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Coal Industry Dispute

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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20.

asked the Attorney-General if he will update the figures given to the hon. Member for Leicester, East on 18 March, Official Report, column 629, regarding cases heard by the courts and cases outstanding in connection with the recent coal mining dispute to the latest available date.

My reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on 18 March was based upon statistics compiled by the national reporting centre, which has now closed down. I am therefore unable to say exactly how many cases outstanding at the conclusion of the dispute have yet to be heard. The available figures, although not covering all courts, show that a very substantial number of cases have been dealt with, and I would like to congratulate the magistrates and the court officials on the magnificent way in which they have dealt with this extra burden.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer and join him in congratulating the magistrates who have handled that shocking catalogue of outstanding cases. May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to find out how many cases are still awaiting charge and trial? Victimisation is now occurring again at pits between working miners who never went on strike and miners who returned to work, and there is a need for a deterrent in future.

Where cases of harassment have occurred since the end of the strike, police inquiries are under way. In the case of Mrs. Watson, the Director of Public Prosecutions has advised that certain charges be preferred. If there is any continuing harassment, I do not want those who perpetrate it to feel that they will escape justice.

The latest available figures—those made available before the closure of the national reporting centre — show that out of 9,808 persons arrested only 7,917 have been charged to date, and that of those 1,335 have so far been acquitted. At least 1,000 cases remain to be heard. The overwhelming majority of the cases involve trivial charges against previously law-abiding persons. That being so, I urge the Attorney-General to think again about the answer that he gave me on the last occasion when the matter was raised at Question Time, and to make a general statement, which could provide guidance for those pursuing such prosecutions, at considerable expense to the taxpayer, and to the detriment of respect for the law in mining constituencies. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman issue a general statement telling those people to ease off?

The grant of an amnesty is not within my powers, as in most cases the chief constable is responsible. Even if it were within my powers, it would be highly inappropriate, and not conducive to the preservation of the peace during industrial disputes, for me to give such guidance. It would also be unfair to those already convicted. There must be a number of borderline cases. One saw that recently in Nottingham, when a number of cases were dropped.

Might I ask my right hon. and learned Friend—did you say "Jester", Mr. Speaker.

I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend, without jesting, whether he agrees that incidents during the miners' strike rather tarnished the good name of the country? That being so, is it not important that justice is seen to be done and to be dispatched quickly? Was that not the very reason why our Prime Minister thought it necessary to assure our friends in the middle east that we had come to grips with this problem?

I also misheard you, Mr. Speaker, when you called my hon. Friend. I shall not discuss anything that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said abroad. There is no doubt that what happened during the picketing and the harassment during the strike did nothing for the good name of Britain. However, many people have been prosecuted — the conviction rate overall is about 75 per cent.

Order. May I simply say to the hon. Member that if I did say that, it was a term of endearment.