I beg to move,
That this House has considered the potential merits of a UK-wide inquiry into the miners’ strike of 1984-85.
I am grateful for the opportunity to secure this debate and talk about an issue that is very close to my heart and that of my community, and an integral part of Scotland’s—and the UK’s—history and present. After being told I had secured the debate, I reached out the community in Midlothian, and asked for the views and memories of many of those who were involved at the height of the miners strikes. I was overwhelmed by the response of the residents of Midlothian and am thankful to them for sharing their memories and experiences.
As events fall into the past and become history, it is easy to forget that the people involved were real people; their lives mattered and they were affected in tangible ways. In the case of the miners strike of 1984-85, the history is not that long ago, and the people at the heart of it still feel real pain and injustice. I moved to the town of Loanhead at the height of the strikes. Criminal records, lost pensions and social stigma were the real-world consequences, which many are still living with, but those issues have never been fully addressed, nor the people listened to. That could change. Ex-miners and their families deserve to feel listened to, and for the Government to take action off the back of what they say. That is why I am calling for a public inquiry into the strikes—to get answers and redress for those affected by the many injustices caused by those events.
This is not about a grievance, nor dwelling in the past. It is about the future and recognising that we need to heal the wounds of the past in order to move forward. How we approach the past says a lot about who we are today. Do we learn from injustice and listen to the lessons, or would we do it all again given the chance? Those are the questions that need answered for the sake of communities across the country, especially my own in Midlothian. The way we achieve that is through a public inquiry into the policing of the strikes.
Mining in Midlothian dates back all the way to the 12th century, when the monks of Newbattle Abbey first began extracting coal. By the 20th century, mining was integral to the area’s way of life. Midlothian was home to a range of pits, from Bilston Glen and Monktonhall to the first Victorian super-pit at the Lady Victoria colliery, which is still home to the National Mining Museum Scotland; I recommend that all Members visit.
But by the 1980s, mines meant miners strikes. A token picket of six was maintained at Monktonhall, but Bilston Glen and Loanhead saw mass picketing and some of the most bitter conflicts of the strike in Scotland. Such was the significance of Bilston Glen in the story of the strike that Tom Wood, the former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders police said,
“Did we have violent confrontations? Yes, we did, and they were mainly on the days when visiting pickets came to Bilston Glen.”
According to Professor Jim Murdoch, miners’ stories
“showed without doubt that the criminal justice system all too often reacted in an arbitrary and disproportionate manner.”
The unfair and unbalanced reaction from the authorities often took the form of arbitrary sentences being handed out, whether charges stuck or not.
During the recent Committee stage of the Scottish Government’s Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill, a former miner at Monktonhall and former colleague of mine on Midlothian Council, Alex Bennett, said,
“I was snatched by one of the snatch squads. They went for the union officials and they knew our names. The original charges were for rioting but that wasn’t going to stick so they changed it to breach of the peace.”
The tactic was simply to use whatever means necessary to get miners, especially union officials, off the picket line and into the cells. Breach of the peace, obstructing a police officer, breach of bail and theft—all those charges and more were twisted to justify the snatch squad style of policing. It would be better suited to Putin’s Russia today. That is not what good policing looks like and it does an injustice to the rule of law. Serious questions still remain to be answered about the extent of alleged political interference in the policing of the strike.
The hon. Member is making a very powerful speech. The events of 1984-85 shaped many of our politics, including mine. I grew up in Castleford, West Yorkshire, a mining community. I remember some of the police tactics—stopping us from going about our community—and the Metropolitan Police in particular. Those events shaped my politics, so I am grateful not only for that experience but also to Margaret Thatcher, would you believe it, for my membership of the Labour party. I commend the hon. Member for his campaigning, with others across the Chamber, for truth and justice for Orgreave.
Absolutely, and I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. Those events and others like them have shaped the politics of so many and brought many to a more active role in politics, through whatever means, be it the Labour party, the SNP or whatever else. Events such as those bring people forward. The hon. Member mentioned Orgreave. I had a conversation earlier with Chris Peace of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. It is certainly worth highlighting that, from their side of things, there are still serious unanswered questions.
The disproportionate response to the strikes did not stop in the courts. It also affected miners’ financial futures. Arrested strikers were sacked and denied redundancy payments and pension rights. Again, Alex Bennett said in evidence to the Holyrood Committee:
“Only later on did we realise that…anybody who had been arrested was not just going to get fined; they were going to lose their job and lose their redundancy payment. I was an official in the miners union, and we used to sit in when men were getting made redundant. I knew exactly what I would have got if I had been made redundant at that time: I would have qualified for £27,000 in 1985. I never got that, and it is still bitter to this day that I was denied that because of the attitude of the coal board in Scotland.”
He was one of over 100 miners who were blacklisted. It took many of them years to find work. On top of that, a former spy chief, Dame Stella Rimington, revealed that MI5 tapped union leaders’ phones during the strike. That was broadcast by Channel 4’s “Dispatches” as far back as 1994.
Midlothian is today, much as it was in the ’80s, a place where community is king. We only have to look at the community events and gala days held every weekend over the last month, including gala day just this Saturday past at Loanhead, the home of Bilston Glen, where we have the miners memorial. Remembering those who lost their lives in the pits is now an integral part of gala day celebrations; but it is also important that, as part of that, we remember what else happened around the pits.
Within each town and village, people know each other, and folk from all walks of life intermingle. That is exactly what made the strikes such a bitter affair. In Danderhall, the local miners club had a bowling green that the Lothian and Borders police would use for their annual competition. Police and miners would have a good bevvy together afterwards, and chat and chew the fat. After the strike, that connection was severed, which is no small thing for a close-knit community such as Midlothian and many others. But it is worth being clear that this is not just an exercise in digging up the past; it is about recognising that a wrong has been done and that now we have the power to address it.
The Scottish Government rightly recognised the scale of the injustice back in 2018, when they commissioned an independent review, led by John Scott QC, of the impact of policing on communities during the strike. Following testimony from former miners, police officers and mining communities, the review group made one single recommendation: that the Scottish Government should introduce legislation to pardon miners convicted for certain matters related to the strike. The Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill was welcomed by the National Union of Mineworkers for removing the stigma of a criminal record. I am delighted to say that that Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in the last couple of weeks.
Some might ask why we need a UK inquiry if the Scottish one was such a success. Aside from the fact that miners and their families across the rest of the UK also deserve justice, it is important to look at what the Scottish inquiry could not do. It could not consider elements of policy reserved to the UK, including the crucial issue of trade union relations, nor could it address the allegations of political interference by the UK Government—an absolutely critical question. Without those missing pieces, ex-miners and their families will never get the full truth. Only a UK-wide inquiry can deliver that.
On top of that, we have to consider the question of compensation—it is only natural. In many cases, a pardon simply will not be enough to undo decades of financial loss suffered by many miners. Unfair dismissal, and the subsequent loss of redundancy payments and pension rights, has a lasting effect and affects many people to this day. Ex-miners and their families deserve a compensation scheme to ensure not only moral justice, but economic justice. As such, the Scottish Government support the idea, but their hands are tied by devolution. Employment and industrial relations are reserved to this place, so it is up to the UK Government to devise such a scheme. A compensation system that is uniform and fair across the UK is something that only a UK-wide inquiry could deliver.
It is crucial that any inquiry should put reconciliation at its heart, just as the Scottish inquiry did. The principles at the heart of the review were put eloquently by Professor Jim Murdoch, who stated:
“As members of the independent review, our task was primarily to listen: to show that those affected by the miners’ strike had a voice more than a third of a century later. At each of the meetings we held, it was clear that the pain felt by former miners and their families was still raw…Our task was to seek to promote a sense of reconciliation”.
The miners strike is a part of our history and continues to shape communities such as Midlothian to this day. My predecessor in this place—the former MP Sir David Hamilton, or Davie, as he is still known in Midlothian—was not only an ex-miner; he was arrested on the Bilston Glen picket line and blacklisted. As I understand it, he was the only miner to face trial by jury and be acquitted. It is hard to overstate the impact of the strike on our politics, even today—as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) said—but mining communities also shape our future. Midlothian’s mines are now abandoned and flooded, but the water in the mines is an energy source that is rich with huge potential. By tapping geothermal energy from the heat in that mine water, we could use that power in the future. I applaud local activists, academics and the Coal Authority for working to make mine-water energy a reality across the country, and it is something that I continue to push for in Midlothian.
Looking to the future, it is never too late to right the wrongs of the past. Sometimes time needs to pass before our society is mature enough to throw its hands up and admit that it did wrong, so it is not unusual to have historical inquiries into events long after the fact. For example, it took 36 years for an inquiry to be launched into the Bloody Sunday shootings, and the final report was published 15 years after that. It should have happened sooner—nobody can deny that—but, likewise, we should have had an inquiry into the miners strike years ago. The best time to plant a tree may have been yesterday, but the second best time is now. It is never too late.
All history is contested, and there are two sides to every story—whether it comes from miners, police, communities or the Government—but a Government prove their maturity by being able to listen to both sides of a story and represent them equally. By weaving the injustices of the miners strike into our national story, we show that our history is for everyone and is truly national. By picking up the Scottish Government’s baton and delivering, the process of healing could start today.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I thank the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson)—the vice chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities, which I proudly chair—for securing this important debate, which is close to all our hearts, as he mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) mentioned that the 1984-85 strike shaped our politics. It made me: I am who I am because of that strike. My dad was a miner who was on strike in 1984-85, and I have spoken about how I am very proudly my father’s daughter. He instilled in me all the beliefs that I hold dear today and that have put me in this place, as has my community, for which I am very thankful. It is because of that that I stand here today, and I will focus my comments on the shocking events of 18 June 1984, which are crystallised in the minds of all our communities.
Scenes of mounted police officers charging towards miners with their truncheons raised are images that many people have found impossible to forget. Today, Orgreave is widely recognised as one of the most aggressive acts of state-sanctioned violence in recent British memory. Indeed, the Orgreave Trust and Justice Campaign called it
“one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in this country’s history”,
which is why we fundamentally need a UK-wide inquiry, because accounts of the events on that day are still contested. An inquiry would finally establish the facts and set the record straight once and for all.
We all know that, as part of the wider effort to discredit unions, the Thatcher Government, aided and abetted by South Yorkshire police, sought to amplify the narrative that it was the miners and not the police who initiated the violence. Well, my dad was there. He was present at Orgreave and saw what happened with his own eyes. He, alongside thousands of others, will attest that that narrative was untrue. Alongside others, he fled from horrific scenes of assault and brutalisation at the hands of South Yorkshire police with genuine fear for his own safety. It is a huge act of generational injustice for that to have never been investigated by a public inquiry.
The prosecutions against the 95 arrested protesters all collapsed precisely because their trials exposed the flimsy testimonies and unreliable evidence from police officers, some of which was later found to be perjurious. Serious allegations have emerged about the extent to which South Yorkshire police acted to cover up their wrongdoing, from the submission of misleading evidence to junior officers having their testimonies dictated to them by their superiors. What happened at Orgreave and in the years that followed was a serious failure of policing. Only a full public inquiry can right that fundamental wrong.
Much of the groundwork for an inquiry, as we have heard, has already been done. Colleagues will be aware that in June 2015 the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), commendably opened the door to a public inquiry by inviting submissions for why an inquiry was needed, but the following year her successor stood up in the Chamber and ruled out an inquiry of any kind. That was in 2016, six years ago, and much has changed since then.
The 2019 election saw a wave of new Members elected to this place, myself included, many of whom were new Conservative Members who now represent large ex-mining communities. If those colleagues were here today and bothered to represent their constituencies, I would tell them to call on their friends in government to hold an inquiry. Many of their constituents will have been at Orgreave and will know at first hand that the popular narrative in the media about Orgreave was utterly false.
In October 2020, the Scottish Parliament, as we have heard, accepted the findings of the Scottish review into policing during the strike, and Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament supported it and its outcome. The precedent, the groundwork and the cross-party support for an inquiry is all there. We just need the Tory Government here in Westminster to listen. If they are serious about retaining the red wall seats, which I hope does not happen—it will not—they would be wise to pay attention. But this is bigger than politics. Fundamentally, an inquiry is one of the many steps that we urgently need to take to restore public trust in policing.
Public trust in policing is vital. I know from my own constituency in Pontypridd and Taff Ely that when police play a positive, integrated role in our communities, everyone benefits. My brother is now a police officer, so that shows it goes full circle, but the events of Orgreave served to seriously undermine public trust in the police. In the case of South Yorkshire police, trust was undermined even further by the Hillsborough disaster just a few years later, and we now know that police negligence was instrumental.
Failures at Hillsborough and Orgreave have been widely connected and understood to be part of the systemic culture that was at the heart of South Yorkshire police. Just as the Hillsborough inquests brought vindication and comfort to the families of the 97 victims found to have been unlawfully killed, an inquiry into Orgreave would bring clarity, accountability and finally justice.
Trust in the police, particularly the Metropolitan police, has eroded further in recent years in the wake of revelations about systemic racism and misogyny in the force. I will never forget the image of Metropolitan police officers pinning women to the ground at a peaceful protest—actually it was not a protest; it was a vigil—to commemorate the horrific murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving Metropolitan police officer. Just as those women were brutalised for daring to hold a commemorative vigil, protesters at Orgreave were assaulted and brutalised for daring to come together to fight for their rights.
As colleagues will be aware, only yesterday the Met police was placed under special measures by the police watchdog for “serious or critical shortcomings”. If action is to be taken to address failures at the Met, it is only right that action is taken to address the historic failures that led to the battle of Orgreave. Ultimately, we must not allow the rot of eroded public trust to fester any longer. If the Government are committed to rebuilding public trust, as they say they are, they know what they can do: hold an inquiry now, without any further delay, and provide justice to the families who greatly deserve it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) on securing this extremely important debate.
I have to declare an interest. I was one of those 11,000 miners arrested during the strike. I make no apologies for that. I am probably the only Member of Parliament now sitting who was part of the miners strike. I was on strike for the full year, for which I am again extremely proud.
Those were extremely difficult times. Miners are generally very hard-working, conscientious people. Very few miners had ever been in trouble with the police before. In communities up and down the UK, they were hard-working, hard-playing individuals who were the backbone of the nation. I will never forget what I experienced as a young lad. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) said it shaped her character; it definitely shaped mine, for better or worse. Some might say it is for worse, and some that it is for better.
My father, brothers, family and community were all out on strike to save the British coalmining industry. What we experienced was an absolute disgrace. There is an appetite for a public inquiry into what went on, whether we want to talk about the actions of the police, which have already been well documented by the previous two speakers, or about the actions of the courts, the magistrates and the Crown courts, or about the way miners suffered abuse, really, by the legal system through plea bargains—“Accept this and you’ll not go to prison,” or, “Accept this charge and you’ll not get a longer sentence,” when many of those people had not committed anything at all. They deserve justice, because those were hard-working, honest individuals, who, as has already been explained, were basically attacked by the police state, as it were, at the time.
I could recite a number of occurrences I was personally involved in, but I will not bore people to death with that, though they were significant. I had never been involved in anything with the police all my life till the miners strike, and I have never been involved with the police since. I am proud of my record; my record with the police is industrial and was to save communities. We could talk about a number of things, such as police infiltration and whether we had armed forces in the strike. We could talk about how an individual might have been picked off the picket line for no reason whatsoever, and might have lost their job and pension, and been blacklisted, never to get a job again. Some even ended up in prison. There needs to be an inquiry to sort that out.
Who was pulling the strings at the time? Recent documents show that it was the Thatcher Cabinet, if not Margaret Thatcher herself, that made a series of interventions. We want to know what happened. We need to understand and try to draw a line under what happened, which smashed our communities to smithereens.
The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign ran a marvellous campaign over many years, seeking an inquiry into what happened at Orgreave. That campaign was all well and good, and well deserved, and I congratulate everyone involved on their tenacity. But mining communities in south Wales, Scotland, the north-east, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire all suffered as a consequence of the miners strike, through some form of intervention by the police. This goes beyond Orgreave, but Orgreave was the worst of the worst. It is nearly 40 years, but we can look back and think, “Did that really happen in this country?” The BBC reversed the coverage to say that the miners attacked the police. How bizarre that that could be allowed to happen in the UK.
I am absolutely delighted that Scottish Parliament has decided to pardon the miners in the Scottish areas. Compensation is something that we need to discuss and debate, as has already been highlighted. However, there is an overwhelming appetite for a public inquiry. If the Scottish Parliament can unanimously agree to pardons, perhaps the Minister can explain why that cannot be achieved for the rest of the UK.
I could speak for hours on this subject but will wind up my contribution. The miners deserve to be able to be draw a line under this. Many miners went to the grave with criminal charges for fighting for their communities—picked off a picket line by police from 300 miles away, in order to serve a cause that we were terribly opposed to. I ask the Minister to not simply discount the idea of potentially having an inquiry—not just into the policing, but into the miners strike in its entirety—but instead take a lesson from the Shrewsbury 24 campaign. That campaign began in the 1970s, with a strike of building workers. They fought and fought and fought for justice, and they only just got recognised last year, through papers that had to be disclosed to the public by the Government, which outlined all the wrongdoings of the police. We will keep campaigning for this inquiry, because the miners, their families and their communities are still very raw about this, even though it was 40 years ago.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery).
I congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) on securing this incredibly important debate. Before the forced closure of the pits, mining once helped to sustain 30,000 jobs in my constituency of Barnsley East, and it formed the heart of many working-class communities across the coalfields. In dirty and dangerous conditions, miners risked their lives and their health to keep our lights on. Striking is always a last resort but, faced with the politically motivated destruction of their livelihoods and having been branded “the enemy within” by the Tory Government, many in Barnsley and beyond were forced to last for a year without income in order to stand up for their jobs.
I will focus my comments today on Orgreave. In keeping with the narrative that the miners were the enemy rather than workers simply defending their jobs, footage of this event is widely understood to have been reversed, portraying miners as having provoked the violence rather than having responded to police aggression. Indeed, although 95 miners were arrested at the time, all those charged were later acquitted as police evidence was discredited.
Since then, evidence of police intent to orchestrate the violence and pervert the course of justice afterwards by manufacturing statements has mounted. However, despite that, there has been a distinct refusal to investigate what really occurred. When South Yorkshire Police handed itself over to the Independent Police Complaints Commission after new evidence emerged, the IPCC took two long years to decide that allegations of assault and misconduct could not be pursued.
I would like to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) for the work that she did in securing and sharing a meeting with the then Home Secretary, in which she called for an inquiry into Orgreave. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) subsequently invited submissions to explain why an inquiry was needed, going on to express the importance of restoring public trust in our police, saying:
“We must never underestimate how the poison of decades-old misdeeds seeps down the years.”
Shortly afterwards, however, her successor as Home Secretary decided that there would be very few lessons learned from the events at Orgreave and that there were no deaths or wrongful convictions, and that an inquiry was therefore not needed. That decision was later revealed to be politically motivated, out of a will not to slur the memory of Thatcher.
However, people do not have to die for a deep injustice to have occurred. Those who suffered violence at the hands of the police, those wrongfully arrested and those whose reputations were publicly and politically tarnished still matter. It matters to all of us, too, because if we are to have trust in our institutions, we have to believe that wrongdoing and malpractice will be investigated and addressed.
Recent inquiries, such as the uncovering of the role of spy-cops, the Hillsborough review and the Scottish review of policing during the miners strike, have all demonstrated that, with vital lessons being learned and those affected being given a chance to be vindicated by the truth.
What action will the Minister’s Department take to bring to light all available evidence, including the full IPCC scoping report and the Association of Chief Police Officers files relating to Orgreave, which are embargoed until 2066? Will it consider all that new evidence in an inquiry to which all those with an interest and experience are invited to participate?
I pay tribute to all who have campaigned on this issue, including many of my colleagues, the NUM and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. I first called for justice for those at Orgreave in my maiden speech five years ago. Since then, many miners have sadly passed away. We cannot wait any longer. The Government should grant an inquiry now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship for the second time today, Ms McVey. I thank the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) for securing this debate, which comes after the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill. Finally, Scottish miners who were wrongly convicted for defending their livelihoods during the strike will have some form of justice. Justice delayed is better than justice denied, but we should all be clear that the damage caused by this delay has been huge.
As a Sheffield MP with a constituency only a few miles over from the site of the Orgreave coking plant, I understand just how deep this runs. I have heard directly from miners and their families about the ordeal they were put through during the strike. That is why I am proud to join the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign in its annual rally every 18 June to call for justice for the 95 miners who wrongly faced charges for what happened at Orgreave. Many potentially faced life imprisonment; the seriousness of the claims against them was huge. The farce of their trials, the speed at which the prosecutions fell apart and the obviously false testimony given by the police is a stain on our justice system and South Yorkshire’s policing. The policing on that day not only inflicted great physical injury to people at the picket but left long-term scars on individuals and communities, which no one has answered for.
The survivors of Orgreave deserve a full inquiry into what happened and why. This is not about digging up history; it is about understanding the role the police played on that day and why, who was involved in making decisions, and how far to the heart of Government those decisions went. Those are important questions not just for the miners who suffered directly; they are the concern of every single citizen in this country. There is an unbroken line between the police violence at Orgreave and the cost of living crisis today. It laid the foundations for the low-paid, zero-hours economy that we currently live in. It meant defeating and demoralising the trade union movement. The idea that the police were used to that end should chill the bones of everyone in this Chamber. We are already seeing the chilling effect of the anti-protest legislation on street protest. The prosecution of the Scottish miners and those at Orgreave raises questions about the relationship between politics, policing and the justice system. Those questions will be increasingly relevant as we head into what looks like a summer of industrial action, with people rightly seeking to defend their pay and conditions while profits soar.
The need for an inquiry is pressing. It must have the power to require that all the relevant information and evidence is produced and presented to it. Everyone with an interest must be able to participate fully and get their voices heard. The panel should be independent and objective and should have the skills to understand all the issues at stake. It should be transparent, open and not overly long. After the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill, that is the next step in righting the historical wrong that was done to communities up and down the country during the strike.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I congratulate my good friend and comrade, my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson), on securing this debate. I say that not just because he is the Chief Whip of our group, but because he and I regularly found ourselves on the front pages of some of the more right-wing newspapers in Scotland, which condemned us for having the temerity to ask for a miners inquiry in Scotland. For many years, my hon. Friend, along with a number of others, has asked for a Scottish inquiry. It would be only right and fair to praise the efforts of a friend of mine, former Member of the Scottish Parliament Neil Findlay, who was one of the lead campaigners in ensuring a miners inquiry in Scotland. Neil is sadly missed in the Scottish Parliament, but I know he is continuing to do great work with trade unions in Scotland.
I congratulate all hon. Members who have spoken. I say to my friend, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), that he has nothing to apologise for at all. Events have maybe been for the better; they have certainly made him a very good Member of Parliament.
The Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill is an important and historic step towards reconciliation. It is going to help to heal some of the wounds in Scotland’s mining communities. It is groundbreaking legislation, which will restore dignity to those convicted, provide comfort to their families and, I hope, start to bring some closure on the sense of injustice that members of mining communities may continue to feel. We very much sympathise with the miners who lost out in redundancy payments and pension rights as a result of being sacked by the National Coal Board after being arrested or convicted for actions while participating in the strike.
I hope the legislation will end some of the demonisation of trade unions who take industrial action on behalf of their members. The demonisation we saw during the miners strike was very much in evidence last week towards the rail workers. I take the view that those who take industrial action are exercising their human rights; they have a human right to withdraw their labour from any employer.
Professor Jim Murdoch of the School of Law at the University of Glasgow, who worked with John Scott QC on the independent review, said:
“As members of the independent review, our task was primarily to listen: to show that those affected by the miners’ strike had a voice more than a third of a century later.
At each of the meetings we held, it was clear that the pain felt by former miners and their families was still raw.
The response to the miners’ strike at the time left a deep scar on too many communities. Their stories showed without doubt that the criminal justice system all too often reacted in an arbitrary and disproportionate manner.
Our task was to seek to promote a sense of reconciliation, and we are pleased that our report and its recommendation have received clear support today in the Scottish Parliament.”
The Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill pardons the offences of breach of the peace, obstructing a police officer, breach of bail and theft that occurred during the 1984-85 dispute. The legislation has been welcomed by the National Union of Mineworkers in Scotland.
That brings us on to why the UK Government should now launch a UK-wide inquiry. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, Keith Brown, put it rather well when he said:
“It is now right that the UK Government recognises the passing of this historic legislation and gives further consideration to a UK-wide public inquiry and the payment of compensation to former miners. I have written to the Home Secretary this week urging her to reconsider her position given the strong support for this landmark Bill.”
Will the Minister tell us if the Home Secretary has received that letter and when the Scottish Government will see a response?
Many of us who support an inquiry were surprised when the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said in October 2016 that the UK Government were ruling out an inquiry into the events at Orgreave in South Yorkshire, probably one of the most notorious flashpoints in the miners strike. I have also received an excellent briefing from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. It is correct to ask the UK Government to reconsider, because of new evidence that has come to light since October 2016, including the disclosure of documents that are embargoed until 2066—I do not think we should wait until then—as well as the existence of documents in the South Yorkshire archives. New evidence is also coming to light as a result of the ongoing undercover police inquiry, in which the National Union of Mineworkers is a core participant.
There is also—this is of most concern to me—the recent Daily Mirror article that exposed a conversation with Amber Rudd about the reasons not to hold an Orgreave inquiry, which were given as because it would “slur the memory of Thatcher” and upset party members. Protecting someone’s legacy is not a reason not to have the inquiry. That raises alarm bells with me, as I am sure it does with other Members.
I totally agree with the hon. Member in regard to Neil Findlay; he has run a tremendous campaign. Would the hon. Member like to comment on the fact that during the miners strike Scotland represented 10% of the National Coal Board workforce, but 30% of all those arrested were Scottish, with many being sacked? That was terribly unequal. Would he like to comment on why that might have been?
The independent review makes it very clear: it is because of the disproportionate actions of the police and the justice system at that point. I was also alarmed by those figures when they were brought to my attention. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the Labour party report, prepared by Gordon Brown and Merlyn Rees—a future Prime Minister and a former Home Secretary—which also raised and highlighted the concerns in 1985 about the strike. It recommended that there should be a royal commission into the circumstances leading up to the strike and the conduct of the strike, as well as looking at the wider constitutional aspects of the development of policing—including accountability. Even then, in 1985, the demands from that report talk about some of the issues that the hon. Member for Wansbeck raised.
I hope the Minister will respond positively. He should take serious note of what myself and other Members have said about the current vilification of trade union activity. We saw that vilification during the miners strike of 1984-85, and we are seeing some of it today. Perhaps, he could encourage some of his colleagues to engage in a better discourse when discussing such issues.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I am sorry for my dodgy voice; excuse me occasionally if I have to drink.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) on securing this debate. He spoke powerfully to the experience of miners and their communities throughout the strikes, and of how the Scottish review has helped to begin to heal some decades-old wounds. He referred to bowling green bevvies among police and miners; sadly they are no more, and I do not think it is a legacy any of them would have wanted.
I pay tribute to the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign and all those who have campaigned to shine a light on the policing of the 1984-85 strike. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) spoke of the police charges, but she also spoke of her pride in her dad. It is lovely to hear people talk about pride in their dads. My dad is nearly 91, and his dad worked in the mines, so I also have that legacy—it helped to shape me as well.
Labour has long supported calls for a full and independent public inquiry into the matter, and particularly into the events at the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) spoke of the horrors of what happened there. As I have indicated, I grew up in a mining community with a proud family heritage in the industry, so I understand the impact of the Government’s handling of the strikes on miners and their families and communities. It is an impact that endures to this day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) spoke openly and honestly about his own history, but also spoke about those hard-working individuals in the mines who were criminalised during the strike. He also spoke of his continuing pride in his colleagues.
In 2015, and for most of 2016, it looked as though the Government were moving in the right direction on the issue. Following the findings of the Independent Police Complaints Commission scoping exercise in June 2015, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), then Home Secretary, invited submissions for why a public inquiry was needed. In September 2016, a meeting took place with the subsequent Home Secretary, the former Member for Hastings and Rye, at which the potential format of an inquiry or investigation was discussed.
Many across the House were understandably confused and deeply disappointed when, only a couple of months later in October 2016, the then Home Secretary confirmed, in response to a parliamentary question, that no inquiry of any kind would take place. There was great sadness on that day. Will the Minister confirm that that was not for the reasons raised in Sasha Swire’s book—that an inquiry into Orgreave would
“slur the memory of Thatcher and the…party won’t like it”?
If that was true, it would be disgraceful. That said, even the official reasons given by the former Member for Hastings and Rye are extremely thin.
It is important that we address the wrongdoings of the past—not just for Orgreave, but across the whole country. Just because no one died as a result of the state’s handling of the strikes does not mean there are not valuable lessons to be learned from examining them. This morning, I spoke to Chris Pearce from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, who reminded me that time is of the essence. Many of the miners affected have already died; others are elderly, but still hope for a fair hearing.
We all have history on this. As a youngster, I was the deputy head of the social insurance department at the National Union of Mineworkers, managing the mineworkers’ pension scheme. As my hon. Friend says, many of the miners are now elderly. They, or their widows, are pensioners. There could be an act of good will by the Government on this matter by their implementing the recommendations of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on the mineworkers’ pension scheme. The elderly mineworkers and their widows could then have a greater share of the pension scheme that they funded throughout their lives.
My right hon. Friend makes the point clearly and concisely: action needs to be taken. It is about not just the miners who have died, but their families who follow them.
As has been outlined in this debate, a number of developments have occurred since 2016. Home Office files from ’84 and ’85 have been released to the National Archives. The National Police Chiefs’ Council has disclosed the existence and location of files from the Association of Chief Police Officers relating to Orgreave and the miners strike, which I understand were actually embargoed until 2066. I will be 111 in 2066, if I live that long. New evidence has come to light as a result of the ongoing undercover police inquiry, to which others have referred, in which the National Union of Mineworkers is a core participant. I hope the Minister gives each of those developments full and proper consideration.
Perhaps more significant is the trigger for this debate: the findings of the Scottish miners review. I wonder if seeing the support from MSP colleagues for the Scottish review and its outcome will encourage the Minister, Conservative MPs and the rest of the UK to reconsider their position. I certainly hope it will. Over the past six years, however, the Government have continually rejected calls for an inquiry. In November 2021, the Minister present said that such an inquiry:
“is not in the wider public interest or required for any other reason.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2021; Vol. 704, c. 2P.]
Opposition Members completely disagree. We believe that it is only by properly investigating those events that we can secure the justice that has long evaded all those affected.
In the words of the former Conservative Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, in her speech to the Police Federation annual conference in 2016, we must all understand
“the need to face up to the past and right the wrongs that continue to jeopardise the work of police officers today. Because historical inquiries are not archaeological excavations. They are not purely exercises in truth and reconciliation…they are about ensuring justice is done…We must never underestimate how the poison of decades-old misdeeds seeps down through the years and is just as toxic today as it was then. That’s why difficult truths, however unpalatable they may be, must be confronted head on.”
No matter how long it takes, justice must be done and be seen to be done. The Labour party does not turn a blind eye to and shrug off historic injustices; from the quote I have just read from the former Home Secretary and Prime Minister, we can see that there was once a time that the Conservative party did not, either.
Instead of heeding the lessons of historic heavy policing, the Home Office is presiding over draconian changes in protest legislation, some of which came into force just yesterday, and expanding police powers for protest disproportionately through the Public Order Bill. The deplorable actions of this Home Office show more than ever why learning the lessons of the past through inquiries such as the one we are discussing is the necessary work of good government. I hope the Minister will do the right thing and order the inquiry without further delay.
It is a great pleasure to appear before you, Ms McVey. We have both come a long way since we were teenagers together in south Liverpool.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) for securing the debate. I know he has a long-standing interest in these issues. Obviously, I have listened carefully to all the contributions. I recognise the significance of the miners strike and its impact on mining communities throughout the United Kingdom, including those affected by what occurred at the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984. I remember the footage well. I was a teenager at the time and a student shortly thereafter in the north-east, and I know that the events of that period continue to resonate in those communities.
The House is calling for a wider inquiry into the policing of the strikes. Successive Home Secretaries have given careful consideration to the issues arising from the calls for an inquiry into the policing of the strikes at Orgreave and, by extension, the miners strikes more broadly. As Members have mentioned, the former Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced the decision in October 2016 not to undertake an inquiry, and her successor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), upheld that decision in September 2018. In the spirit of transparency, in 2017 the Home Office released the files held by the Department to the National Archives, and those files are available there for public review. We have urged other Departments to do the same, and South Yorkshire police is in the process of reviewing its files to release them as well.
The core argument given by the Home Secretaries was that, given the passage of time and the large number of legislative and systemic changes since 1984, an inquiry is unlikely to result in relevant lessons for today’s system. The Government stand by that decision. Crucially, there have been significant changes to policing since then, including major reforms to criminal procedure, changes to public order policing and practice, stronger external scrutiny and greater local accountability. Specifically, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which came into force from January 1985, and other legislative and operational changes made since then, have vastly improved the way police investigations and powers operate. The exemplary standards of behaviour expected of everyone who works in policing were reinforced by the introduction of a statutory code of ethics, which was laid before the House in 2014 and is currently being reviewed.
The introduction of further provisions through the Policing and Crime Act 2017 has increased the powers of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, clarified its investigative processes and further safeguarded its independence. Those reforms were introduced in 2018 and 2020, alongside wider reforms to the police discipline and complaints systems. The legislative reforms in 2020 to overhaul the police complaints and disciplinary systems were wide-ranging and designed to simplify processes while increasing transparency and independence. Furthermore, the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service in 1986, with the introduction of independent CPS prosecutors, fundamentally altered the prosecution of offences and ended the existence of ad hoc prosecution arrangements throughout the country.
Given the fact that the landscape has changed so markedly, it is difficult to see how a review of the events and practices of more than three decades ago would yield significant lessons for the policing system today. In the light of the significant changes since the strikes, there are no plans to undertake an assessment of the potential merits of establishing an independent inquiry into the policing of the miners strike in 1984 to 1985 in England and Wales. The Government do not plan to review the decision not to establish a public inquiry into the events at the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984. For the Government’s part, we are completely focused on ensuring that policing is the best it can be, including through reforms to improve accountability and transparency. Public confidence is pivotal to our model of policing by consent.
We are not currently considering that particular route of action. We have received the letter the hon. Gentleman referred to—indeed, we have received a number of letters over the past couple of years on the matter, to which we have responded. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering that letter and will respond in due course.
I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. I have listened carefully to the points that have been raised and am grateful for the opportunity to underline how far UK policing has come since the miners strike. Progress has undoubtedly been made, but that is not to say that we are in any way complacent; on the contrary, we are constantly challenging the police to get better in all they do. We have overseen significant reform, and continue to drive improvements for the benefit of policing and those whom the police serve.
I thank all Members for their contributions this afternoon. We have heard a wide range of views from communities across the mainland UK and its countries, with each Member effectively saying very similar things: that our communities all bore the brunt of the effects of the miners strike.
Despite that, I am quite frankly afraid that the Government are still not listening. I thank the Minister for his response but I am very disappointed in it. The release of files is not good enough—it does not cut it—and time cannot be used as an excuse for not doing the right thing. Whatever changes have taken place in policing over the intervening years do not change the need for an inquiry. Despite the response the Minister has given to the debate, I ask him to genuinely consider the whole range of comments that have been made, because this is something that is not going to go away. I am certainly not going to stop asking these questions, so the Government need to take a good look at this issue and seriously consider the fact that there is still a need for an inquiry.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the potential merits of a UK-wide inquiry into the miners’ strike of 1984-85.