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Coal Miners' Compensation

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 4 June 2003

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When the Welsh subgroup of the coal health claims monitoring Group last met; and what assessment was made of the effectiveness of the claims procedures. [116428]

The Welsh sub-group last met on 7 April, when I was delighted to welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) as members.

The progress on payments under both the respiratory disease and the vibration white finger schemes in Wales speaks volumes for the valuable contribution made by the group.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but could he be a bit more precise and let me know what criteria—[Interruption.]

Could my hon. Friend tell me what criteria are used to determine priorities when the miner's estate is the beneficiary, and what is the current position relating to payments in Wales and specifically in my constituency?

I can tell my hon. Friend that £4.5 million has been paid for respiratory disease in his constituency, £1.3 million has been paid under the vibration white finger scheme, and £228 million has been paid for respiratory disease throughout Wales. We may not be able to see light at the end of the tunnel, but at least we can see the tunnel for the first time.

The priorities are the oldest miners, the most ill, and the widows. As for estate claims, if there is any indication of a short life expectancy the process may be accelerated and the claim considered more urgently. We will, however, look at cases individually. I pay tribute to the Minister for Energy and Construction, who has been wonderfully supportive in especially difficult cases, helping to secure for our miners the justice that they so richly deserve.

There is one group of former miners in Wales on which there has been absolutely no progress—not a single penny has been paid. I refer, of course, to those who worked in the private mines. Since those mines were licensed by the National Coal Board, which received a levy on every tonne of coal produced, do not the Government have a responsibility to those men, whose suffering is every bit as real as that of those who worked in the nationalised industry?

I recognise the justice of the hon. Gentleman's point. Our monitoring group has discussed that issue, which continues to be the subject of discussions between solicitors representing the claimants and the Department of Trade and Industry. We have done everything we possibly can to bring the matter to the top of the agenda.