Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:14 pm on 10th June 2019.

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Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:14 pm, 10th June 2019

I thank Grahame Morris for securing this important debate. I agreed with every single word of his speech. He made an unimpeachable case and the motion should be supported this evening by the Government.

It has been four months since our last debate on this issue. Despite calls from several hon. Members and a petition signed by more than 100,000 people, which I was proud to present to the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street in March with the hon. Gentleman, there has been little progress. I presented the petition alongside campaigners Ken Sullivan, Gareth Hughes, Emlyn Davies and Neville Warren, who have worked tirelessly for justice. I pay tribute to them for their work.

Coalmining shaped the Wales that we know today. Our landscape was reshaped by massive slag heaps and our population shifted en masse from rural Wales to the coalfields, creating vibrant communities, only for them to be ripped apart by the brutality of Thatcherism. The miners strike of 1984 remains vivid in my memory. I was only eight at the time and clearly oblivious to the forces at work. However, the events of that year and their aftermath left a lasting impression on my political thinking. I do not come from a mining family. However, many of my school mates did and I remember to this day the impact of that strike on their wellbeing as that year-long struggle developed.

My father, however, was a trade union shop steward with the electricians union and it was clear to me what side of the fight we were on as a family. This year my father told me, out of the blue, that his grandfather was killed in a mining disaster underground at a pit near Llanelli, which just goes to show that for Wales the coal industry is deeply personal for the entire nation, which is why today’s debate has added significance. I became acutely aware of the power of the British state to destroy Welsh communities and became convinced that the best way to protect my country was the creation of a Welsh state, as opposed to leaving economic powers in the hands of Westminster.

In many respects I come from a frontier community, which borders post-industrial and rural Wales. The Amman valley sits on the anthracite coalfield, which produces the best coal in the world. To our west lies rural Wales, to the north the beautiful wilderness of the Brecon Beacons, to the south the coast and the great industrial urban centres of Swansea and Llanelli, and to the east the Welsh coalfield valleys, which stretch the whole way, more or less, to the English border. The people of the Welsh coalfields are extremely proud people. Community bonds continue to be strong. Our communities continue to be vibrant. What we lack in comparative economic wealth we make up for in social vitality. That is the legacy of the mining industry and mineworkers.

One obvious example for me is the continued importance that the communities I serve place on sports clubs. I am deeply humbled to serve as the honorary vice-president of Ammanford rugby club and Penygroes rugby club. It is a tradition for me to wear the ties of local sporting clubs in this House. Today I am wearing the tie of Ystradgynlais rugby club. Although that is outside my constituency, in Powys, the eagle-eyed will have noticed that the Ystradgynlais crest features a miner’s lamp.

Our debt today for the incredible communities that we are lucky to live in in my part of the world lies with the mineworkers of the past. The conditions that they worked in were terrible, causing long-term health damage for thousands. The least that they deserve for their contribution is dignity, but successive Westminster Governments, both blue and red, have let them down. Twenty-five years of injustice have been inflicted on them, while the miners—the people who produced the wealth in the first place—are receiving as little as £10 a week from the scheme. As we have heard in today’s debate, the average pay-out is only £84. As we know too, at least £4.4 billion has been siphoned off by the Treasury.