Coal Industry Dispute

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th June 1984.

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Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West 12:00 am, 18th June 1984

asked the Attorney-General whether he will meet the Director of Public Prosecutions and chief constables to discuss criteria for prosecutions arising out of incidents during the miners' strike.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

No, Sir. Offences of the kind so far involved do not have to be reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but I am confident that the police abide by the guidelines which I published last year describing the general criteria for prosecution. There are no special criteria for prosecution.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

In view of the grave public concern about the paramilitary behaviour of the police, such as in today's incident at Orgreave, will the Attorney-General confirm that the policing strategy to be used during the dispute was decided well in advance at a meeting held way back in February between himself, the Home Secretary and the chief constables? Is it not about time that this Tory Government stopped using the police for the blatant political purpose of waging a vendetta against the National Union of Mineworkers?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

I attended no such meeting. The hon. Gentleman speaks of paramilitary behaviour, but those of use who listened to "The World at One" today heard of 5,000 so-called pickets. They are not. They are demonstrators and rioters. At the end of this incident, the whole road was littered with lumps of concrete, stones, bottles, and bricks taken from a wall demolished by the people whom the hon. Gentleman supports. If that is what he considers unfair treatment by the police, the hon. Gentleman should think again and realise that the paramilitary behaviour, which is military behaviour when it should not be, comes from those whom he supports, not from the police.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

In any talk about guidelines and criteria, will my right hon. and learned Friend remember that the recommendation of the National Union of Mineworkers and the TUC on the number of pickets necessary to constitute a peaceful picket is six, and not 6,000, as are being used at the moment in the sort of incident about which we have heard complaints?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

My hon. Friend is right. Six is a reasonable number. I remind the House of what is the right of a picket—to obtain or communicate information or seek to persuade a man not to go through the line. That is all. What we have seen today, and today is perhaps one of the worst occasions that we have had, is so far removed from that that even the thought contained in the rule that has just been expressed by my hon. Friend is made nonsense of by what is going on on the front line, as it has now become.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Is the Attorney-General satisfied that the action taken by the Kent police at the Dartford tunnel some time ago was within the guidelines to which he has just referred? If the people concerned had persisted in going through the tunnel, under what charge would they have been prosecuted?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

If they had persisted in going through the tunnel, they would have been arrested for obstructing the police in the course of their duty. Whether that was a proper distance from the pits or not is not a matter for me, but for the courts, if they have to decide it.

Photo of Mr David Ashby Mr David Ashby , North West Leicestershire

Are not the large numbers of people who have been assembling riotously, as they did today, the real problem? Should we not re-enact something like the Riot Act, which dealt with the problem of large assemblies and dispersing them? Is that not the right way to deal with the problem?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

In September 1982 the Law Commission recommended a new type of unlawful assembly, which was to be divided into three parts, ranging from the very serious one, with behaviour such as that which obviously occurred today, down to a lesser degree, and in particular giving the option of trial by magistrates if it were agreed by both sides. One of the problems about the more serious offences of riot and unlawful assembly is that they can be tried only on indictment and therefore there is a considerable delay before the cases are heard.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Will the Attorney-General advise the Prime Minister that one of the likely consequences of the present serious situation will be a series of long, acrimonious and divisive court cases arising from the miners' strike, and will he also advise her that the time has now passed for covert Government intervention and that we have reached a stage at which overt Government conciliation of the dispute should take place?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

If what the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting is that, because this is criminal conduct involved in an industrial dispute, there should be a different mode of dealing with it, I disagree. As to the remainder of his question, that does not fall within my remit as Attorney-General.

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Leicester South

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in the light of the worst violence yet at Orgreave, the only thing to be done with the criminal law is to enforce it?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

The enforcing must be left initially to the police. There is no way in which the Government or any other Department should seek to influence the police as to how they conduct their operations on the ground. Once they have arrested it is a matter for the courts, but I think that it is very much to the credit of the police that, in the 12 to 13 weeks that this has been going on, the number of arrests overall in 20 different police forces amounts to fewer than 3,000.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

Can the Attorney-General explain his role in the Government's preparation for the miners' strike? Was he consulted by the Secretary of State for Transport in the instruction given to the chairman of British Rail to avoid approaching the Attorney-General's office? What part of his duties could conceivably arise in connection with the instructions of the Secretary of State for Transport?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

I shared the right hon. and learned Gentleman's surprise when I read that passage, and I had inquiries made. There is a simple answer. The remit of the Attorney-General does not allow him to advise students, any private organisation, or even nationalised industries, and this had been made clear at a previous meeting. Therefore, although badly worded, the intention was, "Do not think that you can go and get the advice of the Law Officers—they are not entitled to give it to you." What appeared so sinister was in fact as simple as that.