The National Union of Mineworkers annual conference in Scarborough:

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Indy Politics
ARTHUR SCARGILL yesterday rejected Labour pleas to prepare for the inevitability of coal privatisation. He told Frank Dobson, the party's spokesman on energy, that Government plans for a coal sell-off would be fought head-on and would involve the use of industrial action if necessary.

Mr Dobson had earlier urged the annual conference of the National Union of Mineworkers, in Scarborough, that it was sensible to take precautions if the sale was forced through by the Conservative majority. 'The cards are stacked against keeping coal in the public sector,' he said.

'We may need to assess how best to protect the interests of your members, your pensioners and your communities if privatisation goes ahead.'

Such an approach was rejected by Mr Scargill, who is likely to be supported by the conference when it votes on the issue today. 'I do not agree with Frank Dobson about contingency plans if and when privatisation takes place. Once one begins that process everybody in Britain knows that you have conceded that privatisation is inevitable,' he said.

Mr Dobson maintained that he was not supporting involvement with 'half-baked' share ownership plans which he described as 'do-it-yourself Maxwell kits' where miners stood to lose both their jobs and life savings. But something had to be done to minimise the damage of any sale and to take a view on what should be the shape of the industry once it was sold.

Both men were united in decrying privatisation and warned that it would mean fewer jobs, lower wages and less-safe conditions.

Delegates from several NUM areas are clearly supporters of Mr Dobson's philosophy on privatisation, but are unlikely to voice public opposition to Mr Scargill after an impassioned 35-minute address to the faithful yesterday.

Scottish miners in particular are linked to efforts to privatise the Scottish sections of British Coal as a separate unit, while others want discussions with the Government and potential owners over redundancy terms, safeguarding the assets of the pension fund and protecting future terms and conditions of employment.

Earlier, the Scottish area was critical of Mr Scargill's strategy of refusing to negotiate on pay with British Coal while management insisted on parallel talks with the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers. 'What benefits have our members gained from these tactics? The answer is absolutely nothing. We should stop looking back and living in the past,' said Peter Neilson, vice- president of the Scottish area.