MINERS believe the Government is "waiting for them to die" because of attempts to delay and block compensation claims for pit injuries, MPs were told yesterday.

In evidence to a Commons committee, solicitors for crippled pitmen attacked excessive investigations that held up payments.

One ex-miner claiming compensation for vibration white finger was even asked how the problem affected his hobby of caring for tropical fish.

Hundreds of miners and their relatives had settled for lower payments rather than face endless demands for information and witness statements, solicitors said.

And ministers had only reluctantly dropped proposed physical tests when the solicitors warned they could kill some of the former miners.

The Northern Echo has already revealed that ministers were urged by civil servants to introduce lie detector tests to catch out possible cheats.

The claim that the compensation scheme was dogged by delays and red tape was made at a trade and industry select committee meeting, which has launched an inquiry.

Blame was heaped not on the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) directly, but on implementation of the scheme by adjusters brought in by Capita, its private sector adminstrators.

Roger Maddocks, of Irwin Mitchell solicitors, said Capita staff were poorly trained and, with a turnover of 25 per cent in one year, badly lacking in experience.

He said: "There was a lack of understanding of the basis of the agreement and of the impact of the symptoms of vibration white finger."

Andrew Tucker, of the same firm, accused Capita's adjusters of "acting like judge and jury" because it was their opinion that determined whether a claim was accepted.

Peter Evans, of Hugh James solicitors, said miners, or their relatives, were being asked for more information every six months - until many gave up.

He said: "We have all had the experience of claimants saying 'They are simply waiting for me to die'. They are wrong because it costs the department more if that happens, but that does not prevent the perception being there in these communities."

In the worst cases, Mr Evans said that not only former miners, but their children, were dying before compensation came through.

Criticism centred on the handling of claims for vibration white finger injuries (VWF) suffered by men in so-called Group Three occupations, who were required to prove exposure to vibration.

A deadline of October 2002 was set for claims - despite the fact a database of witness statements was only up-and-running last year.

There have been 169,601 claims for VWF and 576,000 for respiratory diseases, with £2.4bn paid out so far.

A spokesman for the DTI said on behalf of Capita they would put their case to MPs in the next few days and would deny claims by the solicitors