(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the process she went through and the papers she considered before reaching her decision not to proceed with an inquiry into the events at Orgreave in June 1984.
The Home Secretary announced her decision in a written ministerial statement yesterday, in which she explained her main reasons for deciding against instigating either a statutory inquiry into or an independent review of the events at Orgreave coking plant. She has also written to the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign setting out the detailed reasons for her decision, and she answered a number of questions in the House yesterday in response to an oral parliamentary question on this subject.
In determining whether to establish a statutory inquiry or other review, the Home Secretary considered a number of factors, reviewed a wide range of documents and spoke to members of the campaign. She came to the view that neither an inquiry nor a review was required to allay public concern at this stage, more than 30 years after the events in question. In so doing, she noted the following factors. Despite the forceful accounts and arguments provided by the campaigners about the effect that these events had on them, ultimately there were no deaths or wrongful convictions. In addition, the policing landscape and the wider criminal justice system have changed fundamentally since 1984, with significant changes in the oversight of policing at every level, including major reforms to criminal procedure, changes to public order policing and practice, stronger external scrutiny and greater local accountability. There are few lessons to be learned from a review of the events and practices of three decades ago. This is a very important consideration when looking at the necessity for an inquiry or independent review.
Taking these considerations into account, we do not believe that establishing any kind of inquiry is required in the wider public interest or for any other reason.
The now Prime Minister invited Orgreave campaigners to submit a bid for an inquiry and she entered Downing Street talking about fighting burning injustices, so the House will understand why so many people feel bitterly betrayed today. Orgreave is one of the most divisive events in British social history. Given that there is evidence of unlawful conduct by the police in relation to it, is it not simply staggering that the Home Secretary has brushed aside an inquiry as not necessary? Is it not even more revealing that she was not prepared to come to this House today to justify her decision?
I want to focus very specifically on her decision-making process, and I expect direct answers from the Minister. Before making her decision, did the Home Secretary recall files held by South Yorkshire police and review them personally? I am told they never left Sheffield. Is that true? Did she consider in detail the new testimony that has emerged from police officers, particularly in relation to police statements? Did she review all relevant Cabinet papers, such as the minutes—stamped “SECRET” —of the meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Leon Brittan, in which the then Home Secretary said he wanted
“to increase the rate of prosecutions”
of miners? If the Home Secretary did not do each and every one of these crucial things, will not many people conclude that the decision-making process was incomplete and therefore unsound?
Yesterday, the Home Secretary promised to release the operational order. Will the Minister make sure that that happens immediately? She also dismissed the link with Hillsborough. In doing so, is she dismissing the words of Margaret Aspinall, who believes that if the police had been properly held to account for their misdeeds in 1985, the Hillsborough cover-up may never have happened? Are we to conclude that from now on, under this Home Secretary, all manner of misdeeds will be left uninvestigated as long as there are “no deaths”?
The Minister attended a positive meeting with campaigners in early September. We left the meeting with the clear impression that it was not a question of whether there would be an inquiry, but of what form the inquiry would take. Indeed, the next day The Times reported on its front page that Whitehall sources had said there would be an inquiry. Did the Home Secretary or her advisers authorise this briefing, and what changed after it was given? In retrospect, does the Minister now concede that it was utterly cruel to give those campaigners false hope in that way?
Yesterday, we were hit with a bombshell, but today we dust ourselves down and we give notice to this Government that we will never give up this fight.
The right hon. Gentleman will know full well from the meeting with campaigners that he came to, and I was also at, that we were very clear, as the Home Secretary has been throughout the process, that she would make a decision by the end of October and would take into account a wide range of factors. She considered a number of factors when making her decision. She reviewed a wide range of documents, carefully considered the arguments contained in the campaign’s submission and spoke to the campaign leaders and supporters, as she did yesterday, when she personally spoke to Barbara Jackson and to the right hon. Gentleman, among others, and I spoke to the police and crime commissioner.
The right hon. Gentleman commented on the links with Hillsborough. I know he will be aware that work is still ongoing on Hillsborough, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission still looking at the issues, and there could still be criminal proceedings.
When the right hon. Gentleman looks at the decision he should remember that, as the Home Secretary rightly pointed out yesterday, we fully appreciate that we disagree on this, but that does not mean that the Home Secretary’s decision is wrong.
I very much support the Home Secretary’s decision. Unlike most of the people bleating on the Labour Benches, I actually lived in South Yorkshire in a mining community during the time of the miners strike and saw at first hand the bullying and intimidation from the miners that went on. People who did not contribute to the strike fund had their windows done in.
These people were trying to bring down the democratically elected Government of the time. They lost, and they need to get over it. Anyone only has to look at the TV pictures—[Interruption.]
Order. I recognise that this is a subject that arouses very strong feeling, but the House knows me well enough by now to know that I will facilitate the fullest possible questioning on the matter from Members in all parts of the House. However, I ought to be able to say without fear of contradiction that the hon. Member for Shipley will be heard.
People only have to look at the TV footage of the event to see the violence that the miners were carrying out against police officers. Will the Minister explain why, if this matter is so important to Labour Members, in the 13 years they were in government they did absolutely nothing about it?
My hon. Friend makes an impassioned point. I would not for a moment want to put words in the mouth of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) from the Dispatch Box. I am sure he will be able to explain the actions he took or did not take during that period. For us, this has not been a political decision. The Home Secretary said yesterday that it is about looking at what is right in terms of the wider public interest and in the light of the substantial changes to and reforms of the police service there have been. All of us, across the House, should get behind the continued driving through of future reforms of the police service through the Policing and Crime Bill.
We on the Labour Benches have noted that the Home Secretary has not bothered to come before the House on this occasion to explain her decision.
Most people in this House remember the miners strike, and what happened at Orgreave was totemic. Most people in the House also remember what Lord Stockton—Harold Macmillan—said in his maiden speech in the House of Lords about the miners strike:
“it breaks my heart to see what is happening in our country today. A terrible strike…by the best men in the world. They beat the Kaiser’s army and they beat Hitler’s army. They never gave in.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 November 1984; Vol. 457, c. 240.]
Does the Minister understand that the Home Secretary’s decision is a slap in the face to the best men in the world and their friends and supporters? Does he understand that the Orgreave campaigners feel that they have been led up the garden path by the Home Secretary? And does he understand that the Home Secretary’s proposition is that because there were no deaths and no convictions—and the cases only collapsed because the collusion by South Yorkshire police officers was revealed—injustice must stand? The Opposition say to Ministers that we will not let this issue go and that injustice will not be allowed to stand.
The hon. Lady was here yesterday when the Home Secretary was here, having already made a written ministerial statement, to answer questions on this matter during oral questions. I am here today because this issue forms part of the portfolio I cover for the Home Office.
The Government have stood up and brought forward inquiries before. We have not been afraid to address matters to correct the wrongs of the past. We have had to consider the wider public interest, which includes what lessons need to be learned and how we change police behaviour based on what happened 30 years ago. Bear in mind that since that time we have had not only the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 but a range of other reforms, not least the delivery of local accountability through police and crime commissioners and changes in police practice. Looking at what lessons could be learned, what the benefits would be and what outcomes we are looking for from a public inquiry, the Home Secretary’s decision, although the hon. Lady disagrees with it, is absolutely right.
I would just make a further point to the hon. Lady. In looking at the wider public interest, the Home Office considers a wide range of matters, including differences with previous cases where there were a substantial number of tragic deaths. In this case there were none and there were no convictions, so what we are looking at with a public inquiry is whether other lessons could be learned. As I said yesterday, if the hon. Lady looks at the changes in police practice over 30 years, she will see there would be no benefit from proceeding with a public inquiry.
Some of us did not read accounts of the miners strike in The Guardian, with the benefit of living in London. Some of us—as I was, reporting for Central Television—were there on a daily basis. I totally agree with the Home Secretary’s very sensible decision. If we were to have an inquiry, does my right hon. Friend agree that it might be into the funding and activities of the National Union of Mineworkers, which on an almost daily basis bussed thousands of their members into the county of Nottinghamshire to not only bring down a democratically elected Government, but to thwart the democratic decision of the Nottinghamshire miners to work?
My right hon. Friend highlights the very strong feelings on all sides about Orgreave. We totally understand that. The Home Secretary outlined that here yesterday and in the meeting with Orgreave campaigners that I and other MPs also attended. As the Home Secretary outlined yesterday, we appreciate that the campaigners will be disappointed with the decision she has made, but we have to make a decision about what is in the wider public interest, and an inquiry is not.
I listened very carefully to what the Home Secretary had to say yesterday, but, as has already been indicated, her argument that there were no wrongful convictions does not hold water when one realises that the cases collapsed when a decent lawyer revealed collusion on the part of the police.
The absence of deaths at Orgreave is also a red herring. Is not the real issue here as follows: when the redactions to the June 2015 IPCC report were revealed, they showed striking similarities between the personnel and the alleged practices of South Yorkshire police at Orgreave and Hillsborough? Of course, we all now know what went on to happen at Hillsborough. Did the Home Secretary not feel that the striking similarities between personnel and practices at Orgreave and Hillsborough alone justified an independent inquiry, even as an opportunity to increase public trust in the police?
Moreover, there is a very important issue raised by Orgreave, which is the alleged political interference by the then UK Government in operational policing. If there was political interference from the Government in operational policing, it would be a deeply troubling matter and one of huge constitutional significance. Did the Home Secretary give this grave accusation consideration as part of the process leading to her decision yesterday?
The hon. and learned Lady addresses issues relating to the investigation. The IPCC has said that, should further evidence emerge of any impropriety by an officer, retired or otherwise, it would look at it. I met the chairman of the IPCC yesterday afternoon. She confirmed again that if new evidence came forward it would look at it. Furthermore, the report published by the IPPC was redacted on legal advice because it contained passages relating to the then ongoing Hillsborough inquiry. I refer back to my comments of a short while ago: investigations are still going on into Hillsborough and criminal proceedings may well come out of them. The IPCC is involved in those investigations.
It is disappointing that the Labour party seems to want to divide our society once again. Labour Members would do well to remember that the miners in South Derbyshire, North West Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire wanted to work and bore the full brunt of secondary picketing. Does the Minister agree it is important that the new chief constable of South Yorkshire police, who was only appointed in the summer, has a chance to bed into his position and start to rebuild his relationships with the local community?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, a variation of which was raised yesterday by another hon. Friend. I spoke to the police and crime commissioner of South Yorkshire yesterday, so I know that the force is determined to build a new relationship with the people of South Yorkshire. There is new leadership and new membership in that police force, and I said that I was looking forward to working with them to develop a new approach from what existed some 30 years ago. They acknowledge that they have a piece of work to do to rebuild engagement with the community, and we will stand with them in support.
I find it painful that Members are rehashing discredited, 30-year-old smears, which does nothing for community cohesion. Both the Home Secretary yesterday and the Minister now seem to be saying that we are not having this inquiry because nobody died. Is that the new bar that this Government are levying on justice?
No, and with all due respect, I think the hon. Lady is using an unfortunate interpretation of what I said. I have been clear, as was the Home Secretary yesterday, that there is a wide range of issues surrounding the public interest in having an inquiry. There were no wrongful convictions, and there were no deaths, but a key question is—I stress it again—what lessons are we looking to learn from an incident that happened 30 years ago? In the period from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 right through to the Policing and Crime Bill that is going through the House today, there has been a substantial and dramatic change in the system and structure of policing in this country. Things are very different today, so there is no wider public interest in having an inquiry at this time.
Does the Minister agree that we are in danger of running away with the concept that all police at the time were bad and all the striking miners were good? I still remember Arthur Scargill refusing to condemn picket line violence. I remember the murder of the taxi driver, David Wilkie; and I remember the relentless use of the word “scab” to describe anybody who simply wanted to go to work. Should we not get a sense of proportion here?
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. I fully recognise that there are very strong feelings on all sides of the debate. Some families feel very strongly about it, and I and others met them in September this year. I absolutely understand the strength of their feeling and why they feel as they do, but we have to look at the wider public interest. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) refers from a sedentary position to other issues around South Yorkshire, but they are separate issues. This is a decision specifically about Orgreave, not the wider issues for South Yorkshire. We may disagree with it, but the Home Secretary has made the decision—the right decision—that there is no benefit from having a public inquiry on this issue.
The Minister’s statement today reflects what the Home Secretary said in her written ministerial statement yesterday, which is that somehow there can be no inquiry because South Yorkshire policing has moved on. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that this is a new principle of truth and justice—that it can be denied, in the face of serious allegations, because of the dubious claim that lessons have been learned. That is why families and communities in South Yorkshire feel that they have been sold down the river by this Government—and this cannot stand.
As I said earlier, this has to be looked at in the context of this particular case. Under this Government, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have stood up to take on independent reviews and inquiries over a range of very difficult issues over the last six years, looking at what happened in the past. Despite what Opposition Members might wish to make of it, this is not a political decision; it is a decision based on looking at the particular case of Orgreave and at what is in the wider public interest. As I have outlined, a public inquiry will not serve that interest.
Does the Minister agree that far and away the worst atrocity in those terrible events was the murder of the taxi driver, David Wilkie? Is my right hon. Friend as amazed as I am that his death has not been mentioned once by Opposition Members? Does he agree that if we are to have a public inquiry, it should be into what the former leader of the Labour party called the lies, the violence and the lack of a ballot by those strike-breakers?
My hon. Friend highlights the strength of feeling that exists on all sides of the debate about the activities that happened many years ago. On the point he raised about what would happen if there were a public inquiry, there will not be one. The decision of the Home Secretary and the Government is that the wider public interest is not served by having an Orgreave inquiry.
Why is it that 31 years is too long for an inquiry, yet 31 years is not too long for this Government to carry on hiding the Cabinet papers on the strike and to refuse to release them? Why is it so long, when we know that the Thatcher Government were going to close 75 pits and not 20? The truth is that this nasty party has now become the nasty Government, who are more concerned about preserving the Thatcher legacy than they are fighting for truth and justice.
Again, the hon. Gentleman misinterprets what I have said this afternoon. What I have said very clearly is that the decision not to have a public inquiry is based on looking at the wider public interest. Included in that are the facts that there were no wrongful convictions and no deaths and, importantly, that police structure and behaviour has changed. This was seen partly under the last Labour Government, but predominantly under this Government. I ask the hon. Gentleman to support and join us in carrying out the further work to continue those reforms and to work with the South Yorkshire police to improve their relationship with people as we go forward. I have spoken to the police and crime commissioner of South Yorkshire, and I know that he is very keen to be transparent and to deliver more. He has employed an archivist to try to ensure that South Yorkshire police get all the archives they can. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to engage with that.
The synthetic indignation from Labour Members cannot mask the fact that in 13 years of a Labour Government, the issue of Orgreave was completely neglected and forgotten. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, notwithstanding the absence of an inquiry—I concur wholeheartedly with the Home Secretary’s decision—the clear and necessary changes in governance and mind-set required within the South Yorkshire police will continue and be delivered?
My hon. Friend makes a good and important point. It is very important that we continue to reform the police service for the future. Some reforms are outlined in the Policing and Crime Bill, and there are others that the former Home Secretary, now our Prime Minister, has taken on, and that the Home Secretary is determined to deliver. It is part of the task of changing how the police work from how they used to work some 30 years ago. I spoke to Dr Alan Billings, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire yesterday afternoon. I am determined to work with him and his chief constable to make sure that they get a good relationship with the people of South Yorkshire in the future. We want to ensure that the police service delivers on the work that the police do every single day—policing by consent.
I have represented Orgreave in this House since 1983. I well remember the events of the miners strike at that time. I called for a public inquiry to review the policing of the miners strike in 1985—and it was denied at that time as it has been denied now. The Minister says that the IPCC is still looking at these issues, but he must know that the IPCC deals with serving police officers. If they are still serving in South Yorkshire, they would have been about 16 at the time, so this is not an answer to the problem. He says that the Home Secretary is looking at the papers, but we need an independent individual to look at them. If we cannot have a full public inquiry, we should surely be able to have someone of an independent nature to look at what happened to see if any lessons can be learned from the policing of the miners strike in 1984-85.
I think the fact that the IPCC is involved in work on Hillsborough that could lead to criminal proceedings shows that it is prepared to deal with these issues appropriately. After all, it is an independent organisation. As I said earlier, I met its chair yesterday, and he confirmed again—as the IPCC has already confirmed publicly—that if new evidence appears, it will look at that evidence. I assume from the right hon. Gentleman’s comments that he will fully support the work that we are doing to reform and update the IPCC to ensure that officers who have left the police force can still be involved in investigations and prosecuted by the organisation.
I was a serving police officer at the time, and I well remember the situation as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Does the Minister agree that policing has moved on significantly in the last few decades, that there are sufficient safeguards against a repetition of an episode like Orgreave and that there is no useful purpose in an inquiry?
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. As I have said, the changes made by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, the criminal justice changes, and other reforms—not least the introduction of local accountability through police and crime commissioners—have led to a dramatic change in policing practices in the last few decades. I welcome that, but we all need to work to ensure that it continues.
I note that the Minister has failed to answer a single one of the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). I feel sorry for the Minister, because the Home Secretary bottled it yesterday and she has bottled it again today. He knows that she did not review the documents on the basis of which the IPCC reached its decision. Does he honestly believe that she can honestly say that there is no link with Hillsborough and that there are no lessons to be learnt today?
The hon. Lady should have another look at what I said in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. Although I fully appreciate that both she and he may not agree with or like what I said, that does not mean that I did not answer the question, and it does not mean that the Home Secretary’s decision is wrong. A number of factors were taken into account in the making of that decision. It involved looking at a wide range of documents, and, indeed, meeting the Orgreave campaigners themselves, as the Home Secretary, the hon. Lady and I did in September. I suggest that the hon. Lady look again at my answers to questions, including my answers to the right hon. Gentleman.
I wonder whether the Minister agrees with David Blunkett, the former Labour Home Secretary, who reportedly said that he
“would take some convincing that another agonising internal inquiry would shed more light than is already known.”
I saw that quotation as well, and I think it underlines and highlights the fact that this was a difficult decision. No one has said that it was easy. As the Home Secretary herself said, in the House yesterday—and she was here yesterday, answering questions on this matter—and also during previous appearances in the House and when meeting the campaigners, a difficult decision had to be made and many factors weighed up. Ultimately, however, we had to make a decision about what was in the wider public interest, and this decision is in the wider public interest.
May I ask the Minister a very simple question? Will the Home Secretary meet members of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign to discuss this matter further?
The Home Secretary has met the Orgreave campaigners, and she spoke to Barbara Jackson yesterday. She has also written to the campaigners, and I think that they need time to digest her letter. I know that they made a statement shortly before I came into the House today, but we shall have to await their response to the Home Secretary and take matters from there.
A few moments ago, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) mentioned the 1983 election. May I invite the Minister to consider improvements that have been made in police codes of conduct in the past 30 years by, for example, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which came into force on 1 January 1986? Given the apparent strength of feeling on the Opposition Benches, is it not strange that successive Labour Governments failed to conduct a review of, or inquiry into, what had happened at Orgreave?
My hon. Friend has made a couple of points. I will let others draw their own conclusions about the actions of those other than ourselves in the Home Office, but I will say that he is absolutely right about the changes that have taken place. We have had PACE, the Public Order Act 1986, the changes at HMIC, and the police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy inspections. The Association of Chief Police Officers has now become the National Police Chiefs Council and has its own codes of conduct. Furthermore, we have the Policing and Crime Bill, and we have the police and crime commissioner reforms that were introduced in the House by the present Prime Minister. Policing has changed dramatically, but we want the reforms to continue, and I urge all members to support that work.
I was elected to the House in 1984, in the middle of the miners strike. I spoke about the strike in my maiden speech, and I stood on the picket lines and saw what happened. I saw the brutality and the intimidation. I saw a pregnant woman kicked in the stomach. There was a lot of violence. That was in the Cynon valley, and people in the Cynon valley still feel very strongly about this issue. They believe that unless the Government have something to hide, they should agree to an inquiry. We are fully behind the people who call for the inquiry: people never forget, and certainly they will never forget the experiences of the miners strike.
As I said earlier, the decision that we have had to make—the decision that the Home Secretary has made—involved looking at a range of issues relating to the specific case of Orgreave and considering whether it was in the wider public interest to hold an inquiry. It was decided that it was not.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on being granted the urgent question, but does the Minister agree that if there is to be an inquiry of this kind, it should take place as soon as possible after the event? Did the Home Secretary take account of the fact that Prime Minister Brown and Prime Minister Blair did not hold such an inquiry? Is not the danger now that all that would happen is that a lot of lawyers would become even richer, and we would not gain any more knowledge?
The Home Secretary’s decision involved looking at a wide range of documents and considering a wide range of factors. Ultimately, however, the core of the decision was the question of what was in the wider public interest, and we have decided that an inquiry is not in the wider public interest.
The Home Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box and encouraged me to present the evidence that I had been given by one of my local councillors, Mike Freeman. He was a serving officer in Greater Manchester police whose whistleblowing about the corrupt practices in South Yorkshire featured in an edition of the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme. This Government did not have Mike’s back. Would the Minister like to apologise for the personal cost that he has suffered?
As I have said, the Home Secretary looked at a wide range of documents and considered a wide range of factors, and that included meeting the campaigners. We are determined to ensure that whistleblowers are properly protected, which is why we are seeking to increase their protections. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that, along with the Police and Crime Bill and our work with the IPCC.
Does it not strike the Minister as odd that Labour Members are using part of their Opposition day tomorrow to debate police officers’ safety? They seem to have forgotten that 32 years ago individual police officers from up and down the country, including Northamptonshire, faced an unprecedented wave of picket-line violence from yobs, led by trade unions, without the protective equipment that police officers have today. Yes, it was ugly; yes, it was violence, and those unfortunate events happened on both sides. However, to spend millions of pounds on investigating events of 32 years ago when things have moved on would be a waste of time.
My hon. Friend has raised the important issue of the safety and security of our police, which we will debate tomorrow. It is right for people to appreciate that our forces police by consent, which is why I think that the reforms that have taken place over the past few decades are so important, and why I think that we must continue those reforms. We want a police force that we can continue to be proud of and continue to rate as the best in the world, and we want to make sure that our police officers are safe as well. That does not detract from the fact that both the Home Secretary and I fully appreciate the strength of feeling on all sides of the debate. Nevertheless, the decision about Orgreave had to be about what was in the wider public interest. That is the decision that the Home Secretary has made, and rightly so.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is supported by people throughout the United Kingdom, including many of my constituents. Yesterday’s decision ultimately means that South Yorkshire police will not be held to account for their actions and required to answer the serious allegation that they were deliberately trying to create circumstances in which riot charges would stick, a narrative that was briefed to the then Prime Minister and her Cabinet. In the absence of an inquiry or an independent review, how do the Government intend to deal with that very serious allegation?
If there are allegations and new evidence, the IPCC chair repeated to me yesterday what it has said publicly: it will look at any new evidence and take it into account in any decisions it makes moving forward. In particular, there are still ongoing investigations and potential criminal proceedings linked to Hillsborough. This is also why it is important that we not only continue to deliver the reforms outlined over the last 30 years, and in particular the last five or six years, but we continue the reform of the police service, especially working with South Yorkshire police on its relationships with its local community.
I was very young during the miners strike but I do know Nottinghamshire’s former coalfield communities today; I represent some of them. Those communities are still suffering in many respects from the miners strike. They are suffering from ill health, low levels of employment, addiction and many other problems. As so little is to be gained from having this inquiry, would it not be better if we all now concentrate on the present and the future?
There is an important point here as this highlights why the Prime Minister is right to state that we as a Government need to work to ensure we deliver a country that works for everybody, so everyone in those communities— communities I worked in myself a decade or more ago—has the chance to succeed in life. We must always learn the lessons of the past. That is why the reforms over the last three decades and the reforms going forward are so important in making sure we continue to have a first-class police force in this country.
The police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire, Dr Alan Billings, has made it absolutely clear that he does not want to begin the process of building a new future for South Yorkshire police by sweeping under the carpet the problems of the past. Will the Minister specifically say whether he and the Home Secretary have looked at the evidence of masonic links involved in the cover-up at Orgreave and whether they are the same masonic links that were evident in the cover-up at Hillsborough?
I repeat what I said earlier this afternoon: the Home Secretary has considered a number of factors in the decision, including a wide range of documents and arguments put forward in the campaign submission. [Interruption.] Members on the Opposition Front Bench are saying this has already been said, but that might be because I am being asked the same question in effect time and again. No matter how many times I am asked, I will be clear to Opposition Members that the Home Secretary has looked at a wide range of issues in making her decision. [Interruption.] I say specifically on the hon. Gentleman’s point about the PCC, if Opposition Front Benchers will allow him to hear what I am saying, that Dr Alan Billings makes an important point about wanting to move forward with a fresh start for the new leadership of South Yorkshire police. My hon. Friends have made that point, and when I spoke to the PCC yesterday he was clear about his determination to have transparency and to have an archivist work through the archives to get as much as possible out into the public domain to help us move forward. The relationship with the public of South Yorkshire is important.
Does the Minister agree that, although there was of course a tragedy at Orgreave and there were abuses almost certainly on both sides, justice delayed is justice denied, and it would have been better to have had this inquiry 15 years after the event rather than waiting 31 years, when so many people are retired or have died, and it would be inappropriate to have it now?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but the reasoning behind the Home Secretary’s decision comes from looking at the wider public interest. There were no wrongful convictions and no deaths and, importantly, the changes in policing over the last three decades mean policing has moved on, and we need to continue those reforms.
Does the Minister accept that there were no wrongful convictions because the case the police fabricated against those 95 miners collapsed because of the fabricated evidence? Does he not accept that there was then no accountability for the senior officers in South Yorkshire police, including the chief constable at the time, who led that arrangement to fit people up wrongly? Five years later, that same cadre of senior officers was responsible for fabricating evidence against fans after the Hillsborough disaster. Yes, that did lead to 96 deaths, but the denial of justice over so many years for the Hillsborough families and those affected by the events at Hillsborough might never have happened if the chief constable and his senior cadre of officers had been held to account for what happened at Orgreave, but they were not.
The hon. Lady has in effect outlined why it has been so important to have those reforms in how policing works and that local accountability over the last three decades. Her point about Hillsborough is right, and criminal proceedings may well come out of that with the IPCC, but that is because the reforms and changes through the IPCC and further reforms in the Policing and Crime Bill and the PCCs have changed the landscape of policing. It has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, and that forms a part of the Home Secretary’s right decision that it is not in the public interest to have a public inquiry.
In 1984 I sat on these Benches representing the coalmining communities of Cannock and Burntwood. At that time my constituents working at Lea Hall and Littleton collieries were being subjected to the kind of intimidation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has mentioned, including the throwing of bags of urine by striking south Wales miners as my constituents attempted to go to work. So does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that Orgreave was in fact a violent attempt to prevent the British Steel Corporation from going about its lawful business and furthermore a naked political attempt to bring down the Government of Margaret Thatcher, and that since then trade union relations and industrial relations have been transformed out of all recognition, to the betterment of this country?
My hon. Friend highlights the strength of feeling on both sides about issues that happened decades ago, and also highlights again that, hugely importantly, the police have reformed. There are still reforms going forward that we need to see through, and I hope we will all be working together in the years ahead to deliver them.
The jobs of ordinary police officers, many of whom came from mining families, were made difficult for many years after the miners strike precisely because of the misuse of police by the state. Is that not the fundamental issue here? Zimbabwe, China and Venezuela are three countries that have recently used the police to undermine individual rights and freedoms. How do we know that senior politicians were not involved, as the Cabinet papers have not been revealed and there is no longer going to be an inquiry? When will we know, for better or for worse, what senior politicians did and what pressure they brought to bear on the police?
A large number of historical files on Orgreave and the miners strike are already publicly available through the National Archives. Also, as I have said, the PCC for South Yorkshire is employing an archivist to look at publishing even more from its archives, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will take a great interest in that. He should also work with us and endorse the reforms to the police service that will lead to that key important result that Members have mentioned: that the new leadership of South Yorkshire police is able to find a way to build a new relationship with the people of South Yorkshire and to continue the work the police do every day, policing by consent.
It is with great sadness that I hear Conservative Members saying that an inquiry is neither justified nor needed. I wonder how many said the same prior to the Hillsborough inquiry. We on this side of the House will continue our fight for justice and truth for those affected in Orgreave.
I would just draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the inquiries and work that this Government have done to bring injustice to the surface. We have a good track record of making sure we unearth things but ultimately always making a decision that is in the wider public interest.
The Prime Minister’s own chief of staff, Nick Timothy, is on record as saying:
“If the police pre-planned a mass, unlawful assault on the miners at Orgreave and then sought to cover up what they did and arrest people on trumped up charges, we need to know.”
He is absolutely right. Why are the Government stopping us knowing?
I suggest the hon. Gentleman read through the evidence that is out there—that is published in the National Archives and being published by South Yorkshire police—and reads the full IPCC report on its investigation as well as the paperwork from the campaigners themselves. These are all part of the wide range of sources that we and the Home Secretary have looked at in making a decision on what is in the wider public interest.
It is incumbent on every Member of the House to fight for truth and justice when lies and injustice have been exposed. The Home Secretary is denying us a public inquiry into the Orgreave tragedy, and the Scottish Government are denying us an inquiry in Scotland on the policing and convictions relating to the injustices that happened there during the miners strike. Can the public of this country therefore conclude that the Governments that are democratically elected to represent them here and in Scotland are no longer interested in fighting for justice even when new information becomes available?
As I have said, if new information becomes available, the IPCC will look into investigating it. I had that conversation with the chairman of the IPCC yesterday, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments I made on that earlier this afternoon. I would also like to think that the public will look at the track record of the Government, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister in taking on vested interests and making difficult decisions. This has been a difficult decision. The Home Secretary has made a decision that we believe is in the wider public interest, and it is the right decision.
Trust is crucial to policing, and the image of mounted police officers cantering towards the striking miners is seared on the imagination of everyone who has seen it. This is a huge issue of public interest, as are the allegations of political interference in policing in our country. Does the Minister not recognise the damage that the Secretary of State’s failure to hold an investigation and to stand up for justice is having on public confidence in her Department?
The IPCC has held an investigation, and if there is new evidence, it will look at the potential for further investigations. That is a matter for the IPCC, which is, by definition, independent. The hon. Lady also touched on the point that our police forces police by consent in this country. That is a two-way thing. In fact, we will be debating that subject tomorrow. It is important that the police and crime commissioner and the new leadership of the South Yorkshire police look at how they build that relationship with the public. It is also important that we and the public respect the police, as they continue to police us by consent. No doubt that will be part of the debate tomorrow afternoon.
It is not good enough for the Minister to say that there should have been an inquiry earlier, because papers on Orgreave were still being released up to Christmas 2015. Those papers prompted calls for an inquiry because they showed an abuse of power in South Yorkshire police and the concocting of statements. Yes, no one was killed at Orgreave but lives were ruined and innocent people were sent to jail on remand. More importantly, in the mining areas that I know well—I am the direct descendant of generations of miners—trust in the police was completely destroyed in communities where children were previously brought up to trust and support the police. Until there is an inquiry, those wrongs cannot be righted. How can the Minister possibly keep denying us one?
If the hon. Lady looks at what I have said this afternoon, she will see that I have not commented on what the previous Government did or did not do. I have stated specifically that that is a matter for those who were members of that Government to comment on, not for me. Our decision is about the Orgreave case, based on the facts that the Home Secretary and I have looked at and the meetings with the families. The hon. Lady talked about the public’s view of South Yorkshire police, and of the police in general, and it is important that we continue with the reforms and ensure that South Yorkshire police have the support they need to rebuild those relationships with the public. That is the outcome that should be right for people across the country. We should continue with the reforms and I hope that she will support us in doing so.
The miners from the Rhondda at Orgreave were dressed in T-shirts and plimsolls, and they were batted aside like flies by what felt like a paramilitary operation under political instruction. There are very real questions that the community in the Rhondda is still asking. Who gave those instructions? Has the present Home Secretary seen the operational instructions of the day? Why will she not publish them? Who told the police officers to fabricate evidence and to perjure themselves? The Home Secretary says that there has been no miscarriage of justice, but the people of the Rhondda will conclude that without a proper investigation and full publication, the miscarriage of justice is being done in this House by this Government. [Interruption.]
The point that the Home Secretary was making—[Interruption.]
Order. There is so much yelling from each side of the Chamber that it was difficult for me to hear the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who should be heard by the House—and, indeed, by the world. I also need to hear the response from the Minister, which should also be widely heard. I say to Members on both sides: please, hold your noise.
The point that the Home Secretary was making, and that I have made today, is that we have looked at a whole range of factors. The comparison has been made with Hillsborough, but unlike at Hillsborough, there were no deaths or wrongful convictions as a result of Orgreave. Also, policing has changed dramatically in the years since then. That is why the Home Secretary’s decision, which had to be made in the wider public interest, is the right one, despite the fact that there is disagreement on it.
Today’s exchanges show that what the Minister has described as the Home Secretary’s “difficult decision” is hardly going to be received as an independent consideration. He has said a lot today about the public interest. Will he tell us which public interest would be compromised or undermined by a demonstrably independent and cost-effective review of these signal events?
That is a very good question. This reminds me of a question I asked when I met the campaigners. I asked what they were hoping an inquiry would achieve. There were no wrongful convictions to correct, and there were no deaths to investigate. There was, however, a question about police behaviour. We can learn the lessons of the past and look at the behaviour, performance, structures and working of the police for the future. Things have changed dramatically in the past three decades, from the reforms in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 right through to the ones that we are introducing today. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to support us in our work on continuing with these important reforms.
Many of those campaigning for an inquiry into Orgreave drew hope from the result of the Hillsborough inquiry. Is the real reason that no inquiry will be allowed in this instance the fact that the Government fear that it would show that, unlike at Hillsborough, the police conspired in advance and initiated the confrontations, which would undoubtedly lead to questions about Government involvement?
As I have said, there are considerable differences between the two situations. The basis on which the Government’s decision on an inquiry into Orgreave was made was whether it would be in the wider public interest.