Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:15 am on 5th December 2017.

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Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 11:15 am, 5th December 2017

I think the implication of the hon. Gentleman’s question is that he knows the answer, which I do not, and that it is zero, but I should like to write to him formally, because I do not want to inadvertently mislead anyone. I do not have the information to hand, but if he will bear with me until later today, I shall make sure he gets a letter or email straight away. It is a reasonable question, but, if I may put words into his mouth—although one never should—I think he really means to say that the Government have never been called on to put money in. I think that is a reasonable assumption; the scheme is unlike others, in that respect. However, Governments get a reward, as anyone would, for risk, and just because things are working one way, that does not mean that they always have or always will. I think that most people would accept that. By the way, I heard nothing unreasonable in the speeches that hon. Members made during the debate. There is realism here; it is a question of judgment about what to do with the surplus.

Some hon. Members have argued that the Government are taking money from scheme members. I think the word “robbery” was used, which is a bit inflamed, but I know what it means—that it is something improper. Others say that the pensions would be higher if the Government did not take their share of the surplus. Both those views might be true, but they do not present the full picture, because pensions are paid according to the scheme rules, so that the sums due to scheme members would not change. They could potentially benefit from bigger bonuses if they had a greater share of surpluses, but in that environment the trustees’ investment strategy would be more risk-averse, and returns could be less than they currently are. In any event, would it be fair to ask taxpayers to take all the risk with none of the benefits?

The scheme has been a success, and at least the money is there.