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Scargill’s ‘no comment’ duel with coal chief revealed by newly released papers

Arthur Scargill (left), President of the National Union of Mineworkers, with the new Chairman of the National Coal Board Ian MacGregor, at the Coal Board headquarters in London

Arthur Scargill (left), President of the National Union of Mineworkers, with the new Chairman of the National Coal Board Ian MacGregor, at the Coal Board headquarters in London

  • by Mail reporter
 

The intransigence of both sides in the miners’ strike is vividly illustrated in newly released government files.

The papers, released by the National Archives at Kew, west London, include the minutes of talks between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Coal Board (NCB) held on May 23 1984.

It began with a series of presentations by board officials. At the end of each one, Ian MacGregor, the combative American chairman of the NCB, asked the NUM president Arthur Scargill and his colleagues if they had any questions or comments. Each time the answer was the same.

“Mr Scargill said that the union had no comments to make,” the minutes noted.

With the meeting apparently going nowhere, the minutes reported the NUM vice president Mick McGahey was “ostentatiously reading his newspaper”.

At the end of presentations Mr MacGregor asked Mr Scargill whether he finally wished to make a contribution to the meeting.

“Mr Scargill said that the only way to resolve the present dispute was for the Board to withdraw their plan for colliery closures. He asked whether the NCB were prepared to withdraw their closure programme and discuss sensibly the expansion of the industry,” the minutes said.

This time, it was the NCB chairman’s turn to stonewall. “Mr MacGregor said he had no comment,” it was reported.

By this point, it seems, tempers were beginning to boil over.

“Mr George Rees, of South Wales (NUM), commented the meeting was a waste of everybody’s time,” the minutes reported.

“Mr Vincent, of Lancashire, said he would like to ask a question. Mr Scargill told him to ‘shut up’ and indicated that the executive had agreed before the meeting that no one but Mr Scargill would ask questions. Mr Vincent apologised and said that he had been on the telephone at the time.

“Mr MacGregor said that it appeared that the meeting had reached a point where further discussion would be of no value.”

And with that it was over.

 

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