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Pneumoconiosis Compensation Scheme

Volume 897: debated on Monday 4 August 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent representations he has received from the unions and the National Coal Board on the need for further Government financial support for the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme.

The National Union of Mineworkers raised the matter during my right hon. Friend's meeting with it on 23rd June and mentioned it again in a letter dated 4th July.

Will my hon. Friend accept that whereas the new scheme is widely welcomed in the mining communities, there is a gap in the scheme's existing arrangements in respect of widows and commuted cases? Does he agree that if the Government were prepared to find a few additional million pounds for the scheme these cases will be brought into its ambit?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for mentioning that the pneumoconiosis scheme is of great benefit to thousands of people. The fact that the Government made a £100 million contribution has gone some way to assist the situation. I should like to make it clear to my hon. Friend that although we are talking in terms of sums of money there is no danger of any legitimate claims not being met. The scheme was drawn up between the National Coal Board and the NUM. It is for those parties to discuss any amendments to the scheme such as those my hon. Friend has outlined to the House.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the present situation as a result of the scheme seems to indicate that a proper actuarial assessment was not made of the amount of money required to do justice to all the people who have been referred to by my hon. Friend? Is he aware that there are people who have settled out of court for minimal sums although they suffer from a high degree of disability? There are the widows who lost their husbands in the same circumstances as widows who lost their husbands after the specified date, but they receive only a miserable sum. Should there not be a proper actuarial assessment of the money required?

My hon. Friend has drawn the attention of the House to the anomalies that exist in the scheme concerning commuted cases and the question of widows. I must remind him that the scheme was drawn up between the National Coal Board and the NUM. It is not a departmental scheme. It was not calculated actuarially as such by the Department but was discussed and agreed by the NUM and the National Coal Board. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that the starting of the scheme with £100 million has made a substantial contribution towards the scheme which has been beneficial to so many people.