Commons coal report divides former bedfellows: Jonathan Foster reports on Arthur Scargill's clash on radio with an old friend

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The Independent Online
Arthur Scargill has slept with Richard Caborn but their recent estrangement may have reached irretrievable breakdown after a public quarrel yesterday.

The President of the National Union of Mineworkers shared a bed head-to-toe with the chairman of the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee when the Caborn household was second home to prodigies of the left and Arthur and Dick were no'but lads.

Mr Caborn was a miners' hardship fund trustee during the 1984- 85 pit strike. But the current coal crisis could be their last together.

Mr Caborn's all-party committee of MPs produced a unanimous report demolishing government claims that 31 collieries had to close. Yesterday, they debated the issues for the first time. 'The report is deplorable and deeply flawed,' Mr Scargill said on BBC Radio Sheffield. 'It's certainly unacceptable as far as the mining unions and the industry are concerned. You've virtually got the Michael Heseltine pit-closure programme by another name.'

The energy market had been rigged against coal and the report did nothing to correct the imbalance, Mr Scargill told Mr Caborn. 'Arthur, if that is your analysis of it, you ain't read the report,' Mr Caborn replied.

The NUM president claimed he had been through the 126 pages 'minutely'. But there are suspicions in the coalfield that Mr Scargill did at least get his retaliation in a little prematurely.

Mr Scargill, whose condemnation was based on what had 'appeared likely' to come from the committee, denied he had been guilty of 'selectivity with the statistics' published by the committee. But Mr Caborn is more concerned about ill-informed stabs at comprehending the report than stabs in the back from the implacable NUM leader. A Labour MP, he had to chair a committee with a Conservative majority.

Working closely with Mick Clapham, a Labour committee colleague and former NUM head of industrial relations, he believed only a unanimous report would influence ministers; all Labour MPs on the committee threatened resignation to draw concessions from Tory members. The report was widely read to recommend saving, at most, 15 of the threatened mines, a misunderstanding, Mr Caborn said yesterday. Its long-term policies would assure the future of 24 pits and work the remainder until exhaustion of reserves during the next five years.

A miner from Houghton Main colliery, one of 10 earmarked for prompt closure, called Radio Sheffield to berate Mr Scargill. He had read the report, agreed all 31 pits could be saved on the basis of its recommendations, and thought there were more positive ways of taking the campaign forward than criticising Labour select committee members.