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Volume 776: debated on Tuesday 1 November 2016


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Mr Brandon Lewis, to an Urgent Question in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“The Home Secretary announced her decision by way of a Written Ministerial Statement yesterday in which she explained her main reasons for deciding against instigating either a statutory inquiry or an independent review into the events at the Orgreave coking plant. She has also written to the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign setting out the detailed reasons for her decision, and answered a number of questions in the House yesterday in response to an Oral Parliamentary Question on this subject.

In determining whether or not 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 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 to allay public interest concern or for any other reason”.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question. This is a sorry decision by the Government. The elected South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner supports an inquiry, as did, last May, the then acting chief constable. It is not surprising that they both support an inquiry in the face of the manipulation of the media over what actually happened. It is not surprising in the light of the Independent Police Complaints Commission finding evidence of perjury and perversion of the course of justice. It is not surprising in the face of the riot charges on 95 miners, potentially carrying life sentences, that they had to live with for a year or more until the subsequent collapse of their trial and their acquittals when the police evidence was found to be totally unreliable in the face of allegations of collusion by the police over the falsification of evidence—allegations that were repeated on television the other evening by a police officer involved at Orgreave. This Government have decided that a public body should not be held accountable through an inquiry to establish the facts. The Prime Minister pledged, when she took office, to fight injustice. We have now found out that former mining communities, for starters, are not covered by that pledge. Perhaps the Government could now tell us the real reasons for their decision.

My Lords, first, I must point out to the noble Lord that there were no wrongful convictions on the back of Orgreave. The Home Secretary made her decision having taken the time to look at the documents. She has been in post for some three months and has met families and campaigning MPs. The fact that she has reached a different decision from the one which the noble Lord wants in no way means that it is dishonourable. It was a difficult decision to make; she made it in consideration of all the facts and I think that it is the right one.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as I was a serving police officer at the time of Orgreave and for 23 years thereafter. Has the Home Secretary completely missed the point about the need for an inquiry into Orgreave? We know from Hillsborough that police evidence was changed to put the blame on fans. The suggestion is that Orgreave was another example of the prevailing culture in the police service at the time: to preserve the reputation of the police at all costs, including if necessary by altering evidence. There is evidence to suggest that this may be in the culture in some police forces even now. Does the Minister not agree that the events at Orgreave cannot be written off as having happened too long ago, and that lessons relevant to policing today can still be learned?

My Lords, it is very important to point out that the IPCC looked at this last year. It has said that if any further information comes to light, it will also look at that. The PCC for South Yorkshire Police is considering what elements of the force’s archive relating to Orgreave to make available to the campaign, while an archivist is also being employed for that purpose.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Home Secretary is following in her decision the very good precedent set by Labour Home Secretaries, who in a period of 13 years of Labour government saw no reason for such an inquiry, which would do nothing more than enrich lawyers with fat fees in perpetuity?

As always, my noble friend makes precise points. He also underlines the fact that this is a very emotive subject, with strong views on either side, but he is absolutely right. Thirty-two years have elapsed since Orgreave and no Government up to now have made a decision on it.

My Lords, should not a Government who promise to govern in the interests of the whole country try to ensure maximum transparency and accountability for the whole country? Is the Minister aware that the refusal of an inquiry into the battle of Orgreave deepens the justified sense of injustice right across coalfield communities, especially when there are substantiated claims that there was politicised policing and tampering with evidence in the wake of the conflict?

My Lords, this is a very serious decision and I hope that in no way does anyone feel that this decision has been politicised. Transparency is at the heart of the process; that is why the Home Secretary has taken so much time to look at various documents in carefully considering her conclusion.

My Lords, I congratulate the Home Secretary on taking this decision. I have over the years observed the increasing frequency of automatically setting up an inquiry when a difficult problem arises. Inquiries are not always the best way of looking into matters. As the years go by, they certainly become more and more expensive for investigating events and less and less successful in coming to the right conclusion.

The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right. An inquiry is not of itself the answer to everything. Inquiries must be used only very carefully and in certain circumstances. The Orgreave situation resulted in no deaths or wrongful convictions. There have been significant changes in the police at every level since 1984. Therefore, as the noble and learned Lord said, establishing any kind of inquiry is not required in the public interest.

Does my noble friend recognise that many people would be amazed at the suggestion of having further public inquiries and that there is anybody who has not learned the lessons of the Bloody Sunday inquiry? After the time that it took and the costs involved, at the end of the day the outcome satisfied practically nobody. My noble friend has just given the answer that lessons have been learned. My noble friend Lord Tebbit and I were involved in Cabinet committee at that time. Many mistakes were made on both sides—there is no question about that—many things were wrong, and lessons have since been learned. The right decision now is not to respond to the understandable emotion of those who were involved at that time who feel that they want to go on gnawing at the same bone but to recognise that lessons need to be learned and that we need to get on because the police have more than enough challenges on their plate at present and do not need to be loaded with this inquiry.

My noble friend is absolutely right. I am grateful that noble friends and noble Lords were in government or in this House at the time of Orgreave. The job is to get on with improving policing, and inquiries are not always the answer. The Policing and Crime Bill seeks to make further reforms and efficiencies in the police service to make it better.

My Lords, I was leader of Sheffield City Council at the time and subsequently lived for many years a mile away from Orgreave. It strongly rent my heart. I entirely understand why people do not want to spend millions of pounds on legal fees or to have the disruption that an inquiry would cause to the existing programme, but evidence has been produced over the past decade and there has been a genuine feeling that the truth has been withheld. Even at this late hour, is it not possible to have the kind of very light-touch review which the elected police and crime commissioner, the Reverend Dr Alan Billings, who leads the South Yorkshire Police, has suggested? It would avoid the catastrophe of a very prolonged inquiry which, as has been described this afternoon, often leads to people not being satisfied at the end of it.

My Lords, there was a discussion—I think yesterday—about a small Select Committee inquiry. Of course, that would be a matter for Parliament. The IPCC considered things last year, but as I said earlier, if any fresh information comes to light, it will take it on board and consider it.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a widespread sense of disappointment at this decision? I accept that there have been far too many inquiries—we seem to set up an inquiry for everything—but I do not think that it would be out of place for there to be a stronger sentiment of regret from the Minister, an acknowledgment of one or two of the points made by the PCC in South Yorkshire and perhaps encouragement by the Minister for a parliamentary committee to look at things. That would reassure many good trade unionists who support law and order very strongly that when there are clear breaches they will be looked at.

I totally take my noble friend’s point that there are very strong feelings on this. That does not take away from the fact that it was a difficult decision for the Home Secretary, but I believe she took the right one.