Before I call Michael Dugher to move the motion, may I say to both the Front-Bench teams in this debate, and to other Members in the Chamber, that more than 21 Members have already notified the Speaker that they wish to participate in it? May I ask the Front Benchers to bear that in mind in terms of the length of their speeches and the interventions they take? May I also remind the House that precedence will be given to those Members who have already indicated that they wish to speak in the debate and that it will finish at 7 pm?
I beg to move,
That this House acknowledges the economic legacy of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities across the United Kingdom; notes that the recent release of the relevant 1984 Cabinet papers showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics; recognises the regeneration of former coalfield areas over the last fifteen years, the good work of organisations such as the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, and the largest industrial injury settlement in legal history secured by the previous Government for former miners suffering from bronchitis and emphysema; further recognises the ongoing problems highlighted recently by the report produced by Sheffield Hallam University on The State of the Coalfields, which revealed that there are still significant problems for the majority of Britain’s coalfield communities, such as fewer jobs, lower business formation rates, higher unemployment rates, more people with serious health issues, higher numbers in receipt of welfare benefits and a struggling voluntary and community sector; and therefore calls for the continued regeneration and much needed support for coalfield communities as part of a wider programme to boost growth in Britain’s regions.
After 30 years under lock and key, the Cabinet papers and the Prime Minister’s private office correspondence, recently released under the 30-year rule, about the 1984 miners strike have exposed one of the darkest chapters in our history. Contrary to denial after denial from Conservative Ministers at the time and from the National Coal Board, the Cabinet papers show that the Government of the day did have a secret plan from as early as September 1983 to close 75 pits, run down capacity by 25 million tonnes and make 65,000 men redundant. Many people warned at the time that there was a secret plan, but it is no less shocking to see, in black and white, in official Cabinet papers, just how much the public were misled.
Will the hon. Gentleman apologise now to the British people for making out the Thatcher Government were the major closer of mines and the cause of lost jobs, given that the Labour Government in the ‘60s and ‘70s closed 129 more mines than the Thatcher Government and caused the loss of more than 30,000 excess jobs? Apologise now.
Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman what happened in the ‘60s. The then Government closed all the small inland pits and made the super-pits on the coast, and all the men working at the little pits went to work in the super-pits.
Of course my hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. The truth is that 43% of mining jobs did go in the 1960s as part of that consolidation, which was agreed by the National Coal Board and the unions ahead of Harold Wilson’s new plan for coal, which of course the Tories immediately cancelled. There is absolutely no comparison between the consolidation we saw in the immediate aftermath of the second world war and the complete destruction and decimation of the coal industry that we saw in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
One of the Cabinet documents was a record of a meeting the then Prime Minister held in Downing street on 15 September 1983. It states absolutely clearly that Mr MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB,
“had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed”.
The final paragraph of the document reads:
“It was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated.”
What a surprise.
We know that significant pressure was placed on the Home Secretary to step up police measures against striking miners to escalate the dispute, which again is something that is denied. Released documents from 14 March 1984 show that Ministers at the time pressured the Home Secretary to ensure that chief constables adopted
“a more vigorous interpretation of their duties.”
At the time, it was claimed that the police were acting entirely on their own constitutional independence—what a joke.
Earlier this year, the National Union of Mineworkers, led by the excellent General Secretary Chris Kitchen, produced an impressive report, drafted by Mr Nicky Stubbs, following months of forensic analysis of the recently released Cabinet papers. The report has brought even more disturbing details to light. It shows that Ministers were even prepared to override normal judicial processes, and ensure that local magistrate courts dealt with cases arising from the dispute in a much quicker fashion. It also outlines how Ministers conspired to cover up the extent of their plans for the mining industry. There are numerous quotations contained in the Cabinet papers. For example, one said:
“No other papers should be circulated for that meeting…and that discussion of coal strategy at the meeting should be avoided”.
It also asked
“how to arrange these meetings so that as little as possible of the more sensitive aspects”—
that will be the pit closure programme—
“is committed to paper.”
In addition, it was decided that instead of plans being written down, Ministers would give “a short oral briefing”. I am sure they did. Possibly the most shocking revelation from the Cabinet papers was that the Conservative Government of the day were willing to go so far as to declare a state of emergency and to deploy the Army against the miners to gain victory during the strike.
It is extraordinary to think that, all these years later, a British Government would seriously consider deploying British armed forces against their own people—ordinary, hard-working, decent, law-abiding, tax-paying, patriotic men who were guilty of nothing more than legally withdrawing their labour to defend their livelihood and to defend an industry that brought such great wealth to the country.
Is not this one of the most desperate motions to come forward from the official Opposition? I am talking about attacking a Prime Minister who is 18 months dead and cannot defend herself. Is it not the case that this motion is not about the events of 30 years ago, but about trying to unite the Labour party around the desperate leadership of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)?
What is desperate is the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Look at the wording of the motion. Around 5.5 million people live in the former coalfields. The anger about what happened in the 1980s still exists today. It just shows how completely out of touch the Government are.
My hon. Friend will also know that, in the 1960s, the Labour Government had a plan which included not only moving people to bigger pits but bringing industry into the coalfields of North Durham. That did not happen. That was vindictive; it closed down communities, and communities such as mine are still suffering today.
As always, my hon. Friend brings to this place insight from his own constituency. Fundamentally, the Cabinet papers also show the true scale of the dishonesty in maintaining that the strike was about an industrial dispute based on economics, and it puts paid to the nonsense assertion at the time that Ministers were somehow neutral bystanders. The fact is that the Government of the day saw the strike in political terms. Far from Ministers being non-interventionist, they were in fact the micro-managers of this dispute.
One paper from a Downing street meeting shows that Mrs Thatcher told Ferdinand Mount, a senior policy adviser, that her Government should
“neglect no opportunity to erode trade union membership.”
In a paper prepared for Mrs Thatcher by the Downing street head of policy, the now right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), it was said that miners had a “revolutionary” strategy, and it urged the Prime Minister to return to her original plan of
“encouraging a war of attrition”
against the miners. That completely reinforces the view at the time that the Government of the day regarded the striking miners as—to use that most infamous of phrases—“the enemy within.”
I hope that the shadow Minister will recognise that one of the fundamentals of trade unionism is that the union is there to represent its members, that it has a ballot and that it acts upon the result of that ballot. One of the fundamental flaws in the NUM strategy was that it did not have a ballot, which divided the work force.
I am not giving way because it will be totally pointless. Many Opposition Members wish to speak. Government Members might be rattling around a little, but there are many on the Opposition Benches who wish to speak, so I will make some progress.
The Cabinet papers demonstrate clearly that Mrs Thatcher’s aim was to defeat the miners and destroy the industry that employed them. Tory Ministers from that time have not learned a thing. The noble Lord Tebbit recently likened the miners strike to the Falklands war. Lord Tebbit actually compared the miners strike to the military invasion of sovereign British territory by a foreign enemy. What a modern-day insight into the mentality of Conservative Ministers in the 1980s.
I am not giving way.
Earlier this year, Labour launched our Justice for the Coalfields campaign. This is about ensuring that we have proper transparency, properly acknowledging what happened in the past and getting to the truth. Without the truth there can be no justice and without justice there can be no reconciliation. The first step is for the House to acknowledge what the 1984 Cabinet papers spell out. Just like Saville and Hillsborough, we must face up to the failures of the past. We must acknowledge the truth and we must learn from what happened. The motion today provides that opportunity and I hope that all hon. Members will take it.
The Opposition have been clear that given that the Cabinet papers show that the public were misled about the plans for pit closures, there should be a formal apology for the Government’s actions during the strike. As for the revelations in the Cabinet papers, which show that the Government did try to influence police tactics, all the details of the interactions and communications between the Government and the police at the time of the strike should now be published.
Thirty years on, we still need a proper investigation into what happened at Orgreave. It was welcome that South Yorkshire police referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but we are still no closer to an investigation. There are serious allegations that police officers assaulted miners at Orgreave, and then committed perjury and misconduct in public office and perverted the course of justice in the subsequent prosecution of 95 miners on riot charges, all of which collapsed in court. What happened at Orgreave was not just a black day for south Yorkshire, it was a black day for this country. It is indefensible and completely shameful that there is still no investigation and the whole truth has yet to come out.
My hon. Friend is right to mention Orgreave, but it was not the only place. In Mansfield, exactly the same thing happened when at the end of a peaceful demonstration police stormed into the crowds that were left, 45 people were locked up and were banned from picketing and that case fell apart. Up and down this country, the police rampaged through villages where people had a history of being peaceful, and men were locked up who should never have been locked up because they were deliberately attacked by police who were not even from that part of the world.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, born, I know, of his close personal experience. That is why we have said that we can see from the Cabinet papers that there clearly was pressure to influence police tactics. We have said, “Why do not the Government just come clean and publish all the communications between Ministers and the police at the time and clear all this up once and for all?”
What happened at Orgreave was a black day. It is indefensible that there is still no investigation, and frankly, the IPCC needs to get its act together. Opposition Members have said that if the Government cannot or will not undertake a proper investigation, they should consider initiating a swift, independent review, along the lines of the Ellison review.
As I have mentioned, the Thatcher Government’s policy chief at the time was the right hon. Member for Wokingham. In his tribute to Lady Thatcher in the House last April, he argued that all the Government had tried to do in the 1980s was modernise the industry. But the industry was not modernised or consolidated; it was completely decimated. What we saw was a systematic attempt to destroy an entire industry and an entire way of life.
What is the legacy of that? Today only three deep-pit coal mines remain open in the UK, out of the 170 in operation in 1984. Coal production is falling. It fell by 25% between 2012 and 2013, to an all-time low of 13 million tonnes. The future of Thoresby and Kellingley coal mines has now been in limbo for many months, which raises further concerns about energy security. We urgently need clarity from the Government on whether they plan to provide state aid.
The hon. Gentleman can jump up and down to his heart’s content, but I have already made it quite clear that I will not give way.
Following the strike, many coalfield communities were knocked to their knees, and they have been struggling to get back up ever since. When the pits closed, a whole way of life disappeared virtually overnight. It is impossible to over-estimate the trauma that caused. The entire economic system that supported those pit villages, and most of the social infrastructure, was gone. After their so-called victory over the miners was secured, the Government simply walked way, with no transition plan in place and nothing for the people in the communities they had destroyed. [Interruption.] Just take the example of Grimethorpe in my constituency—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) is still at it. He can come to Grimethorpe any day of the week if he likes—
Order. I am fed up with hearing the Whip, the Chair of the Education Committee and a Minister heckling constantly in this debate. We are pressed for time so—this goes for both sides—can we please listen to the debate and to the arguments being made, rather than shouting across the Chamber, which is what has been going on so far?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will repeat my invitation to the hon. Gentleman: he is welcome to come with me to Grimethorpe any time he chooses—I can guarantee him an interesting welcome—and share some of his views on the strike and the pit closures programme. It would certainly be an interesting meeting.
I am absolutely not giving way, and that is the last time I will say that to the hon. Gentleman. I can think of nothing that he could bring to these proceedings.
Within a year of its pit closing, Grimethorpe—the setting for the village of Grimley in the classic film “Brassed Off”—was officially listed by the EU as the poorest village in England, and among the most hard up in the whole of Europe. Crime increased from 30% below the national average to 20% above it. The 1981 census recorded 44% of Grimethorpe’s population working as miners. After the pit closed, unemployment was above 50% for almost the entire 1990s.
Of course, all that precipitated rocketing spending on social security benefits in the years after. Despite all the myths, the truth is that welfare dependency was central to Mrs Thatcher’s legacy in Britain. Even today, we are still dealing with first, second and third-generation unemployment. Some miners became self-employed. Others eventually got jobs, although usually far less rewarding, far less secure and far less well paid. Others simply moved away. Many never worked again.
Of course, there have been many improvements in recent years, thanks to regeneration funding from Europe, the efforts of many good local authorities and 13 years of regeneration and investment under the previous Labour Government. Over a 10-year period, from 2000 to 2010, the Government invested £1.5 billion in initiatives to support coalfield communities. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is a great example of the good work that has been done. It has invested over £260 million over the past 15 years in projects that have made a positive difference to the lives of people in coalfield communities. The current Government have rightly continued to support the CRT, which delivers great services that help people gain new skills, achieve qualifications, find work, set up and grow new businesses and become more active in their communities. I pay tribute to people at the CRT, particularly Mr Peter McNestry, its chair, and Mick Clapham, one of my predecessors in this place and a brilliant lifelong champion of people in the coalfields.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point. I hope that people in Scotland are listening to this debate and understand the enormous contribution that the CRT has made across the whole country.
A lot more needs to be done. A recent report by Sheffield Hallam university on the state of the coalfields showed that there are still significant economic and social problems for the majority of coalfield communities. It states that since 2010 many voluntary community organisations in coalfield areas have been driven into crisis. Problems in coalfield communities include fewer jobs, higher unemployment rates, more people with serious health issues, and greater numbers of people in receipt of welfare benefits.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative Members have no idea whatsoever of the devastation they inflicted on these communities? They are doing it again, because they are cutting funds to local government, which means that the services that are very much needed in these communities cannot be provided, and people are not getting work either.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Let me take the example of my own borough. A report published in April 2014 by Barnsley council on jobs and business growth concluded that for all the progress made in recent years, Barnsley will need 45,000 new jobs to reach the average employment density for the country. It is clear that continued support is vital for all the 5.5 million people in Britain who live in former mining areas. By supporting this motion, we can send a clear message to them that we understand this and will give them the support they need.
I am definitely not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. If he wants to speak in the debate, he may be a fairly lonely voice on his Benches, but perhaps he could listen to the numerous Labour Members who will speak, which would certainly do him a power of good.
Those of us who lived through and grew up during the miners strike still feel a strong sense of injustice. That is certainly true for very many of my constituents in Barnsley in south Yorkshire. At the time of the strike, I was a boy living by the Yorkshire Main colliery in Edlington, then a pit village outside Doncaster. Members of my own family helped to sink that pit more than 100 years ago. In 1984, I had family and friends on strike. I remember, as a boy, proudly marching with miners from the Yorkshire Main on the day they went back to work in 1985. Like so many hon. Members far more closely involved than I was, I saw at first hand the impact the strike had, and, in particular, the impact of the pit closure programme. That sense of injustice endures today because of the failure to hold those in power to account, and because of the scars that still remain on the memories and on the landscapes of so many coalfield communities. Of course, we cannot undo the damage that was done, but we can shine a light on what happened, and we can promise to provide the necessary support still needed in coalfield communities up and down the country.
We should not forget what a massive contribution the coalfields made to our country. The communities that sprang up in the large pit villages and towns helped to sustain an industry that powered an industrial revolution which brought tremendous wealth to this country. Even by the mid-1980s, nearly 200,000 people were still employed in mining jobs, making a massive contribution to the country. Nor should we forget that many miners lost their lives, were badly injured while doing their job, or suffered debilitating illnesses later in life. That is why the previous Government secured a compensation settlement for former miners suffering from crippling bronchitis and emphysema—the largest industrial injury payout in legal history.
The sacrifices made by those who worked in the industry came home to me very recently when I visited the national mining memorial at Senghenydd with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David). That was the site of the worst mining disaster in Britain, where, 101 years ago almost to the day, 439 miners—men and boys—together with one rescuer, were killed. This followed the previous worst ever disaster nearly 50 years before in Barnsley, when 361 miners and 27 rescuers died in 1866 in two separate explosions at the Oaks pit near Stairfoot in my constituency. It is right that we properly honour all those who died.
I think today about the immeasurable contribution that so many people made in the coal industry. There once was a time when the Labour Benches would have been full of ex-colliery workers; today there are but a distinguished few, yet they continue to bring great wisdom and an invaluable insight to the House of Commons.
I think today of my own constituents, many of whom worked in the pits, and I think about members of my own family, too. Frank Oleisky was a miner at the Yorkshire Main colliery who died in 1954 aged 47, not much older than I am today. He left a wife and six children. One of his sons went to work at the pit and was on strike in 1984. One of his daughters is my grandmother and she is watching this debate today.
As a country, we cannot do enough to mark the huge contribution and sacrifice made by those who worked in the coal industry for so many decades, but we have a chance today to ensure a brighter future and justice for the coalfields. It will come too late—far too late—for many of the former miners and their families who lived through the strike and the pit closure programme that followed. However, after the truth was so brutally exposed in the recently released official Cabinet Papers from 1984, we owe it to them and to the people who live in the coalfields today to see that justice for the coalfields is finally granted.
It is undoubtedly true that the history of Britain’s coal mining communities is a long and proud one and tied inescapably to the long history of this island. From the early mines to the mass expansion of the industrial revolution to the post-war decline of deep coal mining, the fortunes of the communities and of coal were heavily intertwined. At its height, almost 3,000 collieries produced about 300 million tonnes of coal, and each colliery was surrounded by a close-knit community.
Did the Minister notice that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), spent 24 minutes looking backwards and one minute looking forwards? Does the Minister intend to use his speech to look forward at how we can help improve coalfields and work together in this Chamber to improve the plight of the communities that live there?
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) makes a good point about looking forward, but do not a Tory Minister’s recent comments on the value of disabled people and the Tories’ desire to make this country a tax haven for the rich show that they are still the same vindictive party that closed the pits in the ’80s?
No, they do not. I think the hon. Gentleman is about three hours late for the previous debate. During my time in this role, I have secured the future of the existing pits, two of them in particular. I have personally worked with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, the National Union of Mineworkers and the owners of those pits to make sure they have the financing necessary to stay open.
I will take no lectures from the Labour party, because I am from Nottinghamshire coal mining stock. The hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) spoke of his grandmother. My grandmother is also watching. She is 100 years old and was born in Bestwood in Nottinghamshire. They were a family of miners and all her brothers went down the pit.
Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), I want to concentrate on the future, but the Labour party seems interested only in talking about the past.
Looking to the future, particularly that of the coal-fired Lynemouth power station in my constituency, will the Minister assist my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in his efforts to ensure that we get European state aid approval for the conversion to biomass of the Lynemouth power station?
Ensuring that we have a broad mix of energy supplies is of course a topical issue. We are working on the future of conversion to biomass. That relates to a slightly broader point: Labour Members voted for an acceleration of the closure of our coal-fired power stations, yet another group of them have turned up today to argue that we should do more to support the coal mining industry. Those positions are completely inconsistent.
The Minister is right. On 4 December, Labour Members were whipped to vote for the accelerated closure of the UK coal industry. I have checked the list of those who so voted, and one of them was the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher). We are talking about looking forward, but on Lords amendment 105 the hon. Gentleman voted for the accelerated closure of the coal industry. You couldn’t make it up.
The inconsistency between how the shadow Minister voted and what he has said today is evident for everybody to see. Labour Members voted for the faster-than-planned closure of coal-fired power stations, and having had 13 years in power to do all the things they are asking for, all they can do today is to complain about what happened in the 1980s.
Now that we are down to the last three working pits—Kellingley, Thoresby and Hatfield—will the Minister take this opportunity to make the clear statement of intent that he will do everything possible to prevent the closure of those collieries by December 2015?
I have already worked hard to make sure that we get the funding necessary. I am grateful to the NUM for the work that it has done to support one of the three collieries financially. I have been determined that this is done on a commercial basis to keep the option of further support open. I and officials in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are now working with the company to prepare a case that might go before the European Union on exactly that point.
My right hon. Friend will have noticed that the shadow Minister said that coal mining communities would struggle to accept the fact that Labour Governments between 1964 and 1979 shut 283 mines, with the loss of 223,000 jobs—more than were closed under the Conservatives. The fact that those communities would struggle to accept that is because of misinformation and the use of this subject for political benefit, rather than to share the truth. The shadow Minister should go out and tell people in coal mining communities the facts about Labour’s record then and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) has just said, now.
Quite so. My hon. Friend anticipates the next facts in my speech. In 1947, 958 collieries were in production, and 20 years later that number had fallen to 483. The shadow Minister said that on Labour’s watch there was a consolidation, whereas in the 1980s there were closures. However, between 1964 and 1970, under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, 252 pits closed and more than 200,000 jobs in coal production were lost.
I want to take the Minister back to looking forward. Such was the impact of the pit closures that the communities I represent in south Wales are now the poorest parts of northern Europe and qualify for the highest levels of regional aid. Will he inform the House and those communities why his Government’s policy is to repatriate regional policy, depriving south Wales of billions of pounds of investment?
Having strong local policy is of course very important to ensuring not only that we support mining activity where we can within the EU state aid rules, but crucially that we support the communities around pits. That is our policy. I will get on to the future, but I keep being asked about the past.
The right hon. Gentleman now has to face the prospect of deciding what he does about the three deep mines in Britain—Hatfield, Kellingley and Thoresby. I have asked him several times during his short tenure in his current position to realise that it will cost money, but that if we had £70 million of state aid, we could save those three pits right until they exhaust their reserves. Set against the fact that in February the Tory Government took £700 million out of the mineworkers’ pension scheme, we only want £70 million of it to save these three pits. Instead of rabbiting on about who closed what, save these three.
The irony is that I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to do what we can to do just that. He will know that the first thing that I did on taking this post was to ensure that Government funding was available on a commercial basis to tackle short-term cash shortages. We are now working on a proposition to go through the EU processes, which must, under the rules, come from the company. Whatever heat and light there is around this issue, I am working on those schemes. However, it must be done within the constraints of the EU state aid rules. I would be happy to work with the hon. Gentleman to do what we can to secure the future of the pits.
As a Member of this House who represents a coal mining community, the major conurbation of which is called Coalville, and whose grandfather was a coal miner, I am not surprised that the shadow Minister did not want to take my intervention. I witnessed the intimidation of miners who wanted to work in south Derbyshire, north-west Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire during the miners’ strike. I do not share the despondency of the shadow Minister. The latest figures show that my constituency of North West Leicestershire has the highest economic growth in the country at nearly 5% and that our unemployment rate is less than 2%.
I shall come on to how best to support communities that used to have a large coal mining presence. In Yorkshire, unemployment has fallen by 30% over the past four years, going by the claimant count. That demonstrates that having a long-term economic plan is the best way to help communities get through these difficult times.
The transition of an economy that was dominated by outdated heavy industry into a modern service-based economy was necessary, and it has formed the basis of the nation’s current prosperity. That is not much disputed these days.
The Minister is making an excellent speech. The shadow Minister said that the Government considered using the Army in the dispute. May I reassure my right hon. Friend that when I advised the then Prime Minister that the Army should on no account be involved in the dispute, she said, “Of course it won’t be” ? And it was not.
The fact is that the Army was not used in the dispute. None the less, the dispute was a serious consideration in respect of energy security in this country, so it is no wonder that the questions about how to deal with it were broad, especially given the political nature of those attacking the Government. That is entirely understandable. Nevertheless, the dispute was dealt with in a way that did not involve putting the Army on the streets.
We heard a very partial version of events in the 1980s from the shadow Minister. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest betrayal of mine workers in this country was by Arthur Scargill, who led his people into an illegal strike without a ballot, against the NUM’s own rules?
Of course I agree with that. It would benefit the House if Members understood that the process of becoming a modern economy, which was a difficult process, could have been achieved far better through partnership than through adversarial means. Indeed, that spirit of partnership is what we have now and it is starting to work.
It is a great pity that the motion focuses so heavily on reliving the battles of the past. It is a demonstration of the Labour party at its worst—totally uninterested in the future. I want to talk about the future.
I will give way in a second and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say whether he supports what I am about to say.
Orgreave, which was the site of one of the biggest confrontations between miners and the police, is now home to Sheffield university’s advanced manufacturing research centre. I have been there. That partnership between businesses, universities and, no doubt, trade unions shows the sort of approach that this country could easily have taken to the difficult transition 30-odd years ago, but that was turned down through the political antics of Arthur Scargill and his friends.
We are doing everything we can to turn the economy around. The shadow Chancellor himself admitted that, after an economic calamity of the scale we saw, it is inevitable that people will be affected. Of course they will be. Of course, when national income falls—as happened in the great recession—that impacts on people; national income is only the sum of the incomes of people in that nation. Until the Labour party understands that our economic fortunes as a nation are tied to our economic policy, and that the calamity of Labour’s economic policy led to a calamity for family incomes, it will never be trusted with the economy again.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene, and I apologise for taking him back a little. He referred to mining in Britain, but in Northern Ireland, in Coalisland in County Tyrone—the county in which I grew up—there was a mine, and a number of miners were killed and their bodies were never recovered. Although there are national memorials elsewhere in the United Kingdom, I would welcome the Minister’s commitment to look at some sort of memorial to record the fact that we did have mining in Northern Ireland at that time.
I will absolutely look at that, and it is an opportunity to pay tribute to those miners who were lost and to their families. Throughout the history of mining it was always a dangerous occupation, and miners were lost in almost every community. We should pay tribute to those who died in that way.
The Minister is generous in giving way. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) said he was convinced that the Army was not involved, but some of us who were directly involved would dispute that on a personal level. The only way to get to the bottom of the issue, and other points that have been raised, is for the Minister to do the right thing and release all the papers. Do not hide any more papers, as the Shrewsbury 24 papers have been hidden; their campaign is now 42 years old. Release all the papers, and a lot of the arguments we have might disappear.
The papers are being released as part of the 30-year rule, so that is happening under the normal process. Indeed, we would not be having this debate about the past had the Labour party not wanted to spend more time looking through papers from the mid-1980s than concentrating on how to fix the mess it created in this country.
The Minister lauded the advanced manufacturing centre in Sheffield, which was set up by a Labour Government, and asked why it was not created in the 1980s. I established the advanced manufacturing centres at Barnsley college and Gwent college using union money in 1986. Why did the Tory Government refuse us money for that initiative 20 years earlier?
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but let me bring him bang up to date. Durham coalfield was one of the biggest coalfields, but when this Government switched money from public services to capital, the north-east got 0.3% of the money. Will the Minister admit that that is utterly disgraceful?
Unemployment in the hon. Lady’s constituency has fallen by 30% since the election. Next time she gets up she should mention that, rather than shouting across the Dispatch Box. In south Staffordshire, unemployment has fallen by 58% since 2010. It has fallen by 51% in south Derbyshire, and as I said earlier, by 30% in Yorkshire. That goes to show the central truth that the best way to help coalfield communities now is to have a strong and healthy economy, and we cannot do that unless we have an economic plan.
I absolutely will. The long-term economic plan is clearly working for Coalville, as it is for south Staffordshire, Durham, Yorkshire and all over the country. [Interruption.] The more muttering I get from Opposition Members, the more I think we should repeat the fact that unemployment is falling in every region of the country.
The fate of young people is particularly important. Will the Minister share his dismay that so many young people were unemployed throughout even the good years of the previous Labour Government? The welcome news recently has been record falls in youth unemployment. The dignity of work, the pleasure and the future it brings are what we should be celebrating today. We should not be listening to the party political point scoring of the Labour party.
I could not have put it better myself. As a Minister in this Government I am incredibly proud of the fact that youth unemployment is falling sharply. It is happening throughout the country, whether in the coalfields or in areas where there was no coal mining, and that is because we have a long-term economic plan. The biggest risk to those young people who have jobs now, but did not have them four years ago, would be a Labour Government.
My figures are on page 23 of the Minister’s file, if he would like to look. He quotes figures, but does he realise that the jobs being created in coalfield communities—in County Durham, for example—are low paid, part time and insecure? The scandalous thing that I came across in my constituency last week is that some young people are not in any figures at all. They have opted out of the system. They are working in the black economy, which is clearly having an effect on the EU rebate. That is what is happening on the ground. The Minister can quote as many figures as he likes, but—
The hon. Gentleman may like to deny the figures, but I do not think of them only as figures; they are the livelihoods of individual young people, which are being given to them by this Conservative-led Government.
I want to talk about some of the specific actions that we have taken under the Government. I join the shadow Minister in paying tribute to the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. Established in 1999 to support and improve communities at the grass roots, the trust has created and safeguarded more than 4,000 jobs and helped 125,000 to gain new skills. The trust’s funding has helped to put it on a long-term footing.
Against that background, the plan to give back power to local communities, using local plans and local enterprise partnerships, will allow us to focus support through growth deals and city deals to ensure that support from Government is tailored to individual, local need. Domestic coal production still contributes to our national coal consumption—about a quarter of our total needs—and continues to be an important employer, especially in areas of low employment, with 4,000 people being employed in the industry. We must support them, as I mentioned in my exchange with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner).
What does the Minister value more? He talks about new opportunities in this day and age. Does he value an apprenticeship with the old National Coal Board, with apprentices being well trained for four years and coming out as top engineers, or does he prefer and value more the apprenticeships that have been encouraged under this Government, such as the sandwich architect apprenticeship in Subway?
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken if he is talking down apprenticeships. As the former apprenticeships Minister, I will have no truck with people talking down apprentices or attacking them. The previous Government said, “You’re not of value unless you went to university”, but our Government say, “We support people who go to university and we support people who go through apprenticeships.” We will not have some arbitrary target. We say, “We want to support you in the choices that you make.” We will not accept any lectures from the Labour party on the massive expansion of apprenticeships under this Government in the coalfields and beyond.
I want to place it on the record that we will support the collieries, especially those of Kellingley and Thoresby, and work with them to ensure that we help them as much as we can within the EU state aid rules. It is important to ensure that we support the coal mining that continues, but also that we put in place the broader partnership for a stronger economy that will help people across the coalfields and the whole country. Let us not return to the failed politics of the past, represented by the Opposition today, but continue to strengthen that economy for the nation’s future.
I welcome the debate, which is 30 years after the miners’ strike. Much has been written and said of that period, but so much of what really happened to miners, their families and communities—there was evidence earlier today—has not been told. Today, I want to put on record the miners’ strike through the eyes of a Nottinghamshire miner, which I was proud to be.
In 1984, I was a miners’ leader at one of the most profitable pits in the country. I was the National Union of Mineworkers secretary at Ollerton colliery. We hear so much about the Government, but there is now a Tesco where that top 10 pit once was. We were five years into Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Tory Prime Minister. She was well into her Government’s de-industrialisation of the British economy and it was the miners’ turn. From her point of view, it was unfinished business from the 1972 and 1974 miners’ strikes.
Margaret Thatcher commissioned Nicholas Ridley, her head guru, to devise a plan to run down the mining industry and destroy the National Union of Mineworkers. The 1979 Ridley plan was born. Its basis was to build massive coal stocks, double the number of nuclear power stations, change trade union laws to weaken trade unions’ right to strike and defend their members, and to use the powers of the state to attack working people.
No, I am not giving way.
The Prime Minister had tried that in 1981 but had to back off when her coal stocks were too low. The hapless Energy Secretary, now Lord Howell, was the fall guy for her failure, and she later sacked him, but her 1981 unpreparedness was not to be repeated in 1984, when she decided she was better ready to crush the miners and their union.
At the beginning of the miners’ strike, there were 250 pits and 250,000 miners. Thatcher had previously appointed Sir Ian MacGregor, the former American banker, as chairman of British Steel to run down the steel industry. His reward for his success in that was to be given the reins to do the same in the coal industry. He was made chairman of the National Coal Board.
The miners had been on an overtime ban for six months to oppose the declared NCB pit closures. The NUM did not want to go on strike and would have continued with the overtime ban indefinitely—the overtime ban was running the coal stocks down by the hour. Mrs Thatcher was facing another 1981 defeat and decided to provoke the NUM into taking strike action. On 5 March, the Tory Government announced an accelerated closure of five pits: Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire, Bullcliffe Wood colliery in Derby, Herrington colliery in Durham, Snowdown colliery in Kent, and Polmaise in Scotland. The NUM in those areas immediately went on strike, and Ollerton, where I was the lead official, was picketed by Yorkshire miners the very next day, fighting to defend their jobs.
For the next week, thousands of police were imported into Nottinghamshire to stop picketing. Hundreds of miners were arrested and imprisoned in Mansfield police station and other places before draconian bail conditions were imposed on picketing miners.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We heard earlier about how miners were pushed into dependency on benefits, but the other tragic legacy of the miners’ strike was the number of miners who were criminalised by what happened. Will my hon. Friend say something about the impact on proud people when they were told that they were criminals because of what happened in that miners’ strike?
I was born a miner. Mining communities were the most law-abiding communities one could wish for. During the miners strike, people were put in prison who had never seen a prison even from afar.
Much has been written about violence on picket lines. The 30-year rule on publishing Cabinet papers needs to be examined, and the conduct of the Home Secretary in directing the police and courts must be disclosed. By the way, the current exposé of Sir Leon Brittan, the then Home Secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children, will not come as a surprise to the striking miners of 1984, as many of them—
I will repeat part of the point that I am making. The rumours that Sir Leon Brittan was involved in misconduct with children do not come as news to miners who were on strike in 1984, because when miners were going into the dock in magistrates courts we were aware and miners were declaring—
No, I will not give way. I will give way when I have finished my point.
Miners were saying in the dock in all the magistrates courts throughout the strike that they objected to the instructions coming from the Home Secretary when there were reports of child abuse linked with that same Home Secretary.
Does my hon. Friend agree that at the end of this debate, those on the Opposition Front Bench should dissociate themselves from the disgusting remarks of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Mr Hood) and from the mistaken comparison of these issues to the behaviour of Jimmy Savile, which was astonishingly made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher)? If they do not, people will understand that the Labour party has got its priorities completely wrong.
I am grateful for that intervention.
I am the only Member of Parliament in the Chamber today with a working colliery. Although I would like to say that it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, the truth is that I am quite sad to be doing so, as it is a massive missed opportunity to look at the future of our coalfields and former coalfields and how we could work together across the House to try to raise standards within those communities and support them.
We can spend lots of time looking backwards at what happened, and it gives me no pleasure to look back at some of the communities that the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Mr Hood) mentioned, which happen to be in my constituency. We can talk about how the NUM flooded Nottinghamshire with flying pickets to try to prevent my miners from working in those coalfields, and we can talk about how, if Scargill had had a ballot, the Nottinghamshire miners would have had a vote in that ballot and it would have given a lot more power to some of the arguments that we are hearing.
I am very much aware. I was there and I lived in those communities at that moment. I saw what was happening on the picket lines. There were friends of mine whose fathers were on the picket lines and whose brothers were on different sides of the argument, one in the National Union of Mineworkers and one in the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Those scars are still there in my community and they are not helped by holding party political debates such as this one, instead of working together to try to improve those communities. I am saddened that this is more about trying to draw a groundswell of support for the Labour party at the ballot box than it is about genuinely solving the challenges we face, certainly in some of my communities in Nottinghamshire.
I say “some”, because in towns such as Hucknall and Calverton, in the former coalfields in the bottom half of Sherwood, where there is access to employment and good transport links, the communities are bouncing forward. There is very low unemployment in some of those villages, but further north, in places such as Ollerton and Clipstone, where the communication and transport networks are not as good and where there is not the same access to work, the communities face challenges in trying to aspire their way out of it. I now have families in my constituency who are third- generation welfare-dependent. The aspiration has gone from some of those kids.
We have to ask ourselves: what did the Blair Government do when they created the Coalfields Regeneration Trust? They spent far too much money on grassing down pit tips, planting trees and building women’s institute huts and scout huts, when they should have been putting in place infrastructure and transport networks and creating jobs. If someone does not have a job and their lad comes to them and says, “Dad, I want to go to scouts,” they cannot give him a tenner to go to scouts, because they cannot afford the money, even though there is a brand-new scout hut in their community. However, if they have a job and their lad comes to them and says, “Dad, my scout hut’s knackered. We’re trying to raise money for a new scout hut,” they will have a tenner to give towards that fund-raising event. That is where we went wrong in the period following the closure of those pits. We should have been putting money into infrastructure projects, apprenticeships and transport networks, to give people in those communities the opportunity to get out and get a job.
I was fortunate to have the Minister in his previous role come to Sherwood to talk about apprenticeships and to look at some of the great work being done in and around my community and at how we are moving forward. The good news is that I held a jobs fair in Sherwood about six weeks ago. There were more jobs advertised in that room than there are unemployed people in my constituency. The bad news is that there is a skills gap. Some of those communities still lack the skills to take on those roles. The Government are working flat out to try to fill the skills gap by creating apprenticeships and jobs that the kids coming out of those schools can go into. That is the way to solve the coalfield communities’ deprivation: to give them the ability to aspire out of it, the ability to work their way, and the confidence that the Government of the day are looking after their ability to move from wherever they are to any point in the social scale.
That is our mission; that is what we are trying to achieve. So what a tragedy it is that this debate is such a missed opportunity. We are going to spend three hours looking backwards, talking about flying pickets, Scargill and the good old pit days, when we should be talking about how we move forward—how we give jobs and aspiration to the next generation and how we work, whatever colour of Government, to try to solve the undoubted challenges faced in those former coalfields.
I congratulate the Minister on working with me to assist at Thoresby colliery in any way we can, working with UK Coal and the unions to try to extend the life of the colliery, which will run out of coal in 2018 anyway. I would like to get to the point where all the coal is extracted, but I am grateful for the support and the work done together. We need at some point to start thinking about the post-Thoresby period, because it will run out of coal in 2018. We should be planning for that event now, working together to make sure that the next generation—because we have missed one—has that ability to aspire.
As a miner during the miners’ strike, I should perhaps declare an interest. Like my family, friends and colleagues in the coalfield communities and towns, I have a vested interest because we want to see justice and fairness after what happened all those years ago.
As a young man at the time, I was fairly naive and I honestly believed that the Government of the day, regardless of political persuasions, would tell the truth from the Dispatch Box. What was revealed when the Cabinet papers were released earlier this year was quite the opposite. It is not that miners did not believe or understand at the time that they were being conned by MacGregor and by Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the day. We knew that was the case. We knew, but it was good to have it confirmed in 2014. The Cabinet papers revealed something quite sinister—a Government controlling the police, insisting that the police move in against miners, insisting that the Army should be involved against miners, the likes of myself and other honourable colleagues here who worked in the coal industry. My father, my brothers, my friends, were all miners attacked by the police, yet the Government know that we were right. At the same time, Thatcher was prepared to bring the Army in against ordinary, hard-working people. What an absolute disgrace.
It was not really about economics. It was about an ideology and about destroying the coal mining industry and driving trade unionism off the face of Britain. That is what the dispute was all about. It was not an industrial dispute; it was a political dispute. As such, the miners who were arrested, incarcerated, fined or whatever should be given a complete amnesty. The whole fabric of the mining community was attacked; the heart of these communities was ripped out.
In the little time left, I want to focus on one point. Thatcher lied from that Dispatch Box. Cabinet Ministers lied from that Dispatch Box. Senior Ministers lied from that Dispatch Box. Never mind harking back and saying that somebody has died; we have a right to seek justice after a Government acted covertly, behind our backs, and deliberately misled parliamentarians and the communities they represented. We are entitled to ask for an apology.
We saw what happened in Orgreave, with the police deliberately attacking miners, but there were little Orgreaves all over the country. It was not happening only in south Yorkshire. We saw it in Ashington, where I lived; we saw it in Blythe; we saw it in Easington; we saw it all over the place where the police attacked ordinary hard-working people. Has anybody ever had someone spit in their face? I cannot say how bad it is. A policeman spat in my face, and I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I am never getting over that. I never will. I could take the punches and I could take the truncheons—things that were widespread during the miners’ strike. Let us have a quick look at what happened. I am not after any apologies.
I fully agree with that, but, speaking for myself, I will not accept any apologies. I prefer to see those on the Tory Benches, the Government of the day, as the enemy within: it was not the miners but the Tories who were the real enemy within. We have three pits left. Let us get off our backsides and ensure, as soon as we possibly can, that they continue to operate, funded by state aid. Let us keep those pits working.
We need a full inquiry into the way in which the Government meddled. Their fingerprints were all over the operations of the police and the strategy of the National Coal Board during the miners’ strike. Let me say this as well. If the police had been taken to task during that dispute, we might, just might, not have seen what happened at Hillsborough, because the same police force had been at Orgeave, under the same control.
We do not want any apologies. What we want is a full inquiry, so that those miners, who are now fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, can sleep easy at night without being convicted. They should have been given medals for what they did in standing up for mining communities, instead of being criminalised.
I apologise to the House for the fact that at no point in my speech will I return to the events of the 1980s, which took place nearly 40 years ago in the historical past. Instead, I will talk about the future of the mining industry in this country and in the world. I will say this, however. Forty years ago, I went down a mine in Nottinghamshire. At the time, I was considering a career in mining engineering. It was a half day that I always remember. I would not have liked to make my life working down a mine, and I very much respect those who did. I entirely recognise—as, I am sure, do all Government Members—the contribution that the mining industry has made to the wealth of this country over the past 100 years and more, and I am very pleased about the money that has gone to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
It has been implied today that the mining industry is dying globally—that it is on its last legs. Nothing could be further from the truth. The coalmining industry across the world grew by 3% last year in terms of tonnage. Only in the United Kingdom, which now accounts for 0.9% of the global coal industry, have we seen a contraction, and we have seen that contraction partly because of the policies of the coalition. In an intervention on the Minister’s opening speech, I mentioned the vote that took place on 4 December when many, although not all, Labour Members—I have checked the names—voted in favour of extending the emissions performance directive to existing coal-fired power stations, which would have accelerated the closure of those stations. Such a unilateral move would have nothing to do with carbon reduction, and would have a massive impact on our existing coal-fired stations.
I shall say more about that later. First, let me return to the subject of the world industry, which, as I said earlier, has grown by 3%. China produces 50% of the world’s coal. Last year it increased its coal production by eight times more, in absolute terms, than it increased the production of renewables, and its level of carbon emissions per head was the same as that of the United Kingdom. Moreover, every country in the European Union increased its coal production last year except for the UK: not just Poland—although we rely on it heavily—but Austria and Germany, which has built 12 GW of unabated coal over the past few years. Austria is a good example of a carbon junkie country. It is suing us because we are going ahead with Hinkley Point C.
I was not going to intervene, but, as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the steel and metal related industry, I shall do so. The hon. Gentleman knows that this Government unilaterally introduced the carbon price floor, which constitutes a higher tax than has been imposed by any of our competitors in the European Union. That is one of the main reasons for the contraction of the industry, and also a big reason for the fact that energy-intensive industries in general have contracted in the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and he knows that I more than partially agree with him about the carbon price floor and the impact on energy-intensive industries, but is it right to pretend that the vote that took place on 4 December did not matter? The hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) did vote with Baroness Worthington and all of those people for the accelerated closure. That is what happened and I think it was a key moment in the history of the Labour movement that that vote took place with apparently so little concern.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) mentioned the carbon price floor and that is part of it, as is the subsidy regime that we have put in place. The closure of coal stations is being driven by the large combustible directive and we are pursuing that, but it is worth saying that we are increasingly acting unilaterally in this regard. We should remember that we are the only country in the EU that is cutting the amount of coal we use. That is an extraordinary statistic and people should reflect on that, particularly those on the Labour Front Bench.
On 4 December there was a Labour three-line Whip for a vote on Lords amendment 105. That amendment said that the emissions performance standard—which means that new coal must, effectively, have carbon capture and storage—was to be applied to existing coal stations. That is what Opposition Members were whipped through the Lobby to support, and I think it is incredible. Apart from the effect on fuel poverty, we have seen the effect on Tata Steel and we are seeing the effect on the coal industry. The coal industry around the world is prospering. I shall say it again: no form of energy increased in absolute terms as much as the coal industry did.
I just wonder if my hon. Friend recognises the challenge. At Thoresby colliery it is 8 km from the pithead to the pit face, and it is 1 km down. How does it compete in a global market to get that coal from the face to the surface, when in China and the States they can just bulldoze it out of the ground in open-cast sites?
I am not an expert on the economics of the coal industry, but I would just say it is pretty heavy stuff and having to transport it an awfully long way has got an economic impact. I am not suggesting that the entire coal station fleet in the UK has to be sourced by UK Coal; it will come from abroad as well. I do say, however, that by turning our back on coal more quickly than any other country in Europe or the world, we are saying something about our intentions. We are taking important decisions for the future.
I know that many hon. Members, particularly those who represent constituencies in the coalfields, agree at least in part with a lot of what I am saying. I really believe that there is more than one Labour party in this regard. There is the Primrose Hill branch which has forced this stuff through—the three-line Whip, the vote on Lords amendment 105. I believe, however, that many Opposition Members—particularly those sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, whom I respect greatly—do not really agree with some of that stuff, and some of them at least did not vote for it, whether by accident or design. Nevertheless—[Interruption.] Yes, indeed: clearly by design. Nevertheless, that is what happened and what we are talking about here is an issue in the Labour party. It needs to decide whether or not it wishes to support our coalfields in the same way that other parties across Europe support their own coalfields, or does it wish to just give in to the Primrose Hill section of the party?
I am very pleased to speak in this historic debate on justice for the coalfields campaign. It is clear from the Minister’s remarks that he simply does not understand that the scars from 1984-85 are still there and will not heal until all this is properly exposed. It is hard to fully measure the impact of Government actions on communities like mine in the 1980s and the years following. Those of us who lived through them were under no illusion at the time about the way in which the Government misled the public, vilified our people and attempted to politicise the police. It is good that a light is now being shone on this.
I am not attacking the police. I have been married to the constabulary for 30 years, but that does not mean that I am under any illusions about what the Thatcher Government did to try to politicise the police in this country in 1984.
My mother ran a miners support group in 1984. It was the forerunner of today’s Tory food banks. We supported 24 families throughout the strike. The miners we supported were good, honest, decent people who did not deserve what happened to them and their communities. They certainly did not deserve to be labelled the “enemy within” by the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the day. They were standing up for their communities, for their industry and for the dignity of the work that the Tory Government were taking away from them.
I support the call for an apology from Conservative Ministers for the secret pit closure plan and for even considering the deployment of the Army against the people of this country. I cannot actually believe that I am saying that the Government were considering deploying the Army against people who were doing nothing more than standing up for their communities.
I was elected to the House in 2010, and I have sat through a number of debates in the House in which I could not believe what I was hearing. I could not believe the way in which the Government behaved in relation to the Hillsborough tragedy, for example. I also could not believe what I was hearing as I sat through the Prime Minister’s statement on the death of Pat Finucane, a shameful episode that amounted to nothing less than state-sponsored murder. Now we are considering the Government’s behaviour in the period leading up to, and during, the miners’ strike.
We need to know exactly what went on between the Prime Minister’s office, MacGregor and the police in relation not only to Orgreave but to the hundreds of other state-sponsored illegal actions by the Government. I remember when my parents and my aunt and uncle set off from the north-east to travel to a brother’s funeral in Scunthorpe. They were turned back on the A1 by the police for no reason other than that my father was a trade unionist. They were dressed for a funeral, not for the picket line. As far as I am aware, my parents have never committed a crime. They have never been arrested and they do not have a criminal record, yet their movements were restricted because my father was a trade unionist. He was not even in the NUM.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling case and I am very pleased that she has paid tribute to the role of women in the miners’ strike and talked about the solidarity and the shining example that they set. Does she agree that it is still the women in coalfields such as ours who feel most angry that this Government are refusing not only to apologise but to put in the public domain all the information pertaining to that time that would allow us to get justice for the coalfield communities?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It was the women—the wives and daughters of the miners, as well as women in trade unionist families—who were quite simply doing the right thing in their communities. And yes, those women are extremely angry that these issues have not been opened up to proper public scrutiny.
I support the call for Ministers to set out all the details of the interactions between the Government and the police at the time of the strike, and to release all the information about Government-police communications relating to Orgreave and all the other incidents that we have heard about today. I also support the call for Ministers swiftly to initiate an independent review of what happened at Orgreave and elsewhere if the Independent Police Complaints Commission cannot or will not undertake a proper investigation of these matters.
The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) referred to miners as an honest, decent, hard-working group of people, and on that point she was absolutely right. Like most other Members who have spoken in the debate, I have a direct connection with this subject. I was the first person for generations on my mother’s side of the family who was not raised in a pit village. Except for one or two men who joined the Army, I was probably the first male in the family who was not a miner. Virtually all of them were.
I am happy to speak here for those miners who wanted to work during the strike, as many of my relatives did. Disgracefully, a lot of myths have been perpetuated today. It is interesting that not one Labour Member has mentioned Arthur Scargill. The tragedy for the miners was that they were disgracefully badly led by one man who felt that he had the right to run the country. He tried to bring down the Government in 1974 and tried again for a strike in the 1980s. He balloted his members three times and lost, then brought them out on strike anyway. He was absolutely hated by many miners, as well as by many in the Labour movement. It is an open secret that the leader of the Labour party at the time, Neil Kinnock, hated Arthur Scargill. Many people in the Labour movement hated him, and the reality is that he hated them. Labour Members are all trying to line themselves up as friends of the miners now, but the reality is that Arthur Scargill would have despised the new Labour party that sits in the Chamber today as much as he hated the Tories.
My hon. Friend rightly gives the other perspective to this sad story of our country’s history: that of the areas where the miners wanted to work and the intimidation they faced, which split our communities in half. The Labour party has always supported the right to work, but what about the right to work at that time of miners who wanted to go down the pit and did not want to join the strike? How about respecting that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, because one third of the miners continued to work throughout that strike and many more would have done so had they been able to. Of course it was not just the mining union and the miners themselves who were split on this; the whole trade union movement was split on it. The steelworkers did not particularly want the strike to go ahead and the shipworkers’ unions were not in favour of it; they were all happy to turn a blind eye to coal that was still being pulled out of the ground, and they knew that they had to, because if the steel furnaces had been allowed to run down, it would not just have been miners who lost their jobs but thousands of steelworkers. But none of that was important to Arthur Scargill; he was more than happy to risk the jobs of thousands of other working people, as well as those of the miners, to try to impose his will on a democratically elected Government who had just won a very large majority.
The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), along with many others, criticised the police and asked whether we had ever had someone spit in our face. I have had someone spit in my face, and I have also been in violent situations as a serving police officer. I know that emotions can run high and that there can be inappropriate behaviour when people are suffering extreme provocation. All those thousands of people who turned up at the Orgreave cokeworks—and had been badly led—had been taken there to stop people working, in order to prevent coke from being delivered to the steelworks. Had they succeeded, they would have destroyed thousands of jobs.
I advise the hon. Gentleman not to cite something that I did not say. In certain circumstances, a police officer spat in my face when I was on the ground being restrained. The hon. Gentleman suggests that someone has spat in his face, but has a police officer ever spat in his face?
Obviously, a police officer has never spat in my face. I am saying to the hon. Gentleman that there are occasions when police officers may behave badly, having suffered extreme provocation. There is one thing that it is very important to say: police officers do not go looking for trouble, looking for fights and looking to inflict violence; they want to go home every night. Frankly, they want a quiet life and they do not go around looking for trouble.
Thanks again. I have to say, however, that a brother of mine is a police inspector, and there is a huge difference between the police force today and the one we experienced during the miners’ strike and then during the Hillsborough fiasco. By goodness, it is a good job, too.
There are differences in respect of the police, the NUM, the Labour party and the Conservative party, but one thing is for certain: that was a political strike and it was not brought about by the then Government. They did not want a strike like that. The NUM, led by Arthur Scargill, had decided that it wanted to bring down the Government—that is an absolute fact—and he failed three times to persuade the miners to go with him so he took them out anyway, against their wishes.
I have two and a half minutes left, so let us talk about today, because we now have a different situation and a very different NUM. Its representatives came to give evidence to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and they were not singing the praises of Arthur Scargill. I believe the union has some sort of legal dispute with him at the moment. He hastened the end of an industry by making it clear to the Government that they would not be able to rely on coal to generate electricity, so it is not in the least bit surprising that they went ahead with the dash for gas and for nuclear—that was the only way they could be certain of keeping the lights on. It is a great shame that he hastened the end of the industry. Of course, some pits would have shut down, because some of them simply did not have any coal left, but a good leader of the miners at that time would have got public support by demanding better redundancy measures and better measures to help the coalfield communities get through what was going to be a very difficult time. Instead, he led them all out on a strike they did not want and did not support, and lost all public opinion. The resulting catastrophe for many miners is something we can lay entirely at his door and, interestingly, not one person here is wiling to defend him.
I should like to point out that Arthur Scargill never closed a single pit. This debate is about whether there should be an inquiry. The fact of the matter is that 11,800 people were arrested, 5,000 of whom were taken to court. Hundreds of them went to jail, some quite wrongly, including some of my constituents in Mansfield. The call is simple: we need a full inquiry.
I was generous in giving way, and it is a pity that it was abused. The reality is that I am more on the hon. Gentleman’s side than he realises. I do not buy into this nonsense about global warming. I do not believe that carbon is creating a runaway problem we cannot cope with, and I wish that I had more time to go into why not. There is a place for coal in generating electricity. There is an NUM now that is much more moderate than it used to be. I fully support anyone who comes forward with a package that will allow us to use coal—British coal—to generate electricity. I urge Members from all parts of the House to think very carefully about any measures now—
I do not think that I am from the Primrose Hill set. I still have a Parkray that burns coal, but, if it is any consolation, I have a hybrid car to cover my tracks. That sets the scene. This is about closure—that is what we want. We want closure. Indeed, the Tories all say they want closure; everybody does. That is what we are after; all we want is closure of this period of our lives. We all know the facts: 1972 and 1974 were victories for the NUM, and no one has yet mentioned that. They were significant because they happened under Ted Heath, and Thatcher was his successor.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Mr Hood) talks about being lured on to the punch at Cortonwood and the other four receiving pits, it was deliberate. By the way, the miners’ union is a federation. Nearly every member of the federation had had a ballot. There had been a ballot in Scotland with a 78% majority. The figure was similar in Durham, Yorkshire and south Wales. When we add it all up and include Nottinghamshire, it was a big majority, but nobody talks about that. So we need closure on this problem. Let us remember that it was a very honourable dispute; it was not about money, mammon and greed. It is true that in 1972 and 1974, I would have joined any demonstration or any strike whether or not it was about money. I did join strikes in those years, and they were relatively short. As we all know, one of them resulted in a victory for Labour against Ted Heath. Therefore, the Tory party—I do not see why it is hiding its light under a bushel—was determined to get revenge. I could see it in their eyes in here.
I have lived long enough—I did not know whether I would—to see that what my hon. Friends and I said during that strike was right. I said 75 pits would be closed. The Tories were trying to say that only 20 would be. When they closed Cortonwood, it was in the top 75, not the top 20. So it was evident that we were right. In many industrial disputes, a striker does not manage to live long enough to realise they were right. I think I am nearly right now about the EU, but I will not go into that because it is another matter.
What I am saying is that we are after closure on what was an important industrial dispute. It was an honourable strike, and I do not see it in the way that the Tories portray it. It is true that policemen stopped me from walking in my constituency at Shirebrook where the police were gathered in strength. I had to walk on a constituent’s wall to get around. Yes, I went through all that, and I have been in jail and all the rest of it—not on that strike, but another one.
Anyway, many months ago, I asked the Speaker for closure. I thought he was so clever—he has a bigger vocabulary than any of us—he would be able to find a way to get the Government to admit that we needed closure. Why? Because it was not one Minister lying for 10 minutes or 10 seconds in the House. This was about a long lie that lasted for 12 months. So how many Ministers did lie?
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman another minute. He referred to the miners’ strikes of the 1970s and the determination of the NUM then to bring down Ted Heath’s Government. Does he agree that Arthur Scargill’s objective in the 1980s was to break the Thatcher Government, something the Labour movement could not manage at the ballot box?
The truth is that, if the deputies, who had a 70% ballot, including in Nottinghamshire, had used that ballot, we would have won. If there had been a second front of the dockers that lasted not for a week but for a month, we would have won. If Mrs Thatcher had not got the oil from Gaddafi—yes, Gaddafi. She begged Gaddafi to sell her more oil. Just think about it. That combination in the tent. God almighty. If that had not happened, we would have won. So we had many opportunities. Do not think it was a runaway victory. We fought as well as we could, but we were battling against not only the police. All the higher echelons of state were ranged against us. It has never happened before, apart from during the 1926 strike. That was an honourable year. Men at 60 were prepared to sacrifice the roof over their own head for a 16-year-old lad in a coalfield they did not even know existed. That was honour, and I am proud to have fought every single day. I would love to do it again.
I am not sure whether I can match the passion of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but I will pay tribute to him as a man of principle who sticks to those principles, unlike those on his Front Bench. I am extremely disappointed tonight in the tone of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. As someone who represents a constituency that used to depend very much on coal mining, there is much in the motion that I can agree with about the legacy of the coal industry. But what has disappointed me most today, and will have disappointed many of my constituents, is that the debate has all been predicated on the events of 30 years ago, trying to wind the clock back to then. Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen should reflect on their 13 years in government, on the fact that there were some people on their Benches looking for this type of closure, but on three occasions, between 2007 and 2009, the Labour Government refused to provide information under the Freedom on Information Act 2000. So Opposition Front Benchers have a lot to answer for to their Back-Bench Members.
I want to move on to what is happening now. I was also very disappointed that Labour Front Benchers did not mention the problems faced by my constituents and the sad closure of Daw Mill colliery. I know that some Labour Members were also saddened to hear about what happened. We did not hear one word from Labour Front Benchers about the men who lost their jobs at Daw Mill. We did not hear one mention of the people who lost their jobs in the supply chain, the people who have had their pensions reduced, the people who lost their concessionary coal allowance, which was later reinstated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and the people who lost much of the redundancy payments that they were expecting and had to rely on statutory redundancy.
That was highlighted in a letter to one of my local papers, the Nuneaton News, from a Union of Democratic Mineworkers official. He strongly criticised the lack of action from local Labour councillors at the time of the Daw Mill closure, but he also strongly criticised the Leader of the Opposition, because the UDM wrote to him at the time, when it was desperate for help, and he did not even have the courtesy to reply. I think that that, along with the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), really shows the support that the Leader of the Opposition is willing to give the coal industry and the people who worked in it. It is not the same as the real commitment to those people shown by some Labour Members who have spoken today.
The motion also mentions the health legacy of the coal industry, such as respiratory illnesses, and that is important. I congratulate the Labour Government on the work they did to get some compensation for miners, but they also have a legacy to answer for themselves, because in my constituency, and others like it, where there are many such legacy issues, the health funding was one of the lowest per head of population in the whole country. That is not looking after people who worked in the mining industry or who are living with its legacy.
I am glad that this Government have started to address the inequality in health funding. Progress on that has not been as quick as I would like it to be, and I hope that those on the Front Bench will pass those comments on to the Secretary of State for Health, but we are starting to make inroads in an area that was completely ignored by the Labour Government.
We are recovering from the legacy of the coal industry in my constituency. Many of the people who lost their jobs at Daw Mill have secured new jobs, although I acknowledge that many of them are not as well paid—it is important that we all understand that. Unemployment has come down by 40% over the past 12 months. We need to make opportunities in those areas, and only by creating the atmosphere in which business can thrive will that happen. This Government are certainly doing that. We are not harking back to the past 30 years. To do so would not be wise, because that will not help anybody.
Order. The time limit at the moment is set at five minutes, although it could be revised downwards. Only Opposition Members now wish to speak, so with what I will describe as comradely co-operation, more comrades will have a chance to contribute. You do not have to speak for five minutes, so do not feel obliged to do so.
I am happy to contribute to a comradely discussion, Mr Speaker.
South Wales has a long and proud history of coal mining. It reached its peak just before the first world war, when the industry employed nearly a quarter of a million men. After the first world war, it began a slow but steady decline until its demise today. It went from the 1926 miners’ strike, that summer of soups and speeches, as the Rhymney valley poet Idris Davies wrote, to the struggles of the 1930s and the closures of the 1960s and ’70s, although it has to be said that attempts were made by Labour Governments at that time to find an alternative source of employment in the area.
Then, of course, we saw the miners’ strike of ’84 and ’85. I remember the strike, when I was a young man—a very young man—because I was involved in my local miners support group. We met in the local Conservative club, which nobody thought was strange because the whole community supported the miners in my village. We were absolutely clear that the fight was about defending jobs and communities. We were under no misapprehension at that time—it has been proven since: as far as the Conservative Government of the day were concerned, it was a political strike. They were out to break the trade union movement, and the vanguard of the movement was the National Union of Mineworkers. Let us make no mistake about it, because that was proven beyond doubt. After the strike was over—yes, the miners were defeated—the full vengeance of the Government was displayed in the number of pit closures that occurred.
The Government said that they acted on economic grounds, but that lie was shown up very clearly in the case of Tower colliery in Cynon Valley. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) led the miners of the colliery in a sit-down protest. Eventually, although the Government wanted to close it, a miners’ co-operative was formed and it maintained its profitability for 13 years after the strike. That showed, above all, that the Conservative Government were concerned not about the economics of the coal industry but about the politics of this country. That is why it was correct to have that dispute, even though the miners lost. I am proud to say that the south Wales miners remained largely united and, with dignity, led the other miners back to work.
During that whole period of adversity and decline, one of the hallmarks of communities in south Wales was the amazing sense of community solidarity that existed then, which I believe still exists today. That was shown clearly in 1926 and in the 1930s, but it was shown very recently as well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) said, last year, in the village of Senghenydd in my constituency, we had an enormously successful community initiative to raise money to build a national mining memorial. That was important in itself, but also because it showed the community coming together to pay tribute to past sacrifices and say, “We are united today and we are looking forward to the future.”
We still face huge problems in south Wales, which are partly a legacy of what happened with the Tories and the coal industry. We are still seeing acute levels of unemployment, poverty and low pay, with economic inactivity continuing. In the aftermath of ’84 and ’85, the Conservatives deliberately encouraged miners to go “on the sick” so that they did not show up in the unemployment figures. We are still living with that deliberate act of Government policy.
Today it is high time that, once again, we all join in a comradely way to make sure that the needs of the south Wales coalfield are addressed. I hope—indeed, I am confident—that when we see a Labour Government elected in a few months’ time, they will work in partnership with the Labour-led Assembly to make sure that we have, once again, dynamic policies for the south Wales valleys that will bring prosperity to the people we represent.
I hope to take all five minutes for my speech, Mr Speaker. I apologise for that, but though I rarely speak in the Chamber, it would be remiss of me not to speak on this subject.
I am going to put a different spin, if that is agreeable, on what has been said already. I started in the pit when I was 15 and was going down the pit at 16. I will not go over all the history, but I worked in the pit for 20 years. In Scotland, we were out on strike along with the rest of the coalfields. Major decisions were made. The judges in Scotland ruled that the strike was legal there. Scotland was the only area that had a ruling on that basis.
I would like to talk about the role that everybody played throughout that period and the strength we gathered from it. Women did not just stand behind us—by the end of the strike they were standing in front of us, usually trying to protect us because most of us had been arrested umpteen times on the picket line. Great things happened as a result. Women ended up at the forefront: they became councillors, politicians and trade unionists. Some even became MPs.
We talk about the victimisation and hardships of people who want to go to work, but let me tell you about the people who worked all their days in the pits and the sacrifices that were made. I have to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) on one point: I never agreed with a ballot then, and I never agree with a ballot now. That is because an older man who had been in the pit for 40-odd years would rightly want to take a redundancy payment, but the younger men were entitled to a future. If there had been a ballot, older men would be voting for younger men to lose out. We therefore had a show of hands, and we had solidarity—there was a lot of solidarity. A lot of older people in the collieries made sacrifices on behalf of the young.
There were sacrifices in my area of the Lothians: 46 men from one pit ended that strike sacked, 36 men were sacked from the pit up the road, and five were sacked from another. Let me tell you about victimisation: of the four branch officials at Monktonhall, three were sacked, and of the 12 committee members, eight were sacked, to make sure that when we went back to work we would toe the line. We should remember that before the strike started union officials up and down the country were told, “There’s your agreement.” Previous agreements were torn up and they were told, “You’re starting three shifts next week.” We were pounded for a year before the strike started, but it goes back further than that.
In 1979, that fateful year, 11 Scottish National party Members joined the Tories, brought down a Labour Government and gave us 18 years of the Tories, but has everyone forgotten the Ridley report? It recommended taking out the union movement because we would get a majority here. The trade unions had 12 million members in those days. The report identified two unions in particular: the dockers and the miners. Unfortunately, it fell to us—I wish it hadnae, but it did.
The bottom line is that we have to learn from the past to determine what will happen in the future.
My hon. Friend is making a passionate and powerful case. Does he agree that there also needs to be an inquiry into the convictions in Scotland during the miners strike, and is he surprised that the Scottish Government have not agreed to such an inquiry?
My hon. Friend will know that today is the 75th anniversary of the Valleyfield pit disaster, when 35 men went to work but did not come home to their wives, mothers and families. Does he agree that we owe them and their families a legacy, to make sure there is a stronger future for all our communities?
I accept and agree with everything that has been said. I was present at the Auchengeich disaster memorial, which reminds us of the price of coal. It is really important that we get that in perspective.
I worked in a colliery for 20 years and was there during the miners strike. Although this is my story, it reflects what happened right through the coalfield. I spent from October to December 1984 in Saughton prison. I was accused of assaulting a man who had been my friend for many, many years. I had a two-day trial by jury in Scotland, after which the jury took 20 minutes to decide that it was a stitch-up. It took them 10 minutes to elect the chairman of the jury, so it only took them 10 minutes to determine that it was a stitch-up. That is what was happening the length and breadth of the country. I only say that because many, many miners went to jail and were found innocent, but they never got to go back to work.
Remember that the deal was clear: intimidate the work force, and the best way to do that is by intimidating the union and taking out union officials. I do not want to go on about the history, but it is important that we learn from history in order to deal with how we go about the future.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That is an old saying, but it is true. On victimisation, 206 men were sacked in Scotland and 1,000 men were sacked throughout the UK. Some got back, but it cost them dearly, not just in employment, but in health and everything else.
I havnae got time. Victimisation happens right now. Just look at Grangemouth. They sacked the senior shop steward there—this is 30 years on, by the way—and told the rest of the work force, “You’ll do as you’re told or you’ll end up the same as him.”
On blacklisting, just talk to the construction industry. When blacklisting took place, it took me two and a half years to get a job. That was before I came here, before I became a councillor and before I started a company. I was sick of going for jobs and being told, “Yes, you’ll start on Monday,” only to then get a letter saying otherwise because they had checked their computers—remember the McWhirter twins?—and found that my name was blacklisted along with those of hundreds and thousands of other people. That is happening in this day and age.
Then there is phone hacking. Everybody sympathises with the Dowlers, but let me say—it was called phone tapping in my day—that the police throughout the country used to tap the phones at all the strike centres. I remember an occasion when there was a message to go to picket a place, and 450 police turned up. I sent messages out along the lines, saying, “No, we’re going to occupy their headquarters,” and that is what we did the following day.
I want to end on a serious note. We are talking about history, but we are also talking about the future. We have got to learn the lessons of the past. In the 21st century, do we want to live in a society that has all the hallmarks of being the worst place in the world in the 20th century? If this is the 21st century, let us be human beings about this.
To help, Mr Speaker, I will not take interventions.
I was amazed by the lack of seriousness among Government Front Benchers when they thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) was talking about Jimmy Savile. He was talking about Lord Saville’s report on Bloody Sunday and the Hillsborough report. This issue has exactly the same stature: things went on in the name of the state and, whatever our views about what happened in the past, we as representatives of the state today have a responsibility to the future to release the papers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) said.
This debate is opportune because there have been reports in the papers over the past few days about the state of energy supplies in this country. A recent report in a newspaper called The Register stated:
“The capacity crunch has been predicted for about seven years… Everyone seems to have seen this coming—except the people in charge.”
We saw a lot of it coming 30 years ago, but nobody listened to us. What do we have now? We have a situation in which, as we are told in the same report:
“The UK government will set out Second World War-style measures to keep the lights on and avert power cuts”.
What a farce. One of the worst things about it is that one way the Government will do so is by continuing every year to import 50 million tonnes of coal that has blood on it—the blood of Chinese miners, of Russian miners and, as we saw earlier this year, of the 300 Turkish miners who died.
The hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) was absolutely right to say that we should have had a much more pro-coal attitude in this country. The problem is that they shut the coal mines when we were the leading proponents of clean coal technology in this country. The film “Brassed Off” was mentioned earlier. It was set around Grimethorpe colliery, where we were making oil out of coal 25 years ago, but it was closed on a whim and at a stroke of a Minister’s pen.
I want to ask Ministers four specific questions. They are about going forward, not about the past, and about how we should address this issue today. First and foremost, will they give a commitment to release all the papers identified from the 1980s? Without that, we are wasting our time.
Secondly, will Ministers give the Coalfields Regeneration Trust the real support it needs? People passionately support the CRT—including the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), whom I respect massively—but the truth is that it has been cut, cut and cut again, and it has been told that it must become supported by grants because it will not be getting any public money. We need such public money to rescue these communities.
Thirdly, will Ministers accept the details of the report produced by Sheffield Hallam university, and will they work with it and the all-party group on coalfield communities to try to address the problems that there are in every coalfield across this country?
Fourthly, the Minister for Business and Enterprise mentioned the support for Kellingley and Thoresby collieries several times, but will Ministers confirm for the record and admit that the money—it is a loan, because UK Coal has to pay it back—was only lent to the two collieries if they agreed to be shut down within 18 months and not, as was said earlier, have their life extended to 2018? It is a fact that that was the only ground on which the money was loaned.
There is no doubt that we are where we are because of a deliberate policy. Through the 1980s, there was an attempt to cut back: between 1985 and 1991, some 120 pits closed. I have to be honest about the fact that many of them were well past their sell-by date. I worked at one of them: it had been going since 1825 and was on its last legs. In 1992, on the back of the election, Michael Heseltine came up with a hit list of 31 top-quality mines that could still have been producing coal for this country. By the way, there was not a word about that in the manifesto—not one word. At the time, they said Arthur Scargill was lying, but they proved that he was not, because those 31 pits were shut within weeks.
As well as the pits being closed, the manufacturing industry in parts of the world like mine was decimated. Companies such as Huwood, Anderson Boyes, Gullick Dobson and Dowty, which had been leading the world, went to the wall. I have a friend who still works in coalfield engineering. In 1984, he worked in Motherwell. In the 1990s, he worked in Ilkeston in Derbyshire. He now travels every week from Leeds Bradford international airport to Dortmund because we no longer have that industry in this country, when we used to lead the world in it. Hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses closed, including shops, and communities were decimated. The truth is that we have left no future for our kids.
I say to the Minister today: please give us justice, give us some relief, give us the truth.
A few weeks ago, my borough of Blaenau Gwent had the privilege of screening the Welsh premier of “Still the Enemy Within” in our historic and award-winning Market Hall cinema. That moving documentary about the ’84 strike captured the most important trade union dispute of our lives. It reminded me of the worry that I felt for my family—the knot that I had in my stomach for that whole year, when nearly all my uncles and cousins were colliers on strike. It took me back to the time when the community was united in standing by our lads. It also reminded me of Tory Minister Nick Ridley’s insidious plan to take on the miners—the miners whose side I would always be on and for whom I would always work.
Blaenau Gwent was built on the two pillars of coal and steel. The community and the culture were as strong as those pillars. There was not a lot of money in anyone’s pocket. I remember picking coal off the mountains as a small boy to heat our home during one strike. Families knew the toll that the heavy industries took—a terrible legacy that is shown these days in our poor health record. Despite all that, we had strong roots to rely on and high hopes for the next generation.
In the 30 years since, Blaenau Gwent has had a fight on its hands to get back on its feet. The two pillars are long gone and not enough private sector industry has filled the gap. Blaenau Gwent is slowly pulling itself up by its bootstraps, but we need a new deal to get us properly back on our feet. We have received good support from the Welsh Government and Europe for towns such as Ebbw Vale, which has a new school complex, a new hospital and much more on the site where the steelworks once stood. We now need support that not only strengthens our public services, but gives us a chance to thrive once more.
Blaenau Gwent is not alone. Our neighbouring valley boroughs need support too, and we need a valleys agenda to help us move forward. That is why I will continue to campaign for infrastructure improvements, such as the electrification of the valleys rail network and a new metro system. That would help to improve the access that valley people have to the bigger jobs market on the coast.
We need first-rate guidance for young people to dramatically improve their social mobility and access to the professions, so that they can get well-paid work and do not get trapped in low-skilled, low-paid jobs. We need a range of employers to be given every incentive to make coalfield communities such as Blaenau Gwent their home. Half measures are not enough. We have a strong responsibility to give every young person in Blaenau Gwent the chance to succeed. They do not have to pick coal off the mountain during strikes like we did, but they have their own difficulties in getting a good start in life.
The people in the south Wales valleys towns deserve the best possible support and a new deal for a better future. Only a Labour Government can see that job through.
I have a series of questions for the Minister.
In 2001, I was elected in a constituency that was awash with heroin, death from heroin and families plagued by heroin. We have beaten that back. Under the last Labour Government, crime was reduced by 400%. We now have a 30% cut in policing. Will the Government reverse the cut in front-line policing that I am seeing in my community? Will they get the police back on the beat in our communities, which we have lost under this Government?
Secondly, we are forced by the Government’s inspectorate to have housing where we do not want it and where the community rejects it, despite their so-called localism. There is a proposal from the council for 750 houses to be built on the Harworth colliery site with housing zone status. That is about to be determined by the Government. Will the Minister announce that we are going to get that, so that we can build housing there and move forward in that community?
Under the last Labour Government there was huge investment that led, for example, to Laing O’Rourke and the Steetley brickwork sites, creating 500 jobs. It led to the Manta Wood site with thousands of jobs, including at B&Q, Keltruck, and many others. We now want a brand new employment zone along the A1 down from the former Harworth colliery, and to create thousands of jobs, looking into the future, five, 10, and 15 years ahead, as well as tomorrow. Will the Government give us support and assistance in getting that?
Under the last Labour Government we got rid of the roundabouts on the A1—every single one went, which meant a 10-minute saving per journey for every company. That is huge amounts of money and jobs for major distribution companies. The Elkesley bridge, announced in 2009 by a Labour Government, is only just being built now because it was delayed by this Government. With high-speed rail coming in, will the Government commit to giving us the bypass and dual carriageway that we need to connect my community with new high-speed rail, and a rail link that is direct and immediate so that when it comes we can link to it?
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has done tremendous work, as has the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. Under the previous Government we got £1.5 million for Manton miners welfare, which is the most successful football project for kids anywhere in this country, with the participation of other sites that CISWO owns—there are many more across the country. Will the Government put the money in to allow those sites to be properly regenerated and developed for sport in this country, because they are sat there waiting for it?
We have the biggest investment in new secondary schools per pupil anywhere in Britain, and in Bassetlaw, seven out of eight schools are newly built. However, we are still waiting for the one at Selby Park, which was meant to be built last. It was to be started in 2010, so will the Government announce after the five-year delay that Selby Park secondary school will be rebuilt like all the others in the middle of a former mining community that needs it?
Under this Government we have had to fight off privatisation and the closure of fire stations and ambulance stations. We want a guarantee that the NHS will not be privatised and that our 999 services will still be there. Finally, we must look to the future. The 400th anniversary of the pilgrim fathers is coming up, and there is Sherwood forest, which should be a new national park. There are new kinds of industry, so will the Government help us to develop them into the future?
I will be as brief as possible. First, the “State of the coalfields” report published in June highlights major issues in coal mining communities, not just the closure programmes, but problems that have been there for decade upon decade and particularly concern jobs and ill health. It is all to do with income. Although the Government were right to say that unemployment is decreasing in mining communities, pro rata it is not decreasing half as much as it has done in the healthier south-east of this economy. That issue must be addressed and is highlighted well in that report.
The first intervention made by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) was about who closed the coal mines in the last century, but it is a nonsense argument to say that Labour closed more mines between 1964 and 1974. The real question concerns who closed the coal mines, and when they closed, how much coal was imported into this country to replace it? Never under the Wilson Government did we bring coal into this country to replace coal lost as a result of the closure programme, which is what we had to do under the Thatcher Government. I came to the House in 1983, and I remember the coal miners’ strike—I have Orgreave in my constituency. I had left the coal industry fewer than 12 months before to come to this place, and I remember what happened.
I want to say two things. One concerns policing, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned from that. A national reporting centre was set up during the miners’ strike. Pro formas were handed out for police to charge people using effectively the same language. My constituency backed on to Nottinghamshire. People were prevented from leaving Yorkshire to go to Nottinghamshire, miles away from where there may have been a breach of the law. That was always going to be challenged, and it should have been challenged because the policing of the strike was wrong. In May 1984 the Police Federation condemned the use of pro forma charge sheets against miners.
Do not get me wrong: I and others in this Chamber criticised the police and the stone throwers. On several occasions I called for a public inquiry into the policing of the miners’ strike and I still believe we should have one now, because this should never happen again in our communities.
I hope we have learned from what happened at that time, which was revenge for 1974. I was a striking miner at that time and remember it well. I joined the Labour party in the February of that year.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) talked about regeneration and the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which is regenerating communities by giving grants to individual groups—a wonderful thing to do. The economic regeneration, like the advanced manufacturing plant that has been mentioned, began under the last Government through the regional development agency, which was abolished when this Government took office, and through objective 1 funding, because we were that poor that at the time we received European money. We should not forget that Europe did a lot to turn south Yorkshire round, although, as the report published in June this year showed, there is still a lot more to do on jobs and ill health in mining communities, which we have suffered for generations.
It has been humbling to listen to comrades who were involved in the miners’ strike. I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) that I was indeed one of the women who was brought into the Labour movement—and very proud to be so.
I agree with everything that has been said about justice for communities, but I want to make a specific point about the plight of my coalfield community. The bottom line is that to this day the coal industry remains important to our local area. The open-cast companies have been responsible for the worst environmental disaster imaginable, with two companies being placed in administration in 2013. The immediate result was the loss of more than 300 jobs, but the massive scale of environmental devastation left in east Ayrshire soon became evident: an estimated 2,000 hectares of unrestored and disturbed land, with almost a quarter of the area having 22 voids, 16 of which are filled with water more than 50 metres deep, and often unstable cliffs.
Independent mining engineers have estimated restoration liabilities in line with the original planning permissions and approved restoration plans at £161 million—money that we do not have. The total amount available, if we are lucky, is only £28.6 million. An independent report by the council highlighted problems with its operations and with companies reneging on their responsibilities. That is why the communities that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) represent have been left devastated. Many failures, far too many to mention, are highlighted in the report. I strongly believe that, based on the findings of the report, there might be grounds for investigating the conduct of the directors of the coal operators, and I have raised this with the investigations and enforcement services of the Insolvency Service.
This remains a bruising experience for the communities of east Ayrshire and I have raised my concerns over the environmental devastation and lack of accountability numerous times and will continue to do so. I have raised this on the Floor of the House with previous Ministers and with this Minister. I look forward to the response. I know that in the past few days the leader of East Ayrshire council has raised it again with the Department. Responsibility is shared between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, but so far we have got absolutely no change from either.
I am a member of a coal taskforce—a cross-party initiative—that works closely with the communities. It is true that we have made some progress but, at the end of the day, we need funds to further the restoration. Hargreaves, a new company, has taken over some of the mines, but there is no way it will deal with the whole issue. I ask for a response from the Government. What will they do to help us? The disaster is the equivalent of foot and mouth and flooding. It should not have happened, but that is not the fault of my constituents. I yet again make a plea for assistance with this devastating problem.
This has been an extraordinary debate this afternoon. The wisdom, passion and experience of millions of people have been distilled by Labour Members. Only three Government Back Benchers spoke, but they gave not a word of contrition. There was not even any body language, to show a sense of guilt, remorse or apology for what was done during those years of the miners’ strike. The passion expressed exemplifies the feelings that still exist in the mining communities.
I am not giving way to any hon. Member because we are running out of time.
From time to time, passion leads hon. Members to say things—I am referring to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Mr Hood). We recognise that there are ongoing investigations and it would be wrong to reference any particular individual. It would be wrong to prejudice those proceedings.
I was a plumber at the time of the strike. I was elected to the council in the middle of the strike in September 1984. I spent part of my time going round pro bono fixing the heating and plumbing systems of striking miners. I was repeatedly stopped by the police, both in the process of my election and going about my lawful business. That exemplifies the experience of many tens of thousands of people in the mining communities during that time.
There is a special dignity for those who work with their hands. The Tories simply do not share that belief. They have a different value system, one based on greed and hierarchy. They believe that the closed circle that runs our country—their spokespeople in the House—were born to rule, and that the rest of us were born to serve. That characterised their attitude during the strike. If hon. Members do not believe me, they can look at the Prime Minister’s comments in Glasgow in 2008, when he said, effectively, that the poor are responsible for their poverty. He should tell the mining communities that they were responsible for their poverty. Hon. Members should look at the next leader of the Conservative party, Boris Johnson, who only last year when talking about inequality said in The Daily Telegraph that some people are too thick to get ahead. He should tell that to the mining communities after their experience.
The miners had a totally different set of values from those of the Tories. The Tories despised their values. Their values were of community, and of mutual support and solidarity. To this very day, there is an elemental sense of equality in mining communities. The miners did not know and never would accept the meaning of the word “deference”, and rightly so. The age of deference should have died long ago, but the Tories hated the idea that working people—any working people, but in this case the miners—should organise themselves around those values of community and solidarity and create the most powerful trade union this country has seen.
The 1984 Cabinet papers reveal the truth, the underhand tactics and even the lies of the Government of that time, both out in the communities and in the House. People talk about miners who continued to work, but they were lied to about the Government’s intentions. That is what happened.
The Government launched a full-scale assault on the mining communities and, in doing so, destroyed the independence of the police force. There were trumped-up charges all over the coalfield communities. Criminal justice was reduced to a political instrument. There is even evidence that members of the armed forces were dressed in police uniforms by the then Government, all this to achieve Tory party political objectives.
But we are not simply speaking today about history. The Tory attitude to the miners and the former mining communities is symbolic of a wider view that they have of working people as a whole. We need only look at the explosion in the use of zero-hours contracts, temporary work and false self-employment to see that the Conservatives have not changed. They are still the same old nasty party.
Once again the Conservatives are turning their back on mining communities. In my constituency, and I guess elsewhere too, the same women who worked in the soup kitchens during the miners’ strike, and their daughters, are now working in the food banks. How can that happen in one of the richest countries of the world in 2014? Nobody would believe it was possible. The Government have failed to understand that if society asks people to work with their hands in the bowels of the earth to help to create the wealth of our country, that society—our country—owes those people a debt of gratitude, which we might describe as a social contract. When mines are closed or industries die, we have a moral duty to look after the people who created the wealth of our country in such difficult circumstances.
The previous Government did much to honour the idea of a social contract. We spent billions of pounds compensating tens of thousands of former miners for miners diseases, from which many are still suffering today. In my constituency 12,500 miners or their families went through my office during those Labour years and received damages of over £100 million—in one constituency alone. The Labour Government invested £1.5 billion in coalfield regeneration, creating employment or training for 150,000 people. It was Labour that set up the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which assisted more than 400,000 people in finding jobs, accessing skills, getting education and improving their health.
Although much was done in those 15 years, the job is not finished. There are still high levels of ill health in my constituency and in all the coalfield areas, with 7.4% of people in the Yorkshire coalfield areas suffering ill health, compared with 5.6% nationally. Then, in mining areas with high levels of chronic diseases, we face the insult of GP cuts and hospital closures.
Unemployment is still 40% higher in coalfield areas than the national average. Deprivation levels in coalfield areas remain at 43%—
I am not taking interventions.
Our society—our country—owes a debt to the miners and to all manual workers. Before I hand over to the Minister, I want to ask her four questions. First, will she on behalf of her party finally express some humility and apologise to the miners and the communities which it left devastated? Secondly, will she now authorise the release of all the papers held in the Government archives to find the truth about what happened in the mining communities, and will she authorise an independent inquiry into the events that surrounded the strike?
Thirdly, may we have a clear assurance that if the Government are still minded, even at this late stage, to find state aid to help the three remaining deep mine pits, that aid will not accelerate closure but will allow the pits to continue until the reserves are exhausted? Finally, will the Minister commit the Government to the full-scale ongoing process of regenerating the coalfield areas? Those people put themselves in harm’s way for the health and wealth of our country. Do we not have a responsibility to make sure that those communities are properly remunerated and regenerated in the future?
As ever, I have come to the Chamber this afternoon in the spirit of being helpful and focused on the needs and ambitions of communities across the country. Usually, there are asks in Opposition or Adjournment debates—for more investment, greater freedom or support for public services and good causes—but there has been little of that this afternoon. Understandably, there is speculation about why the Opposition have used up their time on the Floor of the House this afternoon. I could continue to speculate about that, but I would rather focus on the needs of the communities that Opposition Members are supposed to be serving. In doing so, I wish to acknowledge the important role that our nation’s mining heritage can play in that.
In that respect, this debate is timely, as this Thursday sees a ceremony marking the groundbreaking Betteshanger Sustainable Park development in Kent—Betteshanger, of course, being the last pit to close in Kent. I was fortunate enough to visit the site only last week, to see for myself how the landmark development will transform the former Betteshanger colliery into a 21st-century global laboratory for green technologies. This pioneering project, backed by £40 million of investment, with £11 million of public sector funding, including £2.5 million from the Government’s coastal communities fund, has helped to trigger £29 million of private investment.
Betteshanger Sustainable Park is a major shot in the arm for east Kent. It will celebrate Kent’s coal mining heritage, which is juxtaposed with sustainable technologies in a world-class, zero-carbon building. It will deliver new jobs and regeneration to the whole area, putting the local community right at the heart of the development and attracting significant private sector support. The development will also provide improved access to cycling and outdoor pursuits—important facilities for local people.
The centre, scheduled to open in spring 2016, will create a new national eco-tourism visitor destination, attracting more than 1 million visitors a year. It will showcase mining heritage and sustainable energy production. A bespoke green technologies enterprise complex will provide space for companies in food security, environmental technology and green business. The Betteshanger sustainable education centre will support world-class research and development in environmental and countryside programmes, climate change, sustainability, and agro-ecology and production. The park itself, a gateway to east Kent, will provide lifelong learning, shops, public spaces and events, and create 1,000 jobs.
I am going to carry on.
That is just one example of how such communities are regenerating themselves—[Interruption]—although I am sorry that the Opposition do not want to hear it. The Government’s approach, in Kent as elsewhere, has been to enable local people, businesses and organisations, who know better than anyone else what is needed and where, to make their own decisions and set their own priorities. That is as true for coalfield communities as it is anywhere else. As part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain’s future, the Government have agreed a series of growth deals with businesses and local communities across England which will support local businesses to train young people, create thousands of new jobs, build thousands of new homes and start hundreds of infrastructure projects. There is an opportunity for local enterprise partnerships that cover former coalfield areas to play a major role in taking regeneration forward.
We have also created enterprise zones in former coalfield areas—for example, the Sheffield city region enterprise zone, which has sites on a number of former local collieries. The Orgreave colliery and coking plant has now been transformed into a centre for advanced manufacturing, while Markham Vale is benefiting from £14.2 million of capital grant funding to develop a sustainable business park, which has just announced the latest new occupier, Inspirepac, which is expanding its operation and creating hundreds of new jobs. Many Members have also mentioned the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which has created and safeguarded more than 4,000 jobs, helped more than 125,000 gain new skills—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister who opened the debate said that unemployment in my constituency, and in several others, had fallen. I have checked, and the Office for National Statistics says that in June 2010 unemployment was 4,300, while the latest figures are 4,400. I wanted to give the Minister the opportunity to correct himself at the Dispatch Box.
Not much has been said by Labour Members about the issues of concern to all our constituents, so I am happy to provide some balance. I can understand Labour Members not wanting to talk about growth or job creation in their own constituencies, but I had thought that at the very least they might wish to address some of the outstanding issues. Today, for example, there has been some sad news that a manufacturing plant in Barnsley has announced that it is going to close, with the loss of 120 jobs. I am pleased to see that those whose jobs are at risk are being properly supported, but I was surprised not to hear about that in the opening speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher).
As I say, I can understand the Opposition not wanting to talk about growth and jobs, but I would have thought that they would want to discuss the remaining challenges. That is our focus. It is we who are focused on getting people back into work and supporting businesses and helping communities to regenerate themselves and achieve their ambitions. Unfortunately, Labour seems to have different priorities.
The contributions we have heard this afternoon have fallen firmly into two camps. From those on the Opposition Benches, we have heard speeches that have made the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and his hybrid car look positively “with it”—speeches that have been focused on the past or on smearing members of the upper House. There was not a pipsqueak from the hon. Members for North West Durham (Pat Glass) or for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) about the achievements of businesses in their constituencies and how they are reinventing themselves in rail manufacturing, to give just one example. No Labour Member has sought to explain this afternoon why they did not reverse any of the trade union reforms they have so vilified today, or why in its 13 years in government, Labour did not tackle any of the issues Labour Members have raised today.
By contrast, contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), for Warrington South (David Mowat), for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) have been focused on the future, on growth, job creation and helping their communities to achieve their ambitions.
Let me put on record the achievements of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which now has a sustainable future, after its investment in property and other assets. There is also the work of the Homes and Communities Agency’s coalfields programme, which was due to progress the physical regeneration of former coalfield sites. This work is nearing completion, and the associated land assets are expected to form part of the HCA’s up and coming programme to dispose of public sector land. The HCA has invested about £660 million in coalfield areas during the life of the coalfields programme. The DCLG’s coalfields funds, the coalfields enterprise fund and the coalfields growth fund have also been investing in innovative small and medium-sized enterprises in deprived former coalfield areas. This will continue until 2016, when the investment phase is due to end. Other sources of investment for SMEs across the board are now available, and these funds have proved to be much more effective than the coalfield fundings, being directed through local enterprise partnerships. Much has been achieved, but there is obviously much more to do.
In closing, I will say sorry. I am sorry that Her Majesty’s Opposition are stuck in the 1970s. Their constituents and their businesses are firmly in 2014, and I hope that for their sake, their Labour representatives join them in the 21st century some time soon.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House acknowledges the economic legacy of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities across the United Kingdom; notes that the recent release of the relevant 1984 Cabinet papers showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics; recognises the regeneration of former coalfield areas over the last fifteen years, the good work of organisations such as the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, and the largest industrial injury settlement in legal history secured by the previous Government for former miners suffering from bronchitis and emphysema; further recognises the ongoing problems highlighted recently by the report produced by Sheffield Hallam University on The State of the Coalfields, which revealed that there are still significant problems for the majority of Britain’s coalfield communities, such as fewer jobs, lower business formation rates, higher unemployment rates, more people with serious health issues, higher numbers in receipt of welfare benefits and a struggling voluntary and community sector; and therefore calls for the continued regeneration and much needed support for coalfield communities as part of a wider programme to boost growth in Britain’s regions.