Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:23 pm on 10th June 2019.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Labour, Doncaster North 8:23 pm, 10th June 2019

I am glad to follow Ben Bradley; it is good that there is all-party support for this debate. I want to congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on his brilliant speech and on setting out his case so eloquently. I am speaking in this debate because I want to see justice for the retired miners in my constituency of Doncaster, North and, indeed, across Doncaster and the whole country. Miners worked their backs off for this country at great cost to themselves, often causing themselves ill health and a shortened life expectancy. Their families watched their loved ones risk their lives for this country, and the least we owe them is fairness and justice, which is what this debate is about.

As my hon. Friend said, the average payment under the scheme is just £83.98 per week—around £4,000 a year—so we are talking about people for whom every pound will make a difference. It cannot be right that £4 billion—and counting—has gone to the Government and not to the miners. That does not seem fair or right, and I think that that is recognised across the House. My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman have spoken eloquently to the current injustice, and the hon. Gentleman said that if we look at the scheme now, it just does not seem fair. The specific and relatively brief point I want to make is actually about the past, because if the scheme does not seem right now, I think we have strong grounds for thinking that it was not right in 1994 either, when the original decision was made. That might look like a matter of historical detail, but I do not think it is. We are where we are now because of that decision, which Governments of both parties have abided by.

I am particularly grateful for the conversations I have had with my constituent Les Moore, whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and his organisation, the UK Miners Pension Scheme for Justice and Fair Play Association, which, along with the NUM, has toiled on this issue for years. The 50-50 split was decided and announced in April 1994, and we all know what happens when a decision like that is made: inertia sets in. The Treasury is getting billions of pounds as a result, and nobody wants to revisit the matter. No Chancellor, Conservative or Labour, wants to give up that amount of money. But what was the basis of that original decision? Remarkably, it is 25 years old and we still do not really know the basis for it.

I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock, because she asked the most material question of all to the Minister last year. She asked the Government to publish the actuarial advice on which the surplus sharing arrangements were made. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington said, the reply was, extraordinarily, that no such advice was obtained. If there was no actuarial advice behind a decision that had billions of pounds-worth of implications for hundreds of thousands of miners and their families, that really was negligence of the highest order.

The more closely we look at this decision, the more dubious it becomes. A document from September 1993 was released under a freedom of information request in 2016. It is a report carried out by the Government Actuary, and it is the closest document that anyone can find that is relevant to the time. It is not about the future arrangements, but it does talk about the current practice at the time and implies that at that point miners were enjoying not 50% of the surplus but 70%. So the question then arises: if 70% was the basis of the scheme then, why did it change to 50%? We just do not know the answer to that question.

My point about the history is that Governments of both parties have said that the decision was properly made in 1994, but the increasing evidence is that the decision was not properly made at the time. I have a simple request to the Minister, which is that he should publish the papers underlying the decision that was made in 1994. Then we could all see for ourselves to the first time how and why the decision was reached and what has changed since then. My simple belief is that the decision was not fair then and that it is not fair now. Miners gave so much to our country and we need to repay our debt to them. On that basis, and on the basis of the case set out by my hon. Friend, I believe that it is high time the Government launched a review so that there can be justice for my constituents and for tens of thousands of mineworkers and their families.