Miners and Mining Communities

– in the House of Commons at 11:57 am on 9 May 2024.

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Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 11:57, 9 May 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered miners and mining communities.

I thank my good hon. Friend Ian Mearns, who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, and the members of that Committee for granting this debate. Thirty-one Members from across the House supported the application for this debate, including the late Sir Tony Lloyd. He was a good friend, sadly missed, and a steadfast supporter of miners and mining communities.

Yesterday I marched with Bert Moncur, a former Murton miner and a constituent of mine who worked underground alongside my late father and my mentor and predecessor in this place, John Cummings. Hundreds of pensioners from across our coalfield communities marched on Westminster with a clear message, “We want our money back.”

We know the Government’s position. They claim to protect pensions while balancing the needs of the scheme and the taxpayer but, in reality, there is no fairness or balance. The Government have taken nearly £5 billion from the pension fund without contributing a single penny since 1984. Despite challenges such as the covid-19 pandemic, the global banking crisis and the Government’s financial meltdown, the mineworkers’ pension scheme has endured, without any Government financial support. The miners I marched with yesterday are taxpayers, who were once part of thriving mining communities that had full employment and decent wages. They contributed to their pensions assuming that they would have security in retirement, yet their jobs, wages and now pensions have been taken by this Conservative Government.

I was born into a mining family, in the coalfield community of Murton, in 1961. It is hard to explain to someone who was not born in a mining community how life was organised around the pit. I remember Murton pit pond, our swimming pool, which was heated by surplus hot water from the mine. I had my first shower at Shotton colliery pit baths. Every village had a network of colliery clubs, parks, sports teams and welfare facilities vital to community life, funded by contributions from working miners. Our culture and heritage remains, and it is celebrated in our miners’ banners and brass bands that are showcased every year at the Durham miners’ gala. On the platform, we have heard the greats of the Labour and trade union movement, the likes of Nye Bevan, Tony Benn and my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband. The illustrious list will surely grow this year when my good and hon. Friend Ian Lavery addresses the gala. There is no feeling quite like marching to the racecourse, following your village banner and brass band—it is a unique privilege.

When I grew up, in the 1960s and 1970s, life was never easy in mining towns and villages, but in the main we were happy, and life had purpose and meaning. The pit provided full employment for all ages and abilities. Our streets were not paved with gold, but our communities were rich with pride and honour, and we had a sense of self-worth. The men in the mines during my childhood were from the wartime generation. They were those who had risked their lives to defend our country, democracy and way of life. They were men such as Bill McNally, a Murton miner who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in world war one. His family still reside in the village. His grandson, Kevin McNally, is a diamond and one of my closest friends.

The coal industry was crucial in creating our nation’s wealth. It fuelled the fires of the industrial revolution, sustained us through two world wars, and enabled the growth of new sectors in finance and the City. There is no doubt about it: this country, this nation, owes the mining communities a debt of honour and gratitude, one that is yet to be repaid.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am pleased to make a brief intervention in this debate. The hon. Gentleman may not know that I was vice-chair of the all-party group on coalfield communities for some time, and I, too, wish to pay tribute to the miners, for whom I fought during the miners’ strike. I did so for the UDMUnion of Democratic Mineworkers—side of things. Those of us who were brought up in the 1950s know well the conditions of the miners at that time, and I have always had enormous, deep affection for them, which I carry through to this day.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Characteristically, he was generous in his remarks and we appreciate it.

The last pit in my constituency, Easington colliery, closed in 1993, at a time when coal provided 50% of the UK’s electricity production. The decision at the time to close the British coal industry made our country dependent on imported coal, which until 2014 still accounted for 35% of energy generation. Coalfield communities have never fully recovered from de-industrialisation, as was proven in the new “State of the Coalfields 2024” report published by Sheffield Hallam University and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. In response to Sir William Cash, the all-party group continues to take up causes and issues, ably chaired by my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones.

The Government continue to undermine the local economy, as evidenced in the excellent report, despite the regular trumpeting of levelling-up policies. In reality, the Conservative party chooses to invest levelling-up funding in places like Richmond and Cheltenham, rather than in places like Horden, in my constituency, which is in the top 1% of the most deprived areas in the country. Levelling up offered hope, but the ready-to-go Horden masterplan for regeneration was sidelined by a Conservative- led coalition from Durham County Council that favoured a single bid from Bishop Auckland, a constituency represented by a Conservative MP and a former Minister in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The Government have ignored and neglected our most deprived mining communities. Far from levelling up, Conservative Ministers have widened economic inequalities.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem with the levelling-up agenda the Government are pursuing is that it is mainly about capital investment? Although that investment is desperately needed in coalfield areas, Durham County Council has also lost £240 million from its grants, so the services that our constituents rely on have been devastated over the past 14 years.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I was going to talk about the levelling-up bidding rounds. He and other hon. Members are well aware of the costs that were incurred by the county council—£1.2 million—in preparing bids that were not approved by the Government. We should have a means-based system; it should not be a beauty contest. Those communities, including the mining communities that are among the most deprived and urgently need regeneration, should be prioritised. Unfortunately, that is not happening. The evidence is quite clear and is laid out in the “State of the Coalfields” report. I know other hon. Members will mention that, so I will not dwell on that point.

Coalfield communities undoubtedly face numerous challenges: a lack of job opportunities, limited public investment, and higher council taxes. We could have a separate debate about the flawed council tax that penalises areas with relatively low property values, like mine and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Demand on social services is increased in coalfield communities because of an ageing population, many of whom have health legacies associated with working in pits and heavy industry, and generally have lower disposable incomes. Under these conditions, local economies struggle to thrive, lacking sufficient income to support vital small businesses and employment opportunities.

Low wealth coincides with low wages, making my region, the north-east, the lowest paid in the country. The Government could alleviate this, in part, by addressing past injustices and ensuring retirement security for mine- workers and their widows by reforming the mineworkers’ pension scheme, in line with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee recommendations published April 2021.

A legacy of mining is industrial disease, cutting lives short, including those of my own father and grandfather, who were both coalminers who passed away in their 50s, before reaching retirement age. My father died in the belief that his pit pension would provide security for my ageing mother, who happens to be celebrating her 88th birthday on Sunday. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] We know that some pensioners receive as little as £10 a week from the mineworkers’ pension scheme. Our miners created the wealth that made this country great, with the mineworkers’ pension scheme being among the UK’s largest pension funds. However, money that should be used to provide security in retirement is being siphoned off by the Treasury, taking half of all the pension fund’s surpluses.

In a parliamentary response to me in December, Ministers confirmed that they had taken £4.8 billion—billion not million, as was reported on the TV last night—out of the pension scheme. I note also that this figure has not been adjusted for inflation, so can the Minister tell me what the figure would be if it were adjusted for inflation? This money should be used to enhance pensions, not only providing extra security in retirement, but supporting our local economies, coalfield communities, employment and small businesses. The vast majority of retired miners and their widows continue to live in our coalfield communities.

The moral case for reform was strengthened by an unfulfilled promise of a disgraced former Prime Minister. I must remind Members—particularly those on the Conservative Benches—of the promise made by Boris Johnson when addressing miners in Mansfield and Ashfield during the 2019 general election campaign. Once again, he deceived voters, failing to fulfil his promise on the surplus sharing arrangements, which remain grossly unjust. The Government and the Minister have the opportunity to put that right today.

I commend my colleagues in the shadow Cabinet, especially my hon. Friend Darren Jones, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who chaired the then Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy Committee, which provided a blueprint for reform. The Select Committee report on the mine- workers’ pension scheme offers a road map for retaining the Crown guarantee, releasing the £1.2 billion in the investment reserve fund, returning the surplus, and protecting the taxpayer. With key Members such as my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Bristol North West, for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North likely to hold crucial positions in a future Labour Government, I am confident that we can achieve pension justice for retired miners and their widows in our coalfield communities. I urge those on my own Front Bench to provide a clear commitment on this issue at the earliest opportunity.

Finally, I want to mention my constituent, Ray Patterson, who sadly passed away last year, aged just 62. He was one of the 11,291 people arrested and one of 9,000 sacked during the miners’ strike. His life was changed forever by his imprisonment on the ancient charge of unlawful assembly—a law that can trace its origins back to 1328. After the strike, the Government abolished unlawful assembly and introduced the Public Order Act 1986. Ray was innocent and at any other time he would not have been arrested, charged, or convicted.

I was 24 during the miners’ strike and saw how the Conservative Government tried to starve workers and their families into submission. I saw a police state on the streets of east Durham, intent on crushing miners fighting to protect their jobs and communities. The Government, courts, police and national media were part of a criminal conspiracy against working people in coalfield communities.

Ray, who was imprisoned and lost his job and pension, spent the rest of his life rebuilding. He left us too early, but his legacy will live on through his family. Ray maintained his innocence and fought to exonerate himself —I am sorry, Ray, that we could not deliver justice in your lifetime. We need the truth. While Scotland has taken steps with the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Act 2022, England and Wales lag behind. The policing of the strike was notorious, marked by perjury and fabricated evidence, which were willingly accepted in the Government’s war on the miners.

Four decades later, it is imperative that Ministers commit to uncovering the truth about the strike, particularly events in relation to Orgreave. Many convictions from the strike are unsafe, warranting the erasure of criminal records, with only a few exceptions. From Orgreave to Hillsborough, a pattern of criminal misconduct in public office emerges, with South Yorkshire police at its centre.

Coalfield communities face numerous challenges in achieving justice and economic growth. We require a Government committed to levelling up, fair taxation, and justice. Despite slogans such as “big society”, “northern powerhouse”, and “levelling up”, the Conservative party has failed to deliver tangible interventions, particularly in the areas of greatest need, such as Horden, Easington, Peterlee, Murton, Blackhall, South Hetton, Haswell, Shotton, and Seaham. Residents in these communities have little hope of opportunity and change under the Conservative Government, so those on the Labour Front Bench must address this challenge by bringing investment, growth, and opportunity to these former mining communities, which are in need of a real alternative.

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh 12:15, 9 May 2024

I thank all Members who have taken the time to attend this debate today. I particularly thank Grahame Morris—my hon. Friend—who co-sponsored this very important debate with me.

I represent my hometown of Leigh in Parliament, and 2024 is the 125th anniversary of Leigh being granted its town charter in 1899 by Queen Victoria. There were so many mines in Leigh and the surrounding communities that the area was known in the 19th century as Coalopolis. Gradually, from the 1960s onwards, the mines began to close, with the last one closing in the early 1990s. I lived very close to Bickershaw colliery, just over the boundary from my own village of Lowton in Leigh—over Plank Lane bridge. My great-grandfather worked down that mine with his brother, who was the fire safety officer. There were some very frightening stories of mining disasters back in the day, and I am sure all those from similar mining communities could tell similar tales.

There are many legacy issues in mining communities such as ours. They include contaminated land and the recovery of land that was covered by slag heaps, as well as the economic problems that we saw as de-industrialisation took place. Leigh was home not only to a large number of mines, but to cotton mills, which disappeared a generation earlier. I am proud to say that, today, unemployment in Leigh is pretty close to the national average. As Leigh is situated halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, we are gradually transitioning from a former mining community to a commuter community. I hope that one day Leigh can be as wealthy as Stockport or Trafford. Certainly, that is an ambition to which everyone in my home community can aspire.

I wish to talk about some of the things that we have been doing since I was elected as the Member of Parliament. First, Leigh has had £20 million for a new community diagnostic centre and operating theatre at Leigh Infirmary. Historically, people from Leigh have had to go to Wigan, which might not seem far away, but it can take 45 minutes to get there through heavy traffic, so it is important that our town has full facilities at the infirmary. We received £11.5 million from the levelling-up fund to refurbish Leigh market, the town square and shop fronts on Bradshawgate. Hopefully that work will begin soon. We have a further £1.5 million to regenerate Railway Road, where my hon. Friend David Morris used to have his hairdresser shop back in the day, although, as Members can tell, it is a while since I have needed his services. We have also receive £20 million over 10 years from the future towns fund for further regeneration projects in Leigh. That is £53 million that the Government are putting into the regeneration of Leigh, and I am very proud to have played my part in helping to secure that funding.

However, that is not the only funding that the constituency is getting; that is just some of the funding for the main town of Leigh itself, which is only about half the constituency. The surrounding former mining communities also make up about 50% of the constituency.

It may surprise Members—to some degree it surprised me—that the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and I are waiting on final approval for Golborne station’s reopening, for which the Government have already provided £14 million from the transforming cities fund. If we are successful, and I truly hope that we are, this will be the first time since the 1960s that the constituency has had a railway station. I hope that it will prove to be the template for a future station serving the town of Leigh itself. Andy Burnham and I have not always seen eye to eye, but I am proud that we have been able to put party politics aside and work together on that project. I really hope that the Department for Transport will approve it; I have my fingers crossed.

There was also a successful bid for £1 million for the Tyldesley heritage action zone—the first community-led regeneration project of its kind in the country. I thank Ian Tomlinson and the For Tyldesley community interest company for the great work that they are doing to regenerate Elliott Street, the high street in Tyldesley. Finally, I am working on a bid with Transport for Greater Manchester to secure £53 million of transport funding from the cancelled HS2 project to complete the Atherleigh Way bypass, to deal with the congestion that has been blighting Leigh, Atherton and my home village of Lowton for over 60 years.

That is £54 million secured for the former mining communities in my constituency, and £67 million more that we are fighting for, under this Conservative Government. I am proud that we have finally seen some money come to our town. As many people will say, including former Members for my seat, we have often felt like a forgotten part of the north-west of England and a forgotten corner of the borough of Wigan. I am proud to say that that is starting to change.

I am very proud to have served my constituency for nearly five years as the local MP, but I have a couple of requests of the Minister. First, Leigh could have secured another £8.5 million from the levelling-up fund, but Wigan Council refused to bid for the full £20 million available. The hon. Member for Easington said that he faced similar problems with the levelling-up fund bid. We have to find a better model for future rounds of levelling-up funding, because councils cannot be the arbiter of the funding we get. Every constituency has the right to the same amount of money, and it is important that everyone gets the £20 million they are eligible for. A better model needs to be found for allocating future funding and putting in bids. Some colleagues have said that they have £20 million in the pot waiting, but their local authority has simply refused to bid for it. That is not good, especially when the mining communities that we represent are so in need of that money, given the historical issues and problems that they face.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

I feel a bit disturbed by the line that the hon. Member is going down. My local authority has tried to make bids in each of the different rounds. One time, we were told that we were not allowed to do so because we had received 5p in a previous round. Then we were told that we should apply in the next round, which did not even come into existence. We have been led a merry dance in my local authority. As my hon. Friend Grahame Morris said, local authority staff have wasted hours, and thousands of pounds, completing a completely nugatory exercise. The Government should be ashamed of this process.

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. We are looking down opposite ends of the kaleidoscope. His council has wanted to put forward bids and not got them. My council first came up with a bid to spend £20 million on a multi-storey car park, which was completely unacceptable. Then it bid for half the money. I think the one thing that we can both agree on is that the initial model for the levelling-up fund bore considerable room for improvement. That needs to be addressed, which is why I am raising it with the Minister. It is a cross-party concern, and I am happy to say that in this Chamber.

Finally, the hon. Member for Easington raised the miners’ pension fund. I urge the Minister to take back to colleagues in Cabinet the issues that will doubtless be raised by voices across the Chamber. It is a matter of justice that miners get back the surplus from their pension fund. It is their money. They paid it into the system. We promised them that we would resolve this, and we should —it is only just. With that, I shall sit down, for I have said my piece. I welcome contributions from other Members.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Independent, St Helens North 12:24, 9 May 2024

I know that you cannot take part in today’s debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you have a strong connection with miners and coalfield communities, and your presence in the Chair should be recognised.

I am pleased to speak in this debate, as a former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities, as a patron of the Workers Memorial charity in St Helens, and as the MP for a very proud Lancashire mining community. I was born in the summer of 1984. I know that there will be disbelief at that, given my youthful visage and disposition. I am positively Jurassic compared with our new kid on the block, my hon. Friend Keir Mather. As I approach my own landmark this year, like many others I have been watching and listening to the excellent documentaries, podcasts and reflections on the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strike. As someone relatively au fait with the history of that period, which some of my esteemed colleagues lived through—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for securing today’s debate and the work that he does—I was frankly surprised by how surprised I was by the revelations contained in much of the testimony provided by those involved.

I am not naive about the excesses of the state and its abuse of power—it had life and death consequences every day where I grew up—but I had not quite understood how it had manifested with such brutal consequences in England, Scotland and Wales. There was a moral vacuum at the heart of the then Government’s economic policy, which was designed to cast not just one but maybe two or three generations of men and their families out into the wilderness of worklessness. Those men and their families and communities were treated as subversives, when in fact all they were doing was asserting their right as workers and trade unionists to withdraw their labour as a last resort.

It was not just the policies that were immoral, but the strategy and the tactics to divide communities and to set worker against worker. Well, we do not forget. The solidarity today and the desire for justice and truth about what happened is still as strong. I do not say these things to settle scores or to make any of my friends on the Government Benches, some of whom come from these communities and know much more about them than I do, feel uncomfortable, but the people I represent would want and expect me to say them, and it is my duty and privilege to do so.

However, the positive legacy of mining and miners is still a shining light in St Helens. The work done by the North West Miners Heritage Association is testament to that. It preserves the stories and memories, it has recreated the beautiful banners, and it provides support to old friends and comrades. As many of the physical signs of our industrial past fade from view, the association, the brass bands and the rugby league clubs keep the flame alive, and ensure that this and subsequent generations know the history of their forebears. We need to look after some of their forebears now. My hon. Friend James Grundy talked about miners’ pensions. I pay tribute to Colin Rooney from Haydock in my constituency, who is one of the leading campaigners on that issue. I hope that those on both Front Benches—that of the outgoing Government and that of, hopefully, the incoming Government—have heard what has been said on that.

It is important to say that mining communities such as the one I represent are as much about the future as the past. In St Helens, one of our flagship regeneration projects is the development of Parkside. It was the last Lancashire colliery to close in 1993. It lay idle for over 20 years. When I was elected nine years ago, I said that it was one of my priorities to get the project moving. That is why I am so proud that, working with the Labour council, we have secured tens of millions of pounds in funding to redevelop and renew the site, attracting public and private investment, building new infrastructure and creating employment. Working with the Labour-run Liverpool city region, we secured designated free port status, which is attracting advanced manufacturing and the jobs of the future, putting St Helens at the heart of industry and innovation again.

We are also undertaking one of the most ambitious brownfield development projects in old mining communities in Parr and Bold, creating new housing and community facilities to help those places thrive. That takes a lot of work, not least to clean up contaminated land with limited funding. I hope that in government my party will look at restoring central Government funding to do that, as part of the very welcome plans to unblock planning and build more good, appropriate and affordable housing.

We know too that we need more jobs, more skills and more business and economic growth. The “State of the Coalfields” report, which has already been referenced, gives us an enviable evidential base to put our case about where we need investment and what type of investment we need. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust continues to be a fundamental part of driving policy and progress in our areas right across the country, and it deserves ongoing and indeed enhanced support from Government to keep our communities moving ahead and to identify the help they can be given on that journey. The partnership between politicians, business and local, regional and national government is critical to that. The work done by organisations such as the Industrial Communities Alliance to drive economic, environmental and social renewal is a vital part of planning and implementing levelling up, in whatever guise and under whatever Government.

I am proud of the contribution made to those discussions and efforts by St Helens and the work we are doing there. Martin Bond, one of our councillors, is the vice- chair of the ICA for the north-west region. His grandfather, Luke Maloney, from Sutton by way of County Galway, went underground in 1930 aged 14, after his own father had been killed in the same pit, and stayed there for 40 years. That is just one example of how the past, present and future coalesce in mining communities. I want to finish by giving a sense of that. My friend Eric Foster and his comrades from the Golborne Ex Miners Association have faithfully organised an annual commemoration for the 10 men who died in the disaster at Golborne colliery in 1979. On 18 March that year, one of Britain’s last major mining accidents took place there, after a build-up of methane exploded and sent a fireball searing through the mine tunnels. We gathered from across Wigan and St Helens some weeks ago to mark the 45th anniversary. We remembered those who lost their lives, John Berry, Colin Dallimore, Desmond Edwards, Patrick Grainey, Peter Grainey, Raymond Hill, John McKenna, Walter McPherson, Brian Sherman and Bernard Trumble, and we stood with Brian Rawsthorne, then a 20-year-old apprentice electrician from Garswood in my constituency, who was seriously injured but survived. He and the families of the men who perished have borne their grief with great dignity, and they and their sacrifice are not forgotten. They can rest assured that whatever we do, in everything we do in mining communities in future, they will always be part of it, and part of us.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield 12:32, 9 May 2024

I thank Grahame Morris and my hon. Friend James Grundy for securing the debate. I am also grateful for the rescheduling of this debate from the very compressed timescale that would have been offered previously, because it is so important that we take time on this debate.

Mining has been a topic of personal relevance to me since long before I became an MP. I am a proud boy from Ferryhill, a mining village in the north of my constituency, and I am familiar with the unique sense of common bond created by the challenging circumstances emanating from the towns and villages of the Durham coalfield, which is typical of the coal communities right across Britain. Fishburn was the last mine in Sedgefield to close, in 1973, with those at Wheatley Hill, Mainsforth and Trimdon Grange all having closed in 1968. It has been over 50 years since those communities had a mine—so long ago that the Prime Minister at the time was Harold Wilson—but the heritage remains strong, as we see from this debate. Despite it being over half a century since the mines were there, they still identify as mining villages.

The traditions most celebrated, as we have heard, include the annual miners gala in Durham, where the banners of the mines are paraded. I have had the privilege of attending some of the Friday celebrations, where the banner is prepared for the Saturday with the associated brass bands playing. Brass bands are a strong cultural asset of our mining communities—a culture that is at least as important to the UK as any other. As a child I remember vividly the carnivals that took place, with jazz bands and floats that brought people out to enjoy themselves. Mining is so foundational to these communities that they often have half a pit wheel prominently displayed at the entrance to the village.

We laud the heroism of the coalminers for good reason. Their work was frequently dangerous, with many thousands killed by disease and in accidents, including the 73 killed at the Trimdon Grange colliery in my constituency in 1882. The Black Bull pub in Ferryhill was renamed the Dean & Chapter to respect the 73 men who lost their lives in the colliery. The local community paper is similarly called “The Chapter” as a link to the colliery. The Dean and Chapter pit, which was located next to Ferryhill, closed in 1966, and is where my grandfather mined. While the coalminers and the communities are remembered with respect and fondness, the mines themselves were not good places to work. Indeed, my hon. Friend Ian Levy, who cannot speak in this debate as he is assisting the Minister, tells me his grandfather, Ralph Mitcheson, went down Crofton pit in Blyth, having left school at 12, and made my hon. Friend’s mam promise, “Never let any of my grandkids go down that pit.”

The hon. Member for Easington and others have referred to the mineworkers pension scheme. My own position on that is very clear and is on record already. He mentioned the then Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s report on the subject. That was one of the first Committees I served on in this place, and I am a signatory to that report; I was pleased to contribute to and be part of that inquiry and I stand behind the report here and now.

There is no more important reflection of the importance of mining in my area than Redhills, which was known—and still is—as the pitmen’s Parliament. In that space, each pit had a representative chair, and now miners’ families are able to have brass discs attached to the chair naming specific miners who went down that particular colliery. I am proud to say that my grandfather, Thomas Ellis, is referenced on the Dean and Chapter chair.

We must also ensure that Members of all parties remember our roots and that we work together to celebrate mining communities’ history and encourage their future. I attended the installation of a blue plaque in Durham to celebrate John Forman, who played a central role in forming the Durham Miners Association and was its president from 1872 to 1900. Strangely, the only other politician present was the Liberal Democrat cabinet member for economy and partnerships. We need cross-party engagement, because people such as John, who worked so hard on mine safety—even writing a paper on how coal dust ignited and caused explosions—and was seen as the head of an organisation and a social movement that transformed the lives of the people of County Durham, are the roots of our communities, and their values need to be built upon, not forgotten.

No one would dispute that the past couple of generations of residents have had more than their share of difficulties, yet the resilience they have shown has been remarkable. It is their community identity that is the foundation for everything. That is particularly evident in the community support centres that have been established, such as Ferryhill Ladder, Cornforth Partnership, Deaf Hill community centre, Trimdon Grange community centre, Trimdon village hall and many others across my Sedgefield constituency.

For the past few years, I have been co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for “left behind” neighbourhoods, which looks at the problems of deprived areas and proposes practical solutions to them. That is not just the mining villages, but they are certainly part of that cohort that could be described as left behind. We have seen our request for a community wealth fund delivered, which should be valuable to many of those communities.

One problem the APPG has consistently raised, however, is low connectivity. How can residents aspire to social mobility if they do not even have the physical mobility that would enable them to reach better jobs? In Newton Aycliffe and NETPark we have many employment opportunities, yet the bus services connecting the mining villages to them are appalling. The single most crucial factor in enabling the mining communities to thrive again is better transport connections, because they invariably have very low levels of car ownership and are too isolated for walking or cycling. Therefore, the efforts being made to improve transport links are more critical for those communities than most. I hope that the changes in the Treasury Green Book to reflect social impact can be turbocharged to deliver for those communities.

I wait with interest to see whether our new North East Mayor takes an interest in these rural connections. I fervently hope she does and that she does not just spend all her time in the urban centres of the region. It is essential that rail connectivity is also improved; I am delighted that the reopening of Ferryhill station, which will link my communities to Tyneside and Teesside, has been confirmed. I look forward to the new Mayor also committing to the Leamside line; there are rumours that she is not going to, but I hope they are false, because it would be transformational for thousands of people who currently have limited transport options and would gladly use the new stations and line to go to work and college. I will continue to work cross-party to push for delivery of that line, in particular with Mrs Hodgson.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I was waiting for the hon. Gentleman to get to the key moment when he would mention the Leamside line, and I was not disappointed. As he knows, there is a connection between our constituencies, and they could be made even more connected if we got the Leamside line reopened. He mentions that the newly elected Mayor may get cold feet on it. If she does, I have a bucket of hot water ready and waiting for her feet. I have every faith that it will still be high on her agenda, and I look forward to being able to get on a train from my constituency to the hon. Gentleman’s very soon.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Conservative, Sedgefield

I look forward to that opportunity. I have written to the North East Mayor asking for engagement on that, and I would be delighted if the hon. Lady joined me for such a meeting, should it arise.

Ferryhill station is not just about travel; it is also about economic regeneration. The station closed as part of the Beeching cuts in 1967, the same year that the Ferryhill mines closed—and the same year, as it happens, that I moved out of Ferryhill to Newton Aycliffe, about six miles away. It meant that residents lost not just a source of local jobs, but a means of travelling to new jobs. It is therefore an imperative that the project, which was recently confirmed again by the Prime Minister, now makes urgent progress. Like any investment, it will show the communities at or near the station—Ferryhill, Chilton, Mainsforth, Dean Bank, Cornforth and Bishop Middleham—that they are valued, while also presenting increased opportunities for those that are slightly further away, such as Spennymoor and Tudhoe.

One of the tenets of my election in 2019 was the desire to improve access to opportunities for all, and no one is more needing or deserving of opportunity than the residents of what were, and still are, described as mining villages. One cause of mine has been to encourage aspiration, particularly for the young people of Sedgefield, and that flows from sessions with the ambassadors of Ferryhill primary schools, led by Glenys Newby, as well as visits to schools in Hurworth, Wheatley Hill and everywhere in between.

To enable and encourage aspiration, it is critical that we create opportunity. Opportunity comes from jobs and careers, which is why I am so pleased about the growth of NETPark, a science community within two miles of Fishburn, a former mining village. Close to my mining communities is the new town of Newton Aycliffe, which offers 10,000 jobs, including at Hitachi. It is fundamental for the recovery of the mining communities that industries of the future can be sustained, including at Hitachi. I am working with everyone from unions to the Secretary of State, to find a way for those industries to continue admirably inspiring their workforce in the future. However, they will help the communities most in need only if my mining villages can reach them via the bus connection that I mentioned.

If we wish to secure future growth, we must develop new skills. I am enormously encouraged by the growth in apprenticeships in the area, where 13,490 have started since 2010, and by the increasing quality of our schools, which is helping to deliver better educational outcomes. Over the past 14 years, we have gone from 67% of our schools being rated good or outstanding to 91% today. Opportunity is supported by education, and I have been delighted to engage not only with schools but with the amazing universities that support my constituency—most notably Durham University. I commend the work being done to reach out to communities.

I am delighted that Fiona Hill, the recently appointed chancellor of Durham University, hails from Bishop Auckland, a place with challenges similar to those in my communities, so she gets it. Fiona Hill hails from a disadvantaged background but managed to rise to work on the international stage, and has now returned to become chancellor of Durham University. I support the university’s “Shy bairns get nowt” project, which is an attempt to instil more confidence in our young people so that they speak up and are not only heard but listened to.

I have such hope for the former mining communities in my area. We need to continue efforts to support education and aspiration, and to deliver better transport for those communities. Despite their challenges, I can see the potential they have to reinvent themselves. However, I cannot stress enough just how crucial bus and train services are to that process. I look forward to seeing the services improve and those amazing communities become the places that they deserve to be.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 12:44, 9 May 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for all his important work on this issue, and I thank him and James Grundy for leading this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow Paul Howell. I will mention Channel 4, so I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The miners’ strike of 1984 ripped the lives of miners and their families apart. It ripped towns such as Barnsley apart. The miners were shamefully branded “the enemy within” by the then Prime Minister. Men were imprisoned because they were fighting for their jobs. Women ran soup kitchens because they were fighting for their communities. Over 30,000 men worked down the pits in Barnsley to keep the lights on and the country moving. The work was dirty and dangerous, but it was respected.

However, the Ridley report of 1977 planned the destruction of Britain’s coalmining industry, and its tactics were deployed under Margaret Thatcher in 1984. They were illustrated in the excellent Channel 4 documentary on the miners’ strike earlier this year, which highlighted the experiences, impact and legacy of the strike 40 years on, and showed in particular new footage of the events at Orgreave on 18 June. Orgreave changed how we are policed as a society, but it also changed many lives that day, as the documentary so powerfully highlights. Trust in the police is still impacted in areas such as mine, even today. Constituents of mine in Barnsley are still waiting for justice for what happened to them at Orgreave, and they deserve to know the truth.

Many men who went down the pit have suffered from long-term health issues. The previous Labour Government gave £2 billion-worth of compensation to coalminers who had contracted lung diseases as a result of their work for British Coal, and around £500 million for those who were injured by their use of vibrating tools down the pit. However, although former miners can seek compensation through the industrial injuries disablement benefits claims process, many often report that the system is difficult to navigate.

Sadly, former miners and their families often tell the National Union of Mineworkers that they have not been assessed correctly and are therefore deemed ineligible for the compensation they deserve. It is often left to spouses to fight for miners’ compensation after their death, waiting for a post mortem to prove that they did indeed have lungs full of coal dust and that it was the cause of their severe ill health and subsequent early death. We must do better in our approach to this issue, so that the men struggling with poor health are given the support they need. The NUM does an important job to this day in supporting miners in their struggles with industrial disease, and it has worked with my office on a number of cases in recent years.

Another issue that affects thousands of my constituents is the mineworkers’ pension scheme. Yesterday, my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis and I met miners who had travelled from Barnsley to Westminster to meet us and campaign for change to the scheme. The average miner has a pension of just £84 per week, and widows are on a lot less. Through the 50-50 surplus-sharing arrangement, the Government have taken £4.8 billion pounds out of the scheme, and that figure is set to rise to £6 billion. In response to a parliamentary written question, Ministers have admitted to me that the “take it or leave it” deal when the pits were privatised was done without any actuarial advice.

I was pleased to secure the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee inquiry into that injustice. I am grateful to the Committee’s then Chair, my hon. Friend Darren Jones—he is now shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury —for all his work on the issue. His report clearly concluded that the Government should not be in the business of profiting from miners’ pensions. Having campaigned to secure that enquiry, I have raised this issue dozens of times in this place, I have met Ministers and shadow Ministers and, earlier this year, I visited the Treasury to make the case once again. I will continue to campaign for action and justice on the mineworkers’ pension scheme.

Almost 90% of the mining workforce became unemployed in the first 10 years after the 1984 strike. For communities in the north, Scotland, south Wales and, of course, Yorkshire, where coalmining was a vital industry, the effects were devastating. In 1994, a year after the pit closed, Grimethorpe in Barnsley East was named the poorest village in Britain. That was portrayed so powerfully in the film “Brassed Off”, which showed the impact on our community. Last year we marked the 30th anniversary since the pit ceased production. Hundreds attended the miners’ memorial in Grimethorpe on the Thursday before Christmas, as they do every year, to remember the men who went to work and did not return home, as was sadly too often the case at collieries across the country. Indeed, I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as the Member for Doncaster Central, regularly attend the Armthorpe memorial and have been a strong champion for miners.

Economically, areas such as Barnsley have never recovered. In its report, “Next Steps in Levelling Up the Former Coalfields”, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has made a number of recommendations for former coalfield areas. These include stronger policies to grow local economies and tackle economic inactivity, improvements to the transport infrastructure, and increased provision of apprenticeships. Following my questions in this place, I was pleased that the Secretary of State agreed to visit Barnsley East to see at first hand the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, based in Wombwell in my constituency. However, despite being deserving by every measure, Barnsley East has missed out on levelling-up funding. Levelling up was meant to support left-behind areas, but it has failed to do so.

Barnsley was built on coal. Mining powered communities and our communities powered a nation. When I held an Adjournment debate on the mineworkers’ pension scheme in 2019, there were 160,000 men in that scheme, but today that number has sadly fallen to just under 125,000. Time is running out. We can and should do better for our miners, whether that be on miners’ health, on miners’ pensions or for mining areas, as they face the economic legacy of pit closures to this day. The National Union of Mineworkers has a banner in Barnsley that states:

“The past we inherit, the future we build.”

That is just what we need to do: build a better future for our coalfield communities.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 12:50, 9 May 2024

I am delighted to be able to speak in this debate. I am the furthest south, by a long way, among the Members who will participate, but the fact is that Cornwall has an incredibly proud heritage and history of mining. It is not just about our history; we still have a thriving mining sector in my constituency, and some amazing opportunities to come. When most people think about my constituency, they are aware of the beaches, the coasts and all that we have to offer tourists, but the middle part of my community—what we often call the clay villages, because of the history of china clay mining there—has far more in common with former mining villages in the north of England than it does with the rest of the south of England. Representing such a diverse constituency that contains so many different elements presents me with some interesting questions and challenges.

Our mining history in Cornwall goes back literally 4,000 years—it goes back to the bronze age, when tin was discovered and mined to create the bronze that was needed in that era. By Roman times, tin was already a much traded and sought-after commodity that was being extracted in Cornwall. At that time, Cornwall was actually described as one of the wealthiest strips of land anywhere on earth, because of the incredible wealth brought by tin mining. By medieval times, Cornwall’s status as the tin mining capital of the world had become so important, and the wealth it generated for the Crown had become so significant, that a set of special bodies and laws was established through the stannary courts and parliaments to protect that mining wealth. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Cornish tin and copper mining reached its zenith: the metals mined from Cornwall helped to provide the raw materials for the industrial revolution and were a major contributor to the economic growth of our nation, and indeed of the empire.

Cornwall has also been at the forefront of pioneering in mining. The high-pressure steam engine was invented in Cornwall by Richard Trevithick, which led to the creation of the iconic engine houses. At one point there were over 200 engine houses in Cornwall, and when Cornish miners went around the world they took that technology with them—in many parts of the world where mining takes place, the same engine houses can be seen. We in Cornwall also invented the safety lamp: Humphry Davy’s invention was another major bit of pioneering safety equipment for miners of the time.

More recently, the extraction of china clay in my constituency has been at the heart of the Cornish economy. Cornwall has the largest and highest-grade deposit of kaolin—also known as china clay—anywhere in the world, and for 250 years now has been extracting, producing and exporting high-quality china clay. I am proud that several of my ancestors, and my grandfather and my uncle, worked in the china clay industry. By 1910, Cornwall was producing 50% of the world’s china clay, which revolutionised mid-Cornwall, the part of Cornwall that I am proud to represent.

For example, the tiny village of West Polmear had only nine residents, but then Charles Rashleigh invested huge sums of money to create factories and homes for the china clay workers, and very quickly it became a village of several hundred people. He renamed the village Charlestown—not after the King, as many think, but after himself. Many people will be familiar with Charlestown today as a thriving visitor centre, and will probably also recognise it as one of the places that was regularly featured in the BBC’s “Poldark” series.

That period also saw the Cornish mining diaspora, where about 250,000 Cornish miners and their families left Cornwall to spread literally around the world. At that time, it was said that if you found a hole in the ground anywhere in the world, you would find a Cornishman at the bottom of it. Today, statues commemorating Cornish miners can be found in the state of Victoria in Australia; and there is a Cornish waterwheel in British Columbia in Canada, a Cornish cultural society in Mexico and, most importantly, a Cousin Jack’s pasty shop in California. All are clear signs of how Cornish miners spread around the world.

However, like many of the stories we have heard this afternoon, the clay villages in my constituency, as with any mining sector, have faced huge challenges as the number of people employed has fallen. The china clay industry used to employ around 10,000 people in my constituency, but today that figure is just over 1,000. That has presented a number of challenges for those communities, economically, socially, and in terms of health. They are some of the most disadvantaged communities in Cornwall, and indeed in the country. They face challenges in finding jobs: many of the jobs we now have in Cornwall that are linked to tourism or food production are lower paid and often seasonal. As other Members have mentioned, the lack of good transport links also presents a huge challenge.

However, great work has been going on in recent years. We are seeing the regeneration of old china clay pits through the creation of a garden village, with the construction of about 1,300 new houses, a new school and new workplace buildings, and real investment in that area. A new link road is being built through the china clay area, with £80 million of Government investment, which will improve connectivity. That is the single biggest investment in mid-Cornwall by any Government. The Government have also provided £50 million through the levelling-up fund to upgrade the branch line between Newquay and Par and connect it through to Truro and Falmouth—what we call the mid-Cornwall metro—which will also greatly improve transport connectivity for many of those china clay villages.

We are also seeing significant investment in St Austell Hospital, which serves many of those communities—a £15 million surgical hub is being built right now and will be opened in the coming months—and the redevelopment of Cornwall College in St Austell will serve many of those communities, with a brand-new campus about to be built in the coming months. The Government have recognised the needs of those communities. More than any previous Government, they have provided those villages with investment to help to address some of the disadvantage they face.

However, this is not just about the mining of the past. Cornwall has a great opportunity that I believe will breathe new life into and revive our mining sector: lithium extraction. We have known for 200 years that there is lithium in Cornwall—I have seen old mining maps from the 1800s showing significant deposits of lithium in Cornwall—but it is only recently, because of the need for lithium for producing batteries, particularly for electric vehicles, that there has been a market for the mineral. Two companies, Cornish Lithium and Imerys British Lithium, are looking to develop the extraction of lithium, which will provide the UK with a secure domestic supply of what will be one of the most sought-after elements in the decades to come. It is estimated that they could produce 50% of the lithium that British car manufacturing will need for the batteries we will have to produce.

That is very good news not only for Cornwall, but for the UK. In one of his previous jobs, the Minister came to visit us, and he is aware of the opportunity presented. It is not only a great economic opportunity, but I believe it provides us with an opportunity to ensure that the extraction of elements going into the manufacturing of batteries in the UK has the highest environmental and ethical standards. One concern that local people sometimes raise with me is that lithium extraction does not have a particularly good reputation around the world either in the ethics applied to it or in its environmental impact. However, we can produce lithium in Cornwall to the highest possible environmental standards and to the highest ethical standards, which I think puts us in a very strong competitive position in the global market.

There is a great opportunity to revive the mining sector and give mid-Cornwall a great future for decades to come. Being good at taking things out of the ground has been part of Cornwall’s history, but a lot of the value and the higher-paid jobs have ended up elsewhere. This time, we want to ensure that we capture as much as possible of the value of lithium extraction and that we keep it in Cornwall. We must create the well-paid jobs in Cornwall and keep the value there as much as we can, so that there is a lasting and positive impact on our economy.

We are incredibly proud of Cornwall’s heritage and history of mining—it is in our DNA; it is what our people have done for thousands of years—but there is also a huge opportunity for it to be part of Cornwall’s future, and for Cornwall to play a significant part in our national prosperity once again.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham 1:03, 9 May 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for securing this important debate to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1984 miners’ strike. As we heard in his speech, he has fought for miners and their families since he was elected in 2010.

It is also a privilege to speak in this debate alongside my hon. Friend Ian Lavery. Along with his entire community, he was out on strike for the whole year to save the British coal industry, and what he and other miners experienced was a disgrace. It was brutal, it was callous and it was completely unjust, and I support my hon. Friend in his repeated call for a public inquiry.

If Margaret Thatcher was at the Dispatch Box today, I would ask her: “How could you have done this? How could you have left what were once real communities, full of life and solidarity, in such a state of despair and disrepair? How could you do this without any plan, without any reparations and without any transition—nothing for the miners and their families?” Those questions apply to all those who enabled her: her MPs, her peers and her allies in the media, who spun lie after lie about the miners and the mining industry. To all those who did not speak out, I ask: “How could you sit on the fence when this cultural and economic vandalism was taking place?”

We must be clear about something else. Miners had no choice but to strike because they knew exactly what was at stake not just for themselves, but for their families, their villages and the entire country even. At the very least, the Government owe an apology to the miners and their families.

There is so much to cover in this debate, such as the aftermath of the strike, the numerous injustices, the wrongful convictions, the health inequalities and the economic wrongs that go on to this day. I know I will not be able to cover everything, but time permitting, I will try to cover the role of my constituency, the role of women in the north-east and the policies we need to see in coalfield areas today.

I am privileged—genuinely so—to represent the City of Durham, which hosts the Durham miners’ gala every year. It is the greatest demonstration of working-class solidarity in the world, and it would not be possible without the Durham Miners Association, which is headquartered at Redhills, also in my constituency. Can I put on record my thanks to the DMA, particularly Alan Mardghum and Stephen Guy, for its work in hosting the gala, its support to ex-miners, and its support to me and my office?

Since 1871, there have been only a few occasions when the gala has been cancelled—during the world wars, the general strike and, most recently, the pandemic. It was also cancelled in 1984, months after the strike began. Instead, a strike rally was held in its place. One right-wing paper said that Durham looked like “a city under siege” on that day, but the footage presents another picture. It shows banners and brass bands with communities and families marching together—no different to any other gala. It is a small insight into the way the media distorted the reality of the miners and their communities that even an event as joyous as a rally in Durham could be turned into something sinister by the press. That occurred throughout the strike, and no more so than at Orgreave. We cannot forget what happened on that day. To put it simply, we need a public inquiry.

On a clear day, people at the gala can see the top of Durham cathedral from the racecourse where they assemble with their banners. Hon. Members will know that the cathedral and its community play an important role in the gala. The miners festival service, during which banners are blessed by the Bishop of Durham, has been going on for as long as the gala itself. The banners are beautiful, and I am proud to have contributed to one and to have assisted others in getting theirs made. They represent people and places, and they can be as theological as they are political.

In the south aisle of the cathedral is the miners’ memorial, which is dedicated to Durham miners who lost their lives in the county’s pits. Next to it is a book of remembrance listing all the men and boys who lost their lives, and above it hangs a miner’s lamp. The cathedral played an important role in the strike, and no more so than through David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham. Let us recall some of his words from his enthronement service in September 1984. He said that

“the miners must not be defeated. They are desperate for their communities and this desperation forces them to action.”

Jenkins went on to speak about what happens when a mine closes and the impact of that on the community. He put it bluntly when he said:

“It is death, depression and desolation.”

When I spoke to my friend Dave Anderson, the former Member of Parliament for Blaydon and a former miner himself, he told me that the effect of the pit closures could be seen within months. In fact, in his speech following the death of Margaret Thatcher, he said:

“The village where I lived had seen coal mining for almost two centuries. In a matter of months after closure, we were gripped by a wave of petty crime—burglary and car crime—mostly related to drugs. We have never recovered from it.”—[Official Report, 10 April 2013;
Vol. 560, c. 1672.]

What Jenkins said was prophetic.

Although the mines are now closed—the last mine in the City of Durham closed in 1984—we can still secure justice for those affected. For instance, the Minister could say at the Dispatch Box that he will introduce legislation to pardon the miners who were wrongly convicted during the strike, because some of the stories I have heard are as absurd as they are unjust. They include that of a Durham miner who was accused of a breach of the peace for pouring a cup of tea at the picket line. I repeat what I said at the start: we need a public inquiry.

We also need economic justice for our communities. The DMA told me that a miner’s job created many other jobs in the community and beyond, including at least five in the supply chain. If we reflect on this point, the destruction and recklessness of Thatcher’s Government becomes unambiguous. I asked at the beginning how her Government could do this to their own people. The mine was at the heart of the community. It was the primary source of employment and everyone knew what the consequences were for children. It is an injustice that no transitional plans were made, as there were and still are in other countries. Germany, for instance, took a long-term view about manufacturing; why didn’t we? We had the potential to lead the world in alternative sources of energy. We could have reskilled and restructured our industry, but instead the Government chose destruction. And I say to the Labour Front Bench that we can still do this, and we should do this when we form the next Government.

Thankfully, not all women were like Margaret Thatcher during the strike. The contribution of working-class women during that strike cannot be underestimated. Heather Wood, an activist during the strike and a great friend to me, told me that the strike might not have lasted so long had women not been involved. In the north-east, women’s groups like the one Heather is involved in were feeding up to 1,000 people a day five days a week. They organised holidays for the children of the miners, provided childcare and food during the school holidays and presents and toys for the children on the Christmas of 1984, and helped parents find school uniforms when the autumn term began, assisted people with their household bills, and provided emotional support when things got tough, as they so often did. It was truly heroic work, all done on a shoestring, all done in the spirit of working-class solidarity. And when the miners returned to work in March 1985 the women’s support groups in the north-east continued, and, importantly, their involvement in the strike politicised them and many went into public service, becoming councillors and community activists, and they are still doing that today with the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I am one of those women who were politicised by Margaret Thatcher. I always say Margaret Thatcher is the reason I joined the Labour party and the reason I am standing here today. The younger generation might be curious as to why we are all talking about Margaret Thatcher so much; those who did not grow up in the north-east in one of those mining communities might not quite understand how it felt, but she smote our communities. That is how it felt to grow up under her reign. Does my hon. Friend agree that if all our mining communities were clustered together into one region, even today that region would statistically be the poorest region in the country, and that is what we are talking about today?

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

I could not agree more; Margaret Thatcher politicised me too—to do exactly the opposite of what she did. Since the destruction and closure of the pits we have seen continuous health and economic inequality, and my hon. Friend is right that we are one of the poorest regions, and we desperately need to do something because, as has been pointed out, the miners created the wealth of this country in the first place.

The miners’ strike might not have been won, but the working class definitely were not defeated; they are bruised but not defeated. People are still coming to the gala—more than ever in fact—and former mining communities are still having their banners blessed at Durham Cathedral, and that means something. Those of us who represent the mining communities will keep fighting for justice for our communities, and I repeat that there must be no less than a pardon for miners wrongly convicted in the strike, a full public inquiry into the events of the strike, including those at Orgreave, and economic justice for miners and their families.

The miners were not the enemy within. They came from families who fought in two world wars. They represented the best of this country, and I am proud to represent them in Parliament. What we need now is a Labour Government to revitalise these coalfield areas, deliver the justice that miners and their communities deserve, and fulfil the words of our community—the past we inherit, the future we build.

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck 1:15, 9 May 2024

I want to declare an interest on a whole number of fronts for today’s contribution, but first I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for bringing this topic to the House’s attention. We have heard some fantastic speeches here from everyone across the House.

I want to declare an interest because I am probably the only miner out of 650 MPs currently sitting in the House. I am probably the only Member who left school at the age of 16 and went to the pits together with my father. My father was not one of those miners who said, “I’m sorry, you canna gan doon the pit because it’s a dangerous job.” My father, like lots of others, wanted and got their kids employment in the pit. That is the way it was, and I am absolutely proud: I am proud to be a miner; I am proud to have spent my younger days on the coalface six miles under the North sea, only 80 feet below the seabed; and I have got some tremendous memories. I am really proud of what we have achieved: what we achieved collectively, as communities, as the National Union of Mineworkers; how we supported each other and would not turn our backs on friends and colleagues and those in most need. We were a real fighting force in the communities, not just in the north-east, not just in Durham and Northumberland, but right across the country.

It has been mentioned that Margaret Thatcher stated clearly that the miners were the enemy within. Despite people being offended by that, I see it as a badge of honour. I see that as a badge of honour because I opposed everything that the Tories were doing right up to the miners’ strike and I oppose everything, or nearly everything, they have done since then. I am one of the enemy within.

I remember being on the picket line with my father—who is no longer with us—my brothers, my cousins and my friends. The only crime we were committing was to fight for jobs and the future. It was never about wages, terms and conditions; it was about the right to work and the right to ensure that our communities would be secure in the future. And we got absolutely blitzed for doing so.

Our pride turns to great anger when we think about how the Government at the time—the Thatcher Government —turned the whole state against hard-working individuals, their families and their communities and against their only means of surviving and the way in which their communities were economically stimulated, and when I think about the way in which the police, and some say the armed forces, were used against miners during the miner’s strike. I did not just witness it; I was part of it. I saw the brutality, and I could give a number of personal tales that I would prefer not to at this moment in time. But I was proud, and I am still proud, to represent the mining communities of south-east Northumberland. I live in and represent Ashington, known as “coal town” because it was perhaps the biggest coal-producing town in Europe if not the world, and there were lots of pits in places including Bedlington, Newbiggin, Morpeth, Stakeford and Guide Post.

We can look at how the miners were tret during the strike and at the fact that 40 years on, we still have 11,000 who were arrested by the police. There were a thousand sacked miners, and many of them never got employment again anywhere. Many were acquitted because of dishonest police practices and police evidence. Again, I personally witnessed the horrors of the Government policy against my own community, my own family and me personally.

The calls for a pardon for the mining industry were accepted in Scotland, which was a fantastic move forward, and we need to look to do that here. I personally do not want a pardon, because I did what I wanted to do because I wanted to support my community, and for many years. I do not want anybody telling me they are sorry I was arrested, because I would not believe them. The lives of many miners and lots of other people were absolutely shattered as a result of the miners’ strikes. I know people who were arrested, who had never been in trouble with the police before, and who ended up in police cells. The plea bargaining meant either they went to prison or they accepted a charge for something they had not been involved with at all. It was so corrupt. It was absolutely disgraceful. That is why we need a public inquiry.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that one of the things that the documentaries and today’s debate will achieve, I hope, is for the younger generation to learn more about this period in time, and that it was as close as we will ever get to becoming a police state? If men were travelling across the country in a car, they could be pulled over and questioned about where they were going and even arrested. We need people to understand that that is what happened, when all our communities were doing was fighting for their jobs.

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck

I have to say that I cannot watch those documentaries; it is too emotional. I agree with every sentiment that my hon. Friend expresses.

We should never forget what happened. A number of my hon. Friends have mentioned the Durham miners, the Durham miners’ gala and specifically Alan, Stephen and the whole team there, and I have huge admiration for them. What a wonderful day the Durham miners’ gala is, with hundreds of thousands of individuals flying their banners, brass bands, music, celebration and speeches remembering the mining industry. I have got a lot of time for the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which has fought valiantly to seek justice for individuals involved in Orgreave. I have lots of admiration and support for the Women Against Pit Closures. In particular, somebody who goes unnoticed a lot is a lady from my patch in south-east Northumberland, Ann Lilburn. She was known as the housewife from Hadston, and she was absolutely fantastic leading the women of south-east Northumberland and later the Women Against Pit Closures. I have to say, if it had not been for the women during the miners’ strike, I am not sure how long it would have lasted. Their support was absolutely fabulous. I pay tribute to a man who has sadly passed on, Rick Sumner, who for years supported the National Justice for Mineworkers campaign, which was to remember sacked miners.

A whole number of issues need to and will be raised, but I want to discuss the mineworkers’ pension scheme. The Labour party manifestos of 2017 and 2019 agreed to redress the huge anomaly that everybody will mention. Again, I declare an interest, as I am the only current member of the mineworkers’ pension scheme in this place. I am still a member, so I declare that interest. The mineworkers’ pension scheme is deferred wages, like any pension, and that should be recognised. The 50:50 split came in 1994, and that was a crime. We have had £4.4 billion siphoned off and trousered by the Tory Government. Let us be honest, the BEIS Committee recommendations are not too hard to accept. The money is already in the funds, and the BEIS Committee said that that money should be redistributed to members, many of whom are on less than £85 a week. Some 50% are on less than £65 a week, 25% are on less than £35 a week, and 10% are on less than £10 a week. Let us get them paid and make sure we do the right business.

One thing that needs to be focused on is compensation, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock. Mining was a tough, hard and severe job, and people have had severe personal problems and consequences as result. The Government imposed wholesale vindictive industrial austerity on the mining communities. I give a big thank you to the NUM and the advice centres up and down the country for the fantastic work they continue to do. We have to look at the miners’ pneumoconiosis scheme, which is awful. It is so difficult for members to attract compensation, even though it is one of the most dreadful diseases that we can ever imagine. Can we not get the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the coal industry liabilities team, Nabarro and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council together in a room to see how we can get these payments made? People are now suffering greatly as a result of working underground, and we must make sure that they can gain compensation without the default position being to deny any claims. We have issues with CISWO, levelling up, the destruction of the mining community and much more.

To conclude, I understand that the Minister’s two grandfathers were miners. I think that is right; I have read that somewhere, although I am not sure how true it is, but he will understand the situation. We need to look at levelling up. We need to look at a pardon for miners. We need justice for the MPS. We need a public inquiry into policing of the strike. We need a wholesale review of compensation schemes in the main and, in particular, of the pneumoconiosis scheme.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields 1:27, 9 May 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Grahame Morris and James Grundy, who is no longer in his place, for securing today’s debate. It is always a real pleasure to follow our miner, my hon. Friend Ian Lavery.

Coalmining was a mainstay of the economy for almost a century. In South Shields, we had St Hilda’s, Whitburn, Harton and Westoe collieries. It is therefore no surprise that people in my constituency would be hard-pressed not to know or be related to a miner. Generations of families worked down our pits. Our former pitmen will testify that it was not a glamorous job; it was dirty, hard and dangerous graft, but those negatives were well worth it for the steady income, the camaraderie, the friendship and the community that they built around our pits. That way of life and the social bonds are the thing that all former pitmen and their families say they miss the most.

Thatcherism has many ugly legacies, but the miners’ strike of 1984 to 1985 was one of the most visceral, personal and defining moments of the 20th century. It was the moment of the strongest resistance against her industrial vandalism and the hollowing out of our mining communities. Not content with closing our docks and shipyards, the pits suddenly became uneconomical, she said. Those who tried to resist this blatant destruction of our communities were arrested and convicted. This weaponisation of the state against ordinary men and women fighting for their livelihoods during the strikes draws worrying parallels with today’s anti-strike legislation. It is why we need a public inquiry into Orgreave, and it is why this Government should introduce similar legislation to that introduced in the Scottish Parliament pardoning those convicted of matters relating to the strike. All they were trying to do was save their jobs.

I know all too well what unemployment—or the constant threat of it—can do both mentally and physically: it is utterly soul-destroying. There is one heartbreaking story that all of us in South Shields are sadly familiar with: that of a lovely family man and colliery engineer made redundant who, after dropping his children off at school, put a chain across the front door, wrote a goodbye letter to his family, climbed up the stairs, went into his bathroom, poured petrol over his clothes and, with a match, set himself alight. In 1993, his pit—Westoe pit—closed, signalling the end of not just coalmining in South Tyneside but a tradition and a way of life.

Our memories of the solidarity of the trade union movement and the rejection of the trickle-down economics that have proven such a driver of inequalities in our region have endured, because the challenges facing former coalfield communities are not consigned to the history books; they have deepened alongside regional inequalities. The economic gap between coalfield areas and the rest of the UK has been widening considerably over the last decade. Average earnings for workers in former coalfield areas are 7% below the national average. That is the legacy of de-industrialisation.

South Shields, as a post-industrial and coastal constituency, has faced and continues to face several challenges. Those are challenges that we have proven time and again that we will always overcome. In South Shields, we do not wait for Government help that never comes—we get on with stuff. Our port of Tyne is now the base of the biggest offshore wind farm in the world. We are home to hundreds of small businesses, and we have been instrumental in the fight against poverty, paving the way for holiday clubs and setting up a mobile community supermarket.

The Government’s levelling-up rhetoric rings hollow in my constituency, which has been rejected for towns fund and freeport bids and two rounds of levelling-up funding. The level of child poverty in South Shields remains stubbornly high at 40% and unemployment across South Tyneside is 6.7%, which is higher than the north-east average, yet in the Chancellor’s recent Budget he allocated London’s Canary Wharf double the amount of funding that our entire region will get.

The privatisation of once-nationalised industries that followed our pit closures has done nothing but deepen inequality, delivering profits for shareholders and decimating services that we all rely on. That is happening at the same time that the Government are pocketing the miners’ pension surplus. More than £4 billion has been given to the Government, with £420 million of that in the last three years alone. The Government keep saying that we need to strike a fair balance, but there is nothing fair about it when miners and their widows are left destitute on as little as £18 a week. We should not be surprised, because as the WASPI women know all too well, this Government have form when it comes to pension grabbing. Our miners were prosecuted and made redundant, and saw the heart ripped out of their communities, and now they are being robbed of their pensions, their retirement and the dignity that they all deserve.

We know all too well in South Shields that if you close a pit, you kill a community. Our proud mining heritage will always remain because of people like Gary Wilkinson, a local film maker, Bob Olley, our local artist, and Alan Mardghum and Stephen Guy from the Durham Miners’ Association, and places like South Shields Museum. Thanks to them, the generations who follow will know that underneath the South Shields streets, housing estates and fields they walk on, there were once thousands of pitmen gathering coal to power our country. We are proud of the past that we have inherited in South Shields, and it is one that we will continue to use to build our future—one that we will build with the next Labour Government.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 1:33, 9 May 2024

May I congratulate Grahame Morris on securing this important debate? I am proud to have been born and brought up in Dailly, which is a coalmining village in South Ayrshire, alongside the former mining towns and villages of Cumnock, New Cumnock, Dalmellington and Patna that are also in my constituency.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, my late father Peter Dorans DCM was employed as a coalminer at one of the three mines surrounding the village. He worked at the coalface. As a coalminer, my father suffered, as many did, from common industrial diseases including vibration white finger and carpal tunnel syndrome from the frequent use of heavy drilling equipment, and partial deafness. Up to the day of his death, every time he coughed, he brought up coal dust from his lungs.

Many thousands of coalminers suffered other medical conditions including emphysema and breathing-related illnesses. Many lost limbs and suffered from other life-limiting conditions and injuries and early death as a result of the working conditions in the mines at those times. Many miners also lost their lives in mining disasters. I will highlight just two from my constituency.

In September 1950, the Knockshinnoch mining disaster occurred near New Cumnock when a glaciated lake filled with liquid peat and moss flooded the pit, trapping more than 100 miners underground for a number of days. Thirteen men died. In November 1962, at the Barony colliery near Cumnock, a mine shaft collapsed trapping two contract workers, Thomas Fyvie and George Wade, together with two colliery employees, Henry Green and John McNeil. Despite valiant and sustained efforts to rescue them, they remain entombed deep underground to this day. I pay tribute to those men and all who have lost their lives and suffered appalling life-shortening health conditions and injuries as a result of working in the coalmines.

The debt owed by this country to the men who risked their lives to power the country and economy for generations is immense. Not only did coalminers and their families make that possible; they paid a terrible price over the centuries in loss of life and limb, and in shortened lives caused by the brutal working conditions and inadequate housing and health services, just to enable others to become wealthy—some obscenely so.

Without doubt, in the last two centuries, robust, hard- working, proud men worked in incredibly difficult circumstances for what was a paltry wage—they often relied on meeting unattainable, backbreaking daily or weekly targets to earn a barely liveable wage. Despite those difficulties, the miners and their families created and sustained strong, supportive communities in the face of adversity and came together to look after each other in difficult times. [Interruption.] Excuse me.

Large-scale coal production ended in my constituency when the two largest coalmines in the area—the Killoch and the Barony—ceased production in 1987 and 1989 respectively, with the loss of thousands of mining jobs and the knock-on effect of the loss of countless jobs in the supply chain and the local economy.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

The hon. Gentleman is making really important points about the loss of life in mining disasters, a number of which occurred in my constituency too. However, there is the ongoing legacy of industrial disease. Yesterday, I spoke to some miners from the midlands, who were lobbying Parliament and pointed out the injustice of the current schemes. One of them was suffering from chest disease—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. To qualify for compensation, the requirement was 20 years of underground work, but he had worked only 19 years, so he was excluded. There are a number of other examples like that.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. If Allan Dorans finds that he is having difficulty speaking and wants to take some time, I could move to the next speaker and come back to him.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

I think that I will be okay, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have had a drink, so I will continue.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I totally agree that the system is terribly unjust and that those miners should be properly compensated.

With great difficulty, I resist the temptation to mention the part played in the demise of the coal industry by the actions of the late former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. [Interruption.] The closure of the coalmines and the subsequent—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker; I will take a minute.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding) 1:39, 9 May 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Allan Dorans. As the proud chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities, it is a privilege to speak in this debate. I put on record my thanks to the vice-chairs, my hon. Friend Grahame Morris and James Grundy, who sadly is no longer in his place, for securing today’s important debate. I also thank the other vice-chair, Owen Thompson, who is in his place, and the former vice-chair, Aaron Bell, who had to resign following his elevation to the Government Whips Office.

Before I begin, it is important to emphasise that former coalfield areas make up a significant part of the country, spanning Wales, Scotland and England, with a combined population larger than Scotland, at around 5.7 million people. These areas are far too big to be ignored. As the daughter and granddaughter of former miners, this topic is of great significance to me, and to many of my constituents in Pontypridd and Taff Ely. This year is the 40th anniversary of the start of the miners’ strike. My father, who was at Orgreave, was one of those who went out on strike. The values he stood for—community, dignity and fairness—are the same values I seek to uphold. Even a generation on, the pain for those affected is still raw, yet the legacy of coalmining is about so much more than the miners’ strike. Coal is no longer dug in our areas, but that rich seam that powered Britain’s industrial revolution still runs deep in the veins of our communities. The closure of the mines may be in the past, but the people living with the consequences are not. They are living, breathing communities.

For the generation, which includes me, that has grown up since the strike, the challenges are different. Coalfield communities no longer suffer the mass unemployment of the ’80s and ’90s, but are we to believe that this change is progress? Truth be told, many former coalfield areas still lag behind much of the rest of the country. In some places, the number of jobs lost may have been replaced, but in far too many cases the respected skilled mining and engineering jobs have been replaced with low quality, poorly paid employment. That was starkly highlighted by the all-party group’s recent report, “Next Steps in Levelling Up the Former Coalfields”. I am immensely grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the House who helped shape that report, and I pay tribute to the Industrial Communities Alliance, without which the inquiry and subsequent report would not have been possible. The report represents a pivotal moment in the coalfield regeneration agenda, and sets out key steps for improving former mining communities. For the sake of time, I will focus on just a few.

Strong policies are needed to grow local economies in our former coalfields. That means an end to the city-centric model of growth. Let us be clear: the idea that growth in the cities will inevitably trickle down to our towns and mining villages is utter nonsense. Coalfield communities have a strong identity. In many cases, if people have to move away for work or commute to nearby cities, it is because they have no choice. The Government’s levelling-up initiatives are, sadly, just a slogan. We need to be honest about what small, short-term pots of money are expected to achieve. There needs to be a new model of local and regional development that places the emphasis on growing local economies, and that provides long-term financial certainty to local authorities and other partners and stakeholders.

One way in which we can develop coalfield economies is by investing in suitable premises for small and medium-sized businesses. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has a successful model of investing in units for small firms, and recycling the profits to support the local community. The winding up of the coalfields enterprise fund and the coalfields growth fund has resulted in an unexpected windfall for the Treasury of some £15 million. That may be small change to the Treasury, but for our communities it could be transformational. It is therefore disappointing that the Government have so far refused to return that money to the coalfields to support a tried and tested investment programme.

While I am on the topic of money coming back to our communities, I briefly want to mention CISWO—the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation—which was set up to support assets following the closure of our mines. The assets—our miners’ welfare hall, playing fields, facilities and village halls—were paid for by the miners and bestowed in trust to that organisation. Sadly, so many Members in this place have shared frustration about the woeful and appalling operation, management and engagement of the charity. I urge the Minister to look into this as a matter of urgency and to talk to the charities Minister about what can be done. Enough is enough. We need direct action about exactly what is happening in our communities as a result of this charity’s actions.

Let me express further disappointment, as others have, in the Government once again rejecting the recommendations of the Business and Trade Committee about renegotiating the mineworkers’ pension scheme. The Treasury has already surpassed £5 billion of surpluses. Surely, at a time when many families not just in my constituency but across the country face hardship in the cost of living crisis, it is only fair that the miners who contributed to the scheme be entitled to a fairer share of the surpluses.

In addition to the Committee’s recommendations, the APPG recently celebrated the publication of the “State of the Coalfields” report, commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. The CRT does fantastic work to breathe life back into our former coalfields, and I was proud to join the organisation to celebrate the launch. However, its findings only reiterate the necessity of the ICA’s recommendations. For example, the city-centric factor that I mentioned is backed up by the report’s findings that more older people live in our former coal- fields than younger people, with younger people graduating and moving away to cities to seek job opportunities and, sadly, not returning. These factors are pushing our former coalfields even further behind, as the employment gap causes an increase in benefit claimants and people having no choice but to commute to cities for work.

The report found that, among the four focus areas analysed, south Wales performed the worst for employment shortfall and for the number of out-of-work benefits claimants, which is of deep concern to me as a south Wales MP. Upon individual inspection we can see progress for our former coalfields, but they lag behind the rest of the UK. The report found that the average hourly earnings for former coalfield areas are 6% to 7% lower than the national average, which is shocking. We truly have a lot of work to do, but thanks to this fantastic report we have a way to do it, and a way to navigate it has been paved.

I understand more than most the importance of devolution and the power of giving local communities the autonomy to make change. However, in the case of coal tip safety, it is anomalous that the Welsh Government should be financially responsible for addressing a pre-devolution issue when other legacies of the coal industry, such as water pollution, gas leaks and pit shaft safety, are the responsibility of the UK Government-funded Coal Authority. Because of the landscape of the Welsh valleys, our communities are more at risk than those in any other part of the UK. The prospect of any repeat of the terrible tragedy of Aberfan is truly unthinkable. As a result, the burden of making coal tips safe has fallen disproportionately on the Welsh Government and local authorities in Wales. That cannot be fair.

When I spoke of values such as community, dignity and fairness, it was not in the vague, philosophical sense; these recommendations are the practical application of those values. Just as my father stood up for his community 40 years ago, it is incumbent upon us to stand up for our coalfield communities. We must take the next steps needed to ensure that they are fairer and more prosperous for the next 40 years.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Would the hon. Gentleman like to finish his speech?

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 1:47, 9 May 2024

I would, Madam Deputy Speaker; thank you. I will take it slowly and try not to speak with too much passion.

The consequences of coalmine closures and deprivation in former coalmining communities are well documented. According to the 2020 Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, coalfield areas are still over-represented among Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities. Of the 610 coalfield areas where data was gathered, 31% are among Scotland’s most deprived. However, in east Ayrshire, in my constituency, that figure was a shocking 40% in 2016, and it remains the same in 2020. Within the overall measures of deprivation, coalfield communities have lower incomes, worse health and lower education and employment outcomes than those in 80% of Scottish communities. Coalfield communities across the UK need and deserve far greater funding from the central Treasury to significantly increase access to health promotion and care, to provide the best schools and colleges and access to university, and to stimulate economic activity, with an emphasis on high skills and high pay.

The Coalfields Regeneration Trust was launched in 1999 as an independent charity designed to fund projects that would increase access to employment opportunities, education and skills training, improve health and wellbeing and develop enterprise. It has commissioned two reports to examine how former coalfield areas compare with the rest of the country on a range of social and economic indicators. The most recent of these reports was published in 2019, and its findings shockingly include the fact that average life expectancy in the former coalfields is around a year less than the national average, and there is a greater incidence of long-term health problems.

Former coalfields continue to have large numbers of people of working age out of work and claiming incapacity benefits. Growth in the number of businesses was generally slower than in the rest of the UK and the employment rate in the coalfields was below the national average. All the coalfields of England, Scotland and Wales have an occupational structure that is skewed towards manual occupations and lower levels of high-skilled jobs. The findings are a damming indictment of how former coalfield communities have been neglected by successive Governments for the past 50 years. For those reasons alone, a concerted effort is required by the UK Parliament, the devolved Administrations and local councils. They must have a joint focus on development and improvement across the board in these communities.

Much has been made of the current Government’s levelling-up agenda, which is designed to address the long-standing problem of the UK’s regional economic disparities. Several funds have been set up under the levelling-up agenda, including the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund, the shared prosperity fund and investment zones. However, none are targeted specifically at former coalmining areas.

In June 2023 the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities published the report, “Next Steps in Levelling Up the Former Coalfields” with the aim of examining the needs of former coalfield communities and steering policies to improve the lives of residents. The report made 12 recommendations, covering economic development, public investment, infrastructure, environmental issues, housing and skills, all of which would make a significant difference to my constituency and the rest of the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of those 12 recommendations so I will not list them all, but I say to him that I strongly agree with all of them. I ask him to indicate what progress has been or will be made in implementing them.

In conclusion, the time to recognise the contribution of mining communities over the centuries to the economy of the United Kingdom, and the hardship endured by so many in those communities, is now. I am grateful for the work of East Ayrshire Council, South Ayrshire Council, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and other publicly funded voluntary organisations and charities for their continuing work in restoring pride, a sense of community and hope to those communities. I also acknowledge the work carried out in my constituency by the Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership, working with East Ayrshire Council and the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, delivering a significant number of regeneration projects, including biodiversity and landscape outputs, people-engagement activities, local interest groups, training workshops and volunteer activities. However, that is not in itself enough to restore the former mining communities to the vibrant communities they once were.

The former coalmining communities, which once powered the industrial revolution and contributed immensely to the wealth of the United Kingdom, must now be prioritised, receive significant investment, and be supported and developed to ensure that they once again become thriving and sustainable communities able to face the future with hope, aspiration and confidence. I therefore call on the Government to significantly increase levelling-up funding, or preferably introduce new specific funding, and set aside the significant resources that are urgently needed to regenerate former coalmining communities and improve the lives and opportunities of the people in my community and across the country.

Photo of Keir Mather Keir Mather Labour, Selby and Ainsty 1:53, 9 May 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Allan Dorans. I thank James Grundy and my hon. Friend Grahame Morris for securing the debate. My hon. Friend spoke poignantly about the rich tapestry of community organisations that tie together coalfield communities. Although I was not around when the coalmine in Clara Vale, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Liz Twist, was open, I spent a lot of my youth going up there to visit family members. Whether it is the pit banner on the wall, the Methodist church or the community groups, the heritage of coalmining communities is alive and well in the north- east, and being championed by people like my hon. Friend the Member for Easington.

As the newest coalfield Member of Parliament, I have the distinct privilege of representing the entirety of the Selby super-pit, which in its time was regarded as the most technologically advanced coalmine in Europe. The last coalmine in my constituency was still producing coal within the last decade. Kellingley colliery—or the Big K, as it was known—was the last deep-pit coalmine to close in Britain, with the loss of over 600 jobs. So in Selby we know a thing or two about coal, and we are living through the consequences of what the industry’s end can bring, both for our communities, and for ex-mineworkers and their families. I would like to send special thanks to the Selby branch of the NUM advice service for all the work it does to advance its members’ interests.

We inherit a proud past in Selby, but we in this House need to consider the future that we hope to build as proud representatives of coalfield communities. Our work is twofold: to provide dignity, recognition and support to ex-mineworkers and their families; and to unlock the economic and social potential for future generations in areas, such as mine, where coal was once king.

Nowhere are those questions of justice more pressing than in relation to the mineworkers’ pension scheme, which many Members have spoken about so eloquently today. Since 1994, successive Governments have received over £4 billion from the scheme, and are due to receive at least another £1.9 billion in due course. Yet the mineworkers who built the profitability of Britain’s coal industry and the wealth of our entire nation have not gotten a fair share of its proceeds.

During the 2019 general election—since when, I should note, the Conservative party has received no democratic mandate from the electorate—Boris Johnson said categorically that the Tories would make sure that no

“miner signed up to the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme is out of pocket…we will make sure all their cash is fully protected and returned, I have looked into it and we will ensure that’s done.”

That was a solemn, black-and-white, categorical assurance made by a Conservative Prime Minister to coalfield communities. It was the reason some mineworkers decided to vote for Mr Johnson’s party in 2019. It is the reason some Members on the Conservative Benches are sitting here at all.

Having collected his votes and gone back down to London, what did that Prime Minister proceed to do about the promises he had made to coalfield communities such as mine? Absolutely nothing. It is yet another damning example of the age-old Conservative habit of breaking promises made to northern communities in England and to the British people overall; a final kick in the teeth for mineworkers to endure. They have lived for 40 years with the legacy of Thatcherism and are faced with the indignity in retirement of being peddled Tory false hope. Meaningful MPS reform requires a Government with empathy and a desire to see that justice is done. That is why I am pleased to see the Labour party’s ambition to reform the scheme to provide ex-mineworkers with the dignity in retirement that they deserve.

But we cannot have dignity without our health. If I could encourage Ministers to take away one thing from this debate, it would be to try to bring greater compassion and greater speed to the assessment of ex-mineworkers for industrial illnesses by the Department for Work and Pensions. My team and my local NUM branch have been fighting hard for Mr Anthony Rock, who is receiving a percentage of his industrial injuries disablement benefit for pneumoconiosis, but not for his progressive massive fibrosis which is known to develop directly from his condition. There have been egregious and unacceptable delays from the DWP in the several claims that Mr Rock has made regarding his illness. He is becoming seriously unwell, so I would appreciate it if the Minister could meet me to discuss how we can advance his case as quickly as possible. I wish that Mr Rock’s case was an isolated one, but sadly his experience is all too common for mineworkers across the country. It is time for the DWP to shape up and take responsibility for treating mineworkers with the respect they deserve.

Finally, and on a note of optimism, I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Coalfield Regeneration Trust’s business park at the site of the former Kellingley colliery. It has managed to turn a site where 600 people lost their jobs into a thriving business centre for Yorkshire’s small and medium-sized enterprises, employing local young people in well-paid and skilled employment. That work must not just continue but expand and flourish, because it has been proven that it works and it benefits communities such as mine. The proposal by the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities and the CRT to return CGF and CEF funds to allow it to expand its work should receive extremely thoughtful consideration from Members across this House.

For places such as Selby, our value lies no longer in the coal beneath our feet, but in the spirit of our people and communities; a legacy bequeathed to us by our coalfield heritage. The industrial pride, skills, ingenuity, solidarity and communal spirit that are hardwired into such communities are some of the most potent tools we have to build a better future for our country, both back home in Yorkshire and across the length of Great Britain. It is our responsibility in this House to do all we can to empower coalfield communities to realise that enormous potential. I thank all Members from across the House who are doing incredible work to achieve that aim.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member) 1:59, 9 May 2024

It is a pleasure to follow Keir Mather, and I commend my good friend Grahame Morris for securing the debate.

I am proud of my constituency, which has a rich and vibrant tapestry of mining heritage woven through it, not only in the towns and villages that make it up but in those of us who inhabit them today. From the very depths of the earth, our townspeople toiled to fuel the industrial revolution, shaping the landscape of our communities and leaving an everlasting mark on our collective consciousness. However, alongside the moments of triumph, we must also accept and confront the tragedies that have befallen our mining communities and families.

The Auchengeich pit disaster of 1959 will always stand as a poignant reminder of the dangers faced by men in the pursuit of bread for the table. Every year I am humbled and honoured to stand alongside the former councillor Willie Doolan and all the members of the local committee as we commemorate that mining disaster, remembering the men who were lost and their surviving families, many of whom still live in the local area today. Their tireless efforts to ensure that the tragedy of the Auchengeich disaster is never forgotten is a testament to the resilience and strength of our community, and I thank each and every one of them for all that they do. Similarly, the Cardowan Colliery disaster of 1932 gives us all a stark reminder of the human cost of industrial progress. The ongoing work of my constituents Alice Morton and Campbell Provans in organising a memorial service to commemorate the lives lost in that devastating event is, I am sure, always greatly appreciated by Members on both sides of the House.

As the grandson of a miner, I was raised on stories of the pit and its men, of the graft and the toil, and of the togetherness and camaraderie that we have heard so much about today. My grandad was out of the pits by the time I came along, but the scars of pit life remained. If I listen quietly enough, I can still hear his cough today; but not even the damage of lungs ravaged by silicosis could dampen his love and affection for his mining friends and comrades.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I am sorry that I have not been able to take part fully in the debate, but I have a copy of a census return that contains the first mention of the Grants from Ulster having settled in Scotland. My great-grandfather, at the age of 19, came over to work in a pit not far from my hon. Friend’s constituency. My hon. Friend has mentioned some of the appalling disasters that have affected the mines in his constituency, as well as my constituency and others. Does he agree that there should be a greater recognition of the almost unbelievable bravery shown by miners who went back into burning pits to look for their friends? Is it not time that we gave them the recognition that their heroism deserves?

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

My hon. Friend has made an important point. Every time I attend the commemorations and hear the real, lived stories, I wonder why there are not commemorations all over the UK to honour those brave, brave men and, indeed, their families.

I hope that friends on both sides of the House will accept that the Scottish National party will always stand up in unwavering solidarity with those who chose to strike during the tumultuous times of the past. We recognise the hardships endured by miners and their families, who often faced financial hardship and societal stigma as a result of their principled stance. The fact that they stood tall in the face of adversity, fighting not only for their own livelihoods but for the future of generations to come, will never be forgotten or underestimated by any of us on these Benches, or, indeed, in the mining communities the length and breadth of Scotland, so it is with a heavy heart that we must acknowledge the neglect and disregard shown by the UK Government towards this shared history.

The Scottish Government, with the powers available to them, have taken significant steps to alleviate the burdens being carried by our mining communities. Through the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Act 2022, Scotland became the first of the four nations of the UK to offer a collective and automatic pardon to those convicted during the strike. That landmark legislation serves as a beacon of reconciliation, offering some solace to those who bore the scars of past injustice. It is imperative that the UK Government now follow suit, taking responsibility for the actions of the National Coal Board and providing compensation for those affected. It would be too late for my grandad, with his silicosis-scarred lungs, but there are people who could benefit, and it is time that the Government put their house in order and sorted this out. I hope that the Minister will comment on that later. While the Scottish Government have done what they can within their powers, the responsibility for devising a compensation scheme rests squarely with the Government in this place.

We also continue to press for a UK-wide public inquiry into the strike, ensuring that the voices of miners and their families are heard and their grievances addressed. Only through collective action and unity can we achieve meaningful change and deliver justice to those who have been denied it for so long. As we look to the future, we must ensure that no community is left behind in the transition to a more sustainable economy.

The recent revelation that the fantastic levelling-up bid made by the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, a heritage museum in Coatbridge, was rejected by this place is a stark reminder of the indifference with which our mining heritage is still treated by this Government and, indeed, this House. The project would have secured the preservation of our historical mining past, well into our future, and its rejection speaks volumes about the lack of recognition afforded to the sacrifices made by generations of miners and their families.

In the face of neglect and indifference, we must stand firm in defence of our mining heritage. We on these Benches demand that the Government recognise the importance of preserving our shared history, and provide the necessary support to ensure that future generations can learn from the sacrifices of the past. Let us together ensure that the legacy of our mining communities is never forgotten, and that the voices of those who came before us continue to resonate through the halls of history.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:06, 9 May 2024

I congratulate my hon. Friend Grahame Morris on the work that he did to secure the debate, and for his admirable opening speech.

According to the excellent report “The State of the Coalfields 2024”, commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the former coalfields account for 8% of the population in England, 10% in Scotland and 25% in Wales. That gives us an idea of the scale in Wales —one in four people there live in a former coalfield area—and of the importance of today’s debate.

Mining has been a dominant part of Welsh life for generations. My grandfather was a miner, my uncle was a miner, and my father was a Bevin boy who was sent down the local pit during the second world war. There were mines across my constituency from the sea on one side to the sea on the other—Hendy, Llangennech, Bynea, Llwynhendy, Tumble, Cross Hands, Pontyberem, Ponthenri and Pontyates, and in Llanelli itself and Burry Port, with coal being exported from those two busy ports —and, of course, mining has shaped our politics.

My predecessor as MP for Llanelli, the great Jim Griffiths, spoke passionately from his own experience of the hardship that he saw in the mining communities in which he was brought up—the effects of unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, sickness and industrial injury—and took up the fight to bring about the reforms that were needed to help those who fell on hard times. He spoke and wrote about “The Price Wales Pays for Poverty”: maternal mortality, malnutrition, overcrowding, condemned housing, unemployment, silicosis, and the terrible affliction of tuberculosis. He also highlighted the wealth taken from Wales by coal owners, royalty owners and landlords, and demanded a proper response and resources to deal with the country's problems.

When serving in the 1945 Labour Government, Jim Griffiths introduced the Family Allowances Act 1945, under which money was paid directly to mothers. He subsequently introduced the National Insurance Act 1946 and an Act close to his heart, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, which was very much born out of the suffering and difficulties of injured miners that he had witnessed and which introduced extra benefits for people injured at work. That Act was universal, in that it covered the entire workforce. It provided injury benefit for six months, disability benefit for the permanently injured, and a death benefit for dependants. It also set up tribunals to assess cases, rather than claimants’ having to take on all the responsibility for pushing their own cases.

Now, some 80 years later and some 40 years on from the miners’ strike, as is documented in the report I mentioned earlier, we have shockingly not eliminated all the problems. There are still high levels of poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and sickness in former mining areas, and there is still much to be done to enable those areas to enjoy the same levels of wealth as others. We know of many of the problems that our former mining communities face, scattered as they are in south Wales up and down steep valleys. Many are in what are now pleasant rural locations, and some contain quite spacious council or former council-owned properties, but their location was clearly intended to be close to the mines where people worked. Now, investors, developers and young people all want to be near the main arteries or in the main towns, and it is so much more difficult to attract inward investment into the more remote mining communities. Furthermore, they are often spread out in different locations along the valley, making it very difficult to provide services, and often there is a considerable distance up or down the valley to get to the most basic of facilities, such as doctors’ surgeries or shops. Nowadays, there are more opportunities for people to work remotely and to set up businesses that use the internet, but some of our mining communities also suffer from inadequate broadband speeds and a poor mobile phone signal.

I want to highlight some specific problems, starting with my serious concerns about the drop in quality of former miners’ concessionary coal. I have met miners in my area who used to receive good-quality smokeless coal, but now receive very poor-quality coal, which is causing considerable problems and expense. The coal is blocking up chimneys, meaning that people have to get their chimneys swept more often and at additional expense, and the fumes and fine ash that it gives off pose serious health risks. In fact, the smell and the fumes that emerge from chimneys are so bad that they are causing neighbours down the street to complain about the smoke.

When I looked into this issue, I found that there was not an isolated batch of coal and that the problem is widespread. On contacting Wayne Thomas of the South Wales NUM, I learned that as stockpiles of anthracite had been run down, coal of an inferior quality was supplied by Russia. Because of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia, which I fully support, the supply was halted and an alternative source had to be found. I understand that the coal now comes from Peru and is supplied in a chimney- compressed duff, using molasses as a binding agent. The NUM says that such coal gives off a very fine ash, which causes respiratory problem—obviously not good for ex-miners, many of whom already have breathing problems.

Across the UK, the complaints are similar to those of former miners in my area, who complain that the smoke from chimneys smells funny and that the coal causes blockages. The NUM has twice met the head of the coal liabilities unit at the Department for Business and Trade to discuss this matter, but there has been no news of any improved source, and better sources must be found. I say to the Minister that miners have worked hard in a difficult and dangerous job, and that they are entitled to receive decent concessionary coal. It is shocking that former miners, many of whom are elderly, are now being given poisonous, poor-quality coal, which gives off fumes and ash that are bad for their health, and which clogs up their chimneys. As a matter of urgency, I beg him to do everything he can to source decent coal for our former miners. It is a Government responsibility.

Turning to the miners’ pensions, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for their work. I hope the Minister is aware of the former BEIS Committee’s report on the mineworkers pension scheme and its recommendations—namely, that the 50/50 surplus sharing arrangements should be comprehensively reviewed to ensure that miners get their fair share, and that the £1.2 billion reserve fund should be given back to the pensioners immediately. It is now three years since that report, and former miners are not getting any younger, but there has still not been any action from the Government. I ask the Minister to look again at the scheme, and to ensure that miners get their fair share.

I turn now to the coal tip legacy. I was a very impressionable small child at the time of the Aberfan coal disaster on 21 October 1966. I was the same age as some of the children buried under the slag heap as it engulfed the school, and I will never forget the images on our black-and-white telly of fathers desperately trying to dig out their children. Following that, we saw the gradual remediation of the tips. Things began to look better and greener, but with the increased frequency of more violent weather events, it is now clear that the job is not done. As we saw all too vividly in the Rhondda a couple of years ago, there is still a lot more work to be done to ensure that the tips are safe.

This is a legacy from pre-devolution times. The slag heaps were produced as a result of mining coal to fuel the factories that filled the coffers of the UK Treasury, and the UK Government have a responsibility to ensure that every tip in Wales is made safe. We in Carmarthenshire are relatively lucky, with fewer and less risky tips than in the valleys further east, where urgent investment is needed. It was very disappointing that there was no mention of any funding in the spring Budget, and I ask the Minister to take this message back to the Chancellor.

I turn to Orgreave. On 18 June, we will mark 40 years since we saw the truly shocking scenes of police attacking miners at Orgreave, and we need a proper inquiry into what happened that day. It is very disappointing that the Government have not instigated such an inquiry, even after the revelations about South Yorkshire police in Bishop James Jones’s Hillsborough report. However, we need not only an inquiry into Orgreave, but a proper Hillsborough law. It is not enough for the Government’s belated response to the Hillsborough report in December last year to espouse the introduction of a voluntary charter, an independent public advocate and a code of ethical policing. Instead, we need a full Hillsborough law to force those in public office to co-operate fully with investigations, and to guarantee fairer funding to enable those affected by a major tragedy to challenge public institutions. I urge the Minister to set up an inquiry into Orgreave, and to adopt a full Hillsborough law.

I want to say a few words about a just transition to the industries of the future, which is the exact opposite of what we saw in the 1980s, when it was clear that the Thatcher Government wanted to destroy the coal industry. However, it was not just the coal industry that was decimated. We saw the closure of the big steel plant in my constituency and numerous other closures across the country, resulting in areas of mass unemployment, with communities feeling that they had been thrown on the scrapheap. The legacy remains till this day, as documented in the Coalfields Regeneration Trust report.

It does not have to be like this. Of course we want to make progress and to harness technology to our advantage —whether it is the spinning mills of the 18th century, motorised transport, robots on the production line, artificial intelligence, the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, or the change from blast furnace steel production to green primary steelmaking—but it should be a just transition, with training and jobs for workers, and investment in the new green industry of the future. That is why it is so disappointing to see the Government’s half-hearted approach to the future of the steel industry. We welcome investment in the electric arc furnace, but there is a refusal to think bigger and to invest in the green primary steelmaking of the future, leaving thousands of workers to lose their jobs. It is a devastating blow for Port Talbot and, yet again, the surrounding former coalfield communities.

We in the Labour party are determined to see a just transition to the industry of the future, with proper investment through our proposed national wealth fund, the upskilling of workers and the creation of quality jobs. Never again do we want to see workers thrown on the scrapheap and communities devastated.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 2:17, 9 May 2024

I congratulate my Durham colleague, my hon. Friend Grahame Morris, on securing this afternoon’s important debate. For the last 23 years, I have had the privilege of representing North Durham, which was part of the once mighty Durham coalfield. Over those 23 years, I have seen many changes.

My hon. Friend Ian Lavery spoke about the close-knit tradition of mining communities—not just in County Durham, but in his own area in Northumberland. Having grown up as the son of a miner, I am familiar with that close-knit tradition and the reliability of work that there was in such communities. However, I do not look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles, because, to use a Hobbesian phrase, life was nasty, brutish and short for many people. There was nothing romantic about the death rates, which we just accepted as the price of coal, but many of the communities in my constituency—the town of Stanley, for example—were built on coal. The surrounding villages, such as Craghead, Sacriston and others, were all built because of coalmining. Their economic existence was coalmining. When that was finally taken away in 1985, when the last pits closed, the economic heart was ripped out of those communities overnight, as has been mentioned by many hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debate.

Today, people would not recognise where the mining industry was based in North Durham unless they know the history of the area. They would certainly not know where the pit was in the South Yorkshire village where I grew up if they did not know the history of that village. That unseen legacy has cast a long shadow over many mining communities. I congratulate the Coalfields Regeneration Trust on its excellent report on the state of coalfield communities in 2020. It is a superb piece of work.

When I was first elected, the legacy of heavy industry, and certainly coalmining, was evident in my constituency. People who had worked underground their whole life suffered from not only debilitating lung disease, but other physical conditions related to heavy industry. Sadly, that generation is increasingly no longer with us.

After that social fabric was taken out of County Durham, we had unemployment, deprivation and poverty and, as happens in many communities, crime and drugs filled the gap. When I was first elected, I described North Durham as a rural constituency with urban problems and, as in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Easington and for Wansbeck, the legacy of drug abuse, for example, is still there today. This health inequality is now affecting a lost generation of younger people born in the 1980s, some now in their 40s, who never got into proper paid employment.

The report from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust speaks for itself. Life expectancy in coalfield communities is 82 for women, as opposed to 85 in the south-east of England, and 78 for men, as opposed to 81 in the south-east of England. The other thing that appals me—I have spoken about this before, and I feel very passionately about it—is that, in a wealthy country, life expectancy in County Durham has gone down over the last 10 years, which is an absolute disgrace. The report also outlines that, in 2021, the proportion of the population reporting bad or very bad health was 7.1% in former coalfield areas, compared with 4.2% in the south-east of England and 4.3% in London.

We have a legacy of ill health. Health professionals in County Durham tell me that the age at which people access intensive healthcare is now in their mid-to-late 50s. That puts extra pressure on our health services, which is not reflected in the funding. In addition, my constituency is now in the commuter belt for Tyneside and other areas, which is very difficult for people in many outlying communities unless they have access to a car. Young people do not have aspiration, which is difficult to raise, to get into good, well-paid employment. Warehousing and other low-skilled or semi-skilled work are no replacement for the high-quality jobs that we used to have in the coalfields.

We have heard a lot of talk from the Government about levelling up. I have said it before and will say it again: levelling up is a complete con. It is not a serious measure to level up Britain. If it were, the communities highlighted by the report would be at the top of the list. It is all about capital projects and pork barrel politics, basically setting areas against one another. Councils have spent millions of pounds, certainly in County Durham’s case, submitting bids that were never going to succeed. The only successful bid from County Durham was in Bishop Auckland, which happened to have a Conservative Member of Parliament, getting half a bypass in the process.

Levelling up has not replaced the £240 million that the Government have taken out of Durham County Council’s core funding by shifting the tax base on to local council tax payers. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington spoke about the low council tax base in County Durham, where 60% of properties are in band A, which means that we cannot raise money.

Additionally, we need extra services for our growing elderly population and our growing number of looked-after children. Is there a relationship between the closure of Sure Start centres, which offered early intervention for families, and the number of looked-after children who are coming back into care? It does not take a genius to work out that the two are related, and the Government have slowly woken up to that fact and are now reintroducing children’s centres.

We also had access to European regional development funding. Again, it was promised that no region would lose out, but we have. That money automatically came to areas like the north-east, and it did some fantastic work. It did not fixate on capital projects, at which the local Member of Parliament or whoever wanted to be elected could open a plaque; it was about employment and training. I worked with my hon. Friend the Member for Easington on DurhamWorks, which has been very good at getting young people who are not in education, employment or training back into work.

Levelling up has been a complete con, and we need that investment if we are to make a real change to health, employment and training. The Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag when he stood for the leadership of the Tory party and boasted that he would take money away from areas like mine and redistribute it to leafier parts of the south-east of England. That is exactly what has happened, and the idea that the Government can take the needs-based element out of this is absolutely disgraceful. The idea that they can give coalfield areas the odd £20 million here and there to replace the hundreds of millions of pounds that they have lost in local government funding, ERDF funding and other funding is just a con.

I look back to the last Labour Government with clear eyes. County Durham had five new schools, three new health centres, a new hospital and two new further education colleges. That is real investment in a community. I am also proud that, in government, we paid compensation to people with COPD, which should have been done many years earlier. It took a Labour Government to do that.

We need a radical change of approach, which no one can foresee at the fag end of this Parliament. It will only happen with the election of a Labour Government who will reprioritise the needs of individuals. Without that, the legacy of limited employment opportunities and ill health in our coalmining communities will continue, not just for those who worked in the industry but for generations to come. In a wealthy country like Britain, it is a national scandal that we should leave such communities to suffer in this way.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip 2:28, 9 May 2024

I commend the hon. Members for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for Leigh (James Grundy) on securing this excellent debate, in which we have heard some common themes. I also thank the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities, Alex Davies-Jones, for driving forward its excellent work.

I am struck by the sense of pride expressed by everyone who has taken part in this debate, whether it is Ian Lavery, who has first-hand experience at the coalface, or Keir Mather who, being chronologically challenged through no fault of his own, has no such experience, although that does not diminish how we all feel about the communities we represent. I grew up in a mining community, and that sense of community is part of us, which is very evident from everyone who has taken part today.

I therefore welcome the opportunity to sum up this debate for the Scottish National party. As Members will probably be aware, I have made many contributions in this Chamber about my constituency and its rich mining history, which dates back to the 12th century, when the monks at Newbattle abbey first began extracting coal. By the 20th century, mining was an integral part of my community’s way of life. Midlothian was home to a range of pits, with probably the best known being Bilston Glen and Monktonhall. We also had the first Victorian super-pit, the Lady Victoria, which is still the home of the National Mining Museum Scotland. Again, I extend an invitation to Members to visit it, as it is an excellent facility. It was opened by my predecessor, David Hamilton, also a former miner. It was the UK’s first single facility for understanding and commemorating the mining industry and so is an excellent attraction that people can come to see any time they visit Midlothian.

We heard a lot today about the fact that we are marking the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strike of the 1980s, which left a scar in many communities across Scotland and the rest of the UK. Its unique set of circumstances saw entire communities defending their way of life and their jobs against a UK Tory Government who seemed determined to bring them to their knees and deployed the forces of the state to meet that end. As was narrated in the John Scott KC review in 2020, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government, some miners were dismissed notwithstanding the fact that they had been admonished in court. Dismissal brought with it financial hardship, with loss of income and pension rights, and difficulties for many in obtaining future employment. Above all, miners and their families lost their good name and their respectability as honest hard-working men doing dangerous jobs. That loss was perhaps the deepest one, cutting them hardest and being the hardest to bear.

The corrosive and bitter scars left by the impact of that Thatcher Government on once-proud mining communities, which felt abandoned by the state, are there for all to see. That is why I, along with many others, have called many times for a full inquiry into exactly what happened at that time. We have heard the calls for justice for Orgreave again today. We need to understand, and our communities need to understand, what political influence was exerted at that time and what political interference took place in respect of the actions and decisions of Thatcher’s Government.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I recall realising at the time that Ian MacGregor, the chair of the National Coal Board, had worked out that if a way could be found to sack somebody for gross misconduct, that would be a lot cheaper than paying them the redundancy payments to which they were entitled. Does my hon. Friend believe that one day we will find that that was a matter of policy on behalf of the NCB?

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

I truly hope that we do, because only when we get the answers to these questions—the honest answers from Government—can our communities and those directly involved truly move forward. I accept that we are not talking about decisions made by this Government, but it would be for them to take the opportunity to start that inquiry so that we can get those answers.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

We are about to have a debate about BBC bias. I was a young correspondent at that time and I recall just how biased a lot of the coverage was. We constantly saw things from the police’s point of view, but never saw things from the miners’ point of view. What lessons does my hon. Friend think there are to learn from any inquiry on press and media coverage during that strike?

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

As we heard from others earlier in the debate, it is important that all sides are reflected and that the reality of the situation is reflected. I am perhaps proud to say that I am too young to remember watching much of the coverage live at the time, although I have watched the more recent documentaries, so I cannot speak directly about my experiences of what was broadcast at the time.

That moves me on to how proud I am that the Scottish Parliament has—unanimously, I believe—introduced a pardon for miners who were convicted of certain offences during the miners’ strike. However, I am frustrated that we have not seen more action taken to do the same here. Miners and those who were involved in the strike in my constituency, in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), and in those of other colleagues in Scotland, cannot get the compensation that I feel they deserve until we have a UK-wide pardon in place.

That is why I took the unusual step of introducing my Miners’ Strike (Pardons) Bill in this place. I hope that Members across the Chamber will support it. It has been drafted, so all the Government need to do is support it and we could put that pardon in place to mirror the one established by the Scottish Government. I hope we will see that happen. I genuinely hope that if this Government do not do that, the next one will. However, I wrote to the right hon. Member for Islington North about my Bill in December and I have not yet received a response. [Interruption.] Sorry, not Islington North—I meant the leader of the Labour party. I can’t keep up with these London constituencies! I have had no reply from him in support of my Bill and that is deeply disappointing. I hope that enough colleagues on the Labour Benches will have a word in his ear to make sure that that pardon is introduced.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd highlighted the work of the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities and the “State of the Coalfields 2024” report. That excellent report has gone into a lot of depth on the issues that our coalfield communities still face. The inquiry received more than 70 submissions from across Scotland, England and Wales. I am glad that the Scottish Government, local authorities, and the voluntary and community sectors all contributed to that. It is important that where we have an evidence base such as this, we look at it in a lot of detail and understand better what it means for each of our communities.

Like so many others, I am deeply disappointed by the lack of levelling up and the fact that for many of our communities, it feels as though that has simply been a Government slogan. We need funding to shore up our coalfield communities and stop them falling further behind. I have always said that there needs to be a more even and balanced distribution of the UK’s prosperity; we cannot just have it all driven into one place, and our coalfields need it far more than most. The pit closures left a lasting legacy of social and economic damage. That resulted from decisions made in this place and it is up to this place to do much, much more to deal with it. Midlothian and other mining communities must benefit from any new funds and initiatives that could help to boost recovery.

Finally, I come to another issue that has been touched on by many Members: the miners’ pension. I commend Stephanie Peacock for her work in driving forward the review on that. It is long overdue that these recommendations are implemented; the BEIS Committee report from 2021 needs to be implemented now. Our miners deserve fairness. The 50% surplus arrangement has been in place since 1994. We have heard about figures such as £4.8 billion and rising, without even adjusting it for inflation. That money should be going to our miners—at the very least, it should be going into our coalfield communities. It is outrageous that it is taking so long to implement this. We need it to happen as soon as possible.

A number of miners, including my constituent Ally, have encountered a situation where they were mis-sold pension products from their miners’ pensions. Despite trying endlessly to get an outcome on that, they have found that the companies involved have often gone bust and tracking them down is a massive issue for anyone. I ask the Minister to relay to the Treasury the need for greater understanding of the impact this is having on former miners and the need for a further look at what is possible when that situation arises. I will certainly continue to try to bring that about.

Today’s debate has been excellent. It has shown the spirit that is still there in our mining communities; it is not going away any time soon and we will all continue to campaign for justice for our miners.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:38, 9 May 2024

Let me start by thanking my hon. Friend Grahame Morris and James Grundy for securing this debate.

I also thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Easington, for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), for Selby and Ainsty (Keir Mather) and for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith), and from my right hon. Friend Mr Jones. All of them spoke about the Coalfields Regeneration Trust’s “State of the Coalfields 2024” report and the miners’ pension scheme. It is a pleasure to respond to the debate on behalf of the Opposition, not least because these issues are deeply personal for my constituents, as they are for Members from across coalfield communities.

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the coal industry on my constituency, and on the north-east as a whole. Its history is woven into the fabric of our community. Many towns and villages owe their existence to the pit. Today, statues and colliery wheels commemorate our past, and community facilities set up to serve mining families remain in use. In my constituency, there were many collieries, from Chopwell to Kibblesworth and from Greenside to Bewicke Main. Each pit was surrounded by a community in which coal was not just a job, but a way of life. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I could not go without mentioning the annual big meeting, the Durham miners’ gala. Each year, brilliant flying banners and marching brass bands bring together thousands in our region to celebrate working-class life and solidarity.

So far, I have talked about my local area, but the mining history of the UK stretches far and wide, from the coalfields in Lanarkshire to mines in the midlands, on to the Welsh valleys and all the way down to Kent.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I think the hon. Lady has missed Cornwall from her list.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Indeed. I noticed the similarities in what the hon. Member said between his community and our coalmining communities.

Let us be clear that the reality of working down the pit was far from romantic. Miners toiled in brutal working conditions, doing backbreaking work in the near darkness. As we have heard, many people lost their lives in disasters or developed industrial diseases, such as pneumoconiosis, as a result of their work. It is important that we remember and pay tribute to them.

Mining communities knew better than anyone that this work was tough and dangerous, but whole ways of life were built around the pits. Their rapid closures caused mass upheaval, the consequences of which are still felt to this day. As the reports from the Industrial Communities Alliance have highlighted, former coalfield areas still suffer from a lack of skilled, well-paid jobs, as well as from high levels of economic inactivity. While employment rates have improved since the days of mass unemployment, many people still feel there are few meaningful and secure alternatives to the work that was once available.

Labour is determined that we will not abandon our communities to the whims of industrial change. Through our green prosperity plan, we will seize the opportunities of energy transition to deliver economic justice and rebuild the strength of our industrial heartlands. We will create secure, clean jobs, backed by strong trade unions, with individual and collective rights guaranteed for all workers. Our former mining communities powered us through the industrial revolution, and it is not right that many people within them are forced to rely on insecure, zero-hours contracts, or left vulnerable to fire and rehire. That is why Labour’s new deal for working people will put an end to those practices and build our economy from the bottom up, and the middle out, to deliver a high-growth, high-wage economy for all.

This Government came to power talking about levelling up, but inequalities remain as stark as ever. A report from the APPG on coalfield communities, in partnership with the Industrial Communities Alliance, speaks of the failure of the current approach to deliver for former coalfield areas. Pots allocated by competitive bidding are too haphazard and too short term to allow for the developments that are needed to transform former industrial sites. Coalfield communities must be allowed to come together, and to learn from each other, not made to compete like contestants on “Dragons’ Den”.

Not only must we deliver a better future for our communities, but we must right the wrongs of the past. As we have heard, the party in Government have broken promises about the mineworkers’ pension scheme. Does the Minister think it is fair that the Government make vast amounts of money from the current arrangement, while former miners struggle to make ends meet? Let me be clear: this is a historic injustice that should never have taken place, and the Government should not be in the business of profiting off mineworkers’ pensions.

After so many years of silence from Parliament on this issue, the BEIS Committee inquiry was very welcome. The Labour party will work with mineworkers and their families to right this wrong, and we will set out our full plans on this by the time of the election. People should be in no doubt that we will deliver justice for mineworkers and their families with the urgency required.

We must never shrug off injustice. We all remember the violent images of the strike in 1984 and 1985, perhaps no more so than the sight of Lesley Boulton cowering in the face of a police truncheon at the Orgreave coking plant. Earlier this year, new footage from Orgreave was shown in a Channel 4 documentary, which clearly set out the police brutality and allegations of a cover-up. The former Prime Minister, Mrs May, considered the case for an inquiry, but it seems that the Government no longer think that they have any lessons to learn. Their memories are clearly short. The Labour party has long supported a full investigation or inquiry into the events at Orgreave, and we are committed to putting a new Hillsborough law on to the statute book to prevent future injustices. I hope the Minister shares my conviction that the truth must be heard.

Our coalmining days may be behind us, but we must not forget the communities that formed around them. They were the engine that powered Britain’s industrial success, and we owe it to them that they should share in the rewards.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing) 2:46, 9 May 2024

It is genuinely a great pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government in this important area of policy. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I welcome the focus on this issue. I congratulate the all-party parliamentary group, its current chair, Alex Davies-Jones, and all those who are involved, or who have previously been involved, for raising these issues. We might not agree on all elements, but across the House we all agree that this is an important subject that we need to debate.

I particularly welcome the debate because I also have the privilege of representing a coalfield seat, North East Derbyshire, the home of Ireland, Williamthorpe, Renishaw Park, Hartington and Park House, where, just a century ago, tens of thousands of men worked. Many colleagues have outlined their experiences today; it is a privilege to know that our ancestors went down those pits every single day. I agree with Liz Twist that this work was tough and dangerous. Not a single member of my family, or any of the people I have had the privilege of representing for seven years, has failed to remind me how difficult mining was. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members have had similar conversations.

Eckington drift mine, the last drift mine in my constituency, closed only five years ago. Contrary to what we heard in some contributions, in my constituency we regularly celebrate our mining legacy, from the recent openings of memorials for High Moor and Westhorpe collieries, from Pat Bone’s work at the Killamarsh Heritage Society to attending a remembrance service for the terrible loss of 17 souls in 1973 Markham colliery disaster. In a few weeks, I hope, with my family, to add my ancestors’ names to the Eckington mining memorial, which Paul Burdett and his team have so kindly put in one of the towns in North East Derbyshire.

As Ian Lavery indicated, my family was also deeply steeped in this legacy, going back around 10 generations. As far back as the censuses go, we were miners or hewers. My mum’s maiden name is literally Collier. Both my grandfathers worked down the mines, including my mum’s dad who worked for a time at Westthorpe and High Moor in the area that I now have the privilege to represent. Like so many of the people there, both of their lives were cut short. I managed to know my maternal grandfather for only seven years before he died of the injuries that he had suffered down the pit in the 1940s, including losing a limb. I never knew my other grandad—he died seven years before I was born. So I share the acute sense of link with this and agree that this is an area in which we need to do more.

When I speak from this Dispatch Box, I do so with great pride on behalf of mining communities and my own family, but it is pride tinged with a little bit of sadness. I am afraid that I was not intending to talk about this, but I think that it is important that I do so. I do not particularly want to bring party politics into this, but I think that party politics has already been brought into this quite significantly over the course of this debate.

Many strong points have been made today by colleagues across the House. I agree with Alex Davies-Jones that, at times, CISWO does not discharge what we all hope it would do, and I shall certainly pass that back to my colleagues in the relevant Department. I agree with most Members who said that there is more to do. I am interested in the concern of Dame Nia Griffith about the quality of coal, which I shall take up with colleagues in the Department for Business and Trade and ask them to look at that in further detail—as much as they are able to do so.

However, I do think that some of the language has been genuinely loose today. The hon. Member for Wansbeck talked about opposing absolutely everything that the Conservative party does. Mary Kelly Foy talked about things being “callous”, or about how the Government chooses “destruction”. Steven Bonnar talked about “indifference”. There is a place for rhetoric and a place for hyperbole—

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am absolutely not going to take any interventions. I have listened to the grievances of Opposition Members for three hours, and it is now time for them to hear the alternative.

Labour does not own the story of mining in our country. Labour does not get to reset the narrative in the way that it has sought to do today. Keir Mather talked about a Government of empathy. Labour does not get to disregard the settled pension arrangements—arrangements defended by the Labour party for 13 years when they sat on the Government Benches. In 2008, when Edward Miliband—he was in his place a moment ago—was in charge of his Department, junior Ministers were sent out to answer written questions to that effect. Labour does not get to reset the agenda on that. It certainly does not get to repeatedly let down mining communities for decades, to the extent where those communities—

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I will not give way. I have listened for three hours to the Labour party’s grievances.

Labour does not get to set the narrative, having let down mining communities for 13 years, to the extent that those mining communities send to this place people such as myself and many of those who are sitting behind me right now. People come up to us and say that we have done more in four years than the Labour party managed in 40. Labour does not get to reset that agenda.

Today, so many Labour Members have rightly drawn on their community’s history as part of their speeches, just as I am doing, and I shall draw a little bit more on mine. I want to refer in particular to one of my predecessors who sat in this place for North East Derbyshire—but not my Benches. He joined this place not as a member of the Labour party, but he was a former executive member of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain. He built his career in mining. I will pass his statue when I go home today. He did not join here as a Labour Member, but he felt forced to join the party because he was a miner. In the end, though, he left the Labour party. That is a story of our times in these communities Our mining heritage is shared; it is not party political. I yield to no one in this place when it comes to the proud legacy that mining has provided for my community and my family; it is not just owned by one group of us here. That is why we turn now to some of the points that have been raised.

Many Members have talked about levelling up. I accept that there is more to do in that area. We have always indicated that levelling up is a long-term initiative that will take time to work, but at least this Government have made progress.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

The hon. Lady had many minutes in which to set out her view, and now I will respond to it.

The hon. Member for Easington talked about the Government continuing to undermine the local community, choosing to invest elsewhere. The hon. Member for Pontypridd said that, sadly, levelling up was just a slogan. Mr Jones talked about it being a con. Well, let us list a few levelling- up projects. Let us pick some areas totally at random. Shall we pick Easington, covered by the north-east investment zone? Across the county, the share from the UK shared prosperity fund has been £31 million, with £750,000 for the town accelerator fund. Let us pick St Helens. From the English city regional capital regeneration funding there has been £7.2 million for St Helens manufacturing, £25 million for a town deal, and a long-term plan for towns, covering Newton-le-Willows.

The hon. Member for Barnsley East wishes to speak again. Barnsley has received a share of £39 million from the UK shared prosperity fund—[Interruption.]— £10 million for Barnsley Futures, £500,000 for a town accelerator and a future high streets fund of £15.6 million. What about the hon. Member for City of Durham? Durham has had £281,000 for Redhills Revealed through the community ownership fund, and a share of £31 million from the UK SPF. What about the hon. Member for Wansbeck? Wansbeck has received £16 million for town centre regeneration in Ashington, a share of £31 million from the UK SPF, and from the north-east investment zone a share of £47 million.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said that Government support never comes—except it did come, with a levelling-up partnership, £6 million for the future high streets fund, and £20 million for the South Shields riverside transformation. What about the hon. Member for Pontypridd? Pontypridd received £5 million from the levelling-up fund, and £14 million for the A4119 dualling scheme. What about the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty? Selby received a share of £17 million from the UK SPF. What about the hon. Member for Llanelli? There has been £15 million for regenerating Llanelli. The list goes on and on. [Interruption.]

The reason Opposition Members do not want to hear this is because their narrative does not work. Mining communities have had a significant amount of attention from this Government—[Interruption.]—and I am extremely proud to represent a mining community. Where were we left after that heat rather than light? This is a very important subject, which we share in. Even though I have had to set the record straight on a number of areas, there were some genuinely useful contributions. There is a need to remember, but not to dwell, because the mining community that I have the privilege to represent wants to look forward, not back. It wants to celebrate its history, but to be known for its potential, opportunity and renewal. The past is what we inherit, but the future is what we build. It is the future that this Government will continue to build, to ensure that mining communities such as mine, and everybody’s in this place, continue to prosper and thrive.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 2:57, 9 May 2024

Mr Deputy Speaker, may I thank you and Madam Deputy Speaker for your admirable chairing of this very good debate? I thank my co-sponsor, James Grundy, for his work behind the scenes to secure enough colleagues’ signatures to get the debate. More than 30 MPs supported it, and 16 made a speech or intervened. I think we had some excellent contributions, particularly from Opposition Members—obviously I am biased—although there were some very good ones from across the whole House. I thank the lobbyists who came down yesterday from the national mineworkers’ pension scheme—my constituents John Trewhitt, Bert Moncur and Ted Slavin, who made the journey and lobbied Downing Street and Parliament about the anomaly with the mineworkers’ pension surplus.

I did not agree with the Minister’s analysis. I urge him to act with alacrity—I have looked that up; it means physical quickness, coupled with eagerness or enthusiasm —in addressing the issues that have been raised. I thank the respective Front Benchers, and I thank those on the Labour Front Bench for their commitment to mineworkers’ pensions. There is a big job of work to do. I thank everyone for their participation today.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

As a good Welshman, I am honoured to put the Question.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered miners and mining communities.