Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:33 pm on 10th June 2019.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 9:33 pm, 10th June 2019

We have had a tremendous debate, which has combined passion, eloquence and reasonableness. Most importantly, not a single Member has put forward an iota of defence for the situation in which we currently find ourselves; indeed, support for the idea that that there must be justice has come from some of the most unlikely sources in the House. However, the subject of the debate saddens me considerably.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on securing the debate. No doubt, he shares my sadness about the fact that—as we heard from my hon. Friend Helen Goodman—the Government have taken £4,438,000,000 out of the miners’ pension fund since 1994, while miners and their wives and families are receiving an average of just £84 a week. The juxtaposition of those two figures takes the breath away. It simply cannot be right.

As we were reminded by my hon. Friend Mr Skinner, the pension fund did not come about until fairly late in the day. For many years, miners had no pensions. A scheme was set up to give them some reward, albeit not an enormous reward, for their life of service. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Easington, they worked throughout their lives in the dark so that we could have light, and sacrificed their health and their futures to keep this country going through the worst of times so that we could all continue to have light, health and wellbeing—and this is their reward for their life of service to this country: to have pensions as small as those. I cannot imagine the hurt that must be caused to the miners who see their meagre pensions coming in while the Government walk away, for nothing, with huge sums year after year.

My hon. Friend Gloria De Piero spoke of a bonanza and a cash cow. I would add the word “plunder”. The Government are simply plundering the money that should be there for the miners and their families in the future. As my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband said in his eloquent contribution, there was no actuarial basis for the original split, and there was an arbitrary change in the split that was there before the fund was closed and came into being as it is today. It turned out that the Government had not contributed any money to the fund up to the time of privatisation, and they have continued not to contribute any money to this day.

The Government say, “The pensions are better than they might have been had the fund not worked well.” However, the only changes that have come about are bonuses as a result of the 50% on the miners’ side, not the 50% coming to the Government. The Government have sat back and taken the money year after year, and continue to do so. That plunder goes on. The investment reserve that was set up at the same time as the fund obtaining the 50:50 from the surplus has paid out £475 million in the last year alone, again on the basis of no risk. We should ask ourselves whether this should continue. Because of an original risk that was said to have been taken in relation to a guarantee in 1994, regardless of circumstances that arose subsequently, the plunder continues unabated. That is an injustice, and it needs to be dealt with urgently, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington said and my hon. Friend Nick Smith reminded us, the membership of this fund is declining rapidly year by year: 280,000 members in 2008, but 158,000 members now, with 138,000 being paid and a small number having deferred.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent pointed out, 6,500 miners passed away last year, and it is estimated that over the next 10 years that fund will be down by another 50,000 members. That means hundreds of thousands of miners will have lived their lives with pensions grossly inadequate for the service they provided, watching the plunder go on before their eyes and passing away before anything can be done about it. We in this House surely cannot accept that we are going to stand by and allow another 50,000—another 80,000, another 100,000—miners and their families see that injustice continue. It is imperative that we do something urgently.

In response to a written parliamentary question, the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth stated in July 2018 that she had

“asked BEIS officials to work with the Trustees to explore options for revising the scheme to”,

as Alan Brown pointed out,

“the benefit of all parties.”

I cannot conceive what further benefit it would be possibly justifiable to give to the Government after all this money has gone out over these years.