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Volume 887: debated on Monday 24 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what plans he has for amending the pneumonconiosis compensatory scheme to include commuted cases certified before 1948 by increasing the grant for the scheme; and if he will make a statement.

The Pneumoconiosis Compensation Scheme is a coal industry scheme which has been negotiated between the mining unions and the National Coal Board. It is not for the Government to amend it. As I and my right hon. Friend emphasised in the debate on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill last week, what the Government are doing is to provide a grant of up to £100 million towards the costs of the scheme.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what extra grant will be required to meet the needs of the 8,000 or 10,000 people in this category? Does he agree that if a grant were allocated specifically for this purpose—I recognise that this is a National Coal Board matter—the National Union of Mineworkers would be only too willing to have the money allocated?

I regret that I cannot tell my hon. Friend the precise cost, but it certainly would amount to several million pounds. As I have explained to my hon. Friend, the scheme was drawn up between the National Coal Board and the union. The Government have made a £100 million grant towards the scheme. Any amendment to the scheme is a matter for the National Coal Board and the unions concerned.

I accept my hon. Friend's answer, and I think that he will accept that we give full credit to the Labour Government for finally redressing injustices that have existed in this respect over the years. Nevertheless, if representations are made by the National Union of Mineworkers, in consultation with the National Coal Board, that extra funding is required for the commuted cases and for the widows, will the Government be prepared to consider that matter seriously in Committee and to provide the necessary funds to implement the wishes of the Labour movement?

I am grateful for the comments made by my hon. Friend on the Government's generosity. As he knows, the pneumoconiosis scheme was born out of the tripartite inquiry into the industry that was set up by my right hon. Friend when he gained office last year, the tripartite team being the National Coal Board, the union and the Government. I must tell my hon. Friend that this matter has already been discussed with the appropriate authorities. Therefore, it would be unfair if I were to suggest to him that the Government would be capable of increasing the £100 million. This has already been discussed. By any standard and by any measure the £100 million is a most generous donation towards the scheme.