Labour MPs win support over pits report

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LABOUR MPs who helped to draw up the Commons select committee review of pit closures have received a strong endorsement from the Shadow Cabinet, which has dismissed left-wing criticism that the report was a compromise.

The Government's timing for its promised White Paper over the closures meanwhile appeared to be slipping yesterday as 26 February was mooted as the publication date. It is understood, however, that this could slip into March.

A paper by Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, denouncing the Trade and Industry Select Committee's 'abysmal' failure to tackle the rigging of the market against coal, was circulated but not discussed by the Shadow Cabinet on Wednesday night.

Instead, members emphasised what a source called the 'immediate political benefit' of a unanimous cross-party report that had shown last autumn's closure announcement by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, to be clearly mistaken.

One Shadow Cabinet member said: 'The report, produced by a Tory-dominated committee, shows that at least half the pits Heseltine thought should close should be saved. It is the starting point. We believe even more can be saved.'

The Cabinet committee reviewing pit closures met again on Wednesday, but no conclusions were presented to the full Cabinet yesterday.

Delegates at a special conference of the NUM in Sheffield yesterday unanimously approved a strike ballot over pit closures and criticised the select committee's rescue package. The ballot will be held on 5 March, in conjunction with railworkers, with a recommendation to stage a 24-hour strike as part of a 'rolling programme' of industrial action.