My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Those who were colliers or miners can become victims of silicosis and pneumoconiosis—common names in my household and my father’s—which affect the respiratory system. This group of people deserve a review that favours them. Many miners unfortunately go on to develop ill health later in life, which can often be attributed to the conditions in which they worked underground.
The men who wroughed hard, as we say in Scotland, in the bowels of the earth to put the “Great” in Great Britain fuelled the industrial revolution and kept the home fires burning through two world wars. It is worthy of note that the Labour party agreed to consider their concerns, but it found itself unable to do so as far back as 2003, due to a fall in world stock markets, so the original 50:50 share of the surplus prevailed. Even with the passage of time, it is clear that that unpredictability remains, given the immense dependency on the behaviour of money markets and the return from stock exchanges. It is essential to take a risk-based approach to ensuring that any Government, as the guarantor, are robust in securing and maintaining funding for the future.
The contingent pension liability for British Coal’s two pension schemes was valued at the modest sum of approximately £16 million. Some argue that recent surpluses need to be balanced against previous deficits, but I am unsure whether I would support such an approach. It was reported that there was a large surplus in the guarantee fund in 2017, with half being destined to provide bonuses to pensioners. The trustees announced new bonuses representing an increase equivalent to 4.2% of guaranteed pensions in the six years to 2023. In addition, there were to be improved benefits, and quite rightly so, for members under-60 who were not yet retired but who were experiencing serious ill health from spending decades underground. Such modest moves are to be welcomed, as is the coalfield communities fund that assists some of those communities.
In 2018, the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth instructed her officials to liaise with the pension fund’s trustees with a view to considering revising scheme for the benefit of all parties. Earlier this year, she advised that that was ongoing, so this evening I ask the Minister to endeavour to expedite the review, given the increasing age and ill health of many mineworkers, to achieve any necessary adjustments to meet the earlier stated principle of a fair and equitable sharing of risk and, more importantly, reward in the interests of both scheme members and the Government. Finally, I hope that the review will look kindly on the remaining miners and their widows and afford them the financial dignity that they so richly deserve.