I come from a mining family. Both of my grandfathers were coalminers. One worked in the Garw and Llynfi valleys and the so-called south crop, and the other worked in coalmines close by. Today, I represent a former mining constituency. My constituency contains the village of Senghenydd, which in 1913 saw the worst mining disaster in the whole of the British coalfield: 439 men and boys lost their lives in an absolutely horrific explosion. More recently, the collieries of Bedwas and Penallta closed immediately after the miners strike of 1984-85. They were two of the largest collieries in the whole of south Wales and the effect on the local area was devastating. What is more, no real attempt was made to provide alternative employment.
The legacy of coalmining in my area left two deep scars. The first is the issue of miners’ compensation for dust. That issue loomed large during my first years in the House. After a long campaign and a hard fight, many former miners did receive the compensation they needed. Not all of them. There were surface workers who did not get any compensation, even though they suffered from dust. Nevertheless, it was a hard fight.
The second big issue is the mineworkers’ pension scheme. As we have heard this evening, this has not been resolved. The essence of the problem is that the Government and the scheme’s trustees came to an agreement to share the surplus of the scheme 50:50. Essentially, that was an arbitrary division. By 2000, it was clear that the scheme was not working as many people intended it to work. The Coalfield Communities Campaign argued at that time that it was too generous a split for the Government. It queried the actuarial advice, saying it was too cautious. Perhaps we have to cast doubt on the advice itself and whether proper advice of any kind was provided. It would be good, as has been called for, if we saw from the Government the advice received at the time.
A review did take place, but because of market instability it came to the conclusion that there should be no change. The result has been that the surplus has become a real surplus. It has escalated hugely, so that from 1994 to November 2018 we have seen a surplus going to the Government of £4.5 billion. That is a heck of a lot of money by any standards—a real windfall.
The Government have used the justification that much of the money is used to help former coalfield communities. I would make the point that that should not be the case, because money should be provided from other resources. I also have to question whether that money has in fact been used to help those former communities. What is absolutely certain in my view is that that money should also be going to help former miners and their widows. That is where, morally, it ought to go, in total. That is why we need a commitment to a fundamental review, the objective of which should be that the full benefit of the pension scheme should go to the miners and their widows. In short, we are asking this evening that the miners should, at long last, have justice.