NATIONAL Coal Board chief Ian MacGregor was plotting to close 75 pits over two years from 1983, secret papers published today (Friday, January 3) reveal.
In the months before the year-long Miners’ Strike broke out in April 1984, the Thatcher Government and the NCB was saying they wanted to close 20 mines.
But a typed record of a top-level meeting held at Number 10 in September 1983 says: “Mr MacGregor had it in his mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed... There should be no closure list, but a pit-by-pit procedure.
“The manpower at the end of that time in the industry would be down to 138,000 from its current level of 202,000.”
The meeting was attended by just seven people including Margaret Thatcher and the minute, headed “not to be photocopied or circulated outside the private office”, ends: “It was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated.”
A second document written a week later by a senior civil servant suggested the same group should meet regularly in future but there should be “nothing in writing which clarifies the understandings about the strategy which exist between Mr MacGregor and the secretary of state for energy”.
But Lord Armstrong, who as Sir Robert Armstrong was Cabinet Secretary and one of the seven at the meeting, said the real issue was National Union of Mineworkers president Arthur Scargill’s “impossible demand” that loss-making pits be guaranteed.
“I think when you’re in a negotiation of this kind you want to show as little of your hand as you can to those who are negotiating, particularly if the purposes of those people are, as they were in this case, malign,” he told the BBC.
Other papers released today from the National Archives at Kew reveal Mrs Thatcher intervened to ensure Nissan’s massive investment in its Wearside plant, considered deploying troops during the Miners’ Strike and was desperate to stop Soviet Union cash reaching the striking miners.
Mr MacGregor, later made Sir Ian MacGregor, died in April 1998 and Mrs Thatcher died last April.