I am delighted to open the stage 1 debate on the general principles of the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill. I thank the convener and members of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee for their scrutiny of the bill and their stage 1 report. I am grateful to those who provided views to the committee as part of that process, many of whom experienced the strike at first hand and gave powerful testimonies.
There are, of course, a number of recommendations in the report that will require careful consideration, as I reflected in my response to it. I welcome the recommendation that the general principles of the bill be agreed to.
As we know, the miners strike of 1984 to 1985 was divisive in many ways. The unprecedented strain and turmoil of the year-long dispute was felt by many people who were either directly or indirectly connected to the coal-mining industry. A sense of unfairness clearly remains in Scotland’s former mining heartlands, one of which I represent.
Importantly, the committee’s report refers to the lasting psychological and economic impact that the strike had on generations of communities. Indeed, the lasting effects of the strike were also common themes in the evidence that was received by the independent review group that recommended the pardon, and in the representations that were made to the Government in its consultation last year.
In commissioning the independent review in 2018 and in subsequently introducing the bill, the Scottish Government has given a voice to many former miners who still feel the burden of a criminal conviction, and to their families, who remain angry about the management of the strike. We recognise that uncovering the truth of what happened during the strike is important to those affected.
The committee heard that more needs to be done for those communities, in terms of investment and providing opportunities, and that many communities have felt forgotten and taken for granted.
In my evidence to the committee, I spoke about the Scottish Government’s support for the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. We value our long-standing relationship with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the support that it has delivered to ex-coalfield communities through our strategic partnership. In 2021-22, we have supported its work in our ex-coalfield communities through an annual grant of £754,000, made available through our empowering communities programme. Funding has enabled delivery of a wide range of grass-roots activities to tackle issues associated with poverty in those areas and to support those fragile communities, many of which were at the start of a community empowerment journey and are in the areas worst affected by the pandemic. By concentrating our regeneration efforts on the communities that need it most and by working with local people to deliver change, we hope that we can help to reverse the decline felt in former mining communities.
Of course, that is the present day. To fully understand the events of the strike nearly four decades ago, we need a United Kingdom-wide public inquiry. The committee’s view is that a UK-wide inquiry could consider the management of the strike and whether compensation for former miners is appropriate. I completely support that view. My sincere hope is that the passage of the bill will strengthen the calls for a full UK public inquiry. To that end, the Scottish Government would be happy to consider and compile factual and other information—which other bodies may be able to offer—as part of any future representations made to the UK Government. The search for answers should not end here; it should continue beyond the passage of the bill.
However, for now, we have the opportunity to bring some reconciliation to our mining communities. That should be the objective of the bill. I am clear that the bill is not about apportioning blame to any particular individual or group of individuals, or questioning the decisions made by the judiciary at the time. The bill does not intend to rewrite history; neither does it seek to pass judgment on all the events that happened during the strike. We do not have the facility to do that—we have neither the records nor the powers to look at all the issues that a full UK public inquiry could perhaps consider.
By introducing the bill, the Scottish Government is, within its existing powers, seeking to recognise the disproportionate, often unforeseen and long-lasting consequences that fell on miners as a result of a conviction. The pardon, therefore, symbolises a desire to heal old wounds by removing the stigma of a criminal conviction for those who meet the qualifying criteria.
I recognise, as the committee highlights in its report, the highly abnormal social situation that the strike created. There were many interests who became involved in the dispute in different capacities. I was a student at the time and was involved in activities from that side. The strike is still an emotive subject, and the bill seeks to deal with the past in a sensitive way and ensure that an appropriate balance is struck. I will therefore consider very carefully the committee’s recommendations around expanding eligibility to family members and others who stood in solidarity with striking miners.
I will also consider whether it would be appropriate to extend the pardon to convictions that arose from incidents beyond the picket lines and other demonstration-type gatherings. I will also reflect on whether the list of qualifying offences should be broadened. It will be important for me to discuss those matters with mining and policing interests before determining my position. Regardless of the scope that the Parliament agrees for the pardon, I am pleased that the committee considers that the pardon should apply automatically.
The committee has also highlighted the need to maximise awareness of the pardon. I agree that that is vital and can confirm that, arising from my discussions with the committee, the Scottish Government has had some productive discussions on that already, with a view to identifying and reaching out to those who may benefit from being informed about the pardon. That work is on-going and will bring challenges, given the passage of time since the strike and the lack of robust records. I am committed to working with partners and to using as many levers as we can to maximise awareness of the pardon, should the bill be passed. I hope that members will feel reassured by that.
I underline the clear message that the Scottish Government is sending by introducing the bill, which is that we understand that it was the unprecedented strain of that bitter and prolonged dispute that led to so many convictions and that, as a society, we want to pardon those convictions. In that way, we are recognising the hardship and suffering of entire communities and bringing some comfort and reconciliation to the many who were involved.
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill.
I am pleased to speak in the debate as convener of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.
We thank all those who gave evidence to the committee, particularly the mining communities who took the time to share their experiences with us. We also thank the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and other organisations and groups for their assistance. The evidence that we heard was invaluable to our work.
I thank the clerks for supporting the committee through the scrutiny process and in the production of our stage 1 report.
The committee strongly supports the bill and we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to righting some of the wrongs that many communities suffered during the miners strike. The committee agrees than an automatic pardon will go some way towards providing justice for affected families.
The committee acknowledges the difficulty faced by the Scottish Government in identifying individuals who may fall within the scope of the pardon due to a lack of available records from the time. Although witnesses broadly supported an automatic pardon, the committee also heard that a letter or written statement from the Scottish Government would be welcomed by the individuals affected, and particularly by the families of miners who have now passed away.
We welcome the Scottish Government’s proposal to work with the National Union of Mineworkers to identify as many individuals as possible. The committee recommends that the Scottish Government provides a straightforward way for individuals and families to contact it directly if they consider that they fall within the scope of the pardon, for example, via the Scottish Government website. However, the committee is keen to ensure that any such steps do not delay the passage of the bill. The committee is clear that no amendments to the bill should delay its passage.
The committee report notes the difficulties faced by the Scottish Government in accurately determining the number of non-miners who were arrested while supporting miners during the strike and we accept that the definition will catch the majority of individuals affected. However, we heard from mining communities that some family members and friends who stood in solidarity with miners were also convicted as a result of the strike. The report recommends that the Scottish Government considers extending the definition in section 4, particularly in relation to family members of miners.
We also heard calls for the pardon to be extended to include actions associated with the strike that occurred in the community. On balance, we recommend that the Scottish Government should consider extending the pardon to those arrested as a result of those other activities, particularly those associated with miners’ welfare.
The committee notes that the Scottish Government went further than the recommendations of the independent review in relation to the offences included in the bill and in doing so has captured the most common offences committed during strike-related activity. We explored the scope of the offences included in section 2 and examined whether those convicted of offences under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 should be included. However, the committee was not able to reach agreement on whether the list of offences provided is adequate.
We heard views for and against an award of compensation for those who fall within the scope of the pardon. Our report acknowledges the significant impact of the convictions on many individuals in terms of not only loss of income through redundancy but loss of additional employment rights such as redundancy payments, pension rights and future prospects, which were prejudiced as a result of having a conviction.
Although the committee acknowledges those impacts, we note that many of the areas that would require to be addressed are reserved to the United Kingdom Government. We also acknowledge that a scheme of compensation would move the bill away from its intention of having a symbolic effect. On balance, we consider that implementation of such a scheme in Scotland would create significant practical difficulties that are likely to delay the passage of the bill and that therefore it is not the appropriate mechanism for delivering a compensation scheme. However, we note the calls that the Scottish Government has made on the UK Government to undertake a full public inquiry into the miners strike. It is the committee’s view that any inquiry should consider options for compensation for the miners and their families.
In the extensive evidence on the policing of the strike and the role of the judiciary, we heard conflicting accounts from witnesses. We agree that a full investigation into the policing and management of the strike is long overdue and should take place, and we note views on both sides as to whether the UK Government or the Scottish Government should take responsibility for an inquiry. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament were not in existence at the time of the strike, although police and sheriffs were acting under a Scotland-specific system. On balance, the committee agrees that the most appropriate method of investigation is for the UK Government to hold a full public inquiry. We note calls from the Scottish Government on the UK Government to do so, and we urge both Governments to work together on that.
We heard powerful evidence of the lasting psychological and economic impacts that the strike has had on generations of communities, and that they may have never fully recovered. The impacts are still felt today, and there are calls for more to be done through investment and providing opportunities. We welcome the Scottish Government’s funding and work to date through the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, and we urge the minister to ensure that that continues.
The committee also welcomes the cabinet secretary’s commitment to take further steps and go beyond the passage of the bill, and we look forward to seeing where progress can be made. Our report also notes the Scottish Government’s commitment to continue discussions with the UK Government on taking responsibility for the suffering of the mining communities during the strike period. Last week, the cabinet secretary wrote to the committee with the Scottish Government’s response to our stage 1 report, and the offer to meet with members of the committee for discussions in advance of stage 2 is welcome.
The committee is content to recommend to the Parliament that the general principles of the bill be agreed to, and we look forward to hearing more from the Scottish Government about what further work it plans to undertake in order to continue helping to rebuild these communities.
I am very pleased to open this stage 1 debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. The Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill will be an important piece of legislation for many people, not just for what it seeks to do but for what it symbolises. The bill is an opportunity to take a significant step towards providing much-needed closure, not only for the individuals concerned but for the families and communities that were affected across Scotland. For that reason, the Scottish Conservatives will support the general principles of the bill at decision time this evening.
Alongside fellow members of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, I have listened to swathes of evidence that make it clear how much the bill is required. I take the opportunity to thank the many witnesses who have provided evidence to the committee over the preceding months. I acknowledge the opportunity that I had this morning, along with my committee colleague Pam Gosal, to meet members of the National Union of Mineworkers and their families.
The journey to this stage of proceedings started nearly four years ago, when the independent review was commissioned. The scale of the public response to the review led to it being delayed twice. It was not until late 2020 that the independent review published its recommendation that a pardon be provided through an act of the Scottish Parliament. Our committee has since devoted considerable time to the issue throughout the current session of Parliament, and it is important that we are now debating a bill in the chamber today.
Although I and other committee members have spent months preparing and scrutinising the bill, there are many people who have waited nearly four decades to finally receive some level of closure on this issue. We are all familiar with the statistics. Around 1,350 arrests were made during the miners strike of 1984-85, with around 400 of those leading to convictions. However, those of us who witnessed the strikes know that mere statistics do not come close to capturing the turbulent times that we witnessed or how deeply the strikes scarred not just individuals but whole communities.
The pardon that the bill seeks to provide will not right every wrong of the past, but it will come close to ensuring that there is some closure. It is important that we pass the bill, because it is a meaningful step in the right direction, and I welcome that. Although the bill may be quite small, there are no doubt several aspects of it that require further debate.
One of the key issues of the debate has been whether the scope of what is offered under section 2 is wide enough. It is important to ensure that a pardon is granted where it would be appropriate. However, as with all legislation, a delicate balance is required. To that end, I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to take a cautious approach to considering any extension to the offences that are listed under section 2.
Although it is important to specify which offences fall within the scope of the bill, it is also important that we set out where the offences took place. As it stands, some of the language in section 1 requires clarity. I hope that the Scottish Government and the cabinet secretary will look at that as the bill progresses.
The Law Society of Scotland has pointed out that the inclusion of terms such as
“picket, demonstration, or other similar gathering” to describe the settings in which offences took place risks undermining the purpose of the bill and could lead to certain individuals mistakenly believing that they will be issued with a pardon. Therefore, it is important that all that is considered as the bill progresses to stage 2.
I also acknowledge that there have been multiple calls for compensation payments to be included as part of the bill’s provisions, and I have no doubt that those calls will continue to be made as we progress. However, on that issue, I highlight the findings of the committee’s stage 1 report, which concluded that including a compensation scheme in the bill would risk delaying its passage, which is the last thing that we want to do. A fair compensation scheme would likely require the creation of an independent scheme. The operation of such a scheme would depend on historical evidence, which is pretty patchy and incomplete, because time has moved on. As they should, discussions regarding compensation for the events of 1984-85 will no doubt continue to take place, and we will look at that as the bill goes forward. As I stated earlier, the bill has been a long time in coming, so any further delay would be regrettable.
The Scottish Conservatives support the general principles of the bill. From John Scott QC’s independent review, it is clear that, in some circumstances, there was justification for the crimes that related to the miners strike, so, in our approach to the pardon, it is correct for us to look at those circumstances, while ensuring that certain criteria are met. The details of those criteria will need to be looked at as the bill progresses to stages 2 and 3.
I look forward to the opportunity to scrutinise any amendments to ensure that the bill serves its purpose, follows its course and is not interrupted. I look forward to the next stages of the bill, because it is very important to many individuals and communities.
To be a member of this Parliament is to hold in our hands a great privilege. We are sent here to make a difference, to do the right thing and to look to the future but also to understand our past, to provide new hope and to honour old debts.
With this bill, we cannot turn back the clock. All those lives that were destroyed by the brutality of the dispute cannot be restored, the families that were ripped apart cannot be put back together, and all those years that were lost cannot be refound, but we can and must right historical wrongs.
In 1984-85, the whole might of the state was thrown against the miners, against their trade union, against their families and communities and against their very way of life, so now, all these years later, it is time for the whole might of the state to be thrown behind the miners, behind their communities and behind their families. That is why we and the miners’ union say that an honest and dignified response to what happened all those years ago is to establish, through this bill, the principle of a compensation scheme.
I have to say to the cabinet secretary and the Government that the lack of such a scheme is a glaring omission from the bill, and the excuses for that are many, various and often at odds with each other. It is that employment law and industrial relations are not devolved, or even that this Parliament did not exist in 1984. It is that, on the one hand, this Parliament is not competent, or, on the other, that time is of the essence.
However, if it is competent for this Parliament to pardon the miners for what happened in 1984-85, it must be competent for this Parliament to compensate the miners for what happened in 1984-85. After all, the bill is not about the application of employment law during the strike; it is about the application of criminal law during the strike. It comes about because striking miners were arrested in Scotland, by Scottish police officers. They were prosecuted in Scotland, by Scottish procurators fiscal. They were convicted in Scotland, by Scottish sheriffs in Scottish courts. It was that—in the words of the Scott inquiry—“arbitrary application” of the criminal law that led to the “disproportionate, excessive and unreasonable” treatment of the miners in Scotland, which we must now address.
The cabinet secretary has said on the record:
“Policing in Scotland followed a different path”.—[Official Report, Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, 8 February 2022, c 14.]
It did. If you were a striking miner in Scotland, you were twice as likely to be arrested and three times as likely to be dismissed as miners in other coalfields. We cannot turn our back on those facts.
It is of course another fact that the Scottish Parliament did not exist at the time of the strike. However, in 2017, this Parliament, in an act of compassion and humanity, born out of a sense that an injustice had been done, set up the Scottish infected blood support scheme to compensate people who were infected with hepatitis C and HIV, going back not to 1984 but to 1974.
When we are told that the addition of a compensation scheme would unduly delay the bill, I would say that, if the past two years has taught us anything, it is that legislation and compensation can be introduced in double-quick time when political will, parliamentary force and popular consent are behind it.
Let me turn finally to the scope of the pardon. The Government bill covers only those who were arrested on picket lines, at demonstrations or while travelling to and from them. That is to wholly misunderstand what happened back then. Police harassment was not confined to the picket lines, and the strike did not start and stop at the colliery gates. Miners did not just sit at home when they were not on picket duty. They were out agitating, educating and organising. Many of them and their supporters were arrested and convicted for activities relating to the strike in the community, which is why they must be pardoned too.
In the end, this is a matter of political conviction and moral judgment. The miners were wrongly criminalised—miners such as Jim Tierney, John Mitchell, Alex Bennett, the late Doddie McShane and Bob Young, who is here in the public gallery today, and miners’ wives, partners, sisters and daughters, such as Angela Farrell, and Janet and Nicola Regan, who are also here at the Parliament today. Women might not have been criminally convicted, but they were socially and economically condemned by what happened. Society owes those miners and their families a debt. In the words of Alex Bennett,
“It’s not compensation. It’s what we’re due”.
To those MSPs who are havering about this issue, the question that you must ask yourselves in the coming weeks is this. If not now, when? If not us, who? This is about our soul as a nation and our values as a society. It is about who we are. This is the only chance that we have. Do not leave this as unfinished business. Do not settle for mediocrity. Extend the pardon, pay compensation and let us at last secure justice for the miners. [Applause.]
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Leonard. I advise those in the public gallery that participating—and that includes applauding—is not permitted.
We move to the open debate.
As the MSP for Cowdenbeath, it is a privilege for me to be called to speak in the debate. Having been a member of the Scottish Government justice team when the decision to proceed with the independent review by John Scott was announced in June 2018, I am very pleased indeed that we have now reached this stage, for it is beyond doubt that the scars of the 1984-85 miners strike are still felt deeply by former mining communities in my constituency and, of course, in other parts of Scotland.
The strike involved a unique set of circumstances that saw entire communities defending their way of life and their jobs against a UK Tory Government that seemed determined to bring them to their knees by deploying the forces of the state to that end. In that regard, it seems beyond doubt that the direct employer, the National Coal Board, operated an entirely arbitrary and unjustified policy on dismissal, frequently without reinstatement, for what were, in the main part, relatively minor acts of public disorder that were punished by modest financial penalties imposed by a court. As was narrated in the John Scott review, some miners were even dismissed notwithstanding the fact that they had been only admonished in court, found not guilty, subject to a not proven verdict, or, indeed, not even brought to court at all.
Dismissal brought with it financial hardship, with loss of income, loss of pension rights and difficulties for many in obtaining future employment. However, above all that, miners and their families lost their good name and their respectability and, as honest and hard-working men doing a dirty and dangerous job, perhaps that loss was the deepest cut for them to bear. The corrosive and bitter scars that were left impacted greatly on once-proud mining communities, which felt abandoned by the state and totally disrespected.
The fact that it is the Scottish National Party Scottish Government that has acted to recognise those wrongs by way of a pardon must be commended.
In the brief time that I have left, I wish to raise two specific issues as regards the scope of the bill, in terms of who it covers and what it covers.
The first issue concerns incidents that took place in the community but anent the miners strike. As we have heard, such incidents would not be caught by the bill as it is drafted. I believe that such an approach is unnecessarily restrictive and does not properly reflect the unique circumstances of the times.
Indeed, as a constituent—who was, incidentally, the youngest miner to be sacked during the miners strike—pointed out to me recently, any such breaches of the peace at that time resulted in dismissal, whereas if the same type of incident had occurred outwith the context of the miners strike, the miner would not have lost his job, his livelihood and his good name.
I note that the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee supports such an extension of the scope of the bill, and it is very welcome that the cabinet secretary has undertaken to reflect further on that matter.
The second issue concerns the matter of some form of financial redress. Although I understand—not least as a lawyer—the considerable legal and practical challenges that are involved, I urge further reflection on that, too. It is beyond doubt that miners suffered financial hardship as a result of the unique set of circumstances of the miners strike of 1984-85; that the circumstances are deemed to be unique, as borne out by the fact that the Scottish Government is proceeding with a pardons bill; that, self-evidently, such financial hardship was borne by people living in already deprived communities; that, for the most part, there would appear to be a relatively small subset of individuals who would be covered; and, finally, that there would appear to be precedent for the general principle of financial redress from the state.
The scars of the 1984-1985 miners strike are deep. The sense of injustice is palpable. The wrong that was suffered by mining communities lives on to this day. Therefore, for all those miners and their families, including the Benarty six, and for all those former mining communities, I will be proud to vote for the bill at stage 1.
I begin by paying tribute to the former miners who are here today, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting this morning. One of them is Gerry Farrell, who worked in Lanarkshire and Fife and was fortunate not to have been convicted during the strike. He told of one close call when he escaped the clutches of a policeman by leaping on to the back of a passing bin lorry. Gerry, like the other men and women who are here today, is not a criminal. These people were hard-working people who took great pride in their jobs and communities.
I do not sit on the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, so I do not have the knowledge that today’s other speakers have, but I am glad that cross-party consensus has been achieved and that, after years of hard work by many people, we are debating the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill.
As is so often the case, the more one looks at the matter, the more its complexities emerge. Those complexities are much greater than my short contribution will allow me to address, but the committee has wrestled with a series of issues, including patchy records, the ultimate scope and legal delivery of a pardon and the unresolved question of possible compensation. However, the consensus that we see today speaks to a healthy ability to look at such a divisive matter in a non-partisan way. As Alexander Stewart put it, a pardon will not right every wrong of the past, nor will it close every wound, but it is the right thing to do.
What struck me the most when I heard from the former miners this morning was the way in which the strike caused so much division. It set police officers against miners, friends against friends and neighbours against neighbours. Gerry told me that some Lanarkshire steel workers were hostile to the miners strike over fears that it could threaten their own livelihoods. I was only 11 years old during the strike, but I recall the images of violence on TV news.
I should declare an interest, as I am a member of a trade union, the National Union of Journalists. Although I do not even begin to claim to be able to understand the suffering of Scotland’s mining communities, I have been involved in industrial action. As a journalist, I stood on a picket line for two weeks. It was peaceful and nobody wanted to be there. We chose to forfeit our wages because we shared a powerful belief that what we were doing was the right thing to do and that making a stand was the only way to save jobs and preserve a newspaper group with a proud history of serving Scots.
We must look to the future, and issuing pardons is the right approach, but I agree with the cabinet secretary about the need to be cautious about the exact nature of the offences that will qualify. I hope that the Government will look at the matter in a considered way that will neither hinder community reconciliation nor leave our justice system with a precedent that could have unintended consequences.
The introduction of the bill should look to heal the divisions from the 1980s and recognise the dignity of Scotland’s proud coal miners and their families. It should also serve to remind us of the dangers of a divided society.
I, too, thank the former miners who have given evidence in the journey of the bill, the independent review group led by John Scott QC, Neil Findlay for his work, and the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee for its work on the stage 1 scrutiny and report.
Collectively as an industrial sector, miners were on the receiving end of a politically motivated, Government-instigated industrial dispute that led to the proactive economic decimation and social dislocation of coalfield communities. I grew up in Ayrshire and have represented West Lothian in Parliament for many years, so I am acutely aware, personally, of the hardships that were caused. The 1980s miners strike was one of the factors that led me into active politics as a teenager, as it did many of my generation.
I am the former member of the SNP Scottish Government Cabinet who proposed using the collective automatic pardon mechanism to break through some of the complications that were endangering the initiation of this legislation and, ultimately, the pardon that it will deliver—a small, but important role. I also speak as the granddaughter of a miner whom I never met, who died from lung disease. He worked on the land but was sent down the pits during the second world war and died when my mother was only 15. The mining communities experienced an unjust energy transition, with generational unemployment and the poverty and health problems that that brought. Those problems stayed and, in some cases, remain decades after the 1980s.
The stage 1 report and the cabinet secretary’s response are considered. If, when working with the NUM on data protection issues, a letter or written statement could be issued, it should be. The report makes good points about family members and the wider geography and scope of offences, and I am pleased that, in the justice secretary’s reply, he shows that he is prepared to look at the committee’s recommendations. I stress that the committee notes:
“the Scottish Government went further than the recommendations of the Independent Review Group in the offences included and, in doing so, has captured the most common offences committed during strike-related activity.”
As an MSP, I have been asked by former miners to pursue the one-sided pension arrangements from which the UK Government has made more than £4 billion. That matter must be addressed urgently. They have asked me to support the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, so the committee’s recommendation that the Scottish Government should support that work is welcome. They have also asked me to pursue industrial claims for white finger.
Almost 20 years ago, as a Lothian MSP, I met a group of former miners in the Heatherbell Inn in Fauldhouse to help with their industrial white finger claims. It was January—dark, cold and bleak. Those miners, many of whom were in their 70s or 80s, apologised for the fact that there were not as many of them there to meet me as they had wanted there to be. The reason was that a funeral was taking place that day in Fauldhouse of a former miner who had died and never seen his claim met. Those elderly and industrially injured miners apologised to me, but it is the generations of long-gone politicians and people who have benefited from the fruits of the miners’ labour, often to their terrible cost, who should be apologising to them.
We cannot right all the political wrongs of the former state Government, but the current UK Government should conduct a public inquiry to examine, among other things, policing and any opportunities for compensation. However, we must not hold up the bill. Those Fauldhouse former miners whom I met must all be long dead now, but there are other miners who have convictions, and their families, who are still with us, and I want them to receive the automatic pardon. We must agree to the general principles of the bill.
I thank the committee and clerks for their work in bringing the report to the Parliament, and I thank all those who gave evidence.
As colleagues across the chamber have passionately said, for the miners, their families and the local communities whose jobs and incomes were devastated, the mine closures and strike have impacted on their lives and wellbeing ever since. I well remember, as a Labour student, supporting miners and their families, raising money to enable them to buy food and survive the strike. When the strike started, in March 1984, nearly 94 per cent of the just over 13,000 miners in Scotland went on strike, which was a huge response to what was happening.
When I met former miners last month in Danderhall, they were absolutely clear that they welcome the bill, but they said that it needs to be amended to ensure that the people who are pardoned, or their surviving relatives, are properly informed so that they know that they have been pardoned.
I welcome the committee’s recommendation that the Scottish Government consider extending the definition in section 4 to ensure that friends and families of people who were involved in supporting the strike are also pardoned, given the massive impact of the strike on people’s lives.
Pardons should be granted for all but the most serious offences, such as serious acts of physical violence towards another human. As other members have said, an injustice took place.
There should also be an extension to the circumstances of how or where an offence that led to conviction took place. Currently, the bill covers people who were taking part in or travelling to or from an official picket or demonstration, but there are people who were arrested and convicted for crimes in the community that were all about the miners strike, and they will not be pardoned. We need more than a symbolic pardon.
The report is really well put together. However, I was disappointed that, although the committee understood the powerful arguments for compensating miners, it did not support adding compensation to the bill, because it would be difficult and could delay the bill. I say to the committee that miners and their families have surely waited long enough. The strike was 37 years ago, and some of the people who would have received a pardon are no longer with us.
No, thank you. I have only a short time.
Many of the miners got industrial injuries and diseases that they have had to live with. They all lost their jobs, and, for many, the impact of the strike meant that they could not get a job in their community. They lost out on redundancy payments and pension rights, and their prospects were prejudiced because they had a conviction. Even if someone was found by an industrial tribunal to have been dismissed unfairly, that did not lead to them getting their job back or the financial compensation that they deserved.
As the Law Society for Scotland says in its briefing, the strike
“has left divisive and long-lasting impacts upon individuals, their families and the communities involved. Since that time there have been questions raised about political interference, policing, fairness and how the courts dealt with miners who were accused of crimes resulting from the strikes.”
The strike was almost four decades ago. Let us make sure that the bill goes through. If there are powerful arguments for compensation or financial redress, as Annabelle Ewing said in the very effective point that she made earlier, then, as Richard Leonard said, if not now, when? Surely it is up to us to get it right. A pardon would be very much welcomed, but surely it must be backed up by action and compensation or financial redress and an inquiry to address the injustice that was meted out to people simply for standing up for their communities. Let us not kick the issue of compensation into touch.
Those families and their children and communities are still suffering now. Let us amend the bill so that it delivers the justice that our former mining communities deserve.
First, I direct members to my declaration in the register of member’s interests, which states that I am vice-chair of the National Mining Museum of Scotland.
I thank the committee, the clerks and everybody who has been involved in the bill. I am particularly pleased to be speaking in the debate today. To many, the miners strike of 1984 to 1985 happened a very long time ago, but in my constituency of Midlothian North and Musselburgh, the aftermath lives on to this day. It is hard to adequately convey the economic devastation and social unravelling that the response to the miners strike created. A whole culture and way of life was destroyed.
In every nook and cranny of my constituency, people are served with reminders of our industrial mining past, from the National Mining Museum of Scotland itself to memorials in our streets and parks, to the very street names, and to the miners welfare clubs. Miners strikes are not just another topic for the history books; they serve as an important reminder to what many in Scotland went through under Margaret Thatcher’s draconian rule. The bloody-minded determination to destroy the miners as a political and economic presence was overwhelming in its blind focus.
Many of the miners who were involved have now passed on as age takes its toll. However, even today, when I speak to ex-miners and their families, the strikes remain raw and divisive in our communities. Families remain divided, with feelings running high between those who were on strike and those who chose to take a different path.
The two superpits, Bilston Glen and Monktonhall, were located in what is my constituency today. At their peak, 1,800 workers were employed at each pit, and both saw violence flare frequently during the strike.
There is little doubt in my mind that mining was an industry that had seen its heyday. It was in decline, but the brutally confrontational approach that Thatcher and her Tory Government took was unforgivable. Clashes between striking miners and police were unnecessary. Neither were truly to blame; each side was trapped or coerced into actions that they did not plan to be part of. Confrontation is never the way forward, but Thatcher did not want to find a negotiated way forward; she wanted to win.
The Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill is so important to our mining communities because it brings justice to those who have faced stigma, and wipes out the stain of lawbreaking for so many decent miners who were simply caught up in the unholy mess and did not truly realise the consequence that it would have for them. It is about restoring dignity to those who were convicted and, I hope, bringing a sense of closure to the lingering feelings of injustice.
It is important that we get the bill right. To be pardoned, criteria A or B as set out in the bill must be met. Information about meeting the criteria must be presented clearly to ensure that people understand what the pardon entails and to ensure that there is no confusion about who the pardon applies to.
I am proud that the SNP Government is the first Government in the UK to propose such a bill. It provides an opportunity for the UK Government to follow in the steps of the Scottish Government. The UK Tory Government has a chance not only to extend the pardon to miners in other parts of the UK but to address the concerns that have been raised about political interference, policing, fairness and how the courts dealt with miners who were accused of crimes as a result of the strike.
I believe that the UK Government needs to hold a full public inquiry. I recognise that many of the issues around potential financial compensation are reserved to the UK Government, and I call for that to be reviewed as part of the inquiry, if Westminster agrees to address that important issue on behalf of miners elsewhere in the UK.
The mines may have closed, but their legacy remains in Scotland’s mining communities. The bill has justice and fairness at its heart, and rights a wrong that should never have happened. There should be no delay in preventing this Parliament from doing just that, which is why members should support the general principles of the bill.
I begin by thanking the miners, family members and friends who spoke so movingly at the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee in recent months. Please know that your voices have been heard; I hope that we can do you justice.
On behalf of the Scottish Greens, I welcome the bill. It is a whole-hearted welcome but one that is tinged with sadness. The legislation ought to be UK-wide; it ought to represent an apology by those who are properly accountable; and it ought to have come long ago, at a time when it could have provided real redress to those who were so bitterly wounded by a deep injustice.
However, we are here, present in this moment, in this place, and it is our duty and our privilege to speak, once again, for the miners. It may be that the bill is a gesture, but gestures matter. They are how we, as human beings, communicate what is important to us, what we feel and what we share.
The miners strike defined a generation. It was ruthlessly exploited by Margaret Thatcher for her ideological war on the trade union movement but, for the workers and communities who were caught up in the dispute, it was a devastating era of violence, betrayal and division. Local police officers found themselves facing down family members and friends, which created wounds that, in some cases, never healed.
The bill matters because it acknowledges the past and the harm that has been done. In some cases, that harm was deliberate; in others, it was inadvertent, careless or callous, poisoned by a toxic and persistent ideology. We do not have to be personally or institutionally culpable to share, as a society, a common responsibility to address that harm. That is true of many historical and continuing injustices, including colonialism and fossil fuel capitalism, and it is true of oppressions locally as well as globally.
Scotland’s era of coal is over, but the scars from the strike are still raw in our communities. The bill recognises the continuing hurt that is suffered by miners and their families and friends. Such suffering, which involves lives, health, relationships, reputations and livelihoods being broken or jeopardised, does not go away.
The bill and the discussions that we have had about it remind us—sadly, we need reminding—that policing by consent must be a foundational reality, not a comfortable fiction.
The discussion of the bill also reminds us of the importance of trade union solidarity. Trade unions exist to protect their workers, and they will rightly protect jobs and terms and conditions whenever they can. We must allow that right to be exercised without fear of violence. That means that we, as leaders, and all those who are employers, must remember the obligations that we have to employees—the bosses of P&O would have done well to remember that recently.
Although the collective and posthumous pardon that the bill seeks to offer is welcome, as we remember and look back on the events and actions that made the bill necessary, we must learn from the mistakes that were made and pledge to never repeat them.
Mining communities were left with no source of hope. Where was the rebuilding and the investment in those areas and their communities’ assets as the mines were closed? Where was the job creation and the retraining for people who were left on the industrial scrap heap? There was none. In fact, quite the opposite was the case—at the time, it was engineered so that many of the workers concerned would never work again.
That is a serious dereliction of duty by any Government, and the Conservatives should hang their heads in shame for willingly creating whole communities of people who were unable to work. They were the victims of a Government ideology that put markets before lives. We cannot allow that to happen again.
As we begin the next energy transition that we must undertake, we must ensure that we take a strategic approach that recognises industries that are in decline and invests in alternative jobs and retraining before the crisis point. It is a pernicious lie to tell workers in those industries that their job is forever. As we move beyond the era of high-carbon industries, as we must do to survive, further industrial decline must be pre-empted by investment in a just transition, community assets and an alternative future. It is up to us to bring hope.
Although we still have work to do on the scope of the bill and on its provisions on financial redress and public inquiries, the fact that we will all vote for it at stage 1 today should, I trust, give us all some hope.
I like the word “generous”—thank you, Presiding Officer.
First, I thank the former miners and families whom I had the privilege of meeting earlier today. Unfortunately, I probably talked too much, as usual.
My interest in the matter stems not only from my memories of 40 years ago and the images of police on horseback charging into lines of demonstrating miners, but from having the National Mining Museum Scotland in my constituency. It is in Newtongrange, which has neat lines of miners’ cottages on First Street, Second Street, Third Street and so on. My constituency also includes Gorebridge, which has a memorial to miners who lost their lives in the pits over the years, and the Shottstown miners welfare club in Penicuik.
All that means that the landscape and sense of community of Scotland’s mining past are literally never out of my sight. I also think of my mother, a Derbyshire woman and the daughter of a Welsh miner who died prematurely of an injury sustained in the pit. My mother never let us forget the hardships of the job, and the fact that he left behind 10 orphaned children, including her.
I also witnessed the events of 1984-85 in daily news bulletins. I saw the severity of Thatcher’s assaults on the mining communities and the union leadership taking on the Tory Government when coal was stockpiled high. None of that prepared me for mass policing and the sight of police charging on horseback into men and women who were defending their communities and livelihoods. Those officers were often shipped in from outside the community, because the police dared not use local officers.
During the strike, 1,300 or more people were charged and more than 400 were convicted, usually of breach of the peace or obstructing the police. As has been said, those convictions stand to this day, so the bill is much to be welcomed. However, a pardon does not remove the note of a conviction from the record. I will come to that later. I absolutely agree with a symbolic and collective blanket pardon. I note others’ comments that the Scottish Government should try to identify surviving individuals or family members to let them know that miners might qualify. We need a publicity campaign to ensure that they are aware of their rights, which the Government is doing partly through the NUM.
I note that the Government has recognised that miners’ wives and families who were directly involved in the dispute may also have received convictions and should perhaps be encompassed by the bill. I am glad that that door is open.
I note that there is currently a limit on the locus. The issue of the locus is extremely difficult. The Law Society has said that the current definition, which uses the wording “other similar gathering”, is difficult. Thompsons Solicitors has suggested that the phrase should be
“activities connected with the miners’ strike”, but that is quite broad. That issue has to be teased out. I am listening carefully to the idea that the locus should be limited to the picket line and travel to picket lines.
I certainly agree that the UK must hold an inquiry into all that took place and, in particular, into whether there was political interference in policing and the judiciary.
I am hugely sympathetic to what Labour members have said on compensation. However, the problem is that, if we provide compensation from our budget, that would come out of the budgets that keep our health service and education and justice systems going. I note that £4.4 billion has been taken from the miners’ pension fund by the UK Government, which has not put in a penny. We must not let the UK Government off the hook, either for that or for the responsibility to pay out for something that was its fault.
Many of us spoke in the members’ business debate that Christine Grahame brought to the chamber on the subject of the robbery of the miners’ pension scheme by the UK Treasury, so she has our whole-hearted support on that. However, the question that she has to ask herself is: if we do not make any provision to redress the hardship that has been inflicted on the mining communities, does she expect Priti Patel and Boris Johnson to do so? I do not.
I am with the member much of the way, but I am reluctant, not because the miners do not deserve compensation or should not get it but because we would have to take money from the budgets that deliver our health and education services to pay for something that was wholly the political fault of the UK Government. The issue that I have is that the money would come from other ordinary people’s pockets and services.
I will finish shortly, because you have been very generous, Presiding Officer. I note that the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018 had similar policy objectives, although it was about something that was once illegal becoming legal. However, there was a second condition in that act that is not in the bill. The 2018 act put in place a scheme to enable a person who had been convicted of a historical sexual offence to apply to have that conviction disregarded, so that it would never be disclosed as, for example, part of an enhanced disclosure check.
That brings me to the observations of the Law Society in that regard. It noted:
“the Bill specifically stresses that a pardon will not affect any conviction or sentence, nor will it give rise to any right or entitlement or liability.”
There is an issue there. People think that, by being granted this omnipresent pardon, their conviction will be expunged from their record, but it will not. I ask the Scottish Government, if the bill does not expunge the conviction, as it managed in the 2018 act with a similar pardon, why can we not put something in the bill so that miners have on their record a note that shows that they have been granted a pardon?
I begin by giving special thanks to my party colleague Richard Leonard, who has gone above and beyond to keep the need for a bill of this sort in the public eye and to achieve historic justice for the miners. Despite their vast contribution to the culture and economy of this country, they remain underappreciated and in many cases criminalised simply for standing up for their right to a livelihood. I also bring solidarity from Pam Duncan-Glancy, who hoped to close the debate for us but is isolating.
What happened to the miners must never happen again, but I fear, given the abominable treatment of P&O workers in recent weeks, that we are only stepping backwards as a country on labour relations, which is all the more reason to set a precedent with the bill.
The legacy of the miners strike and the way that workers and their families were treated lives long in the memories of many people in my home region of Ayrshire, as other members have mentioned in relation to their regions. It is simply not possible to grow up here without knowing about how those communities were treated and the painful experiences that they suffered. That is true of my generation, who saw it at first hand, and of the young people growing up today.
It is important to remember that the strike and the movement affected many parts of the UK, and the solidarity that was shared among those communities from South Yorkshire to Fife remains to this day. I assure members that taking this step to recognise that injustice will be well received in many parts of this island. For as long as the prolonged injustice remains in place, I will see it as a key part of my responsibility to ensure that it is addressed. As such, although in general my party and I agree with the principles of the bill, there is still a lot missing and a lot of work to be done.
Why does the bill not cover those who stood in solidarity with the miners? They should be treated with respect and admiration for what they did for their communities; they should not simply be written out of history. Further, and perhaps most important of all, why does the bill not include a provision for compensation? Surely, that is basic common sense. It was bad enough that those workers had their jobs torn away from them, but to be locked up for it and receive nothing in return is truly unacceptable.
I applaud the fact that the Scottish Government is finally willing to take the credit for pardoning the miners, but it should be equally prepared to make that clear through adequate compensation, as any other victim might expect. The excuse that the Parliament did not exist at the time cannot be countenanced; that is a cheap get-out and, if Scotland is truly to set an example for the UK and beyond, here is a perfect opportunity for it to do so. As the bill progresses, my party will demand that its scope is widened to include all the aforementioned.
An apology without serious accountability and compensation is not worthy of the name. The Parliament must support an automatic pardon. That is the decent and human thing to do, and I believe that the public expects no less.
I close by reiterating that Scottish Labour whole-heartedly supports many of the principles of the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill; however, our work has just begun. The bill should be introduced as a testament to all those who have fought the historical injustice that was committed during the strike—not just so that they can begin to get the justice that they deserve but as a marker to future generations that we will not again allow such a thing to happen in our name.
However, as I have said, the bill as it stands does not go far enough. Action is required to redress the sins of the past, and serious compensation is needed. Those unfair convictions have cost people in so many ways. Although money cannot entirely salve the wounds, it would go some way towards qualifying the reality of the pain that was felt by so many in those days. It is the least that we in this Parliament can do.
I am delighted to close the debate for the Scottish Conservatives. The importance of the pardon is clear from the presence in the gallery of the miners and their families, whom I met this morning, and from the contributions from members across the chamber, such as my colleague Russell Findlay, who pointed out that the men and women who are here today are not criminals but hard-working people who took great pride in their jobs and in their communities. Keith Brown acknowledged the powerful testimonies that we heard at first hand from witnesses, and the fact that the miners strikes were divisive in many ways.
Joe FitzPatrick mentioned that the evidence from witnesses to the committee was invaluable. He also highlighted the fact that the impact from the miners strike was being felt in communities generations later, and that the bill should not be delayed. Richard Leonard highlighted the need to do the right thing in the Parliament, to understand the past and to put the wrongs right.
Annabelle Ewing mentioned that she was pleased to see the bill reach this point. It is beyond doubt that the scars are felt deeply in her community and across Scotland. Fiona Hyslop spoke as the granddaughter of a miner, and stressed that the miners’ communities experienced problems—including health problems, poverty and many more—that remain after decades. Sarah Boyack mentioned how the miners strike impacted on lives and wellbeing. We must make sure that the bill goes through, because four decades have passed.
Colin Beattie said that the strikes remain raw and divisive in the communities, and that there must be a sense of closure. Maggie Chapman spoke about how the bill matters, and said that the voices have been heard and that she hopes that the bill brings some kind of justice. Christine Grahame spoke about her personal experience of how her family was affected.
We must not forget that the miners strike was one of the most powerful and divisive industrial disputes in living memory. For many, those memories are still raw, as we have heard. I was very young, as my colleague Russell Findlay said he was, when the strikes took place. Of course, I saw the news coverage, and I heard about the strikes. What I did not know was the extent to which they divided society. However, I now sit on the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, so I have had the privilege of listening at first hand to the voices of the people who stood on either side and I have learned a great deal about the incalculable damage that was done.
I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who came forward to share their personal experiences and to acknowledge those who are no longer with us, but to whom the pardon will apply nonetheless. As my colleague Alexander Stewart said, the bill is symbolic, and I believe that it will go a long way towards bringing reconciliation between those who were fighting to protect their jobs and livelihoods and those who were upholding the law in circumstances that they had never encountered before.
As one witness pointed out, we may never know the full consequences of the strike. However, we know enough to say that some of the convictions were unjust. I will therefore be pleased to support the general principles of the bill at decision time, in order to provide an automatic pardon for miners who were convicted of certain offences relating to the miners strike of 1984 to 1985.
As many colleagues and the Scottish Government have rightly pointed out, evidence of convictions from the strike is sparse, with surviving police and court records few and far between. Therefore, in this instance, we believe that an automatic pardon will be the most effective way of ensuring justice for those affected.
Our scrutiny of the bill involved many evidence sessions with witnesses, following which discussions extended to the scope of offences included in the pardon. We have heard about the scope several times in the chamber today, and it is important that it is considered very carefully. There is a balance to be struck on the issue, and we will work with the Scottish Government to ensure that the scope of the bill includes everything that should be pardoned, without overreaching.
As I said earlier, residual impacts from the dispute ran into other aspects of life. Witnesses from both sides talked about the way that the dispute tore families apart. The secondary impacts are evident and we do not require statistics to back that up.
In response to questions, some witnesses said that the bill should provide a compensation payment for those who fall within the scope of the pardon. That has been mentioned by members across the chamber today. However, I agree with the committee’s overall finding that such a move is not within the remit of the pardon—
I am sorry. I have a few more points to make and I am wrapping up.
The pardon is largely symbolic, and aims for reconciliation, not compensation. Further to that, it would be difficult and impractical to obtain the required evidence, which would only serve to delay the much-needed pardon. It has been echoed in the chamber today that we must not delay the pardon.
The Scottish Conservatives are satisfied with the general principles of the bill and believe that it will go a long way in healing the divisions of the past—even if, for many of those affected, it will not be enough to fully heal these wounds.
We believe, first, that it is only right that individuals who were unfairly convicted receive a pardon; secondly, that the scope of the pardon should remain limited to how it is presented in the bill; and, last but not least, that the Scottish Government should carefully examine the scope of offences included in the bill to ensure that they strike a fair balance and seek to bring about reconciliation.
I thank the members who contributed to the debate, which has been interesting, often constructive and sometimes challenging, as we would expect, given the subject matter.
I am encouraged by the lead committee’s endorsement of the bill’s general principles, which has been reflected in the debate.
I recognise that the debate, together with the stage 1 report, has covered a broad range of fundamental questions. Does the pardon cover the right people? Does the pardon cover the right offences? Does the bill cover the right circumstances where such offences were considered to have taken place? How do we best ensure that those who are most likely to benefit are aware of the pardon?
Does the bill deliver the objectives that the Parliament seeks? What can be done to support former mining communities, as a legacy of the strike and the demise of the coal mining industry? What can be done collectively to press the UK Government to consider undertaking a full UK-wide inquiry into the events of the strike?
It would be very unusual, at stage 1, for any bill to achieve complete consensus, and it seems unlikely that we will have that consensus when we get to the end of the bill process. That is unfortunate, but I am heartened to hear so much support in principle for the pardon that the bill seeks to deliver.
I have listened carefully to the points raised in the debate and welcome the opportunity to address some of those now. There were excellent contributions, including from the convener of the committee, Joe FitzPatrick, and from Alexander Stewart, Richard Leonard—I will come back to his comments in a second—and Annabelle Ewing, who talked about the effect on her community. Russell Findlay mentioned that, as a trade unionist, he had been on strike, too. I and many members will have been on strike, but none of us, when striking, will have seen the impact that the miners strike had on the people directly involved in it.
Fiona Hyslop and Christine Grahame gave us a good idea of how the issue reaches into virtually every family in Scotland, because of the prevalence of mining throughout our communities. Sarah Boyack, Maggie Chapman and Christine Grahame all spoke very powerfully. Pam Gosal mentioned the extent to which this is a symbolic pardon. The reasons for that are laid out by the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, which we asked to look at that. We need to ensure that everyone who needs to be included is included without having to go through an application process. That was the rationale behind what we did.
Richard Leonard’s contribution was basically a broad-based attack on the Scottish Government that leaves an overall consensus looking highly unlikely, which is unfortunate. In Wales last week, I spoke to a number of representatives of the Welsh Parliament, who were hearing about the bill for the first time and thought that it was a fantastic initiative. They were also certain—as I was, wrongly—that we would have a consensus in Scotland on the issue, because it will have a big effect. The lack of consensus, or the extent to which we accuse each other of havering or whatever, will undermine the effects of the pardon. That would be most unfortunate. It may be that we are the only Administration in the UK to agree to an automatic pardon. It would be unfortunate, to say the least, if the impact of the pardon is undermined by divisions between the parties in the chamber. However, I accept that that may be inevitable.
On the issue of compensation, there is a simple fact that cannot be wished away and is anything but havering. In terms of employment practices and pensions, one of the factors, which a number of members mentioned, is the political direction of the strike and the way in which it was managed. I well remember that, having been a student in 1984 and in support of the strike. There is also the political direction of the National Coal Board. It does not have the records and has no way of getting that information. It is really important that the reserved powers that would be necessary to validate and approve compensation payments are brought to bear in relation to this matter.
I am more than willing to listen to the suggestions of the committee and other members. I should say that the offences that we seek to cover—breach of the peace and so on—will cover 95 per cent of the convictions. However, I am aware that people might want us to consider one or two other areas, and I am more than happy to do that as we go forward.
It was generally a good debate—it is clear that people feel strongly about the issue. The passion with which members spoke shows that something that happened 40 years ago still resonates today.
I acknowledge that we might not agree entirely on various aspects of the issue or even on some of the points that are made, but I know that those points are often well intentioned. I hope that, whatever divides us, there will be general support in principle for the pardon. As has been mentioned, we have, in the way in which the pardon is being brought about, gone further than the independent review group, which had in mind the idea that the process should be as easy as possible for those who would benefit from a pardon.
That would rule out the idea of a lengthy application process. As the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee pointed out, that means that we must make every effort to ensure that people are aware of the pardon. We have undertaken to ensure that that will happen. If other members have suggestions about how we can go further on that, I am more than willing to listen to them.
Looking ahead, the challenge for us all will be in refining the detail of the bill in ways that enhance it rather than dilute its main purpose, which is to try to restore dignity to the former miners and to help to heal the longstanding wounds in our mining communities. We probably all know miners who had convictions who had never been in trouble with the law before and would never have thought that they would have such a conviction. Those people have felt—wrongly—a sense of shame over the years about having that conviction. That is what the bill seeks to address—it is about reconciliation.
We should keep in view the striking miners who fought passionately for their livelihoods—as did their communities—and those who supported them, as well as the police officers who were doing their job and seeking to uphold the law in very difficult circumstances.
If the Parliament is content to approve the principles of the bill, I will be happy to work with members and the committee as best I can to ensure that the bill achieves what we want it to achieve. I will also seek to reach agreement on those issues where there is still some division among us, even if it is not possible to get unanimity. That will be for the Parliament to decide.
The bill is important and allows Scotland to lead the way in publicly acknowledging the hardship endured in mining communities all those years ago and in taking action to restore the dignity of former miners that is so deserved. I commend the motion to the Parliament.