Coal Industry Dispute (Police Operations)

Local Government – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 10th April 1984.

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Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone 3:51 pm, 10th April 1984

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

Leave having been given on Monday 9 April under Standing Order No. 10 to discuss:The implications for civil liberties and the rule of law of policing operations connected with the current mining dispute.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Before the hon. Member proceeds, I must tell the House that no fewer than 27 right hon. and hon. Members have already indicated their wish to take part in this important debate, and there may be others who wish to take part. I hope that this will be a day on which Privy Councillors will set an example to Back Benchers by making brief contributions.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

This is a short but important debate, and now that I know how many hon. Members wish to take part, I shall not detain the House for long. I am sure that, in addition to my hon. Friends, Conservative Members will be anxious to take part to put forward their views and those of their constituents.

I stress at the outset that this debate is not, and has not been initiated as, an attack on the police. Far from it. It is about the new and heavy method of policing that has crept in and which our constituents continually report to us is taking place, in particular by what appears to be a section of the police in specific areas.

Not all pickets have made such complaints. Indeed, some have praised the police and the policing and have said that they have received a good deal of help from police forces in some areas. It has been reported to me that, by and large, those policemen are from the localities, from Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. Indeed, in one instance, where the relationship between police and pickets has been extremely good, the pickets were warned by the sergeant in charge of the police contingent that "the heavy squad are coming," as he put it, and he told the pickets to be on their best behaviour. He advised them that it would probably be best if they moved out of the locality and returned later. They did what he suggested.

Conservative Members should not mistake the freedom that we have to discuss policing methods, and even to complain about those methods, as an attack on the police. They should also remember that many people on the picket lines have never before seen so many policemen together in one place at one time. They should bear in mind also that many of those who comprise the picket force come from small mining villages and that they probably have very good relationships with the local bobby, perhaps, generally speaking, the only bobby they ever see. They are frightened by the show of force, and they react to that situation.

These men are demonstrating, in the only way they know, against the possible loss of their livelihood, of their wages. They have only this one means of keeping a roof over their heads, and their families.

I regret very much the need for this debate, because the police should never have been involved in the way that they have. The Government were warned what would happen when they decided to bring the law into the sphere of industrial relations.

Hon. Members:

Sit down.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

The Government were warned time and again of the erosion of civil liberties as they pressed ahead with the Trade Union Bill, the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, various employment protection measures, the Data Protection Bill and immigration legislation. We have seen what happens when the courts and the law are involved in industrial relations. I have never condoned violence or violent intimidation in any shape or form. I condemn it wherever it occurs, no matter which side uses it. People react if flashpoints are created.

I accept that the police have a difficult job. They have a hard role to play, and at times they find themselves in the middle, receiving abuse from both sides. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said in an earlier debate, minorities have rights. I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend. There have been problems. I am sure that the sympathies of all hon. Members will go out to all who have been injured or killed on picket lines and to their families. One of the members of the British Association of Colliery Management was killed at work while undertaking safety measures during this incident.

However difficult their job, the police are professionals. They are skilled and trained. The public expect the police to be even-handed and to impose the law sensibly and sensitively. After this incident is over—I stress this point—we must live together again. Serious allegations have been made about police tactics and methods. If those allegations are true, they raise serious issues. Is it relevant or irrelevant to ask political questions about this matter? Is it right that our constituents should be handcuffed, photographed, fingerprinted and placed in cells? Those men are not common criminals. They are not bank robbers, but good honest men. The chairman of a tribunal to which I had to go said that those men are the salt of the earth. They should be better treated. It is no joke for those men, sitting in a police van waiting for transport, to hear the remark, "It is not full. Hold it up for a while, while we go back and get some more."

I have been given permission to state some of the names of people involved in this matter. Geoff Sellars, to whom I previously referred, phoned me expressing feelings not of anger but of regret. He is a person known for his level-headedness, and is certainly not easy to rile. He just wants to get on with his work. He is appalled at the unnecessary heavy handling, which he believes has inflamed an already delicate position. He told me that the picket line asked the police, "Can you let three people go in to talk to the men involved?" That request was refused. Verbal abuse was thrown by the crowd at the people going through the picket lines. The police said, "If you do not shut up, we shall arrest the lot of you for shouting."

To add insult to injury, when the picket line was attacked by people coming from a public house and throwing half-pint and pint glasses, little action was taken against the offenders. Can one doubt that the incident was inflamed? The result is that Geoff Sellars returned to the police a commendation he received a few years ago for his assistance in helping a police sergeant who was being violently abused by a number of youths.

Barry Drury, a former special constable, was stopped on approaching a colliery. Because of his experience in the special constabulary, he told the police that he wished to proceed peacefully to picket peacefully and that he wanted no problems. Again, freedom of movement was curtailed. Barry produced his driving licence for identification, and it was checked. When the policeman came back, Barry was told, "You will not be able to proceed any further. You must not come into Nottingham again. If you do, your car will be impounded and you will be arrested." That order is now on the police files.

Dave Stubbins, when doing his picket duty, suffered an angina attack. Permission to take him into the ambulance room and into hospital for medical attention was refused until the colliery manager came to ask for permission.

Mr. R. Glover was sent on a picket line at Linby colliery. He was changing a wheel because of a puncture when a patrol car came up and the police asked him to go back. They said that he could not proceed to that colliery. Mr. Glover said that he would go to another colliery. He was asked for its name and said, "I am sorry, I am not telling you that." When Mr. Glover and his passengers arrived at the colliery they found that there were only five policemen and no pickets. They went across and said, "Good morning," to the police and were shuffled on to the causeway so that they would not obstruct the highway. That is the reason the policemen gave them.

The first line of men coming to work said that they would not cross the picket line. The police came across to the pickets immediately and shuffled them down the road in the opposite direction to their car. Mr. Glover alleged that he felt a blow on his back. He protested and said that he already had an injury to his back. He received another blow. He was then summoned for obstruction and taken to the police station.

Four people have given evidence of incidents. Is not the stopping of men 100 miles away from their destination, on the assumption that they will commit a breach of the peace, an unacceptable erosion of civil liberties? It is a dangerous precedent. Who will be next? Will we have football supporters— [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I hear "Yes." That shows that some hon. Members want an increase in the curtailment of freedom. Do we stop the National Front marching in sensitive areas? Do we stop gangs of motor cyclists moving into Brighton and Southend? They may be stopped; but they are allowed eventually to proceed.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

Do we stop football hooligans from going abroad? Are they next in line? The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment with responsibility for sport said that we could not take away football hooligans' transport, refuse to sell them tickets, or prevent them travelling, because they had not committed offences.

Why do we stop the miners, therefore, who have not committed offences? Are we seeing the beginning of a national police force? Let us consider the abolition of the metropolitan counties. Police were under the control of the watch committees and then they went under the control of the counties. Who will control police forces when the metropolitan counties are abolished? Will it be a quango? What happened to the elected water authorities? Those elected bodies became selected bodies. Are we in danger of having a body selected by the Secretary of State to be in charge of the police? Those are some of the matters worrying many of my constituents.

It is not just Members of Parliament who are worried. I shall quote from an article in The Guardian which states Mr. Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, is apparently outraged by Opposition criticism of the police role in the pit dispute. Such critics, he claimed last weekend, are trying to shake public confidence in the police and the rule of law. That is entirely wrong. The article continues: If public confidence has been shaken, however, it is more likely to have occurred as a result of the behaviour of the police themselves rather than the comments of their critics. The article outlines some of the incidents which will be mentioned by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I conclude by asking a number of questions. Who appointed the chief constable to work at New Scotland Yard? From where does he derive his authority? To whom is he accountable and responsible? Did the chief constables of the areas to which the reinforcements have gone ask for them or were they imposed upon them? How will the costs of the extra policing be met? The Association of Metropolitan Authorities is worried about the cost of the police. In a document it says: There are, of course, other serious implications arising from the scale and nature of the exercise that we rill need to discuss at our Committee next week. We will need to exchange information about communications between the national coordinators and the police authorities and the effect of the events of the past few weeks on police/public relations. Our sole interest is maintaining the efficiency and good name of the forces serving the areas we represent. We say "Amen," to that.

It would appear that by exercising extra powers there is a change in policing. None of those changes have been debated or decided by Parliament and nothing seems to be accountable to Parliament. That is why I asked for, and am grateful for having been given, this debate.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks) 4:04 pm, 10th April 1984

What has been happening in the miners' dispute over the past few weeks undoubtedly raises some fundamental questions about the rule of law in our society and means of enforcing it. It graphically illustrates the resolution invariably needed in a democracy, although by no means always actually displayed in democracies, if physical coercion is to be resisted, but that is not why we are debating this aspect of the current dispute.

We are debating it because the Opposition have been completely unable or unwilling to express any coherent view about the real issues that we face today, and have instead sought to divert attention from their own disunity and paralysis by flinging mud at the police. Today they are not even doing so in a very courageous way. After publicly huffing and puffing for days about their intentions, they finally stood back and sent the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) in to bat for them. He has expressed what those who know him realise, in his case, are genuine anxieties about aspects of police operations. He has referred to a number of incidents. I want to give him this assurance. All complaints about police officers' actions, whoever makes them and with whatever motive, will be recorded and investigated as required by law.

The outcome of each investigation will, as necessary, be subject to the independent scrutiny of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Police Complaints Board on the criminal and disciplinary aspects respectively. There are no special formalities involved in making complaints against the police. Of course, many people are content to make general allegations but are reluctant, for whatever reason, to formulate specific complaints. Up to 8 April inclusive, the total number of complaints against police received by chief constables was 19 in an operation going on for weeks and involving at times 7,000 extra policemen.

The police have everything to gain and nothing to lose from the proper scrutiny of their activities.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

They are in no sense above the law and have no wish to be. They are the servants of the law and our principal bastion against those, whoever they may be, who seek by force to impose their will on their fellow citizens.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

If 800 miners are arrested and put before the court, that immediately makes the matter sub judice. If they are never brought to trial, that puts them in limbo. How can they then make a complaint against the police?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

I happily assure the hon. Gentleman that that is no obstacle to their making complaints against the police.

It is right to consider what the Opposition have firmly sought to obscure—the circumstances which have given rise to the current heavy level of policing, about which the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone has understandably expressed anxiety. Let us be clear about one thing; any responsible citizen must view with profound regret the fact that such policing is necessary. No one wants it—not the Government, not the police and not the public. Its purpose is not to jeopardise civil liberties but to protect them.

Let us remember what led to the present police action. It is so easy to forget the events at Ollerton some weeks ago. No one can now doubt the desire of the Nottinghamshire miners to carry on working. At Ollerton on the night of 13–14 March 500 pickets arrived at the pit. There were violent scenes and, as a result, only a handful of miners were able to cross the picket line. Three policemen were injured. Violent scenes were repeated on the following evening. What happened at Ollerton was appalling and unacceptable. What would the House have said if the Home Secretary had failed to give the police his full backing for stopping such intimidation? What would the public have thought of their civil liberties if the police had allowed that intimidation to continue? What happened at Ollerton is in no way untypical of what can occur if picketing gets out of hand.

Yesterday about 2,000 Yorkshire pickets arrived at Babbington colliery in Nottinghamshire. There were only 20 police officers there at the time; 119 workers were due to go into work and they were faced with 2,000 pickets. Police reinforcements were called and the entrance to the colliery was cleared. Attempts were then made by the pickets to break through the cordon. Stones were thrown. Eighty-eight arrests were made, but 113 out of 119 men were able as a result of the police presence to go to work as they wished.

At Cresswell in Derbyshire yesterday morning there were 900 pickets and 400 police. A concerted but unsuccessful attempt was made to break through the cordon; 147 men expressed their wish to work and went in to work. By the late evening the number of pickets at Cresswell was between 1,000 and 1,200. The objective of the pickets was to block the two main entrances to the colliery. While this was going on, up to 200 other pickets were roaming the village. The police are currently investigating a series of complaints that the doors of miners' houses were marked with paint, that five cars were deliberately scraped, that nails were placed on the public road and that bricks and other missiles were thrown as miners were entering the colliery.

This was not an isolated incident. At other places over the past few weeks private cars owned by miners going to work have had their tyres slashed, windscreens smashed and paintwork scratched. Stones, bricks and bottles have been thrown. Nails have been put down on the roadway. Colliery entrances have been obstructed with concrete blocks. Miners not on strike have had the windows of their houses broken and the houses daubed.

At Siverdale colliery this very morning nails were welded together to form star-shaped objects which were then thrown on the roadway into the path of police horses.

There is nobody in the country today who can have the slightest doubt of the clear intent of the militant miners' leaders.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

It was to avoid a national ballot at all costs and to bring about the closure of the whole coalfield by picketing in such numbers, accompanied by such intimidation, that most people who wanted to go to work would not dare to try and those who dared would be physically prevented from getting there.

In 1975 Arthur Scargill explained it all. Writing about the 1974 miners' strike, he said: The only worry I had was that the T & G were not recognising our picket lines in two places and arguing that they had contractual arrangements with the firms concerned. My retort was that they had a contractual arrangement far above that, they had a contractual arrangement with the working class and if they didn't honour that contractual arrangement we'd make sure, physically, that they did, for we would have thrown the lorries and everything else into the dyke.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Minister has made a number of allegations about what happened at Silverdale this morning. Is it not clear from the very keen observations of miners, and thankfully the one video that has been shown, that many police undercover agents are infiltrating the picket lines? Therefore, what evidence has he that all the misdemeanours that he referred to have not been carried out—[Interruption.]——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Has the hon. Gentleman finished?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman must not make a speech. He should finish his question.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I shall, when the Tory hooligans have stopped baying. What evidence does the Minister have to show that any of the things to which he referred have been done by miners? As Home Secretary, he should be ashamed of himself for using the smear tactics that he has just used.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

If the hon. Gentleman seriously believes that policemen were throwing obstacles under the hooves of police horses, he lives in an even greater world of fantasy than I expected.

There is no doubt that in the early days of the dispute intimidation seemed to be likely to pay off. A prominent leader of the Nottingham National Union of Mineworkers was reported to have said, after the Nottingham NUM executive ordered the miners to strike briefly until its ballot had been completed: The Yorkshire pickets won the day by intimidation … We did not want a blood bath. There can also be no doubt of the firm and settled desire of thousands of miners in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere to carry on going to work. Faced with the clear intent of the militants to bring all pits to a standstill by force and the equally clear desire of thousands of miners to go on working, the country had a clear choice, and still has that clear choice: either to allow the Notts coalfield and many others pits to be closed by force, or to take firm action to uphold the rule of law and to allow workers who want to go to work to do so.

I believe that in a democratic society governed by the rule of law there could be only one answer. If one group of workers could impose physically its will on others and prevent them by force from exercising their lawful right to go to their workplace, freedom would have become a dead letter in the land.

The House is entitled to ask the Opposition a question which they have never answered: do they accept that right to go to work or not? If they do not, or are in any way equivocal about it, they are saying that physical power should triumph over individual rights. To say that is to advocate anarchy and to betray democracy. If they do not say that, then the only question becomes a practical one: how are the rule of law and the right to go to one's workplace to be upheld?

Of one thing there can be no doubt. If pickets are allowed to assemble in large numbers intimidation is likely. The purpose of peaceful picketing is to communicate and persuade. Can anyone seriously think that if hundreds of pickets congregate at a pit entrance and try to block it they are doing so simply to engage in peaceful persuasion? Why are hundreds of people needed for that purpose?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

The Attorney-General has stated clearly in a written answer what the law is: If pickets by sheer numbers seek to stop people going to work, they are not protected by the law since their purpose is to obstruct rather than persuade.

Photo of Mr Michael Welsh Mr Michael Welsh , Doncaster North

I understand the point that the Home Secretary is making about mass picketing. He was implying that there is nothing wrong with peaceful picketing. I visited a picket line a week ago last Thursday, and the police would not allow a peaceful picket of six. The rest would have withdrawn and gone home to bed. I visited three different pickets where conditions were the same. I asked the police if they would allow just four pickets and told them that I would ask the rest to go home. I wanted just four pickets to stand there and speak to the Nottinghamshire miners, but the police said that none of them would be allowed to stand there.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

If the hon. Member considers that the restraints imposed by the police on the number of pickets were excessive in any case, he is entitled to make that complaint in the courts in the usual way. The courts will determine that issue on the basis of the evidence before them in the case. One thing that is clear from the examples that I have given is that the prospect of mass intimidation was almost inevitably likely to lead to violence. The evidence is overwhelming that that is the case. There is a duty on the part of the police—not just a right but a positive duty—to ensure that those who want to go to work can do so.

That raises a second question. If mass picketing is inherently likely to cause violence, how is the number of pickets to be kept down to prevent such intimidation? If the police allow large numbers from to assemble and then try to control them, let alone disperse them, violence and bloodshed are bound to ensue.

Let us not forget that in 1972 it was numbers alone that forced the closure of Saltley coke depot. If the police are to prevent vast numbers from building up and creating intimidation in that way, they have to use the pre-emptive powers which, as the Attorney-General has made clear, they have under the common law to prevent a breach of the peace. As he said, there is no doubt that if a constable reasonably comes to the conclusion that persons are travelling for the purpose of taking part in a picket in circumstances where there is likely to be a breach of the peace, he has the power at common law to call upon them not to continue their journey and to call upon their driver to take them no further." — [Official Report, 16 March 1984; Vol. 56, c. 279–80.]

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

Has it not also been said by the courts that the reasonable belief that the constable must have is that a breach of the peace is imminent?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

It is indeed the case that the courts have said that the constable must have a reasonable belief that there is likely to be a breach of the peace. If in any case the person who is challenged thinks that that belief is unreasonable, he can take the matter to court and test it there. What is more, that argument was put plainly before the court when there was a complaint about what happened at Dartford tunnel, and the court did not grant an injunction in those circumstances.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

The Home Secretary must know well that in the Dartford case there was an application for an injunction. That is a discretionary remedy. The main action has to be pursued in the future. It is a wholly different matter.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right, and the court decided not to exercise its discretion.

By preventing coachloads and carloads of pickets from gathering in huge numbers—and only by doing that—the police have been able to ensure that those who wish to work can continue to do so. It is, of course, disgraceful that that should have to happen. Of course it is bound to mean disrupting ordinary traffic. But there can be no doubt that if that were not done the ugly intimidation that we saw only yesterday and today would achieve its unlawful purpose within a matter of a few short hours.

The truth is that the action of the police has been remarkably successful. All miners who want to go to work have been able to do so. When I made my statement to the House on 15 March, in the wake of events at Ollerton, only 29 pits were working normally, and the plan was for them to fall one by one like dominoes. Now 46 pits are working normally because those working at them want to carry on working.

The police have performed a difficult task in difficult circumstances. They deserve the gratitude and admiration of this House and the whole country.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen The Guardian of yesterday, under the byline of its most distinguished political editor, in which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is described as taking a dossier on "heavy policing" to the chief constable of Nottinghamshire, and as having come back saying that his report would be a great deal more favourable than either he or his colleagues expected? As The Guardian put it, the right hon. Member emerged saying that the chief constable had agreed to examine several of the allegations, and conceding that he was clearly acting without political direction of any kind. Are not the Opposition guilty of some synthetic theatricalism in trying to present the police as not doing their job?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

It was a matter not so much of theatricalism as of extreme embarrassment.

It is precisely because the police have been so successful in enforcing the right of people who wish to go to work to do so that they have come under attack. Those who were determined to bring the coalfield to a halt by violence were horrified to find that the forces of law and order had proved too much for them. As they could not beat the police, they have sought to discredit them by a campaign of denigration.

None the less, as I said at the outset, if there is any allegation of improper conduct on the part of the police, every such allegation must and will be fully and properly investigated. However, some of the allegations that have been made relate not to specific actions of individual policemen but to police procedures generally.

Reference was made by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone to the arrangements for the communication of information. They were arrangements which had been in operation for years, activated by the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and not in any sense by me, and providing for co-operation sought by one chief constable from his colleagues.

Exception has been taken also to the use of police officers in plain clothes. The purpose of that is simple and wholly legitimate: it is to enable the police to identify those who are engaged in or threatening violence. Officers doing that are in no sense agents provocateurs.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

If there were any suggestion that the officers were actually instigating the commission of an offence, that would be a very different and serious matter which would require careful investigation. No evidence of any such behaviour has been presented to me or to the police.

The central issue before the House is a simple one.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

All of us either want the law of the land to be upheld or not. The law of the land is clear. Those who want to go to their workplace have a right to do so and the police have a duty to enable them to get there.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

I have four simple questions to ask the Opposition today. First, do they agree that those who want to go to their workplace have the right to do so? Second, do they deny that mass picketing is intended to take away that right by force? Third, do they think that that right should be upheld? Fourth, if they think it should be upheld, how on earth could it be upheld except by police action of the kind that we have been seeing? The House is entitled to clear answers to those questions.

Ritual and generalised condemnation of violence will not be sufficient. The time for smears and sarcasm is over. It is time to speak up for those whose only sin is to choose to go to their workplace, and for those whose sole duty is to protect them as they do so.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 4:26 pm, 10th April 1984

We welcome the debate — [Interruption.] — and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) on having obtained it. I congratulate him as well on his impressive speech in introducing the debate. Such an adjective could not be applied to the lamentable contribution that we have just heard from the Home Secretary. [Interruption.]

The proper functioning of society depends upon the maintenance of law and order, and the Opposition strongly support the police in the proper use of their powers to uphold law and order. We believe that when men and women wish to go to their workplace they must be free to do so—provided, of course, that Government policies make it possible for them to have a workplace to which to go. We believe that if attempts are made forcibly to prevent people from going to work, they have the right to the protection of the police, and the police have the duty to provide that protection. We know that in Nottinghamshire in recent weeks the presence of the police has often been welcomed by local residents.

That is my response to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's challenge to me. Will he join me in condemning any excesses by the police?

If the police have a duty to assist men who wish to go to work, other workers have the right to seek peacefully to persuade their fellows not to go to work. Over recent weeks there has been an attempt to imply that all picketing is somehow wrong. It has been implied, too, that even an intention to join a picket line is evidence of an intention to commit a breach of the peace. Peaceful picketing is a civil right and it is important for our democracy to uphold that right. Those who deny others that right are themselves undermining democracy.

Although under the Employment Act 1980 secondary picketing is potentially a civil wrong, provided it is conducted peacefully it is not a criminal act. Workers have the civil right to take part in secondary picketing providing they are willing to accept the risk of civil action. Many of the difficulties of the past few weeks have arisen because the interpretation by the police of their duties has clashed with the pickets' assertion of their rights — although some of those affected by police action were not even pickets. The power of arrest has been used amply, and no doubt in some cases justifiably. About 800 arrests have taken place. In case after case, the power of arrest has been used excessively.

A witness named Jean Blackburn gave this example: I saw Neil Wilkinson of Houghton Main Colliery arrested on the picket line at about 4.30 am on Friday 23 March. He was complying with the police instruction that 2/3 people could stand near the gate and speak to Notts miners as they came through for work. His voice was one of the 2/3 which shouted up as a miner went through, and all he said was 'support your union'. He was immediately set upon by two policemen and carted off in the van.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I shall give way to an hon. Member who speaks freely and is not paid to say what he says.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. If the right hon. Member will not give way, hon. Members must not persist.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. No point of order can arise on what I have just said.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the person cited in the case by the right hon. Gentleman has been charged, it is quite improper to give witness evidence, because the matter is sub judice.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), for whom I have some regard, said that he would give way to an hon. Member who speaks freely and is not paid to say what he says. He was referring specifically to my connection with the Police Federation, of which the House and you, Mr. Speaker, well know. Like the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) who was also the spokesman for many years before he became Prime Minister, when I speak——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman come to the point of order?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I ask that you, Mr. Speaker, request and require the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the unparliamentary imputation that when I speak in the House, I do so in any way other than freely and as I judge to be right, without reference to the Police Federation or any other organisation.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I hope that we can continue to debate with calmness, as we have done so far. All hon. Members know of the hon. Gentleman's interest, as it is declared in the Members' Register of Interests. The hon. Gentleman may have the opportunity later to make a speech.

Hon. Members:

Withdraw.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Stamford and Spalding

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The position is becoming serious when an hon. Member who has an interest that he has declared is charged by another Member, because of that interest, with not speaking freely. Hon. Members can speak freely, although they have interests, provided they have declared them.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I shall clear the issue. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will agree that every hon. Gentleman declares his interests in the register and speaks impartially. We should not impute dishonour to each other.

Hon. Members:

Withdraw.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

It goes without question that I accept what you say, Mr. Speaker.

I shall continue to give examples that the House should hear. Mr. Steve Golding of 2 Cross street, Langold, Worksop, Notts shouted: Ought to be ashamed of yourself for working". He was arrested at 8 pm—the police refused to say why — and held until 11 am the following day. He was refused a telephone call to his mother and told that that had been taken care of. His mother was knocked up at 3.30 am and told that he was in gaol.

There was the ludicrous but nasty case of the arrests at the Dock and Duck public house in Old Clipstone, Nottinghamshire, involving Mr. Russell Williams of 3 Tennyson road, Bentley, and two others. They went out to picket, but were turned back and then arrested in the pub where they went to play darts. They were taken to the cells, fingerprinted, detained for three hours and then released with apologies from the senior officer.

There have been allegations that some police action has been violent or callous. My hon. Friend the Member for Barsley, West and Penistone referred to the case of Mr. D. Stubbins of Woolley branch who, on 27 March, at Newstead colliery suffered the effects of an angina attack and needed medical treatment. The police officer refused him access to the colliery's medical centre, despite requests from local union officials in Nottingham and the pit manager. Mr. B. Walker, the Newstead branch secretary, and the nursing sister at the colliery can give evidence to that effect. Mr. Stubbins was allowed into the medical centre only after repeated requests from the pit manager.

A few days ago my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) and today my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone referred to the allegations about political questioning. The men were asked how they voted in the last election, how they would vote if there were only Conservative and Communist parties in the country, for whom they voted as president of the National Union of Mineworkers, how much union subscription they paid, the name of the organiser of the strike centre at Kellingley, what newspapers they read, whether they read the Morning Star, and so on. I have the names of 19 men, which I shall readily provide to the House if hon. Members so wish, who were subjected to such questioning.

Pickets and miners who refused to strike took exception to those tactics. Mr. T. S. Upton of 30 Lawnwood avenue, Elkesley, wrote a letter to the local press. It reads: As a mineworker still working at Bevercotes Colliery, I am getting increasingly worried at the activities of the Police force in Nottinghamshire although I respect the right of any member of the public to attend his place of work, and I have been thankful to the Police for getting me through the Pickets when things have got out of hand.It has got to the situation where we are being issued with identity cards by our union (for our own protection).I have been stopped by the Police from lawfully talking to the pickets at the colliery entrance when there were only 10 pickets and about 130 police.On Sunday night whilst travelling on the A1 I was stopped twice and asked to produce identification.On the Monday afternoon shift I was stopped from going into the colliery premises by some eighty police and was asked to produce identification. They also refused my request to stop and talk to the 'TWO' Pickets who were on the entrance.This police activity is seen by an increasing number of my workmates, both in my union and the NUM, as being more intimidating than the actions of the 'flying pickets'. There is a special concern because people who were not pickets and had no intention of picketing have had their freedom of movement violated. Mr. G. D. Hampson of 8 North street, Warsop Vale, describes how he tried to take three friends to Ollerton for job interviews at Mansfield Hosiery Mills, how he was stopped several times by police and eventually not allowed to proceed, how his passengers were not allowed to get out of the car and take a bus or even walk and how, accordingly, they missed their job interviews. Nor was Mr. Hampson allowed to take them another day. As he says in a letter: I cannot take them because I have been warned that if I travel that road again either on my own or with passengers during the dispute I will be arrested. Then there is the case of Father Marshall, the vicar of Goldthorpe parish church. He had gone along with some of his parishioners to see what was happening on the picket line. [Interruption.] I hope that the country will note that Conservative Members laugh at the fact that a priest wanted to see what was happening on a picket line. They were stopped by police on the A1 at Blyth. The driver of the car in which Father Marshall was travelling said to the police, "Do you honestly believe we are going picketing with a priest?" The officer said, "That dog collar does not mean a thing to me. It could be a miner in disguise." It seems that that police officer has seen Joe Orton's "Loot" once too often.

I am not contending that these and many other questionable incidents are the result of a general policy by the chief constable of Nottinghamshire. As may be within the knowledge of the House, I had a 90-minute meeting with the chief constable on Saturday, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). That meeting was extraordinarily inaccurately reported by The Guardian, a newspaper for which I have great regard and for which I like writing, but which ought to ring people to check the facts. I hope that that will not ruin my next assignment.

I thanked the chief constable for the courtesy with which he received my colleagues and myself. When I put to him some of the examples that I have given to the House, he said that he could not rule out that they had happened. There are well over 5,000 police from many forces currently involved in this exercise. Although they are all under Mr. McLachlan's command, they are not all under his control. It is essential that the chief constable exercises firmer control over those men and that they maintain at all times the good name of the police.

One aspect of the policing operation does seem to be a general policy, and a new and questionable policy at that. It is the stopping and in some cases turning back of travellers at great distances from their destinations.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) complained about one such incident and was told in a letter from the assistant chief constable of Northumbria: The coach was stopped by my officers because, at that time, miners were moving in coaches from various parts of the country towards the Nottinghamshire coalfield, where breaches of the peace had occurred.The officers anticipated further breaches of the peace occurring if such a group of miners were allowed to continue on their way to Nottinghamshire and it was therefore necessary to seek evidence regarding their destination and intentions. That was 100 miles away from where they were seeking to go.

There was also the case of the Kent miners who set out to go not to a colliery, but to the Yorkshire miners' headquarters at Barnsley—nearly 200 miles away. They were stopped at the Dartford tunnel, instructed not to proceed, and told that if they did proceed—I have the affidavit—they would be arrested and charged with an offence. They complied, turned away and decided instead to travel by the Blackwall tunnel, which they did without hindrance.

We have the bizarre situation in which miners travelling through the Dartford tunnel are potential criminals, whereas the same miners, with the same intention and the same destination, are pure as the driven snow, provided they go through the Blackwall tunnel.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that he has characteristically given a highly loaded account of that episode. He referred to an affidavit, but he knows that the evidence put forward on behalf of the police is in a contrary sense from what he has put to the House as if it were uncontroverted.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the evidence put forward by the police, which will be an issue at the trial of this matter, is that there was no stopping of the miners and telling them that they had to go back. They were warned that if they did go on to Nottinghamshire, they might find that they were stopped there.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Believe it or not, Mr. Speaker, that was intended to be a confutation of what I had just said.

The Home Secretary, in reply to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), referred to the hearing before Mr. Justice McNeal and seemed to suggest that the Kent miners were defeated at that hearing. Far from it. Mr. Justice McNeill declined to rule either way on the point and based his decision on the narrower ground that damages were an adequate remedy. He said that he was not satisfied that the balance of convenience favoured stopping the police action in advance of the damages action. That was as far as he went.

The New Law Journal on Friday, referring to the sort of incidents that I have been describing, said: There is no doubt that the police action in stopping flying pickets a long way from the scene of any potential breach of the peace breaks new ground. The statement of the Attorney-General supporting the legality of such action must be regarded, in the light of the decided cases, as representing a somewhat optimistic view of what the courts might hold … the police … cannot claim to be acting in defence of the rule of law, for the law does not guide them to a clear conclusion in these circumstances. In fact, the Attorney-General seems to have adopted a new attitude, because, after making what was purported to be a definitive statement on picketing law in 1980, he was questioned by the hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) who asked: Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain to the House the position under the law of an individual or organisation that actively organises disorder by assembling pickets by the busload and directed them in such overwhelming numbers to a site that disorder is bound to follow? The Attorney-General replied: That is a problem to be dealt with by police at the site." —[Official Report, 19 February 1980; Vol. 979, c. 242.] The Attorney-General said in 1980 that it was a matter for the police on the site. Now he champions the right of the police to take action, possibly hundreds of miles from the site, when the conditions on arrival at the site cannot possibly be known.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon put it authoritatively——

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My right hon. and learned Friend has a good deal more authority than the Secretary of State for Wales, whose ignorance on any subject is paralleled only by his ignorance on any other subject.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon said: What has highlighted the concern is the stopping of miners many hours, and sometimes even hundreds of miles, away from the area they are aiming for with the intention of picketing.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My right hon. and learned Friend continued: How can a police officer believe in those circumstances that travelling miners are likely to be in breach of the peace? The eventual circumstance may be entirely peaceful. There may be no breach of the peace at all. The burden on the police before they activate their powers is that they must have reasonable belief that there is likely to be a breach of the peace. The courts have said that the belief must be that a breach of the peace would be committed in the immediate future by the person arrested. I will be surprised that the test of immediacy could be satisfied in the courts in the case of potential picketers hundreds of miles and several hours away.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My right hon. and learned Friend continued: The courts have also said that the officers' contemplation, must be based on facts of 'a real possibility and not a remote possibility that a breach of the peace would be committed. Every case must be decided on the exact facts. A failure of the law is at the heart of the predicament faced by the police in the dispute. In 1980 the Government put through Parliament an Employment Act that was intended to deal definitively with secondary picketing. It was laid down that where such picketing was alleged to be taking place an employer would have recourse to the courts and be granted an order stopping what was demonstrated to be unlawful picketing. Let it be clear that, under the Employment Act 1980, secondary picketing——

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

—is a potential civil wrong, but not of itself a criminal act.

Last year Mr. Eddie Shah availed himself of that law and the result was turmoil. Since then, employers have been very chary of activating the legislation. The National Coal Board was granted an injunction on 14 March, but, as the Daily Telegraph reminds us today, it hurriedly changed its mind and backed away.

The general attitude of employers is that they want nothing to do with the Employment Act. A survey published only yesterday showed that 84 per cent. of management regard any mention by the courts as generally unhelpful to industrial relations. The problem is that, although employers are wary of stepping in, the police have been pitchforked into the gap.

When I met the chief constable of Nottinghamshire on Saturday he told me that his instructions to his men were to permit picketing within the law. However, although secondary picketing may be a wrong under civil law, picketing, whether primary or secondary, is no violation of the criminal law provided that it is not violent, obstructive or intimidatory. Yet there is clear evidence that the police at pit gates are under directions to distinguish between primary and secondary pickets when, under the criminal law, there is no such distinction.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the presence of 2,000 pickets at a pit is or is not intimidatory of itself?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I do not know what is wrong with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If he had listened to what I just said, he would know that picketing is no violation of criminal law, provided that it is not violent, provided that it is not obstructive and provided that it is not intimidatory.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has not given way.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

My question is simply whether the right hon. Gentleman agrees that the presence of 2,000 pickets is bound to be intimidatory?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I must echo the refrain of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to all of my hon. Friends who intervened by saying that that is a matter for the courts to decide.

Section D of the picketing code of practice issued under the Employment Act 1980, in paragraph 28, categorically states: The police have no responsibility for enforcing the civil law. The words "no" and "civil" are printed in italics in the code.

The problem is that a civil code has become de facto an adjunct to the criminal law and that de facto the police are enforcing civil law in order to fill a gap caused by the reluctance of employers to use an Act about which they are apprehensive. The police have been placed in an intolerable dilemma. It has led to many actions that I am sure they wish they had not had to take or had not taken. The resulting position was described as follows: It does appear to the public that the police have imposed a kind of curfew on the community as a whole, not just the miners, and also that they have restricted free movement.These features are things we normally only associate with countries behind the Iron Curtain, and I would not wish anyone to feel we are changing the style and pattern of policing in this country. The writer continued to say that he was worried that the police were getting the image of a heavy-handed mob stopping people from going about their lawful duties. The man who said that was Mr. James Anderton, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who is not noted to have the softest velvet gloves in the business. The position about which he was concerned arises from Government policies and laws that have been foolishly forced through the House by the Government. But what do Ministers have to say?

The Minister of State, Home Office—the right hon. Member for Whitney (Mr. Hurd)—put it this way: there are individual incidents which may have been dealt with in the right way or in the wrong way. With such meticulously selected words, the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that his talent lies more in drafting diplomatic notes than being embroiled in the rough world of policing.

The Home Secretary has no such inhibitions. He goes around positively relishing any opportunity that he has to make matters worse. At the weekend he talked about what he called "smears of the week" and sweepingly dismissed the allegations. He asserted that there is no undercover police operation, although he repeated this afternoon that it was wholly legitimate.

This morning I received a report of a Nottinghamshire police sergeant, Mr. R. A. Lake, whose full address I have. It was alleged that Sergeant Lake had been on plain clothes duty in recent weeks posing as a miner. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea immediately asked the Nottinghamshire police to investigate the allegation on my behalf. The deputy chief constable has admitted that Sergeant Blake was, indeed, on a plain clothes assignment during the relevant period.

The Home Secretary has been playing an irresponsible and inflammatory role. He discredits the high office that he holds, because he and the Prime Minister wish to exploit the present delicate situation for partisan purposes.

The police have a most important role to play in our society in combating the record crime wave. Britain's serious crime has increased by 30 per cent. under this Government. The role of the police is not to act as a surrogate for an Employment Act that has become increasingly inoperable. The position is not of their making, and the solution is not in their hands but in those of the Government.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Home Secretary would do well to take to heart the wise words of Mr. Kenneth Oxford, the chief constable of Merseyside, who recently said: The traditional system of policing in this country is firmly established on the principle of policing by consent, rather than coercion: police forces are not an arm of the state but servants of the community whose confidence they must secure. Among many people today that confidence has been eroded. It is essential that it be re-established. In the end, that can be achieved only by a change of course by the Government who are responsible for this whole sorry mess.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Warrington South 4:59 pm, 10th April 1984

We have all listened to what might be described as a typical speech from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). It was a typical speech in what has so far been a somewhat strange debate. We heard it trailed for several days and demanded as a matter of urgency so that we might hear how the police are undermining civil liberties and affecting the rule of law, only to have it opened by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) who went out of his way to claim that he was not attempting to attack the police and in whose mouth it might be said that butter could not possibly melt. I must tell him, however, that whatever he might say about his attitude to the police, the only possible interpretation that can be made of the motion is that the police are undermining civil liberties and the rule of law in Britain.

Today and recently we have heard a succession of complaints about individual incidents of misbehaviour by the police from the right hon. Member for Gorton. Of course I hope that no right hon. or hon. Member would attempt to justify or condone the police if they were shown to have acted beyond their powers, but the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that he should pursue individual complaints with the police and not use unsubstantiated complaints to undermine them.

The motion refers to civil liberties and the rule of law. I remind Opposition Members that Britain imposes on the police a duty to uphold the law and to enable people to exercise their civil liberties. One of those fundamental civil liberties is the freedom to exercise the right to work. It is vital to those who wish to work to be free to do so. If the debate has achieved one thing, it has achieved the right hon. Gentleman's grudging acceptance that that is so. I hope that we can take it from his speech that he condemns what he and the rest of us have seen on the picket lines recently and that he commends the police on their work in allowing people to go to work if that is their wish.

We have witnessed a deliberate and concerted attack by a group of people who have chosen not to work to try to prevent others from going about their lawful duties. If men choose not to strike themselves into what they perceive as the dole queue but rather to work to protect the future of their industry and their jobs, they should be free to do so. It is the duty of the police, acting on our behalf, to see that they have that freedom. The alternative is stark. The only alternative is anarchy and the negation of democracy as we know it.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary referred to Saltley power station. I was a junior Minister in the Home Office when it was closed. It was a sad clay for Britain. I am glad that, over the years, the police have learnt, through experience, to cope with the problems of picketing, mass picketing and violent picketing. The motion refers to the effect of police operations on civil liberties and the rule of law. It would be disastrous for civil liberties and the rule of law if the police were to fail to preserve the right of people to work.

We heard the right hon. Member for Gorton talk as though the police were interfering with the right of individuals to picket peacefully. Is he really so naive as seriously to believe that that which we have read in the newspapers and seen on the television news recently is merely the manifestation of a desire of people peacefully to persuade others not to go to work? Has he thought for a moment of what happened yesterday, as my right hon. and learned Friend reminded him, at Cresswell colliery and at Babbington colliery? Does he really believe that what happened there are examples of attempts to persuade others from going to work by peaceful means? I often wonder why, if it is the police who behave so badly, it is always the poor police who seem to end up with the injuries.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone talked as though something new was happening in Britain. It has for many years been the right of the police to ensure that pickets do not create or threaten breaches of the peace. It has for many years been upheld by the courts that numbers can amount to intimidation. It is abundantly clear that if people travel to take part in a picket that is likely to be the cause of a breach of the peace, the police have the power to call on them to stop that journey.

Whatever the right hon. Member for Gorton might say, we are not concerned with the law of 1980, or the law of 1982, or the code of conduct, or any changes that have been made. We are concerned with the criminal law, with upholding it and upholding the rules laid down by it on which the freedom of every person in Britain depends. It is that which it is vital that the police defend.

I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition, who was recently here, has gone, because I debated with him across the Dispatch Boxes for some two and a half years. He was always strong on oratory but rather weak on substance. He was always high on rhetoric but rather lacking in judgment. I believe that, should he ever, regrettably, achieve that to which he aspires, he will strongly regret his unwillingness and inability in the past few weeks to condemn what has been seen as going on in the strike and his failure outspokenly to stand up for the right of people to work and their freedom to go to work without intimidation.

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport 5:07 pm, 10th April 1984

As was utterly predictable, this debate has put the police force in the dock here in Parliament. Many people will think it odd that, five weeks into a major dispute, the issue that Parliament debates first is the conduct of the police. It is deplorable that the two Front Benches, conniving as they have throughout the dispute to avoid a debate, have allowed the police to be the focus of this debate.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) emphasised what I fear many of us have begun to suspect for some time—that the Labour party is now entrenched in a stance of hostility to the police. It would be dangerous and damaging if the polarisation of British politics ever reached the point at which the police could be identified with either of the old political parties. The police are fully aware that it is fundamental that they represent every citizen in the country. If anybody should be in the dock in this debate it should be the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, Mr. Scargill, and Mr. McGahey and, if there is any accomplice to the situation that we face, it is the total silence from the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Members who speak in the House on this issue for the Labour party. The situation has been going for some time. In January and February 1979 it was not possible to bury the dead in this country. That and some of the other impossible industrial disputes that took place at that time are signs that the Labour party is no longer capable of having a rational discussion about the action of responsible trade unionism, or of irresponsible trade unionism.

It is the right of anyone to picket, of course. The peaceful picket is built into the civil liberties of the country, and we would not be a true and proper democracy if it was not possible for somebody to persuade somebody else to strike. That ought to be clearly and unequivocally stated.

As the debate has revealed, of course the police have made mistakes. It would be a strange thing, with that number of police coming in from different parts of the country, some of them very inexperienced, and, indeed, some coming from as far away as the Devon and Cornwall constabulary, if they were not to make some mistakes. I do not wish to comment personally, since the case concerning the Dartford tunnel is to some extent still before the courts, but, if it turns out that the police turned away people, rather than confining themselves to warning people that, when they approached the pits up in Nottingham, they might be turned round, I believe that they would have gone way beyond what most people would expect to be a proper use of their powers. I do not think there is much doubt that some policemen have asked questions of miners about their political affiliations that ought not to have been asked. There may be other incidents. The dossier, about which we have heard so much from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton, may well prove to have some elements of truth in it.

However, the fundamental statement that needs to come out of the House is that, despite intense provocation, hour after hour, day after day, there is no other police force in the world that could have shown such restraint as has been shown around the pits. Without resource to riot equipment or to riot clothing, the police have been able, broadly speaking, to command the respect of everyone. I believe that in most other countries we would have seen a very different picture. The fact is that, if one goes to Nottingham and Derbyshire, one finds a great many miners and miners' families who are grateful to the police for the protection that they have been able to experience over the last few weeks in order for them to be able to work.

I hope that that voice, that word and those sentiments will come from this side of the House. It ought to do so, because there has always been, among many of the mining community, the greatest respect for the police and for the rule of law. We in the SDP have many political contacts and votes in mining constituencies. The Labour party may think that only its members can speak for mining communities, but there are other hon. Members who may catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, who represent mining constituencies, such as the Chief Whip of the Liberal party, and there are Conservative Members who represent mining communities in the House. If it were true that only the Labour party was the authentic voice of the average miner in the country, everybody would be out on strike, no pits would be working and no areas of the NUM would have voted democratically to work. The situation is fraught and tense. One of the difficulties that the police have faced is that they are having to separate out the dispute between miners. They are having to separate out the problems that have arisen on and around the pits, because those who have taken a democratic decision not to vote in Nottingham are being subjected to intimidation, not by miners in their own county, but by miners from across the border in Yorkshire. The problem is that those who asked for area voting have not been prepared to accept the democratic judgment of those areas that decided that they did not wish to strike. It would have been just wrong for the Nottingham miners to go into Yorkshire or for the Yorkshire miners to go into Lancashire.

The Scargill tactic of getting areas to fall like dominoes has effectively worked against itself, and the dominoes have not fallen. When the dominoes did not fall through the democratic process, they had to achieve a breakthrough by intimidation. The only obstacle to achieving a breakthrough by intimidation has been the police force. It is the police force that is now up front, and where is the Leader of the Opposition, and what has he been saying over these last few weeks? If ever I saw a pitiful example of leadership, it is that represented by the Leader of the Opposition.

I say this to the Prime Minister. Last night she spoke on television. Why does she not come to the House, and why does she not listen to a single part of this debate?

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East

Where were you last week?

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

It would have been a good thing for the House if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House had listened to the debate, and heard the kind of debate into which it has inevitably developed.

The most serious problem that has been raised by the strike is whether we are moving towards a new type of policing. In the organisation of the police, which has had to call on resources from many different police forces, are there the beginnings of a national police force? I believe that many hon. Members would profoundly object to any move towards a national police force.

I spent this morning talking to the chief constable who is the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, and who is in charge of the national reporting centre, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton referred. The more I look at the way that the centre operates, the more I believe that it does not represent a move towards a national police force. Indeed, I think that, if the centre did not exist, when the country is faced with crises such as the present one, the call would come for a national police force.

I am satisfied that the president for his year of office is always a chief constable from outside London. I hope it will never be the case that the head of the Metropolitan police, although he is a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is made the president. This would be unwise. I have questioned whether the centre need be sited within Scotland Yard, as I had thought that there were some benefits in having the office out-posted. On balance, given the communication links that have been established for a variety of reasons, I decided that this was necessary.

I do not think that there is anything sinister about the way in which the national reporting centre has operated. Indeed, it has been in operation since 1974. It has been called into action on four occasions. The first occasion was the mining dispute in 1974. It was next called into action on an occasion when the police had to provide prison cells, and it was called into action during the Toxteth riots, and the papal visit. It has, therefore, been demonstrated that the centre deals with a whole range of issues, and not just industrial disputes.

It is a pity that the Home Secretary did not develop his explanation on this question. The House was told about it by his predecessor in a debate in 1981. The more that we know about the operation of the centre, the more confidence I believe people will have that we are not moving away from the well-tried procedure of accountability to the police being held locally. I do not believe that we should go much below the current number of 43 police forces covering England and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The Home Secretary made a fair speech. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman must be very careful about making allegations about what took place last night in Derbyshire. I hope that those who went round marking the doors of miners' houses were not miners, or connected with the mining industry. As yet, I do not think that there is any evidence that those responsible are associated with the mining industry. Such behaviour would be very atypical and would be condemned by miners' leaders regardless of their politics. We would all deplore such intimidation. However, that part of the Home Secretary's speech seemed to move a little closer towards making unsubstantiated allegations than the rest of it. Nevertheless, something undoubtedly happened last night, and it shows the ill-feeling that is beginning to develop.

I hope that one message that comes out of this very unfortunate debate rings clear—that the House is not prepared to make the police the scapegoat for the crisis. I hope that there is not a Division at the end of the debate and that the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), who opened the debate in a reasonable way, will not seek to divide the House. However, if there is a Division, my right hon. and lion Friends will vote in a way that will clearly signify——

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I shall vote not for the Tories but for the police. I shall vote that the House continues with its business——

Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport

I shall not vote with the Tories. Let us have no such nonsense. I hope that some Labour Members will at least abstain and that they certainly will not vote for the motion. If they vote for it, they will have demonstrated what a shabby, sordid exercise the whole thing has been.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet 5:21 pm, 10th April 1984

I am glad to speak after the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), because I agreed with many of his fundamental points, and not least with his basic proposition that the debate reveals a shameful sense of parliamentary priorities. We are debating a motion that seeks to put the police, if not under attack, at least under a most critical and unfriendly spotlight. We have neglected many of the more basic issues that are hinted at in the motion. It refers to civil liberties and rights, but there are much more important civil liberties and rights at stake in the dispute. The right to work is a civil right and liberty, just as the right to vote in a national ballot connected with one's livelihood and the right to go peacefully to one's place of business or work are also civil rights and liberties. It is a terrible condemnation of Opposition spokesmen that they should have completely ignored such rights and liberties and should have concentrated on the civil liberties that may—although I do not think so—be under threat as a result of police action during the dispute.

The opening speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) was characteristically moderate, but that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was much more slippery and characteristically offensive. As I listened, I was reminded of a passage from the Mikado opera when one character says to another, "What is journalistic licence?", and the other character replies: Journalistic licence is a mass of corroborative detail giving an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative". Today, the Opposition Front Bench treated us to a bald and unconvincing narrative. It was a mosaic of individual anecdotes that did not add up to a convincing or coherent picture of what the police are doing. Of course, it is possible and, indeed, probable that policemen have sometimes made mistakes. It would be quite extraordinary if they had not done so.

However, as I represent a constituency that containes many Kent miners, I should like to deal with one incident in which it was alleged that the police made a mistake. I refer to the treatment by the Kent police of Kent miners at the Dartford tunnel. The incident took place largely on Sunday 18 March. During the previous three or four days, we had seen some of the worst scenes of violence in Nottingham, and the chief constable of Nottingham had appealed to other police forces for help and mutal aid in preventing further outbreaks of violence. On Sunday 18 March the chief constable of Kent stationed about 20 police officers at the Dartford tunnel. They stopped about 50 cars as a result of what the police call "common-sense observation". The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) laughs, but he only reveals his own lack of common sense. One of the major factors that led the police to stop the cars was that they were displaying NUM stickers.

The chief constable of Kent quite properly told his officers to advise potential pickets not to travel further. However, no one was prevented from leaving Kent, or arrested when doing so. I believe that the chief constable of Kent was right to say that the police action was both reasonable and within the law.

Photo of Mr Ronald Lewis Mr Ronald Lewis , Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman said that the police were within the law. Is he aware that last Thursday night, after a Division, when I was on my way home in a car driven by my son, we were pulled up by the police twice? Is that not an infringement?

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet

Neither I nor any other hon. Member could comment on such an individual case. If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member, or any miner, has a justified sense of grievance, he is perfectly entitled to lodge a complaint against the police under the established procedures.

In a statement issued explaining the police action, the chief constable of Kent, referring to the stoppings outside the Dartford tunnel, said: Our action"—— that of the Kent police— in this case is no different from the advice a senior Kent Officer gave recently to football fans leaving Dover to travel to the continent where again breaches of the peace were feared. I do not remember the Opposition condemning police officers for giving advice to football fans before breaches of the peace occurred. Therefore, the criticism of the Kent police is not justified.

However, I understand the point made by the right hon. Member for Devonport. I think that he expressed something which I also feel—a faint feeling of unease that any citizen of our country should be stopped on the highway as part of a deterrent policing operation. I somehow feel that it is an un-British state of affairs. It is something that we should strike a warning note about. It is only possible to stand aside and not take it too seriously because of the exceptional circumstances produced by the exceptional events in and around the coalfields.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell , Middlesbrough

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he will vote against the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill on Report?

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet

I am saying no such thing. I am trying to make a serious speech on a serious issue.

There is one other aspect of police activity that causes me mild concern. About 170 officers from the Kent police force are now in the midlands. Similar numbers of police officers from forces all over Britain, and particularly from the South, are deployed in the mining areas because of the request made by the president of the association of Chief Police Officers. I am worried that we shall see the beginnings of something approaching a national police force if such policing continues for any length of time.

One reason why the British police have been so much more successful than the French police is that the French police are regarded as being the face of the state, whereas the British police tend to be regarded as the face of the community. The sooner we can return, as normality allows, to community policing by local police forces, the better. I shall then be caused less unease by the extreme measures that have had to be taken in extreme circumstances.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Nottinghamshire constabulary has involved one third of its entire force in the dispute, leaving two thirds to cope with the rest of normal policing? Given that enormous work load, does my hon. Friend agree that it is reasonable to allow the chief constable to call upon the assistance of his colleagues?

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet

I accept that. We have an exceptional situation on our hands and exceptional measures are required. However, I do not minimise the argument by the right hon. Member for Devonport who fears that if the dispute continues indefinitely we could move towards a form of national policing, which is undesirable.

In the long term, I should prefer a greatly strengthened, better trained form of special constabulary from a local community to moving great phalanxes of police from one end of the country to the other. I hope that some lessons will be learnt nationally from the present position which must give rise to anxiety, although one cannot legitimately criticise any police policy in relation to the strikes so far.

Our barbs should be reserved, above all, for the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, Mr. Arthur Scargill, who is doing more than anyone to damage and destroy civil liberties and rights. He is no trade union leader in the accepted sense of the word. His major priority is not the welfare of his members, but political revolution. He proves that every day. Mercifully, the good sense of the British working man shows signs of triumphing, despite the bad leadership of the NUM.

According to the Press Association a few hours ago, over 20,000 miners are at work today — the largest number since the dispute began and 700 more than yesterday. The miners are voting with their feet against their irresponsible and Marxist leadership.

We are sent here not just to pass laws, but to preserve liberties. The first liberty that we can preserve is to allow the miners themselves — by the ballot box and their individual judgment — the right to work, which they deserve.

Photo of Mr Terry Patchett Mr Terry Patchett , Barnsley East 5:34 pm, 10th April 1984

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, and I recognise the need to be brief. I should like to clear up a matter in relation to the contribution by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). I do not intend my contribution to be an attack on the police, but the right hon. Gentleman implied that the police should never be questioned. I find that worrying. I am anxious about the infringement of civil liberties, since they are the cornerstone of any democratic society.

I am not sure how unique I am in the House, but I have experienced being on a picket line. Like many miners, I never intended to do anything but peacefully picket. However, I was struck and assaulted by the police on at least one occasion for no reason whatsoever. Let no one try to whitewash the problems. I am aware of the frustrations felt and the taunts made by both sides. Apparently the public are not aware of taunts by the police during the dispute.

In 1972 I was based in Norwich organising over 1,000 pickets in East Anglia. The organisers had daily telephone conversations with senior police officers. We were asked how many pickets were going to each place. That peaceful working relationship lasted throughout the 1972 dispute and it was recognised and honoured. It was successful, and peaceful picketing occurred. The same relationship existed during the 1974 dispute.

Then came the aggressive determination by the Tories to dismantle the trade union movement and destroy its influence. The dispute comes as no surprise to me, because it has been manufactured over many years by the Government through their trade union legislation and picketing laws. The Government are even attacking the recipients of DHSS benefits, knowing that the trade unions cannot afford to pay £15. That is what puts trade unionists' backs up. Many more vindictive actions have taken place, culminating in the closure of Cortonwood colliery which precipitated the dispute. Neither I nor other trade unionists are fooled by what is happening.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to Father Marshall of the parish of Goldthorpe. He is a constituent of mine with whom I have discussed the case. After two or three ladies from his congregation expressed concern that two young men, who had never before been in trouble with the police and had never intended to see the inside of a police station, had been arrested, Father Marshall believed it to be his parochial duty to observe exactly what circumstances had caused two such honourable young men to be arrested. If a man of the cloth believes that simple step to be his duty, he should be free to take it.

Father Marshall contacted the local Barnborough NUM branch secretary, Mr. Allen Hale, who had misgivings. He would not let Father Marshall travel with the pickets, and he escorted him himself. They arrived at Checkpoint Charlie on the A1 at Blyth. Father Marshall tells me that the police tone to the branch secretary was aggressive until they recognised Father Marshall's collar, and then the tone changed. The branch secretary made his position clear. He said that he was taking Father Marshall to look at the Nottinghamshire coalfields and the activities on the picket line. Only when Mr. Hale asked the father to get out of the car did the police notice his collar, and then their tone changed. Allen Hale has been told that he must not be seen in Nottinghamshire again and the reverend father is not too sure of his position. He was happy with his treatment., but is distraught that in this day and age in Great Britain he could be stopped that way.

My next example involves Mr. Wayne Lingard, who lives in my constituency. A friend of his was arrested on the picket line, so he left the line and went to a public phone booth to let his friend's wife know that he would be late home. As he was dialling, a police officer opened the door. Mr. Lingard said, "Excuse me, but I am making a private telephone call." The officer replied, "I suspect that you are ringing for more pickets to be brought to Yorkshire." He said, "I am not ringing for pickets. It is a private telephone call." The officer's retort was, "If you are doing nothing wrong, there is no need for privacy." That was in a public telephone booth. [Interruption.] It is all right. I do not want their assistance. I want the public and the press up there to see just what their attitude is.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no public anywhere but here.

Photo of Mr Terry Patchett Mr Terry Patchett , Barnsley East

I am sorry. I believe that right hon. and hon. Members opposite are making clear what they think in a serious debate on the infringement of civil liberties.

The subject of telephone tapping has already been mentioned. I can only tell the House what I was told— that a telephone conversation took place from the Yorkshire miners' strike headquarters and a deceiving message was given out that three coachloads were going to a given spot. They were quite happy to send a carload of pickets to go along and laugh at the numbers of police who suddenly appeared at the given spot. One can only conclude that someone had leaked something, and there is very serious suspicion.

I appeal particularly to Government Back Benchers to think seriously about the subject of this debate—the infringement of civil liberties—and about how far down this road they are prepared to go in their bitterness against the trade union movement. Are we really going to allow this democracy to be run in this way? I hope that these serious questions can be answered. Unfortunately. I feel that some will be masked, because under the pressure of incidents at the time——

Photo of Mr Terry Patchett Mr Terry Patchett , Barnsley East

No. I am sorry, but I am finishing now.

Under the pressure of incidents at the time, these men, who are not familiar with police routine, are not taking the required details. They are inexperienced. They did not intend to get across the police. I therefore ask Tory Back Benchers in particular to think about the road down which their party is taking them.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds 5:41 pm, 10th April 1984

I approach this debate much more in sorrow than in anger, because I grew up in a mining community, my father was a police officer and I can remember from childhood the extremely warm relations between the police service and the mining community. I believe that warm relationship remains and I hope that after all this madness is behind us it will be restored.

Secondly, I am saddened that, after a period in which we have seen masses of men moving from one part of our country to another and using violence against their fellow workers, the House should be concentrating its attention not on those who have caused the violence but on those who are trying to contain it; not on those who break the law but on those who are trying to uphold it. I find this, as I come to the 20th anniversary of my arrival in the House, a sad occasion.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—whose personal offence to me I pass by— made a speech that contained a number of charges. I say to him, from knowledge, that nearly all the things he complained of—the stops on the motorways, the central co-ordination of mutual aid, the use of plain clothes officers, and the rest—were all taking place with the knowledge, though not of course the authority, of Ministers in the Government of which he was a member. There is no change in the tactics, operations or command system of the police service.

The right hon. Gentleman had a dossier of specific charges, which no doubt will be noted by those police officers who are attending this afternoon, who will want to pursue his allegations—as indeed they should. But surely he ought to recognise that most of the matters on which he touched could well become matters for disciplinary proceedings, could quite properly go to the Police Complaints Board and quite likely in some cases could end up in the courts. I beg leave to doubt whether it is a proper use of the House to offer partial comments on specific matters that may be justiciable, identifying names, as if there were incontrovertible proof, without there being any opportunity for those against whom these charges are made to answer them. For that reason, too, I approach this debate with sorrow.

The main charges that have been made over the past few weeks against the police service are very clear: first, that the police are enforcing the Government's trade union law—this is Mr. Scargill's allegation; secondly, that the police are engaged in political policing; thirdly, that they are engaged in paramilitary action; and, fourthly, that we are in the presence of a move towards a national police force. I shall comment on all four of those charges. Not one of them is true. Each one of them, whether this is intended or not, has the effect of undermining the morale of the police service and of impairing the confidence that I believe the vast majority of our fellow citizens have in the police.

In reply I say first on behalf of the Police Federation —in which I am proud to declare an interest—that the police deeply resent being likened by public figures to the police forces of Poland or of South Africa. I have visited over the past 10 days Derbyshire, south Yorkshire and south Wales—although I have not sought to milk from my visits the same political advantage as the right hon. Member for Gorton—and I have found that the facts are very different from the impression projected by the media. In the vast majority of contacts between police and the mining community relations have been good. In some cases miners' wives have brought food to the police, who are living in the most difficult circumstances, in cold and miserable barracks. Members of the police have also been invited by miners into their homes and, in some cases, down the pits, and are said to have exchanged cap badges for miners' lamps.

I think this is entirely in character, because most of those police officers are the sons or brothers of people in those communities—and long may this remain so. In any case, the police are not there seeking a clash. They are there to defend the right of those miners who wish to go to work to do so. I have seen letters of thanks from the wives of miners to members of the police force recognising the service that they have provided. That is the reality in nine cases out of 10—the relations remain very good.

But, of course, there are a number of disturbing cases; I recognise that. I concede that mistakes can be made and I now deal with the four main allegations.

The first is political policing. This is not true. The police are not applying the Government's trade union laws. Those laws are largely a matter for civil, not criminal, proceedings and I know of no policeman who so far has been involved in any way in those civil proceedings. What the police are applying is the ordinary criminal law, and it is that law which makes it an offence to use violence against one's neighbour. If a constable, or indeed any one else, has reasonable grounds for believing that any other person is by his conduct likely to cause or to aggravate a breach of the peace, then, no matter who or where that suspected offender may be, it is the constable's duty, under his oath of office, to intervene and if necessary to make an arrest, and he is subject to discipline if he fails in that duty. Whether that arrest is justified—and it is an arguable matter—is a question exclusively for the courts. Anyone, be he picket, demonstrator or football fan, has an absolute right to challenge the propriety of that arrest. And if it is judged by the court to be unjustified, the police -will face the consequences.

So let no one be in any doubt that the powers that the police have used, and are using, whether in Kent or anywhere else, have nothing to do with trade union laws. Those powers have long existed under the common law and they are necessary if freedom is to be protected.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, following an arrest, it is not the duty of a police officer to ask political questions about a person's political allegiance?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I do not wish to prolong my remarks, but perhaps I should answer that question. There are occasions when there is good reason to believe that some of those on a picket line offering violence are not miners, but others who have joined in the dispute. One of the simple ways—it may be an unwise way—in which an ordinary copper in south Yorkshire may try to find out whether a person has nothing to do with south Yorkshire or mining, but is there for his own extremist purposes, is to say, "If you are from south Yorkshire, which MP did you vote for in the last election?" [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I shall explain that remark. South Yorkshire Members representing coal mining areas are well known in the area. So miners are well able to answer that question. Those who cannot do so might be thought to be intruders from other areas. I do not say that that is the best way to approach the problem; I seek only to explain how it can happen.

A second criticism of the police relates to paramilitary policing. The movement to Nottinghamshire of thousands of police is alleged to have been a paramilitary operation. What, then, is the organised movement of thousands of pickets and others from one area of the country to another? There is something paramilitary about that operation, too.

I agree very much with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) that, despite the picture projected in much of the media, the level of violence so far has been relatively small. Nowhere in the world would such a major dispute have been policed with the same methods of restraint and persuasion as have characterised most of the police operations during the past month. Those who allege paramilitary policing should ask themselves where have been the water cannon, the gas charges and all the other apparatus of paramilitary policing used in other countries. The British police have placed their bodies between the pickets and civil peace. They have taken the knocks and the bruises——

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Many hundreds of police, some well known to me, have taken the most severe bashing from the front. But what hurts more are the attacks from the rear made upon them in this House. Paramilitary policing is an absurd allegation.

I turn to the allegation that we are moving towards a national police force. The right hon. Member for Devonport, who had the wisdom to visit the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers at the National Reporting Centre, has disposed of that allegation. When help is requested by one force area of another, it is a request and not an instruction. We are a long way from a national police force. I can see nothing in the dispute that has brought that nearer. I too shall always resist a movement towards a national police force.

To conclude, some people—not many—want the police to be broken in this struggle. They know that would be the first step towards the demolition of the parliamentary democratic system that all in the House honour. There may be only a few who seek this. but I have no doubt that there are some. Therefore, it is incumbent on anyone who comes to the House and seeks to move a motion that attacks the British police to ask himself what would happen to our democracy and our freedom if the police should lose. The essence of our democracy is the rule of law and in standing for that law the police deserve the support of the House.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley 5:56 pm, 10th April 1984

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is right to talk of the historically close relationship between miners and the police. Many of the police in west and south Yorkshire are the sons and daughters of coal miners.

It is not new to bring police from outside into areas on strike. It happened in 1910, 1911 and 1926. At that time it was felt that the police in the area would be too friendly with the colliers. I am not arguing that that is why that has happened this time, but I accept that there is that close relationship.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the police attempting to discover whether a person came from south Yorkshire. During my 25 years in Yorkshire, I have realised that there are so many gradations of accent from Leeds to Sheffield that one can almost tell from which village a person comes. It is not necessary to question which way a person votes. If someone said that he voted Communist, he would be telling lies because the Communists hardly gained a vote in the Yorkshire area——

Photo of Mr Alec Woodall Mr Alec Woodall , Hemsworth

Not many voted Tory either.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

There is as curious a circularity in our politics as we will find anywhere in eastern Europe.

I wish to take up the point raised by the right lion. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds about what I regard as a worrying move in the structure of the police—not only during the past three weeks, but in my day — independent of who has been Home Secretary. I wish to make a few suggestions about what a Home Secretary should be doing now.

For those who argue that there is something wrong in this debate, I must tell them that I am fed up with reading in the newspapers, through the scissors and paste reports, about what is happening in the coal areas. This is the place where we should have discussed this matter a long time ago. It is sad that it was not debated because it was believed that the debate would not stick to the point and that we would all engage in the usual Oxford Union general election-type politics with which the general public are fed up to the teeth. It is right that we should discuss this problem here today so that we can clear the air.

I am the son, grandson, great-grandson and great, great-grandson of a coalminer. Indeed, one of my great, great-grandmothers worked as a coal miner. I am proud of that—[Laughter.] I hope that no one is laughing at that, because that is true. I am as proud of that as of the period that I spent in the Royal Air Force. Those who come from the suburbs of London should understand that there is something about being a coal miner that marks him out as being quite different from those who board an underground train every working day and face the danger only of getting their coat caught in the door when they arrive at Trafalgar square.

I am proud of my mining ancestors but I do not believe in my country right or wrong, and nor do I believe in my party right or wrong. Equally, I do not believe in miners right or wrong. If miners break the criminal law, it is right that they should be dealt with by the law. None of my hon. Friends who were miners have said anything that conflicts with that view. Miners, like other trade unionists, have the right peacefully to picket. I wish that that remark had produced more cheers. We hear many cheers when someone argues that the right to picket does not exist in Poland. Others have the right to work if they wish to do so, and therein lies the role of the police.

I had a close daily involvement with the police for a period which began in March 1974. They have a difficult job and that becomes even clearer when one talks to their wives. They have a rotten job to do, especially when they are on duty at a football stadium or at any other large public gathering.

The police are not pigs or Fascists, and I am not going to say that they are merely because I happen now to be in opposition. Mass denigration of the police is as daft as mass denigration of trade unionists, who are often called Marxists by those who know only of Groucho Marx. The police are civilians in uniform, and I did not like to see them marching as I watched television recently. That is not what our police should do. Chief constables who get their police officers to wear mess dress, for example, are allowing police colleges and that sort of atmosphere to change slightly the nature of the police, of which I am extremely proud.

If I am prepared to criticise coal miners, the Royal Air Force, or anything else, I am prepared to criticise the police as well when they do something wrong. They should not be exempt from criticism. It is sometimes felt that if criticism is made of them something is wrong and the criticism should not have been made. I have heard the views of the Police Federation at Scarborough and the views of flying pickets who travelled 200 miles to undertake their picketing. It is right to add that those pickets were not arrested. There are always bad eggs in every organisation, and there are some bad eggs in the Police Federation.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

I learnt from my experience in Northern Ireland that politicians should distance themselves from the police. That is certainly true when it comes to interpretation of the law and operational control. The Home Secretary is not a Minister of the Interior. He has a vague responsibility for about 44 police forces, but that responsibility does not extend to Northern Ireland or Scotland. The more that that part of his responsibility is broken up, the better. When I was Home Secretary I became involved in lengthy correspondence with the right hon. Lady who is now the Prime Minister. In January 1979, the right hon. Lady said: The Home Secretary should be giving advice on the present grievous difficulties. I replied: I have no power to instruct chief constables. That is what I said yesterday, and I repeat it. The right hon. Lady is wrong." The right hon. Lady continued:Will the right hon. Gentleman give the chief constables advice by means of a circular?"—[Official Report, 16 January 1979; Vol. 960, c. 1529–1530.] The correspondence between the right hon. Lady and myself was directed to whether a Home Secretary should advise chief constables. The Home Secretary should not advise anyone on policing. Individual chief constables of smaller forces should take decisions and they are responsible to their police committees. Incidentally, those committees will disappear in the metropolitan counties.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the visiting police in Nottingham were there at the invitation of the local chief constable?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

I shall come to that. I want to know under what part of the Police Act 1976 that was done. I want to know also whether the Prime Minister still holds the view that she expressed in 1979 and whether any advice has been given by the present Home Secretary, the Home Office, or any other Minister to the police. It has been alleged that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has held a meeting with the chief constables. I was advised strongly in the spring of 1979, at a time of industrial disputes, that I had no power to ask the chief constables to come together, and that if I asked them to do so to discuss the issues arising from the disputes, I would be acting "wrongly". Against the background of talk of a national police force, I want to know whether matters have been left entirely to the chief constables, or whether they have been told that something different must be done because of the Saltley incident and the events of six years ago.

I am concerned about violence. I do not want to see miners fighting miners and no miner whom I know wants that either. It must be realised that if young police officers are brought into an area and live in the equivalent of barracks, the events and the reaction that we have heard about during the debate will be almost inevitable in the rotten, nasty situation of some picketing.

I have kept the forms which were in my desk when I was the Home Secretary, on which are set out the powers that I had over the police. They amounted to precious little. However, the Home Secretary can direct a chief constable of any police force to provide any other police force with such constables or other assistance it appears to be expedient in the interests of public safety or order. If the Home Secretary had done that, he would have been well within the law. Was it done that way, or was it left to an ad hoc arrangement with ACPO at Scotland Yard?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

I am concerned that the events of the past few months, along with other events over recent years, have taken us along the road to a national police force. It is not what the federation says that matters and it seems that what we say in the House does not matter. Daily events may be leading us in the direction of a national force. If discussions took place, I am sure that we would say that we did not want such a force. Perhaps the time has come for a Royal Commission to direct itself to the police and to follow up the work of the 1960 Royal Commission, which led to the introduction of legislation in 1963, including the Bill which was the first measure in which I played a part in the House. That Bill found Its way on to the statute book in 1964.

I accept unreservedly from the Home Secretary that telephones have not been tapped. However. I have not liked the partisan role of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Of course he should condemn violence, and any Home Secretary who fails to do so is not worth his salt. However, his job is not to question those of us who are concerned about what we read. He should realise that we are dependent upon what we read in the newspapers. That is so, even though we write in our diaries when we leave the office, "Never believe one word that appears in a newspaper." However, the newspapers appear every morning and we find ourselves asking whether they have presented us with the truth. That is why we are right to question Ministers in this place.

I had great respect for one of the Home Secretary's predecessors, Mr. Reginald Maudling — [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] I had great respect for him. He advised the chief constables to meet the miners' leaders. He sent them a telegram to that effect. That should be done now.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

How can you talk to Scargill?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

The Home Secretary should be doing what Emlyn Williams and the chief constables have done in south Wales and what the chief constable has done in west Yorkshire. He has gone to the power stations and said, "Lads, you can have pickets here. I do not care what numbers you have but it is going to be quiet. I won't bring in other police if the picketing is conducted on that basis." A man who knows the area can do that sort of coppering.

The present dispute will eventually come to an end, but I suggest to the Home Secretary that it might be a good idea to try to get talks under way instead of dealing in images. We are all aware of the reports that appear in the newspapers and we all have our views on certain individuals. It is against that background that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should realise that talks are required and that we should not hype up the dispute with talk of victory for one side or the other. We should use this debate to air the problems and, when it is over, think hard and do something to cut the dispute down to size. It is doing the nation great harm. The miners have a case. For goodness sake, let us talk to them.

Photo of Mr Michael Knowles Mr Michael Knowles , Nottingham East 6:10 pm, 10th April 1984

As I am from Nottingham, I speak with a special interest. I have noted carefully what some Labour Members have said and the terms in which the debate has been initiated—the implications for civil liberties and the rest—but I ask Labour Members to accept that my constituents and those of my hon. Friends also have civil liberties.

This is not just a question of people being stopped on motorways. We are talking on behalf of people whose towns and villages have been invaded. It has been called peaceful picketing. In fact, rioting mobs have descended on places where people want to work. Some of the charges that are having to be brought by the police against some pickets are, frankly, hard to believe for those who know the industrial midlands and the north.

I suspect that many of those who have done much of the damage are not miners, and I am not the first to make that point. Some have said that they are interlopers, and when the full story comes to be told we shall find a lot of truth in that.

Yesterday, accompanied by several colleagues, I spoke to the chief constable of Nottingham and asked whether he had asked for or been given help. He told us, as he had stated before his police authority, that he had asked for assistance. After the first few days, especially early in March, and particularly at Ollerton, his force was being pushed against the barriers. For how long can policemen be kept on the streets for 12, 16, even 18, hours a day? He had to call in policemen from elsewhere. He had no choice.

In the towns and villages of Nottingham, those policemen—our own police force and outsiders who had to come in — have received massive public support. They have not been on the receiving end of peaceful picketing. It has not, even in a fairly aggressive way, been a question of putting a point across, and we appreciate that miners are not always total gentlemen in discussing matters one with the other; hard words can be exchanged. But when it comes to women and children on the streets being affected—that has happened on occasions—that is an entirely different matter.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) said that he had never seen so many police. The nation has never seen so many pickets. Yesterday at Babbington there were 2,000 pickets to fewer than 200 miners going down on shift. Was it necessary to have 10 pickets to persuade every miner? That was some persuasion. Standing between them were 30 policemen, six of whom were injured. That is what this has been about and that is the way in which the people of Nottingham see it.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone said that the police should be even-handed. I have never taken the view that the police should be even-handed between the burglar and the householder, or, in this case, between those who come to wreck an area and those who live there. The hon. Gentleman said that it was no joke to be fingerprinted and arrested. I agree. It is no joke to have one's town torn apart, either.

Many general allegations have been made. For example, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made a point about cases, having said that he had met the chief constable of Nottingham over the weekend. I know that the chief constable gave him a pledge that if he sent him the details of each of those allegations they would be investigated. The police have no interest in a cover-up in that respect. It does not do their credibility any good to cover matters up, and they know it. The police want the details and that is why it is no good simply our discussing the issue in this Chamber. The chief constables must know all the details so that they can take the necessary steps.

The right hon. Member for Gorton then referred to an undercover police operation, and there has been talk of agents provocateurs. The police have made no secret of the fact that they have used plain clothes policemen in this operation to get round the back of the crowd. They are after two kinds of people there—those throwing bricks and bottles over the heads of those in front and the organisers, because in many cases even some of those who come to picket are innocents, loyal to their union and their class—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—and their loyalty is misused. They are ending up in the hands of the police. We know that there are people organising behind the scenes, some of them sitting in offices in Barnsley. We know the truth about the strike, and there is no point in being mealy-mouthed about it.

One wonders why the Labour party has brought the subject up in the way in which it has been raised today. The implication is bound to be that it is a vote of no confidence in the police. Disguise it how Labour Members will — stepping daintily on eggshells through the minefield—that is the implication. The nasty reality is that the Labour party is still swinging to the left and the fear, among the Left-wing Members of the party more than among the few moderates still left, is that re-selection time is coming. [Interruption.] This is a nasty macho attack to preserve their backs and their general management committees.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It may be helpful if I inform the House that the Front-Bench speakers intend to seek to catch my eye at 6.35 pm, which leaves 20 minutes for the remaining speeches. If hon. Members will confine their remarks to about five minutes each, that will be immensely helpful.

Photo of Mr Raymond Ellis Mr Raymond Ellis , North East Derbyshire 6:17 pm, 10th April 1984

I shall heed your remarks, Mr. Speaker, and be exceedingly brief.

My only son was arrested last night at the pit head and forcibly detained. I accept that my son is as liable as anybody else to be arrested, and I mention that fact in passing simply to assure the House that I do not speak from hearsay.

The Parliamentary Commissioner, Sir Cecil Clothier, pointed out in his annual report that the worst evil the state could inflict on its citizens was wrongfully to take away their freedom. Unfortunately, that has become the daily practice in the coalfields of Britain. Hundreds of innocent witnesses are being picked at random and are suffering the implied violence of forcible arrest, and are set free only under terms of curfew. We are living in a police state or under selective martial law —[Interruption.]—a law, moreover, that has not received its First Reading in this House. Perhaps it will never need to do so.

Conservative Members should be aware of the results of the Government's actions. It has been said on many occasions that the miners should hold a ballot. The rules are clear. They are not restricted reading, and I will happily make a copy of them available to the Minister. They say that all miners' ballots shall take place at the pit head.

I have not had an opportunity to see or speak to my son, but, according to this morning's newspapers, he and others have been given instructions until the middle of May to keep away from all premises of the National Coal Board and any premises picketed by the NUM except for purposes of residence.

According to the NUM rules, hundreds of innocent lads cannot vote until late May. — [Interruption.] Keep on going. The chances are that more miners will be picked up tonight and later. The NUM cannot legitimately hold a ballot, according to its rules, until all its members are available to vote. The Government's actions are behind that, and we should not forget it. The day that the Government use the police as an instrument of class warfare is the day when the House will not only come into disrepute but be disregarded.

Photo of Mr Edward Gardner Mr Edward Gardner , Fylde 6:20 pm, 10th April 1984

It has come out clearly in the debate that no one seriously challenges the principle that the right to refuse to strike is as important as the right to strike. Miners in my native Lancashire, in Derbyshire and in Nottinghamshire who are refusing to strike and are determined to work are exercising a right that I hope the House fully recognises—the right to work.

The reason why the police are at the pit heads in such numbers has become clear from all that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said about the degree of violence experienced over the period of the dispute, and especially last night and this morning. There is no doubt that we see a distressing picture in a policy by people determined to intimidate by force and threat of force others to submit to their views by keeping them away from work. No one who has paid any attention to the facts that have come out in the debate can deny that the presence of the police was and is necessary. The police have a clear duty to prevent unlawful violence whenever and wherever it appears. Any other view must be an argument for anarchy.

Mr. Scargill, by refusing to allow a national ballot, gives a strong impression that he is happy to let loose the dogs of civil war in the coalfields. I do not wish to criticise the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) for choosing this time to debate this subject. He seems to have no opportunity to do otherwise. He merely accepted the invitation of the Labour Front Bench. I see this debate—I believe that the country and the House see this also — as nothing more than a shameful and cowardly attempt to divert public attention from the essential serious and substantial issues of this conflict. I hope that this will be realised in the country at large and that the Labour Front Benchers will feel ashamed of what they have done.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield 6:23 pm, 10th April 1984

This debate is long overdue. Most of the Conservative speeches have made no reference to the fact that this debate is about whole communities of miners whose right to work has been deliberately destroyed by the Government's edict. If the Home Secretary really believes that he is supporting the police, he should read the letter that appeared in the Sheffield Morning Telegraph last Friday, which stated: As a former police officer, I am deeply concerned about the actions of the police. The fact that they openly harass miners, arrest them on the most trivial of excuses and are blockading large areas of this country appears significant in that they are following orders in the knowledge that they will be indemnified against counter legal action. This can only mean that they are under orders from the Government, and as such they have become the servants of the Government, no longer the servants of the people of this country …The danger is that if the police are not restored to representing existing law, their actions will become the common law of the land. The Home Secretary is shielding himself behind the police to cover up his own political responsibility, and that of the Prime Minister and their Cabinet colleagues, for the dispute that gave rise to this incident.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

I shall not give way because many other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall be brief.

The closure of the collieries was in breach of a well-established civil right, which has been accepted by previous Governments, that there would be proper consultation between the miners and the NCB. If one arbitrarily steals miners' jobs, one is responsible for the first denial of civil liberties.

Next, the legislation on industrial relations which has been introduced by the Government has been deliberately presented by the Government to make it look as though traditional methods of picketing are virtually criminal in character.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

It is no good the Home Secretary shaking his head because he has done his best to confuse people about criminal and civil actions. The intention of Government propaganda throughout this dispute has been to make it appear that those engaged in picketing methods which have been accepted for many years are guilty of a criminal act.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

I shall not give way because I have only a few moments in which to make my point.

It is utter hypocrisy to say that the Government are defending the right to work when 20,000 miners have been denied that right by Government edict through Mr. MacGregor. If Conservative Members wish their views to carry weight with the public, they should go to a mining area in which mass closures are being announced. They should ask the miners — [HON. MEMBERS: "About the ballot."] I shall come to the matter of the ballot shortly. Conservative Members should ask the miners whether the police will be available to allow them to go to work when Mr. MacGregor has closed their pits. It is odious and hypocritical to use that argument.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

How many pits did the right hon. Gentleman close?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

The argument about the ballot is a matter for the NUM and will, no doubt, be discussed within the framework of that union. A Government who last Friday introduced legislation to remove Londoners' right to vote, and never permitted a ballot to be held at Cheltenham where they destroyed trade unionism by edict, and who now come out as the defenders of industrial democracy are odious and hypocritical.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

I shall not give way under any circumstances.

The Government appeared to have authorised the police who set up the road blocks. They authorised the mass police pressure and presence and authorised the police to harass the miners. The statement by the Home Secretary at the beginning of the dispute, when he listed the powers of the police, meant that in advance the right hon. and learned Gentleman authorised the actions of the police.

Despite the statements by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), the former Home Secretary, about telephone tapping, I point out that there has been widespread telephone tapping. [Interruption.] If the Home Secretary doubts my word, he should look at what the former Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw, said in his written answer on 25 February 1982. The guidelines issued to chief constables state that the authorising officer must satisfy himself that telephone tapping is operationally necessary, operationally feasible and justified in all the circumstances. The theory that Home Secretaries are required to authorise telephone tapping is untrue. [Interruption.] For the sake of Hansard, I had better report what the Home Secretary has just said. He said, "That is a lie." If he refers to his predecessor, he will find that assistant chief constables are allowed to authorise the interception of telephones, and he should not try to mislead the House on that.

I want to deal with the imposition of bail by magistrates. One of my constituents has been had up for obstruction. The magistrate imposed upon him, although he would not accept them, conditions of bail. They were that he was not to visit any places or premises other than own place of work, or any other premises associated with coal industry; and not to picket at any time any premises, place of business of the industry. He had not been convicted of anything. The police and the magistrates are working hand in hand to make possible the butchery of the mining industry.

In addition to the points that I have made, the Government have legislated to deny benefits to those who are on strike. Legislation provides that those who are on strike are deemed to have had £15 a week in strike pay. That is using the law to change the facts. One can say, "You cannot have starved to death; you are deemed to have had breakfast this morning." There is hardship now among many miners' families, and, in addition to taking away the right to obtain benefits, the Government have deliberately obstructed the claims. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. We all have to listen to things in the House with which we do not perhaps all agree. The right hon. Member has as much right to be heard as anyone else.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, because if we are to discuss civil liberties the right to eat is also important.

When I was in Chesterfield over the weekend I checked the figures. There were 3,900 applications for supplementary benefit, of which only 2,400 had been processed. Of those, 900 have been refused and 1,500 are awaiting payment. There is a strong suspicion that the Government have deliberately slowed down the DHSS arrangements to put financial pressure upon the miners.

I believe that the Government have brought the police tactics of Northern Ireland into the heart of Britain. That view is widely shared. In the process they have gravely damaged the relations between the public and the police. When talking privately to the miners, many local police officers have spoken of their dislike of the conduct of police brought in from other areas.

The charge that this debate has brought forward is that, above all, the Government have denied their responsibility for what has happened and, in a typically cowardly way, have pretended that they have come to the assistance of the police whom they sent in to deal with an industrial dispute for which the Government are 100 per cent. responsible.

What we have seen in this dispute is part of a much wider attack upon the freedoms of our people. The Prime Minister deals with those who dissent in a plain way. She will abolish local authorities that disagree with her and ban the trade unions at Cheltenham that disagree with her.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

I shall not give way, and certainly not to the hon. Gentleman.

The Prime Minister's attitude to dissent is to try to turn every political argument into a question of law and order. That has been attempted many times before. They had the army in Chesterfield twice, in 1893 and 1910, they had the police in 1921 and 1926 and those methods have never worked. Although the Government may believe that their method may succeed, in practice it will be rejected by the British people who have a much clearer idea of the importance of civil liberties than the Cabinet have ever understood.

Photo of Mr Mark Robinson Mr Mark Robinson , Newport West 6:34 pm, 10th April 1984

Having heard the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and his colleagues one would think that we were dealing with civil liberties from one standpoint only. That is far from the case. The debate this afternoon has been narrow. In recent weeks we have seen a divided National Union of Mineworkers. Many members of that union wish to continue working.

We have heard many cases cited by the Opposition of infringements of civil liberties, but when we are talking about their protection we must consider the rights of those miners who want to work. That is precisely what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been doing. We must also think of those industrial plants, for example the Llanwern steelworks in the Newport area, which depend upon indigenous coal and which run the risk of being the first to suffer in a dispute of this type.

What is at stake in this dispute is not just the right of miners to continue working, but the right of those plants, dependent upon the coal industry, to continue to receive supplies to enable workers in them to exercise their right to work.

During the dispute, as in any industrial dispute, incidents have been reported that have given those who wish ill to our police forces an opportunity to start the kind of hue and cry that has given rise to today's debate. If one ponders upon this dispute, it is a tribute to our police forces that a potentially dangerous situation has been carefully and sensibly handled within the context of the legal powers available to the police.

If the police act illegally, that is always, as has been reiterated this afternoon, open to challenge in the courts. The police have a duty to ensure that picketing is lawful and that those who wish to work, such as those in my constituency, can do so. It is a task that must be handled with skill and sensitivity. Surely the time has now come for the NUM to respond to the wishes of its members and call for a national ballot.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Don Concannon Mr Don Concannon , Mansfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I represent an area where the atmosphere has been electric for the past three or four weeks. My constituents and the National Union of Mineworkers in Nottinghamshire will find it odd that I cannot put their views this afternoon.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I cannot have any more points of order. It takes time out of the debate. I am sorry that it has not been possible to call every hon. Member who wishes to speak. I warned the House at the beginning of the debate that many right hon. and hon. Members wished to take part. Hon. Members only have to look at the list at the end of the Chamber to see the amount of time taken by their colleagues.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Fourteen hon. Members have taken part but five of us raised the issue under Standing Order No. 10 and put on the pressure for the debate. Of those 14, not one has come from Nottinghamshire mining area and only two of those hon. Members who originally raised the issue have been called. We have heard a succession of lawyers and practically everyone who is not connected with the mining industry. What is the point in raising a matter under Standing Order No. 10 if we are not called?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The answer to that is simple. The hon. Member's Standing Order No. 10 application was not granted by me. I warned the House at the beginning that this debate was on a narrow basis. It was connected with the police and civil liberties and the miners' dispute. That is why lawyers have been called.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) has done a service to the House in raising the issue of civil liberties and the rule of law. We certainly recognise the difficult and frequently thankless task the police have. They come from our own communities and they do what they can, but our appreciation of the police and our respect for the rule of law should not inhibit us from challenging wrong wherever it occurs.

I deplore violence on the picket line from wherever it comes. The rule of law is the same for everyone. Any breach of it, be it by picket or by policeman, justifies the spotlight of public scrutiny. This is the function of the House in peace, in war and in periods of industrial difficulty too.

This afternoon too many allegations have been made for any of us to be complacent. There have been allegations of the stopping of movement, of wrongful arrest, of violence and even of asking for political views. Men and women have the right to go to work. They have also the right peacefully to presuade others to abstain from working. Whether or not one is a picket, what is not allowed is a breach of the criminal law. It is the criminal law we are concerned with and not civil issues arising under employment legislation. The fear, as expressed by my hon. Friends, is that the police are being used as a handmaiden of the employment legislation.

One of the areas of concern is the setting up of no-go areas and, accordingly, the stopping of potential picketers hundreds of miles and hours away from the picketing areas. The police of course can take action to anticipate a criminal offence but the courts have said that the arrestor must have a reasonable belief that a breach of the peace would be committed in the immediate future by the person arrested, and that there must be proven facts for such a reasonable belief, and a real possibility of a breach. I ask the House: where is the belief of imminence hundreds of miles and hours away; what facts justify a conclusion that every picketer stopped and turned back will break the peace as opposed to picketing peacefully; how can mass action of this kind be justified so as to deny by law the right to congregate or to persuade?

Some years ago, when there was a proposal to have a no-go area for secondary pickets, it was said: to stop everyone from entering a given area would mean creating areas where, if only temporarily, the right of passage along the highway and the right of free speech for the purposes of peacefully communicating and persuading no longer applied. Moreover, whatever the details of the proposal, it would again seem that the services of the police were being enlisted on behalf of the employer. That proposal was rejected, rightly. The words I have quoted come directly from the Government's own Green Paper "Trade Union Immunities" of 1981. That was their view then and I hope it is their view now.

Hard cases hardly ever make good law. What we have heard in the debate must cause real concern. In the darker days of 1941 Lord Atkin said in a famous judgment: One of the pillars of liberty is that in English law every imprisonment is prime facia unlawful"— that means however short it is— and that it is for a person directing imprisonment to justify his acts. In a memorable passage he said: In this country, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace … I protest, even if I do it alone, against a strained construction put on words. What was true then is true today. The House must continue to maintain its vigilance to protect the rights of all citizens and to see that wrong, whenever and wherever it is caused, is properly dealt with according to law.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 6:44 pm, 10th April 1984

It is only possible in the six minutes available to deal with one or two of the points which have emerged in this illuminating debate.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was absolutely right in his analysis of the national reporting centre. We concur with his comments on that and with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). The national reporting centre fits absolutely into the pattern of policing based on local forces. It is not organised or inspired as a result of any desire for a national police force.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) was right to stress the local roots of our police. There will be occasions when the police themselves judge that mutual aid is necessary between forces. There will be occasions when the police need to co-ordinate that aid. That is the basis of the national reporting centre.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) produced, as we expected, a number of allegations, untested, unproved. All hon. Members will recognise that it is inevitable that such allegations should fly around during the course of an operation on this scale. Those who make the allegations have two possible remedies. There is the remedy of the courts and the remedy of the complaints system which involves the independent Police Complaints Board, as was pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), whom we are delighted to see in his place. Those are the remedies provided by Parliament. They are being and should be used where serious grievances are put forward. What they cannot be used for is to investigate the kind of generalised nonsense in which the right hon. Member for Gorton has been indulging in growing desperation during recent days. The only thing one can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that he is far surpassed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who, as we have just seen, lives in a world of imagined conspiracies which has only to be exhibited to be seen as absurd.

The right hon. Member for Gorton was given every opportunity to face the crux of the whole matter, and to condemn or even to comment on picketing in such large numbers as 2,000 at Babbington yesterday and 1,000 at Cresswell. He equivocated and denied once, twice, thrice, until we could almost have felt sorry for him if he had not been swallowing exactly the same medicine that he dishes out so lavishly to others.

The quarrel of many Opposition Members is not with the behaviour of the police, but with the fact that the police are in action at all. They do not really want a change in the behaviour of the police; they want the police to go away and leave them free to apply illegal pressure. Underlying the attack on the police is a dangerous assumption that we hear constantly in the House, that dealings between worker and worker should be somehow privileged, somehow above the law, and that intimidation can be ignored if it is the intimidation of one trade unionist by another.

That is bad law. What is worse, it is a doctrine absolutely poisonous to democracy and to the trade union movement. We wholly reject it. An individual who decides that he wishes to go to his place of work, and work there, is entitled to be protected from intimidation from whatever source it comes—a point that was admirably made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner).

The police will have to continue with their task as long as it is necessary. Of course, as many hon. Members have pointed out from their own experience, the police do not carry out that task with relish. There are many other duties which they would much prefer to be performing, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. I do not think it has been mentioned so far in the debate that no fewer than 51 police officers have suffered injuries in this operation. However, the police are carrying out this task with patience, skill and courage. They are protecting one of the ancient and most important liberties of the citizen—his right to go about his lawful occasions in peace. The police deserve—and, so far as we are concerned, will continue to receive — our wholehearted support.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn: —

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 321.

Division No. 240][6.50 pm
AYES
Abse, LeoEadie, Alex
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Eastham, Ken
Anderson, DonaldEdwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterEllis, Raymond
Ashton, JoeEvans, John (St. Helens N)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Ewing, Harry
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Fatchett, Derek
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barron, KevinFields, T. (L 'pool Broad Gn)
Beckett, Mrs MargaretFisher, Mark
Bell, StuartFlannery, Martin
Benn, TonyFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Forrester, John
Bermingham, GeraldFoster, Derek
Bidwell, SydneyFoulkes, George
Blair, AnthonyFraser, J. (Norwood)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyFreeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Boyes, RolandGeorge, Bruce
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Godman, Dr Norman
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Golding, John
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Gould, Bryan
Buchan, NormanHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell-Savours, DaleHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Canavan, DennisHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Carter-Jones, LewisHeffer, Eric S.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clarke, ThomasHolland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Clay, RobertHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Cohen, HarryHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Coleman, DonaldHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Corbett, RobinJohn, Brynmor
Corbyn, JeremyJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cowans, HarryKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Craigen, J. M.Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Cunliffe, LawrenceKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cunningham, Dr JohnLeadbitter, Ted
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Leighton, Ronald
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Deakins, EricLitherland, Robert
Dewar, DonaldLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dixon, DonaldLofthouse, Geoffrey
Dobson, FrankMcCartney, Hugh
Dormand, JackMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Douglas, DickMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Dubs, AlfredMcKelvey, William
Duffy, A. E. P.Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.McNamara, Kevin
McTaggart, RobertRowlands, Ted
Marek, Dr JohnRyman, John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Sedgemore, Brian
Martin, MichaelSheerman, Barry
Maxton, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Maynard, Miss JoanShore, Rt Hon Peter
Meacher, MichaelShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Michie, WilliamShort, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Mikardo, IanSkinner, Dennis
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Snape, Peter
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Soley, Clive
Nellist, DavidSpearing, Nigel
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonStrang, Gavin
O'Brien, WilliamStraw, Jack
O'Neill, MartinThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Parry, RobertThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Patchett, TerryThorne, Stan (Preston)
Pavitt, LaurieTinn, James
Pike, PeterWarden, Gareth (Gower)
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Wareing, Robert
Prescott, JohnWelsh, Michael
Randall, StuartWigley, Dafydd
Redmond, M.Williams, Rt Hon A.
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)Winnick, David
Richardson, Ms JoWoodall, Alec
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Robertson, GeorgeTellers for the Ayes:
Rooker, J. W.Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. Frank Haynes.
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
NOES
Adley, RobertBudgen, Nick
Aitken, JonathanBulmer, Esmond
Alexander, RichardBurt, Alistair
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCarlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Alton, DavidCarlisle, John (N Luton)
Amess, DavidCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Ancram, MichaelCarlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Arnold, TomCarttiss, Michael
Ashby, DavidCartwright, John
Aspinwall, JackChalker, Mrs Lynda
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Chapman, Sydney
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Chope, Christopher
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Churchill, W. S.
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Baldry, AnthonyClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Batiste, SpencerClarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Beggs, RoyCockeram, Eric
Beith, A. J.Colvin, Michael
Bellingham, HenryConway, Derek
Bendall, VivianCoombs, Simon
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)Cope, John
Benyon, WilliamCormack, Patrick
Berry, Sir AnthonyCouchman, James
Best, KeithCrouch, David
Bevan, David GilroyCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnDickens, Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnDicks, Terry
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterDorrell, Stephen
Body, RichardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDover, Den
Boscawen, Hon RobertDunn, Robert
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Durant, Tony
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Dykes, Hugh
Boyson, Dr RhodesEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinEmery, Sir Peter
Bright, GrahamEvennett, David
Brinton, TimEyre, Sir Reginald
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonFairbairn, Nicholas
Brooke, Hon PeterFallon, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Farr, John
Browne, JohnFavell, Anthony
Bruce, MalcolmFookes, Miss Janet
Bruinvels, PeterForman, Nigel
Buck, Sir AntonyForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fox, MarcusLester, Jim
Franks, CecilLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Lilley, Peter
Freeman, RogerLloyd, Ian (Havant)
Fry, PeterLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Gale, RogerLord, Michael
Galley, RoyLyell, Nicholas
Gardiner, George (Reigate)McCrindle, Robert
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)McCurley, Mrs Anna
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMacfarlane, Neil
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMacGregor, John
Goodlad, AlastairMacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Gorst, JohnMaclean, David John
Gow, IanMaclennan, Robert
Greenway, HarryMcQuarrie, Albert
Gregory, ConalMajor, John
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)Maples, John
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Marlow, Antony
Grist, IanMates, Michael
Ground, PatrickMather, Carol
Grylls, MichaelMawhinney, Dr Brian
Gummer, John SelwynMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Mellor, David
Hampson, Dr KeithMeyer, Sir Anthony
Hanley, JeremyMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Hannam, JohnMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
Harvey, RobertMonro, Sir Hector
Haselhurst, AlanMontgomery, Fergus
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMoore, John
Hawkins, C. (High Peak)Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hawksley, WarrenMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hayes, J.Neubert, Michael
Hayhoe, BarneyNicholls, Patrick
Hayward, RobertNicholson, J.
Heath, Rt Hon EdwardNorris, Steven
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidOnslow, Cranley
Henderson, BarryOttaway, Richard
Hickmet, RichardOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hicks, RobertPage, John (Harrow W)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hill, JamesParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hind, KennethParris, Matthew
Hirst, MichaelPattie, Geoffrey
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Pawsey, James
Holt, RichardPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hooson, TomPenhaligon, David
Hordern, PeterPollock, Alexander
Howard, MichaelPowell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Powley, John
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Howells, GeraintPrice, Sir David
Hubbard-Miles, PeterProctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, David (Wirral)Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Raffan, Keith
Hunter, AndrewRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasRathbone, Tim
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickRees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)Rhodes James, Robert
Johnson-Smith, Sir GeoffreyRifkind, Malcolm
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Kennedy, CharlesRoe, Mrs Marion
Key, RobertRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
King, Rt Hon TomRossi, Sir Hugh
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Rost, Peter
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Rowe, Andrew
Knowles, MichaelRumbold, Mrs Angela
Knox, DavidRyder, Richard
Lamont, NormanSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lang, IanSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Latham, MichaelSayeed, Jonathan
Lawler, GeoffreyScott, Nicholas
Lawson, Rt Hon NigelShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lee, John (Pendle)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Thurnham, Peter
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shersby, MichaelTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Silvester, FredTracey, Richard
Sims, RogerTrotter, Neville
Skeet, T. H. H.Twinn, Dr Ian
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Soames, Hon NicholasViggers, Peter
Speed, KeithWaddington, David
Speller, TonyWainwright, R.
Spencer, DerekWakeham, Rt Hon John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Waldegrave, Hon William
Squire, RobinWalden, George
Stanbrook, IvorWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Stanley, JohnWaller, Gary
Steel, Rt Hon DavidWalters, Dennis
Steen, AnthonyWard, John
Stern, MichaelWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Watson, John
Stevens, Martin (Fulham)Watts, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)Wheeler, John
Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)Whitney, Raymond
Stokes, JohnWiggin, Jerry
Stradling Thomas, J.Winterton, Mrs Ann
Sumberg, DavidWinterton, Nicholas
Tapsell, PeterWolfson, Mark
Temple-Morris, PeterWood, Timothy
Terlezki, StefanWrigglesworth, Ian
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.Yeo, Tim
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Tellers for the Noes:
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and Mr. Douglas Hogg.
Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Thornton, Malcolm

Question accordingly negatived.