HC Deb 10 June 2004 vol 422 cc385-6
1. Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC)

What response her Department has received from the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to her Department's letter on solicitors' charges to coal health claimants. [177750]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths)

The Union of Democratic Mineworkers has stated that its members are not charged. Non-members pay a deferred membership fee. I understand that the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers in south Wales makes similar charges and has pocketed more than £13 million, though that does not apply to NACODS elsewhere in the UK. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain that and ask the Plaid Cymru leader of NACODS to give that money back to the miners.

Adam Price

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Thousands of former miners and their families have been ripped off by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers through its subsidiary company, Vendside. Why have officials in his Department, in statements to the press, defended a practice within the UDM that amounts to little less than corruption? Why do the Government continue to honour their agreement with the union when it is clearly to the detriment of so many people?

Nigel Griffiths

The House will not take lessons from the hon. Member about corruption and creaming off money when the Plaid Cymru leader of NACODS in south Wales stands accused of creaming off more than £13 million for an organisation that has, I understand, about 40 members. What are they doing with the money? The agreement reached with other solicitors and representatives of miners has been longstanding and has generally delivered a considerable amount of compensation, amounting to the biggest public sector pay-out of compensation in history. It has generally been delivered fairly; if it were not fair, I would be the first to criticise. The hon. Gentleman should make sure that he joins my colleagues and me in criticising NACODS in south Wales, but he will not, because of Plaid Cymru's deep involvement with it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)

Does the Minister agree that for the Welsh nationalist MP to raise this matter, it is a case of the kettle calling the pot black? Will he also take into account the fact that there were problems with Vendside? It is true that some involved were directors of the firm. While it seems that we have caught the Welsh nationalist, Bleddyn Hancock, red-handed, does the Minister agree that we need to ensure that all the other areas are clean as well?

Nigel Griffiths

I agree, of course, with my hon. Friend, who speaks with great authority on this issue. The Department of Trade and Industry looks into the propriety of the agreements and keeps them under review. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members for their work in ensuring that this matter is continually at the forefront of debate. I know that hon. Members share a common commitment to ensure that every penny of compensation goes to sick miners, their widows and their families.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)

I congratulate the Minister on his tough action against solicitors, including those associated with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. However, is he aware that in many cases solicitors are paying money back to claimants only when claimants have made a complaint? I urge the Minister to have an urgent meeting with the Law Society to press the organisation to ensure that all those solicitors who have taken money return it to claimants, irrespective of whether the individuals—some very elderly and frail—actually complain.

Nigel Griffiths

I certainly join my hon. Friend in pressing the Law Society to ensure that those solicitors—a minority, I understand—who may have double charged, go through their list of clients and pay back any double payment. The Department of Trade and Industry has already paid several hundred millions of pounds in solicitors' fees. We covered their costs and we do not want to see a penny of compensation for miners and their widows coming out of the fund.