Crisis in the Pits: Scargill leads calls for action over pit closures: Bishop of Sheffield and UDM join in condemnation of mass redundancies announced by British Coal

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The Independent Online
UNION leaders called for strikes, Tory Midland MPs were shocked, and the Bishop of Sheffield called for a 'national uprising' in the wake of pit closures revealed yesterday.

Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, said he would be urging his members to stand up and fight at an emergency meeting to discuss the closures tomorrow.

'It cannot be justified on social grounds. It is a deliberate political act of industrial vandalism perpetrated against an already decimated industrial landscape. Miners have a choice - either to lie down and let this happen or stand up and fight back,' he declared, despite a warning from British Coal that any industrial action would lead to a loss of the miners' severance payments of up to pounds 37,000.

For once, the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers seemed to agree with the leaders they left behind amid bitterness in the miners' strike of 1984-85. Neil Greatrex, president of the Nottinghamshire area of the UDM, called on the TUC to co-ordinate protest action against the loss of jobs. 'Things are not going to change until we get rid of this pigging Government,' he said.

The threat of a militant mood from moderate miners in Nottinghamshire could be damaging to a number of Conservative MPs who have constituencies in the county, including Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary. Jim Lester, Tory MP for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, said coal had been made to bear the brunt of the the switch to gas. 'I wonder how much bad news the Government can take,' he said.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev David Lunn, described the job losses as 'wicked' and 'evil'.

'To destroy those jobs - and so many of the coalfield communities - for the sake of imported coal and the squandering of our very limited resources of gas must be sheer madness.

'To close down a pit which still has good mineable coal in it is wicked - a waste of what God has given us.'

Clearly incensed at the scale of the compulsory redundancies, Mr Scargill said 16 coal-fired power stations also faced closure with the loss of more jobs.

'There is no economic basis for the closure of these collieries. Here is an industry that is profitable and should be making a valuable contribution to the long-term energy requirements of Britain,' he said. Veteran miners' leader Mick McGahey, 67, a former national vice-president of the NUM, denounced Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, as a 'hypocritical eunuch'.

In a furious onslaught against what he termed the biggest act of industrial vandalism in history, the former Scottish miners' leader said: 'This government are the modern Luddites, destroying the fabric of our society, the basis of our industry, destroying whole communities.'

Some Tory MPs were expecting a backlash from the UDM, which helped the Thatcher government survive the miners' strike. The closures were described as 'catastrophic' by Andrew Mitchell, the Tory MP for Gedling, Nottinghamshire.

'As politicians, nationally and in Notts, we need now to work together to ensure that we take the necessary action to bring hope for the future to these communities,' he said.

Mr Mitchell said it was wrong to talk about a 'slap in the face' for the UDM. 'Everyone has known this was coming . . . I think it is extremely difficult to blame the Government because I think it is as a result of the market and the fact that gas generation has increased enormously.'

Mr Scargill said the gas which was being sought to replace the coal-fired stations was 30 per cent more expensive and nuclear power was 350 per cent more expensive. Imports of coal would add pounds 700m to the balance of payments deficit. He believed it would cost the taxpayer some pounds 2.1bn to close down the collieries along with a further huge expense involved in the closure of the coal-fired power stations. The redundancy on offer amounted to no more than about two years' salary, he said, and at the end of that time the prospect was to become an addition to the lengthening dole queue of four million.

Dr Michael Clark, the MP for Rochford in Essex and Conservative chairman of the all-party group for energy studies, warned Britain would become a 'hostage' to the world coal markets. Fifteen or 20 pits and a few open cast mines could not be called a coal industry, he said.

The Government was challenged over the pounds 1bn to be made available to meet redundancy costs and to give help to mining communities. The Coalfields Communities Campaign said it had identified only pounds 20m as new money as the vast bulk was for severance payments and the rest came from existing programmes. Mr Heseltine said that mining communities around Doncaster, Barnsley and Mansfield would be given assisted area status to help attract new investment and jobs.

English Estates, the Government's property developer, had been asked to advise on a programme to provide industrial and commercial sites and premises. Colliery sites will be cleared by British Coal to make them available.

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