MARGARET Thatcher’s government was desperate to stop cash from the Soviet Union reaching the striking coal miners, according to newly-released Government papers.
Official files from 1984 released by the National Archives in Kew, west London, show ministers believed hundreds of thousands of pounds were being channelled to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from Moscow.
But even though the union’s assets had been sequestered by the courts after its president, Arthur Scargill, refused to allow it to pay a £200,000 fine for contempt, officials admitted there was little they could do to stop the flow of roubles.
Mrs Thatcher was told the best they could hope for was that a NUM courier might be picked up by Customs trying to enter the country with “a suitcase full of bank notes”.
Minsters were alerted by MI5 to the Soviet financial lifeline for the miners in early November 1984. A few days later the Soviet news agency TASS reported publicly that £500,000 had been raised to support the strike.
Although the money was supposed to have been donated by Russian miners, the Government had little doubt that the funds could only have been transferred abroad with the approval of the Soviet authorities.
But despite the sequestration order, the Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong was forced to admit to Mrs Thatcher that there was little the authorities in the UK could do.
“There are no powers which could be used to prevent the transfer of funds from abroad to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) or to somebody nominated to receive them on behalf of the NUM in this country,” he wrote in a memorandum dated November 5.
“If a representative of the NUM could be detected entering this country with a suitcase full of bank notes, it might be possible to arrange for him to be stopped and searched by Customs.
“They would have no power to impound the the notes, but they would inform the Inland Revenue and the police of any suspiciously large volume of banknotes which they detected.”
He added: “I am afraid this is not certain to yield results, but I am satisfied that it is the best we can do. I have made arrangements to give very quick consideration of possible courses of action, if those who are exercising vigilance get a break we can exploit.”
Ministers, however, did not want to give up.
Henry Steel in the Attorney General’s office wrote to the Foreign Office stating that the Government “now have an interest, going beyond their ordinary political interest, in the sequestrators laying their hands on NUM funds”.
He went on: “If the FCO now have or acquire in the future any concrete information about the way in which the money in question is being transferred, it would therefore be very desirable that that information – not necessarily, of course, in its ‘raw’ form – should be passed onto the sequestrators.”
Meanwhile, Industry Minister Norman Lamont was instructed to raise the issue at a private lunch with the Soviet ambassador in London, but he got nowhere.
Finally, it fell to Mrs Thatcher herself to tackle Mikhail Gorbachev, the rising star of the Kremlin, when he made his historic first visit to Britain in December 1984.
Although after their meeting at Chequers, she famously declared that he was a man she could “do business with”, on this issue at least she made little headway.
“Mr Gorbachev asked whether the Prime Minister really believed that Soviet Communists were so strong as to be to keep the British miners out on strike for over 10 months,” the official minute noted. “The problem was purely a British one.”