Absolutely; that is a key point. I hope the Treasury Bench will listen intently to the points made in this debate.
My hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds made a point about the number of miners and their dependants who were dying. The mineworkers’ pension scheme annual report shows a dramatic fall in the number of pensions in payment. It has fallen from 175,000 in 2011 to just over 135,000 today. As this indicates, because of the age of the retired miners and their widows—many are now in their 80s or older—they are passing away and the number of beneficiaries is falling dramatically.
I am proud to represent the mining communities of east Durham. We owe a debt of gratitude to our miners. Easington’s pits produced the nation’s wealth and powered the industrial revolution, and the mining industry transformed our landscape. Without coal, many of the colliery villages in Durham would simply not exist. Where a pit was sunk, workers from all parts of the UK— from Wales, Cornwall, Ireland—would come to work in those collieries. Indeed, at the height of its production, the Durham coalfield alone employed 170,000 miners in the 1920s.
Coalmining remained our primary source of employment until the closure of our last pit in Durham in 1994. The colliery in my village, Murton, ceased production in November 1991. It was a proud industry until relatively recent times. In my opinion, the men who toiled in our pits are heroes—they worked in darkness so that we could live in light—and, in their retirement, they and their widows deserve respect and security.
There are points of agreement that I believe are accepted across the House, including, I hope, on the Treasury Bench and among Government Back Benchers. I think we can all agree that there is value and importance in the guarantee given to the mineworkers’ pension schemes. What is in dispute is the cost of the guarantee. There is no denying that the guarantee has given to those who administer the funds the freedom to make bold investment decisions, which has allowed them to target higher returns on investment. It follows that the guarantor—the Government—should be compensated for the guarantee fairly and proportionately.
This debate is about the cost of that guarantee and whether the £4.4 billion and the ongoing claim to half of all future surpluses can be considered reasonable recompense to the Government for the level of risk they shoulder. In my view, there should be some correlation between the level of compensation and the level of risk.