§ 3. Mr. Foulkes
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he has taken since the begining of the mining dispute to ensure adequate supplies of coal for schools and hospitals in Ayrshire.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
Throughout the strike the National Coal Board and the coal trade have worked in close cooperation with Strathclyde regional council and Ayrshire and Arran health board to provide adequate supplies of coal for schools and hospitals in Ayrshire. Towards the end of last year action by pickets interrupted the movement of coal in Ayrshire and this irresponsible action led to some school closures. At no time were Ayrshire hospitals affected.
Arrangements have been concluded between the National Coal Board and Strathclyde regional council to rebuild stocks and maintain deliveries, and I understand that coal supplies are now returning to normal.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Is he aware that, because I telephoned Mr. MacGregor, chairman of the NCB, on this issue, I was telephoned early in the morning by the Scottish director of the NCB to complain at my having had the audacity to phone the chairman? Quite apart from any question of privilege — there may well be one — do not serious doubts arise about the management structure when the director of the Coal Board in Scotland can say to me that he does not accept instructions from his chairman? Does that not underline our call that there is a need for an inquiry into the way in which Wheeler is running the Coal Board in Scotland, which is like that of a tinpot dictator?
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman was floundering to a remarkable extent, even for him. It was surprising to hear some of his comments in the light of his advocacy on devolution in other contexts. I was not privy to any of the telephone calls to which he has referred, but I am sure that many people will have read press reports about the hon. Gentleman's praise for the chairman of the NCB.
§ Mrs. McCurley
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to ensure adequate supplies for Ayrshire schools and hospitals is to exhort Scottish miners to return to work and end this futile strike?
§ Mr. Stewart
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I can tell her that 850 more Scottish miners have done precisely that since the recent holidays.
§ Mr. McKelvey
Is the Minister aware that the coal was prevented from being moved to the hospitals and schools by the pickets because the administrator of the Coal Board in Scotland, Mr. Wheeler, instructed the coal to be moved by scab lorry drivers, which was unnecessary and provocative? It was only when the local and agreed lorry drivers were allowed to move the coal that things returned to normal. Throughout the whole of the disagreement and strike, the miners, by agreement, have allowed coal to go to Ayrshire hospitals and schools.
§ Mr. Stewart
It is hypocrisy to criticise the NCB and its workers for wanting to do their normal jobs and to excuse pickets who seek to prevent that from taking place.