§ 11.47 a.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Brian O'Malley)
I beg to move,That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment (No. 2) Order, 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 29th October, be approved.The Order amends the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme which was introduced in 1948 at the request of the coal mining industry. The scheme provides supplementary benefit for colliery workers, or their dependants, who receive benefit under the Industrial Injuries Acts for colliery accidents or diseases. The Scheme is administered by a National Committee comprising of equal numbers of representatives drawn from both sides of the industry. Contributions to this Scheme's fund are made by employers and employees only—there is no charge on the Exchequer or the Industrial Injuries Fund.
The present Order seeks to extend until 2nd June, 1970, the arrangements for a standstill on the rates of supplementary injury and disablement benefit made in previous Orders. As hon. Members will recall from earlier debates, detailed negotiations involving not only the future of this Scheme but other benefit schemes in the coal mining industry have been going on for some time. These negotiations have been between the two sides of the industry and are not ones in which my Department has played any part. Although I understand agreement has now been reached in principle on substantial changes to the various schemes, it has not been possible to tie up all the 1338 loose ends and to draft all the detailed amendments to the various schemes in time for the changes to come into effect before the present standstill order expires on 2nd December. Both sides of the National Committee have therefore asked for this Order Extending the standstill to allow time for this work to be completed. An Order giving effect to the substantive changes as they affect the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme will of course be laid before the House in due course.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
I do not suppose that when the hon. Member first became a Parliamentary candidate he foresaw that he would one day become a Minister and that the first thing he would do would be to put an Order before the House restricting the amount of benefit payable to injured miners. Nevertheless, we understand the reasons behind the proposition the hon. Gentleman has made, and I merely have one or two questions to put to him.
First of all, I do not quite understand the timing of these Orders. We had a debate almost exactly a year ago, on 21st November, 1968, with which the hon. Gentleman will be very familiar because many of the words he read out were more or less the same as those used then. On that occasion we postponed the operation of this Scheme until June, 1969. So I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman what has happened, what has been the situation between June and December, because I cannot trace an order extending the operation from June to December. That is my first question.
My second question is about the actual negotiations which have been going on—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot, in debate on this very narrow Order, discuss negotiations which are taking place. This Order extends certain benefits for six months.
§ Mr. Worsley
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, and I was not seeking to broaden the debate. It would seem to be useful, though, since the House is being invited to extend this scheme, if we could be given a little more information, not about details of negotiations which, I appreciate, are outside the scope of 1339 this Order, but about the time scale. What does the hon. Gentleman anticipate it is likely to be? I asked his predecessor a year ago whether that would be the last time that such an extension would be asked for. Will this be the last time such an extension will be asked for? I think the House can reasonably ask this of the hon. Gentleman. One feels that these standstills are extremely unsatisfactory and should be brought to an end. Therefore, my second question to the hon. Gentleman is, can he give us an undertaking now that, rather than extend this Scheme once more, he will, before June, 1970, come to the House with a finalised Scheme to put this whole matter on a regularised footing?
§ Mr. O'Malley
If I may have the leave of the House briefly to answer the points which the hon. Gentleman has raised. First of all he asked about the last Order which was moved in the House on this subject. I would advise him that it was moved by my hon. Friend who preceded me in this job on 19th May ; it took us up to the beginning of December. This Order, as the hon. Gentleman realises, goes on till June of next year.
The hon. Gentleman asks, will this be the last time? I would certainly expect it to be the last time because, as he knows, there have been lengthy and detailed discussions on a whole range of items, of this and similar kinds, between the National Coal Board and the trade unions concerned. They have, I understand, reached provisional agreement on this, and a ballot has been held by the N.U.M. on this subject. I understand that one of the other unions has to finalise its position with reference to the provisional agreement which has been made. Nevertheless, all the indications are that this will certainly be the last time when we shall be moving a standstill order of this kind in this situation, since the negotiations have moved beyond their final stage and should be ratified by the unions concerned.
I close by saying very seriously to the hon. Gentleman, of course one understands the point of view of the disabled miners and their families in the coal mining districts. I come from one of those districts and was brought up there. 1340 Nevertheless, a scheme has emerged from the negotiations which have taken place between the unions and the National Coal Board, and the hon. Gentleman realises that the standard of benefit from State schemes has risen very substantially since the time when this Supplementary Scheme was first introduced after the war. Nevertheless, I take his point on the standstill Orders which have appeared in the House in the past. They have, as I have explained, arisen from the fact that negotiations between the unions and the Coal Board have been lengthy. Nevertheless, these negotiations have now apparently been concluded, and one would hope that the next order which we may be bringing before the House will be to implement any proposals which may be made in a satisfactory settlement, and which we may need to put into effect.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment (No. 2) Order 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 29th October, he approved.