NUM halts payments to 13 Labour MPs

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The Independent Online
ARTHUR Scargill's cash-strapped National Union of Mineworkers has suspended payments for its 13 sponsored Labour MPs.

The NUM, once a substantial political power in the land with more MPs than any other union, has told local constituency parties it cannot afford to continue paying them the agreed £600-a- year subsidy.

Talks are to be held later this year on the possible resumption of payments, but NUM-backed MPs fear privately that in the meantime they will be asked to sign an oath of loyalty to Labour's Clause IV if they hope to retain sponsorship.

If they do not, they risk being picked off in a move by NUM hard-liners to scale down the number of sponsored members, and this could mean the loss of their seats to a rival candidate able to offer union finance to the constituency party.

The mineworkers' executive has asked its sponsored MPs for their views on Clause IV, and the parliamentary mining group has told Mr Scargill that it supports retention of the controversial measure.

But the MPs have been told that this general reassurance may not be enough, and they may be asked for an individual letter pledging active backing for the blanket nationalisation of industry which is enshrined in the rules of the union.

Officially, the suspension of payments to MPs' local parties in recent months is put down to the collapse of the industry and the massive run-down in manpower in the run-up to privatisation. "There is no money at all," said one northern mining MP . "The pits have been going, and the lads have been going. The money has just drifted away."

Eric Illsley, MP for Barnsley Central and chairman of the NUM parliamentary group, insists that the problem is temporary. "We are still sponsored MPs and I anticipate that payments will resume relatively shortly."

However, other MPs unwilling to be named expressed the fear that if they did not follow Mr Scargill's hard-line example at Labour's special Clause IV conference on 29 April, their sponsorship might be discontinued.

The NUM president has taken the lead in the Defend Clause IV campaign, excoriating those who would abandon the party's 77-year-old commitment to nationalisation.

MPs are also anxious that if they do not toe the line on clause IV, they could lose the NUM cash for election expenses, which is worth up to £5,000 each at the general election.

In King Coal's heyday, when there were half a million miners and five hundred pits, the NUM-sponsored group numbered more than 30 MPs, easily the largest and most homogenous group of working-class men in Parliament.

The lineage of MPs with mining connections stretches back to Keir Hardie. Among notable NUM-sponsored MPs were Tom Williams, an agriculture minister in the Attlee government, and Roy Mason, a defence and Northern Ireland minister in the Wilson and Callaghan administrations.

Now, there are almost as many mining MPs as there are coalmines, and their political clout is much diminished, though they can still prove effective.

Recently, they won a review of the qualifying criteria for benefits for sufferers from emphysema, which affects many older pitmen.