§ 9. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
What correspondence her Department has received in the past three months concerning claims for equal pay for National Union of Mineworkers cleaners and canteen workers. 
§ The Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. Brian Wilson)
The Department has received in the region of 250 representations on this issue.
§ Mr. Barnes
I am aware of the squabble between Arthur Scargill and my hon. Friend the Minister on this matter. Arthur Scargill claims that promises were made by my hon. Friend's predecessor that have not been lived up to. The Government have said that the claims from the former cleaners and canteen workers were not submitted in time by the NUM.
Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the matter, should not the cleaners' and canteen workers' claims be met? We are not talking about people who are wealthy, unless the odd one happens to have won the lottery.
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not accept that there has been a squabble. The simple fact is that 1,300 claims were registered and have been met, at a cost of £14 million. Unfortunately, many claims were not registered. Sad to say, the responsibility for that lies not with this Government or even their predecessors, but with the unions representing the workers. That has left the ladies involved in a difficult position. I continue to meet them and to search for a rational solution to the problem. I have no doubt that the people concerned suffered unfairness, but my basic problem is that the claims were not registered.
I am sure that all hon. Members know that many claims, with different circumstances but equal validity, are made to industrial tribunals and are time-barred. To create one category of time-barred claims that are accepted because we feel that the people involved were hard done by would leave another category of people—many tens of thousands of them—whose claims had been time-barred for different reasons in an equally anomalous and unfair position. We are trying to find a solution, but it is not easy.
§ Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)
I fully accept what my hon. Friend the Minister says, but there are a number of elderly canteen workers in my constituency who failed to get their compensation claims in in time. They see the colleagues with whom they worked receiving generous compensation, and it was not the workers' fault that the claims were not submitted in time. Does the Minister think that he could come up with a small amount of compensation to ensure that these people get a fair solution to the problem? It is within his power and he should do it in the name of fairness.
§ Mr. Wilson
As I have just explained, in resolving one unfairness I would create another unfairness—unfairness to everybody else who has a tribunal claim time bar. There is no general power to waive the fact that no claims were registered. There must be specific grounds that would give a basis for these claims that would satisfy any accounting officer or auditor. We are looking at this and constantly meeting miners' representatives. I recognise the sense of injustice, but the fundamental problem is that these claims were never registered. Perhaps the people who failed to register these claims should begin to take some responsibility. I simply point out that the NUM has had a generous payment made to it for its administrative role in what would appear to be generally not registering claims.