LAWYERS representing thousands of ex-miners have urged the Government to make improved compensation offers.

Yesterday, legal experts advising former pitmen warned Government officials that the only way to speed up the painfully slow lung damage compensation process was to make "attractive" offers.

Unless the process of settling claims can be speeded up - by persuading many claim-ants to accept lump sums instead of waiting for a full medical assessment - officials are predicting it could be 2010 before all claims are settled.

The call was made at a summit meeting between the Claimants' Solicitors' Group (CSG) representing more than 300,000 ex-miners or their families and a negotiating team from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in London.

It follows a sensational U-turn by Coal Health Minister Nigel Griffiths on Tuesday.

After an emergency meeting called by MPs representing coalfield communities, including the North-East, the minister withdrew proposals to impose compensation settlements on ex-miners.

MPs were alerted to the confidential DTI moves by a series of articles carried exclusively in The Northern Echo over the past few weeks.

Mick Clapham, Barnsley West MP and chairman of the coalfields communities group has said the Echo played a vital role in making mining area MPs aware of the DTI proposals. "It would have been a done deal if you had not telephoned me," he said.

Under the original DTI proposals lodged with High Court Judge Mr Justice Turner ten days ago, the Government wanted to speed up payouts but deny more than 200,000 claimants the right to be assessed by a chest consultant.

After an outcry by MPs and the miners' lawyers, the minister agreed to allow all claimants, including ex-miners and the families of deceased miners, the right to have their claims assessed by a specialist if they are not happy with an initial offer.

The amended proposals are due to be lodged with the High Court ahead of hearings next Monday and Tuesday.

Mr Justice Turner has asked both sides to submit ways of speeding up the sluggish assessment process.

Newcastle solicitor Roger Maddocks, of the CSG, said: "We will be seeking to negotiate tariff offers that will be attractive to many claimants and will provide them with an opportunity for early settlement of their claim without going through the full assessment process."

He described yesterday's talks as "pretty constructive."

A spokeswoman for the DTI said: "The MPs are pushing for fair offers and that is what we are putting on the table - fair, simple and quick offers which take out the red tape and are easy to understand."

Read more about the Justice for the Miners campaign here.