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Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend raises a point that I am not equipped to answer, but there is a question mark about how the claims were dealt with, not just by the NUM but by the UDM.

We have an obligation to secure fairness of treatment between different groups of possible applicants under the legislation working for different employers in different industries who do not have valid claims. Applying that test of fairness, there is no basis on which we could justify special treatment for this group of ex-British Coal employees. I know that that is difficult for those involved and difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh to accept. He has been a skilled and vociferous advocate for them, as have other colleagues, but it would be cruel to hold out false promises when the issue has been examined in great detail. Nevertheless, I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy has already agreed to a meeting next week. That will be a better forum than here, where we are time-limited and there is not the same opportunity to exchange the detailed points that the issue requires.

So I can confirm on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy that he will meet interested Members of Parliament next week. We can then go through the issue in more detail. I hope that on that basis my hon. Friends and the House will recognise that this is an important issue. We have looked at it carefully. We do not take these decisions lightly, but we do not currently believe that there is any basis for offering false hope to the women whose plight has been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

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