Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 10th June 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:45 pm, 10th June 2019

I am always happy to meet anybody, and I am more than happy to meet people who have asked for meetings today. I believe that my predecessor, my hon. Friend Richard Harrington, who took on responsibility from my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, did have a meeting, but I am always happy to have further meetings on this topic or any other.

I was just going to clarify that the connections of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes were so strong that she had to pass over her responsibility for this topic. Her mother-in-law is a beneficiary of the scheme that we are discussing today. Her mother-in-law’s late husband, Bill O’Neill, was a leader of the coke workers union and I understand that he died very young as a result of his years of service underground. At the age of 16, my right hon. Friend’s husband turned down a job in the Keresley pit, but that did not stop him helping to organise port blockades to prevent Polish imports while he was a student, and getting into trouble with his university to protect—in his view—British coal. It is because we appreciate the importance of fairness to mining communities that my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, when she was in post, dedicated a considerable amount of time to this issue and instructed officials to do the same. She spent time understanding the arguments and concerns of all sides, thinking and talking through alternative proposals and weighing up the merits of the cases presented.

It has been four months since the last Adjournment debate on this matter. Since then, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth has met the scheme’s trustees, and my predecessor as business and industry Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford, has met campaigners and coalfield MPs. Officials have also met the scheme’s trustees. For my part, even though I have been in post for only two months, I have taken an interest in this debate not just because of my family background, but because a number of the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today have collared me in the corridors since my appointment.

I have reviewed the trustees’ proposals, which my officials have been considering for some time, and I wrote to Her Majesty’s Treasury last week giving them my full support. I will be meeting the chair of the trustees, Chris Cheetham, on 24 June. Central to the trustees’ proposals is protecting existing bonuses. Under that option, if there is a deficit in the future, members will still see their guaranteed pensions continue to rise in line with RPI, and their current bonuses will not be eroded. Without that additional guarantee, members may not be able to get any increase in payment, possibly for many years. The proposals put to my predecessor by the trustees offer benefits to all pensioners, who will see their pensions secured into the future, even if the scheme was to go into deficit, by protecting the bonuses that have accrued to date. The trustees, who include former miners, believe that that is an important way of protecting future revenues for scheme members in the event of a future scheme deficit, because bonuses accrued at past evaluations could be eroded.

The trustees’ proposals would mean a significant additional liability for the Government. In turn, that creates an additional risk of a sizeable call on the public purse. However, I support the trustees’ aim to protect the revenues of individual pensioners. My officials have provided an analysis of the proposals, which I have now shared with Treasury colleagues. As I have said, I am dedicated to the best for miners across the country, which is why I am immensely proud of the scheme and of the investments that we are making to transform mining communities across the country.