangements of the pension scheme were altered in 1994 from 70-30 to 50-50. Independent legal or financial advice to offer a due diligence approach does not appear to be evident. Was it ever sought or obtained? These were and are huge sums of money belonging to the miners. At the very least, in the apparent absence of such advice, it would be fair and transparent for the Government to undertake a review, so that the evidence and opinions of those affected or involved in the scheme could be taken into account.
Finally, membership of the scheme has decreased over the years and now stands at 160,000. The Government’s financial risk is therefore in decline, yet the 50% ratio is still the same as 25 years ago. There is a sense of urgency. The former miners are not getting any younger, and I am sure we all agree that they should get the benefit from the scheme while they are alive. We need action now, and I hope we will get some answers from the Minister this evening.