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Orgreave: Public Inquiry into Policing

Volume 613: debated on Wednesday 20 July 2016

To ask the Home Secretary if she will clarify comments made last week in another place on calls for a public inquiry into policing at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984.

Last week my noble friend the Advocate General for Scotland answered an oral question asked by Lord Balfe of Dulwich on whether the Government had yet decided whether there would be an inquiry into police actions during the Orgreave miners’ clash in 1984. He explained that the previous Home Secretary had been considering the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign’s submission, and that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is working with the Crown Prosecution Service to assess whether material related to the policing of Orgreave is relevant to the Hillsborough criminal investigations with decisions yet to be made by them on whether any criminal proceedings will be brought as a result.

The Government take all allegations of police misconduct very seriously and the then Home Secretary considered the campaign’s analysis in detail. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have today written to the campaign secretary, Barbara Jackson, to say that I would be very happy to meet her and the campaign immediately after the summer recess. I would also be happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss this case as I know this is something that he feels very strongly about. This is one of the most important issues in my in-tray as a new Home Secretary, and I can assure him that I will be considering the facts very carefully over the summer. I hope to come to a decision as quickly as possible following that.

I promised the Hillsborough families the full truth about the 20-year cover-up. They will not have it until we also know what happened after Orgreave. A year ago the IPCC found senior officers gave untrue statements exaggerating violence from miners to distract from their own use of force, some would say brutality. So the force that would wrongly blame Liverpool supporters tried to do the same against the miners five years before. In response, the then Home Secretary promised to consider a public inquiry. That was welcome because the miners’ strike caused deep scars when, in the words of a former chief constable, the police were used as an “army of occupation”. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign has, as the Home Secretary said, submitted an application, but there was a somewhat unexpected announcement in another place last week that it would now be substantially delayed. The Advocate General’s exact words were:

“The IPCC told Home Office officials that if it announced any action to set up an inquiry or other investigation relating to Orgreave, it would have an impact on the Hillsborough investigation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 2016; Vol. 744, c. 216.]

However, the deputy chair of the IPCC says:

“I would like to clarify that the IPCC has not taken or offered any position on whether there should be a public inquiry...That is a decision that is entirely a matter for the Home Secretary.”

That is why we have brought the Home Secretary here today.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s offer to meet me, but might it not help to build the right climate if she today corrects the misleading impression given to Parliament that the IPCC had advised against the establishment of an inquiry at this time? Does she accept that there is no reason why ongoing investigations should delay an Orgreave inquiry, and that in similar situations it is commonplace for protections to be put in place to manage any risks? Can she see why the Government’s actions look like a Home Office manoeuvre to shunt a controversial issue into the long grass?

This, one of the final decisions of the former Home Secretary, was announced as she stood on the steps of Downing street promising to “fight injustice”. People may remember another Tory Prime Minister quoting St Francis of Assisi outside No. 10 and the subsequent gap that emerged between her fine words and her deeds. To ensure that history does not repeat itself, will the Home Secretary do the right thing? Will she restore the trust that has been damaged among people who have already waited more than 30 years for the truth and, today order a full public inquiry into Orgreave?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that this Government have not been slow in looking at historical cases. There have been Labour Governments and there have been Conservative Governments since 1984, but it is this Government who are taking the campaign very seriously. I will not resile from that. I have told the campaign I will look at the evidence I have. It was submitted at the end of last year; it is a substantial file. It is because I take this so seriously that I am not going to rush it. It would be a mistake to do that today. What I am going to do is look at it over the summer, meet the campaign group in September and reach a decision after that. The right hon. Gentleman should not allow anybody to think that this means I do not take it seriously; the Government take it very seriously and will reach a proper conclusion when I have looked at all the evidence.

The future of South Yorkshire police is clearly linked to this. These allegations are historical, but if we bring them together with more contemporary problems it seems to be a force that has institutionalised dysfunctionality. Surely my right hon. Friend now must look at the future function of South Yorkshire police’s management, and not shy away from any fundamental reorganisation?

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that we are doing exactly that. He draws an important point to our attention, and it is particularly that issue that the IPCC is looking at. I can reassure my right hon. Friend, as well as the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the House, that the work of the IPCC will not delay the work that I will be doing in looking at this particular case.

The 1980s were a quite shocking time in politics. I know that Conservative Members will disagree, but it was a difficult time to be growing up, under Thatcher, and a distressing experience for many of us. There are many examples to illustrate that, but what happened at Orgreave was one of the most shocking examples of all. It is not just me who is saying that. Liberty has said:

“There was a riot. But it was a police riot.”

Michael Mansfield QC has called it the

“worst example of a mass frame-up in this country this century.”

Obviously, he was talking about the last century. Alan Billings, the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner has said that, on that day, the police were

“dangerously close to being used as an instrument of state.”

That is frightening indeed. The SNP welcomes the findings of the Hillsborough inquiry and urges the UK Government to ensure that accountability follows, but we call on them to go further by not looking at that tragedy in isolation. It is imperative that there should be an inquiry into the policing of Orgreave to ensure that justice is done and the public can regain trust—

Order. We really must establish the principle that a time limit on an urgent question is a time limit on an urgent question. I do not want to single the hon. Lady out, but her question was too long. Forgive me.

I understand entirely the point that the hon. Lady is raising. It is about the crossover of police behaviour in the Hillsborough incident and the Orgreave incident. She raises an important point, and she is right to say that there are serious allegations to be addressed. That is what the IPCC will be looking at, but we will also be making sure that the incident at Orgreave and the questions that she has raised will be carefully examined.

Will my right hon. Friend also assure us that any investigation that takes place will hear evidence from police officers who were allegedly injured by missiles while doing their duty in allowing people lawfully to go to work?

My hon. Friend is of course right: this cannot be a one-sided inquiry or investigation. I will ensure that we look at both sides of this, but I must tell him that there are some serious allegations to be considered.

One of the things that occurred in the Hillsborough inquiry was that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and other people exposed the fact that the police were writing similar things about similar incidents. It has already been explained that the South Yorkshire police did exactly the same thing at Orgreave. I went there and saw it for myself. It was one-way traffic by the police, and then the same statement was written over and over again for each of the miners. So I hope the Home Secretary is not going to be hanging about for very long on this. An overt promise was made by the last Home Secretary that, arising out of Hillsborough, the Orgreave case would be linked to it. Let’s have some truth and justice for Orgreave.

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask for truth and justice. That is why I contacted the campaign leader this morning to ensure that we have an appointment to see each other in September. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not hanging around on this. It is one of the most important items in my in-tray. There are a lot of allegations, some of which he has raised here today, and I will look at them.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position. I also welcome this urgent question from the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), because these are important issues. I very much back up what my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) has just said. As I have said before, when talking about the Hillsborough verdict, the name “South Yorkshire police” now does a disservice to the honest, hard-working officers who put themselves on the frontline. I appreciate that the Home Secretary is taking time over the summer to consider this inquiry. May I ask her—I know she cannot answer today—to acknowledge that the time has come to consider reorganising Yorkshire policing and to remove the name “South Yorkshire police”?

I can tell my hon. Friend that the new leadership has made a clear commitment to address issues within South Yorkshire police. The incoming chief constable will have in place a long-term package of support, comprising several subject experts from across policing and the College of Policing. They are aware of the damage that has been done and my hon. Friend’s suggestion may be one thing that they consider, but it is most important to have clear leadership to deal with the legacy of difficulties.

I welcome the new Home Secretary to her position and wish her well. It is not unreasonable in these circumstances for her to want to take time to consider the matter, but it will not go away. While it may relate specifically to South Yorkshire, it has implications for the credibility of policing right across the country. Does she accept that this matter is wholly exceptional and will need a wholly exceptional resolution?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I made a point earlier about historical cases, which make it feel like there is a series of issues and allegations to be dealt with. I hope that he will take some comfort from the fact that this Government and the previous Home Secretary have a reputation for not shying away from addressing difficult issues. I hope to ensure that we continue to deserve that reputation.

My father was a West Midlands policeman in the 1980s and spent some days policing at Orgreave. Clearly, where there is solid evidence of police malpractice, it must be dealt with effectively and with the full force of the law. Does the Home Secretary recognise the concerns of many serving and retired police officers about what they perceive to be a political campaign with a predetermined outcome?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will take my time to come to what I feel will be a fair answer after looking at all the information. Nothing has been prejudged. Serious allegations have been made, but I will look at both sides.

There is a strong thread between Orgreave and Hillsborough, but there is also a parallel with Shrewsbury. The only way to disprove what the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) just said about political motivations is to have a full independent inquiry. Why doesn’t she get on with it and just do it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his view, but I repeat that it would be wrong for me to just, as he puts it, “get on with it”. I want to look at the evidence; the process must be driven by evidence. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign spent six months pulling together a substantial package and body of evidence. I will not ignore its work; I will take a careful look at all of it.

I am really concerned at the language already being used by the right hon. Lady about the Orgreave incident. She just classified the incident at the Dispatch Box as a “miners’ clash”. Would she like to clarify those words to the House?

I am happy to refer to it as an incident—the word that the hon. Gentleman uses—but it is more important to ensure that we look carefully at all the evidence. Once I have had a look at all the evidence and have reached a conclusion, I will be able to come back and describe it as what it really was.

Orgreave is in my constituency and people still come to my surgery in tears after reliving the horror they saw when they went with their families to picket peacefully, the violent abuse that they suffered and the vile media campaign afterwards. Will the Home Secretary please give them justice and peace by holding a public inquiry?

The hon. Lady makes a clear and passionate case as she always does in the House when she campaigns. My office spoke to the campaign group this morning and I will be meeting the group in September. I appreciate the levels of distress, hurt and historical anger that are part of this case, which is why I will take it seriously.

With my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), I brought the campaign group down to meet the then Home Secretary over a year ago. It was therefore unexpected and unwelcome to hear last week that, after all that, she was still waiting for the investigations to be concluded. The shadow Home Secretary raised a serious question about the IPCC’s advice. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to correct the record, and will she give a firm commitment about exactly when after meeting the campaign group in September she will be making a decision?

I recognise that this has been a long time in coming—the incident happened of course in 1984. The previous Home Secretary met the campaign group in July last year. Six months later, it came back with the evidence, so we have had that since the end of last year. I have decided that I will look at it over the summer—it is substantial—and will meet the campaign group in September. I will come to a decision as soon as I can after that. I hesitate to say anything firmer than that, but I reassure the hon. Lady that I will come to a decision as soon as I can.

Does the Home Secretary recognise that Orgreave was a scandalous episode that we will not get to the bottom of unless we get to the top of it? That is why many people are suspicious of any possible denial or deferral of a due inquiry.

I know about the concerns that the hon. Gentleman refers to when he says “the top of it” and that is what the IPCC is focused on. It is about looking at the connections between the Hillsborough inquiry that we have already had and Orgreave. I will not shy away from looking carefully at wherever there has been wrongdoing or wherever there are links.

While Orgreave happened many years ago, problems still exist in South Yorkshire police, as the recent peer review identified. I thank the previous Home Secretary and the previous Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), for their help in setting up that peer review and their support for the police and crime commissioner in getting in an interim chief constable and then appointing a permanent chief constable—that was welcome. Will the Home Secretary now commit to support the IPCC in addressing the issue identified by the peer review? Will she also have a look at the role of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary? It has done several reviews of South Yorkshire police in recent years but never identified the issues raised by the peer review.

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. He is right; we hope that there will be progress under the new leadership. We will carefully follow progress under Dave Jones. My colleague the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), has already said he will be going to visit over the summer, so we are taking seriously the improvements that the new leadership has said that it will make.

The Home Secretary said that she will make a decision in the autumn, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg) and I, as chair of the all-party group on the Hillsborough disaster, spent many hours talking with the Home Secretary’s predecessor and the IPCC to understand the consequences of the decisions being made about that injustice. Will the Home Secretary speak to the Prime Minister about that experience to learn those lessons and will she commit to meeting extensively with Members about the horrific events at Orgreave?

I can certainly give the hon. Lady that commitment. I have already said that I will meet the right hon. Member for Leigh. If any other colleagues would like to join us in that meeting, I will also meet them to ensure that I am fully informed and up to date on the whole issue and the campaign thus far.

It is important that not all police officers are tarred with the same brush on Orgreave. I have heard personal testimony from Greater Manchester police officers saying that they did not co-operate with the corrupt practices of South Yorkshire police during the dispute. How does the Home Secretary suggest that I feed in that evidence?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) in reference to his father. We must ensure that not everyone is tarred with the same brush—if indeed that is what happens. I will be delighted to receive any information from the hon. Gentleman that would help to reach a decision and that could form part of the inquiry that I am looking at in September.

Order. Presentation of Bill, Geraint Davies—where is the chappie? He is not here. [Hon. Members: He’s behind you! Better late than never.]

Bills Presented

UK International Trade and Investment Agreements (Ratification) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Geraint Davies, supported by Sir Edward Leigh, Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Hywel Williams, Mr Mark Williams, Helen Goodman, Sir Alan Meale, Jonathan Reynolds, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, Mark Durkan, Stewart Malcolm McDonald and Stephen Twigg, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to lay bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements before Parliament; to prohibit the implementation of such an agreement without the approval by resolution of each House; to provide a process for the amendment of such agreements, including any arrangements for investor-state dispute settlement, by Parliament; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 October, and to be printed (Bill 56).

Perinatal Mental Illness (NHS Family Services) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Rehman Chishti, supported by Norman Lamb, Yasmin Qureshi, Kelly Tolhurst and Tim Loughton, presented a Bill to make provision about the appropriate level of access to NHS services and accommodation for mothers with perinatal mental illness; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 2 December, and to be printed (Bill 57).