It is highly unusual for me to respond to the scurrilous allegations which have been levelled at me in the past few weeks in this fashion, but I felt the need to set the record straight.
In recent weeks I have been subjected to what is clearly a politically motivated attack designed to cast doubt on my character and undermine my position. All of this is centred around my previous employment with the National Union of Mineworkers, which ended prior to my election to Parliament.
For the record, I am immensely proud to have spent almost twenty years as a full time official of the NUM at all levels, including as National President from 2002-2010. I am also incredibly proud to have worked on behalf of people in the industry and the communities in bringing in tens of millions of pounds of compensation for Common Law and Industrial Disease claims.
The area that I now represent in Parliament was heavily dependent on coalmining and many of the communities in the constituency would not be there were it not for the discovery of coal. My own history in mining gained me an insight into the power that the industry brought to the communities - but also the negative impact many years of weak safety and health in the mines had on peoples’ lives.
At a time when the Conservative Government was picking apart the very fabric of my communities, the National Union of Mineworkers provided much needed opposition, as well as support to the men and women whose lives had been touched by coal. While the number of working miners declined, the number of those in need exponentially increased.
And while the official AR21 forms that have formed the basis of these unwarranted attacks in the press showed a small number of working miners and NUM members, they fail completely to tell the true story. The communities built around coal had their main source of employment removed, yet tens of thousands of former miners remained, many scarred by their former occupation and in desperate need of support.
That support came in the form of the NUM (Northumberland Area). All contributions made to the union were entirely voluntary and were given by those who wanted to ensure that future claimants were afforded the same level of representation they themselves had received. That £1.6 million was received is both testament to the generosity and comradeship of those in the community, but also to the work of the union which brought tens of thousands of successful claims.
The National Union of Mineworkers refused to abandon those who it had represented for decades simply because their source of employment had been lost. We fought for compensation for both current and past mineworkers for the serious damage that working underground had done to their health - not to forget the pivotal role the NUM played in bringing equal pay claims for women canteen workers in the industry.
Our approach, which covered Pneumoconiosis, Vibration White Finger, CB&E and Occupational Deafness among others, saw the NUM (Northumberland Area) held up as an exemplar across the coalfields. We represented tens of thousands of former miners and succeeded in bringing in tens of millions of pounds in compensation and reduced earnings allowances. That has been a lifeline for these former miners and their families.
The recent attacks in the media have failed to represent the work that I am proud as a full time official to have played a part in. The biggest criticism would appear to be the fact the NUM employed its officials on excellent wages, terms and conditions. This is something the union fought for all of its existence and something that we can rightly be proud of. My wages, terms and conditions were set according to union agreements and I was privileged to be well paid for a job I loved.
Another target has been a redundancy payment I received that was part of my contract of employment. Following allegations that this should have been declared, I met with the Parliamentary Commissioner at the earliest opportunity to provide clarity on the matter and will continue to cooperate fully.
Sections of the press and sadly some within my own party have sought for political ends to use innuendo and half-truths to attack me and my proud record as a trade unionist. They have also made false allegations about a £250,000 mortgage between the union and myself, which I totally refute and am taking legal counsel on.
I have worked all of my adult life defending and representing miners and working people. The coordinated attack which began by suggesting that I was using the compensation of sick miners to enrich myself have struck me like a bullet through the heart.
These shameful accusations are being made by some of the very outlets that, throughout the period the industry was being destroyed, formed the press arm of an attack on the communities in which we live, and should be viewed with the contempt they deserve.