ISLWYN AM Brian Hancock has criticised the government for "celebrating" the fact it has paid millions of pounds of damages to miners in Wales.

The Plaid Cymru AM (pictured) said that at the beginning of September this year, 80 per cent of chest disease claimants had been waiting more than four and a half years for compensation.

But, he said, last month the government announced new figures as though important progress had been made in the claims.

"Miners are dying of mining related diseases and yet the UK government celebrates," he said.

The Argus has campaigned for more than three years for compensation payments to former pitmen or their families to be speeded up.

In October last year, Energy Minister Brian Wilson promised that 15,000 full and final offers would be made in Wales by the end of this year.

But Mr Hancock said this looked unlikely to happen as less than half that figure - 7,000 - had been completed by September 1.

But Islwyn MP Don Touhig, who sits on the group monitoring the progress of claims, said it was "sad to hear carping from those who have nothing to do with the compensation process.

"Surely it is more important to recognise the progress that has already been made and make every effort to reach the positive targets ahead," Mr Touhig said.

"Over £9.5m has been paid out for lung damage and nearly £7m for Vibration White Finger in the constituency of Islwyn alone - the figure for Gwent as a whole is £22.2m and £15.3m respectively."

He added IRISC, the government's claim handlers, were confident of meeting the target of 15,000 full and final offers.

"The monitoring group set up in Wales by the Secretary of State Paul Murphy and which I chair has made a major impact on finding ways to speed up the process.

"Instead of carping about the difficulties we face, we have worked together as a team to benefit Welsh miners and their widows.

"A real momentum has built up in the compensation process. Last month we reached the figure of £1bn in total compensation paid out across the UK, and more than half of this figure was paid out since the beginning of the year. A fifth of this money, some £200m, was paid to Welsh claimants."