I have, at the last minute, adapted what I intended to say. I had hoped that we would achieve the consensus that I think many people sought to achieve, but that has not been possible.
I will address one point at the outset. Richard Leonard accused me of saying “No—no—no”. The facts simply do not support that. I consistently made compromises with the committee and we went further from the very start, with the John Scott committee. I cannot escape the conclusion that it would not really have mattered what the Government did—we were always going to get that kind of grandstanding from Richard Leonard towards the end. That is unfortunate, because it means that we cannot have the joint approach that we had hoped to have—
I will, in a second or two.
We cannot take that joint approach, given that Richard Leonard thinks that it is not worth making representations to the United Kingdom Government. We do. We will persist with that on our own, or with anyone else who is willing to do it, in the hope that we can achieve further justice for our miners.
The point that I was making with
“No—no—no” was that at each stage of the bill the cabinet secretary said “no” to any form of financial redress. Those are the three noes that I was speaking about.
I accepted, and I will accept in my closing speech, that the Government has given some ground. We welcome that. Let me also say that at the end of the debate we will vote for the bill, and that we will work with the Scottish National Party and Green Government and the Welsh Government to put pressure on the UK Government. I am sorry that the cabinet secretary feels that we all need to vote en bloc at all times in order to have any influence. I do not see things that way, at all.
The simple fact is that I have never asked for everyone to vote en bloc in every instance. I have tried to make a number of compromises in order that we can get maximum consensus, but that is obviously not going to happen.
I thank Joe FitzPatrick and the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee for their scrutiny of the bill. I also thank the bill team. I have never seen a bill team so engaged and involved. They are civil servants and they are neutral, but the advice that they gave me and how they went to work on investigating potential compensation avenues and various other aspects of the bill was tremendous, so I thank them for their support in that regard.
I am also grateful to Nicky Wilson, who is the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, and to the Retired Police Officers Association Scotland for the views that they offered to inform the bill. I was pleased that Parliament agreed to the bill’s general principles in March and, as I have said, I responded positively to the lead committee’s recommendations at stage 2.
Today, I want to focus on what can be achieved through the bill. Anyone who considers that they or their loved ones meet the pardon criteria should feel pardoned. It is a pardon to own for themselves or for their loved ones—many of whom have, sadly, not been able to see this day arrive.
The qualifying criteria are straightforward. If the conviction was for an offence of breach of the peace, breach of bail conditions, police obstruction et cetera, or theft that was connected to the strike, the pardon will apply automatically to miners and to those who lived in a miner’s household. We have added to those categories of people the categories that were included in Fulton MacGregor’s amendments 1 and 2.
In recognition of the difficulty in sourcing records, that means “no” to an application process but “yes” to a collective and automatic pardon. That outcome puts Scotland at the forefront in the UK in helping to remove the stigma of convictions relating to the strike, and in providing reconciliation and comfort to people who were affected.
I have the greatest respect for former miners and I have represented a mining community for many years. I was not raised in a mining community, but I supported the strike as a student when it happened in 1984. I know that the men concerned were the backbone of the coal industry and worked in dangerous, dirty and hard conditions to keep our homes warm and to keep the wheels of our economy turning.
They were a collective group of honest and hard-working men who were supported, in many cases, by their strong and resilient wives. Proud former miners including Nicky Wilson, Alex Bennett and Bob Young gave powerful evidence to the lead committee. I know that others, including Watty Watson, Jim Tierney and Willie Doolan, have been watching the bill’s progress. That is not to forget the thousands of other men who were on strike to safeguard the future of their industry and communities.
Perhaps one of the lasting effects of the strike was the extent to which the experience of watching the strike taking place radicalised young students like me. That is why the pardon is so important. It is a recognition of the suffering and the need to restore dignity to the affected communities.
At stage 2, we extended the scope of the bill to cover qualifying offences that took place more broadly in mining communities. We also added theft as a qualifying offence. I should mention that the three cases of theft were theft by three women, all in Ayrshire, who—as best the records can tell—were convicted for stealing potatoes because of the economic hardship of the strike. We extended the qualifying offences to cover them.
We also extended the list of qualifying individuals. It is fitting to recognise the support that immediate family members provided during the strike. As I said earlier, I am delighted to see former miners and their family members joining us today in the public gallery.
An outstanding issue remains around inclusion of offences under section 7 of the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875. I committed to discussing that issue further with Richard Leonard, which I did. Having explored the matter, I confirm that although I had supported the inclusion of section 7 offences, Richard Leonard is aware of the reason for my not supporting that now. The subject matter of the offences has been superseded by successor legislation that is reserved to Westminster. Therefore, in order to add the offences, legislation would have to be progressed through the UK Parliament. I confirm that it is my intention to pursue the matter at Westminster through an order under section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998. I cannot guarantee that the UK Government will agree to promote the order, but we will use our best endeavours to secure that agreement.
I recognise that uncovering the truth of what happened during the strike is important. I agree that the UK Government should conduct a UK-wide inquiry that should consider management of the strike and payment of compensation. I entirely sympathise with people who lost out financially through their participation in the strike. Of course, it is not just that they lost their jobs: they lost pension benefits, and blacklisting blighted their future employment prospects and, in blighting their lives, blighted the lives of their families, too. That is why I say that the passing of the bill will not mark the end of the Scottish Government’s efforts on behalf of mining communities.
I have previously outlined on the record the reasons why the bill is not the mechanism to provide financial redress. I know that Richard Leonard and other members will disagree, but I believe that a united front—had we been able to achieve it at Holyrood and through our parties at Westminster—would have strengthened calls for an inquiry on that. As I said earlier this week, I have written to the Home Secretary to reinforce that point and to request a meeting.
For now, we must take the opportunity to acknowledge the circumstances that led to so many convictions in order that we can say that we, as a Parliament and as a country, want to pardon those convictions and bring some comfort and reconciliation to those who were involved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill be passed.
Thank you very much, cabinet secretary.
To avoid unnecessary curtailing of this afternoon’s debate on the motion to pass the bill, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to push back decision time to 5.30 pm.
That, under Rule 11.2.4 of Standing Orders, Decision Time on Thursday 26 June be taken at 5.30 pm.—[
Motion agreed to.
I am grateful for the opportunity to open the stage 3 debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.
First, I thank everyone who has been involved in allowing the bill to reach this stage, including the many witnesses, committee clerks and members who have worked constructively to improve the bill since its introduction. Every time the Parliament debates a bill that is taking its final step through Parliament, that provides the opportunity to reflect on the importance of what the bill seeks to achieve.
This bill is no different. I have spoken previously about the symbolic importance of the bill to those who were affected by the miners’ strike of 1984-85. That importance has been clear to see from the beginning of the bill’s journey through Parliament—f rom the scale of the public response to the independent review, to the heartfelt witness testimonies that I heard as a member of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, through to the presence of all those who have attended Parliament for each stage of the bill’s proceedings. It is clear how much closure the bill stands to bring to those people, which is why we will support the bill at decision time today.
The scars of the turbulent events of 1984 and 1985 have stayed with many individuals, and even whole communities, right up to the present day. The bill will not right every wrong of the past—no bill by itself ever could—but the pardon that the bill seeks to provide will mean a great deal to many individuals and communities and will go some way towards healing the divisions of the past.
However, as with most legislation, the bill as introduced required improvements in order that it could fully achieve its stated intentions. There were concerns that the bill lacked clarity in certain places, which could have created ambiguity around eligibility for pardon.
That is particularly problematic for a bill that requires people to self-assess their eligibility for pardon. I was, therefore, pleased to support the cabinet secretary’s significant redrafting of section 1, which meant that many of my amendments were incorporated.
The scope of the pardon that will be afforded by the bill has been much debated throughout the bill’s passage through Parliament; we have heard that debate continuing in the chamber today. However, I remain of the view that, although it has been possible to justify small changes in the scope of the bill, it is not possible to justify significant expansions of its scope. We saw attempts to do that at stage 2, and we have seen them again today at stage 3. I have no doubt that the amendments along those lines were well motivated; however, although I will not spend my time today re-running every aspect of the debate, I note that it is clear to me that, as it stands, the bill goes far enough in that respect.
We have also heard calls for a compensation scheme to be introduced. We have been through that discussion and amendments on that have been dealt with. One of the most important features of the bill is that the pardon that it grants is automatic and self-assessed. It is important to the symbolism of the bill that those who are included in its scope are able to judge straight away that they have been pardoned. The delay and complexity that would come with a compensation scheme would risk undermining such simplicity. Ultimately, the argument that was set out in the committee’s stage 1 report remains clear. The introduction through the bill of a compensation scheme would not only have been impractical, but would have delayed the process, which we do not want.
John Scott QC’s independent review made it clear that there was injustice in some of the convictions that happened because of the miner’s strike. It is, therefore, only right that the bill provides a formal pardon for those who were caught up in those most difficult of circumstances. In passing the bill at decision time today, Parliament will formally acknowledge those injustices, which will go some way towards healing the communities that were scarred by the events, although it has taken four decades for us to get to this stage.
Although the bill will not undo those injustices, I hope that it will, at least, bring the closure that many communities and individuals deserve.
Although I was quite young at the time—only three or four years old—I remember the miners strike being a prominent topic of conversation in my house and being highlighted as an example of injustice and terrible maltreatment of workers. People feared for their livelihoods and were criminalised just for standing up for their rights at work; communities were ruined; pensions were lost; jobs were illegally snatched away; and families and friends were torn apart and turned against one another.
During the evidence sessions in the committee, we heard those stories come alive, and I thank the miners who gave such compelling and moving evidence. As others have, I welcome and pay tribute to the miners joining us in the public gallery today. The treatment that they endured was unacceptable and must never happen again. That is why, as we made clear at stage 1, Scottish Labour wholly supports the principles of the bill. We believe that an automatic pardon will go some way towards providing justice for those who were affected.
The right to protest, to organise and to rise and give workers a voice must be protected—then, now and in the future. With this bill, we retrospectively right an historic wrong, but we must also send a message to workers today that they have power and we stand with them. An attack on one is an attack on us all. We must always be on the side of workers. The Scottish Labour Party has always been and will always be firmly on their side.
Therefore, I would also like to put on record that, had I been just that bit older, I would have stood in solidarity then, as I stand in solidarity with those who are striking now, in particular those in the University and College Union and the RMT, and with all workers who are taking a stand to defend their rights, the rights of those who work alongside them and the rights of those who will come after them. That is why I spoke up when Glasgow City Council threatened to bring in agency workers when the council workers went on strike. No intimidation of that sort is acceptable.
For those reasons, we welcome the Government’s intentions for the bill.
We welcome the pardon and the extensions that have been secured through the parliamentary process. The bill is an opportunity not only to pardon those who were impacted then but to signal that, in the future, such a situation—with the terrible treatment that workers endured just for standing up for their rights—will not be tolerated or repeated.
We would like to seize that opportunity, and we had hoped that the bill could go further today. The amendments that I and my colleague Richard Leonard lodged sought to ensure that the bill fulfilled its policy intention in the widest, most comprehensive way possible: by providing comfort and reassurance to all those who were impacted by the strikes, once more re-emphasising our solidarity with them.
I am disappointed, of course, that our amendments were not agreed to. I am particularly disappointed by the cabinet secretary’s response to Richard Leonard’s considered amendment on compensation. We know that the impact of the strike on financial stability, public reputation and all the other areas of people’s lives that were thrown into turmoil is still felt now. That the cabinet secretary is happy to leave that matter in the hands of the UK Government, and not in the hands of his own Government, to consider over the next year is a sorry state of affairs. Words matter, but deeds do, too.
It is crucial—now more than ever—that workers know that they have the support of others who are standing in solidarity with them and that they are not in fear of losing their jobs or their livelihoods. Colleagues, ultimately, the bill is about an historic injustice, and we must send a solid message that such treatment of workers should never have happened and will never be tolerated again. That is important for today and for the future, too.
Now more than ever, we need to end low pay, job insecurity and bad employment practice, which means that we need a workers movement that is fighting fit. The bill signals that we believe in workers’ rights. I say to people everywhere that an attack on one is an attack on us all. The fight for workers’ rights is a fight for us all, so join us, join workers and join a union.
Therefore, although I am, of course, disappointed that our amendments to extend and strengthen the pardon were not accepted today, I will back the bill and signal with pride to the workers who fought for our rights then, those who defend them today and those who will do so tomorrow that they can and must be heard. Tomorrow and in the future, I will act with deeds and stand with pride on the picket line with them, fighting injustice, until workers’ rights prevail.
I am proud to rise for the Liberal Democrats to speak in favour of this important bill. I thank the committee for its work on the bill and, in particular, I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy and Richard Leonard for their amendments, which the Liberal Democrats supported.
I wholeheartedly welcome the bill in its entirety. It is long overdue. In its recent history, the Parliament has started to unpick the wrongs done by previous Governments, and it is important that we do that. In this case, we are offering pardons for offences that should never have been registered as such. That action has gone some way to repairing the damage wrought by the injustice suffered by the miners and their families. However, unlike in previous examples of legislation that the Parliament has passed to that end, in this case significant financial hardship was suffered as a result of previous wrongs. That is why we were proud to support the Labour amendments to try to identify a means of compensating miners and their families. I am sorry that that attempt has fallen short today.
However, I sincerely hope that the bill will provide some degree of closure to the many people who were wronged during the strike of 1984-85. It is important to remember that those who were striking and picketing did so not just for their jobs but for the wellbeing of their families and communities and their way of life.
That sense of community, fraternity and unity often seems sadly lacking in our modern society, and we are the poorer for it. During the strike, the whole weight of the establishment and the police force was thrown at these mining communities. During the strikes of the 1970s, the police’s approach to picketers was neutral; that was not so in the 1980s. One miner is quoted as saying:
“They were being used against us”.
As we know, around 1,300 arrests were made during the strike, 400 of which led to convictions. However, what those numbers do not communicate is the often untold stories of lives and livelihoods that were forever impacted—families fractured and communities often torn apart. There was a particular injustice in Scotland because, as we have heard several times during today’s proceedings, striking miners in Scotland were twice as likely to be arrested and three times as likely to be dismissed as miners in other coalfields across the United Kingdom.
The bill should represent an apology by those who took decisions that they should never have taken. We cannot speak for the ministers of the time, but we can do our best to recognise injustice done with an apology by the state itself.
At its heart, the bill is about justice. As I see it, one of our chief duties in Parliament is to safeguard justice. When it becomes clear that a wrong has been done, we are duty bound to right it.
Some members have had direct experience of the impact of the miners strike. I refer, in particular, to Alex Rowley, whose speech was excellent—I recognise the stories that he told. Those members live in communities and have close relationships with people whose lives were deeply affected by the decisions that were taken during that moment in history. I am not one of those people. I do not come from a mining community and, as far as I know, none of my close friends or their families was scarred by the events in question.
However, I have the same memories that Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned—of sitting round the dinner table during the strike, talking about the impact on miners’ families of the callous decisions of the Government of the day. I have also been moved by the stories of so many communities in this country and across the UK as a whole.
To the miners who join us in the gallery or at home, I would like to say that while many people may never be able to fully understand what you, your families and your communities were unfairly forced to endure, we are sorry for that. Although the bill cannot erase the painful memories or the scars that you will inevitably bear, I hope that, after today, you feel that your voice has been heard by the Parliament and that justice has, in some way, been served. That is the very least that you all deserve.
I am not going to talk about age.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate—I also spoke in the stage 1 debate—because we are the first nation in the UK to recognise in law the injustice of the time of the miners strike. I say gently to Richard Leonard that Labour was in power for 13 years from 1997 until 2010, and it did nothing—
I want to make a wee bit of progress. The Labour Government did nothing about granting pardons or setting up compensation schemes.
There is a legacy of mining communities in my constituency—those of Newtongrange, Gorebridge and Penicuik—and I have immediate family connections with miners, as well as my own direct memories of the 1984-85 mining dispute itself.
The footprint of the mines in my constituency is there for all to see. Newtongrange, whose mining museum and great wheel border the A7, is still characterised by the neat rows of miners’ cottages—First Street, Second Street and so on—with narrow lanes at the back, which the coal lorry used to deliver their quota.
High above the community, Gorebridge has its memorial to miners who lost their lives in the pits over the years, the inauguration of which I was glad to attend. There is also the Shottstown miners welfare club in Penicuik. Those communities are still all there. That means that the landscape and sense of community of Scotland’s mining past are literally never out of my sight. We have a responsibility to those communities.
My family connection with mining was my paternal grandfather, who was a Welsh coal miner. I never met him; he died prematurely in his early 40s from a head injury that he sustained when a pit prop fell on him. That left his large family of children, including my late mother, a Derbyshire woman, orphaned, as his wife had died in childbirth. My mother never let us forget the hardships of that job and the fact that he left those 10 orphaned children, including her. His death had an enduring effect on the way she led her life and how she saw coal mining, which she passed on to me.
When the events of the mid-1980s became the stuff of news bulletins, she raged against the Tory Government for its ruthless treatment of the miners, their families and their communities. I, too, was shocked, especially when police on horseback were sent charging into men who were simply demonstrating for their livelihoods. Often, those officers were shipped in from outside the community, because the local police could not be used.
As others have said, during the strike, 1,300 or more people were charged and more than 400 were convicted. Those convictions stand to this day, so the bill is much to be welcomed.
At stage 1, I noted that the Government recognised that miners’ wives and families who were directly involved in the dispute might also have received convictions and should perhaps be encompassed in the bill, and I am glad that that has happened at this stage.
We need a publicity campaign to ensure that everyone is aware of their rights. I understand that the Government is doing that, partly through the NUM.
I absolutely agree with having a symbolic and collective blanket pardon, but that does not remove a conviction from the record. Section 3(a) of the bill makes it plain that that remains the case, so members might question what practical effect such a pardon would have. People might think that, by being granted a collective pardon, their conviction will be expunged from the record; it will not. However, I appreciate that we still have the effect of the prerogative of mercy, which is the power of the Crown to quash a conviction. In any event, in practical terms that issue might not be so relevant, as convictions might now have lapsed through time and records might be lost. However, the UK Government must hold an inquiry into all that took place, and in particular into whether there was political interference in policing and the judiciary.
I will be brief, because we have already rehearsed the issue of compensation. It really makes me cross that £4.4 billion was taken straight out of the miners’ pension fund without the UK Government putting a penny in, while Richard Leonard was looking for compensation from our budgets for public services. I would never let a Tory Government off the hook in the way that he seems to be doing. I am glad that he is going to speak to his Welsh colleagues, because we need power behind us to ensure that that £4.4 billion—
I am pleased to speak in the debate. Anyone who grew up in a mining community, as I did, knew what the NUM was and what it stood for. One of those things was unity.
In the debate, we might have disagreements on compensation schemes, but let us not take our eye off the ball. First, it is absolutely right that the Parliament is introducing and agreeing on the pardoning of miners who were unfairly sacked. There should be unity on that.
Christine Grahame was right to say that, when Scottish Labour was in power here, it did not do that. I acknowledge that, but I want to pay tribute to Neil Findlay, a former member, who has never given up on the issue. He fought on it and introduced a member’s bill, which resulted in the Government picking it up. All praise and thanks should go to Neil Findlay. Let the Parliament unite, and say that we will work with the Welsh Government and across parties—although perhaps not with the Tories, because it was the Tories at Westminster who tried to put pressure on the miners.
Last night, I watched a video of Mick McGahey—I was going to say “the young Mick McGahey”, but perhaps he is not all that young; I refer to the son of the miners leader—and I was struck by what he said in talking about his experience of the strike. He said:
“My father was entrenched in the NUM.”
We should remember that the NUM was not just the body that represented miners in the pits; it was part of communities and it fought for better housing and conditions there. As people grew up, they would take part in miners galas and Christmas parties that had been organised by the NUM, which was part of the fabric of the communities and their lives. That is why the debate is so important.
However, let us also not forget other cases such as that of the P&O workers—that was another example of the power of the state being used against working people. Today, working people are being treated appallingly, and we have a Tory UK Government that seems to have no regard for common decency or the worker’s right to earn a decent wage and not to be treated in that way. Sadly, the fights for jobs and for workers to be treated properly and against poor terms and conditions and wages cuts go on. Those are not so much to do with the National Union of Mineworkers, because we no longer have the pits, but the lessons from that time should never be forgotten.
On compensation, I have already outlined the impact on the miners who were unjustly and unfairly sacked. However, I have seen Richard Leonard post a number of videos in which those very people talk about the impact that the strike had on their lives. I think that everybody from the former mining communities across Scotland and everybody who lived through that strike of 1984 and 1985 will welcome what has been brought forward here today.
In that year of the miners strike, the hardship was absolutely appalling, but there were masses of positives. In Kelty, where I live, the pipe band marched round the village every few weeks to collect food, which was then brought into Kelty club, where it was shared out. My auntie and one of her old friends set up a soup kitchen that then became a food kitchen, where meals were prepared.
There is a lesson for Scotland in that strength and unity. If we are going to go forward, let us unite our country. Regardless of what the constitutional outcome will be at the end of the day, a country that is disunited will not be a country that succeeds. Let us learn the lessons from the miners and the NUM. Unity is strength. Let us unite and all stand up for working people.
constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston has a very rich history of mining, as I have mentioned countless times in the chamber. Mining has been central to the lives of so many in my constituency, even decades after the mines were closed, and I would be hard pushed to find someone who did not have a family member who was a miner or at least know of someone who was one.
Members will perhaps recall that my constituency contains the Auchengeich memorial site that commemorates the Auchengeich mining disaster of 1959, which is considered one of Scotland’s worst mining disasters. Every year, a memorial is held there to remember the 47 miners who lost their lives at the site and the impact that it had and continues to have on the local community. The devastation that was caused by the disaster and the legacy of grief and loss for the victims’ loved ones is still felt. The tragedy left 67 children without their fathers and made widows of 41 women. I again pay tribute to the Auchengeich memorial committee, which continues to ensure that those miners are in living memory.
As my microphone was not working properly when I started to speak to my amendments earlier, I take this chance to again welcome those from Moodiesburn and that committee to the chamber, including Willie Doolan.
I turn to the strike and how it impacted my constituency. At Cardowan colliery in Stepps, which had officially closed in September 1983, hundreds of workers stood united day in and day out for a year to fight for their industry. Those men fought not just for their jobs and industry, but for their communities.
The bill is very important, especially to communities such as the ones that I have mentioned. The pardon is an official acknowledgement of the hardships that were experienced by those who striked in the 1980s. The consequences and fall-out from the strikes run deep, and endeavours to provide respect, reconciliation and regeneration to the miners’ families and the communities involved are well overdue.
When the strikes took place, I was still fairly young—probably about the same age as Pam Duncan-Glancy was—but, like everybody who was brought up in a mining community, my upbringing was shaped by them. We heard about them through school. I even remember them being talked about in primary school. That is how big an impact they had.
There is no doubt that many miners suffered great hardship because of the strike and convictions that arose from it. That was true for many who were caught up directly in the dispute and for their families and the wider communities, and the effects are felt to this very day. I am pleased that the amendments that I moved earlier today, which widened the scope, were agreed to. I am sure that members agree that disproportionate impacts arose from miners being prosecuted and convicted during the strike, and that the hurt is still felt to this day.
Questions always remained about whether the strike was policed fairly and whether the justice system did right by miners. As Christine Grahame said, there were rumours of political interference, and it always felt that there were unanswered questions when it came to the way that the strikes were policed. Of course, it was a volatile situation, as many disputes are, but the way that miners were treated was clearly wrong and disproportionate. There is no getting away from that, and that is why a pardon is so necessary.
The bill will not answer all the questions that we have, but it will go some way in aiding reconciliation and helping to heal wounds in Scotland’s mining communities. An automatic pardon will provide some form of justice to the families that are affected.
As a member of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, I think that the Government responded well to our considerations at stages 1 and 2. The cabinet secretary has already outlined much of that. The Government made moves on various aspects following the committee’s report, and I am really pleased about that.
Of course, the most heated discussion has been on compensation. I will be clear for members, those in the gallery and anybody else: like my colleagues, and as Christine Grahame articulated, I support compensation for the miners. Who could not do so? However, the question has always been about who pays. Clearly, that is for the UK Government. Having gone through the passage of the bill, I am more and more convinced of that.
It is not simply a constitutional question. Of course, I would rather that we were independent—in which case, compensation would have been paid ages ago by a Scottish Parliament. It is a matter of principle. The £4.4 billion that has been taken from the miners’ pension fund is our miners’ money, and we must unite to get it back. Saying simply that the Scottish Parliament should bring in a compensation scheme or that there should be no compensation at all is letting the Tories off the hook.
Presiding Officer, I will wind up. I fully support the bill and a pardon that recognises the disproportionate consequences that have been suffered by many miners. It is well overdue and very welcome.
I begin by thanking the miners, family members and friends who spoke so movingly to the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee as we scrutinised the bill, and I welcome many of them and their friends and colleagues to the chamber. To them, I say that I appreciate that, today, we might not have delivered all that you hoped for, but please know that we have heard you, and I know that I am not alone in believing that our work on this is not yet complete.
I thank my fellow committee members and other MSPs for the discussions and debates that we have had at committee and this afternoon, and I thank the clerks, researchers and bill team who have supported our work.
As Alex Rowley said, this is a good day. On behalf of the Scottish Greens, I welcome the bill and the pardon that it confers. I wish that that pardon had happened decades ago. I wish, too, that it covered the whole of the UK and not just Scotland.
The miners strike defined a generation. The injustice that was inflicted on the miners was shameful. It was an ideologically driven attack by a Tory Government that cared more about breaking the trade union movement than it did about the rights and wellbeing of the people and communities that it was supposed to represent. For the workers and communities that were caught up in the dispute, it was a devastating era of violence, betrayal and division. Local police officers found themselves facing down family and friends, creating wounds that, in some cases, never healed.
The bill matters because it acknowledges the past and the harm that has been done—some of it deliberate and some 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.
Through discussing the bill, we are also reminded of the importance of trade union solidarity. Trade unions exist to protect their workers. Rightly, they will protect jobs and terms and conditions whenever they can. We must allow that right to be exercised without fear of violence.
I will say a few words about some of the amendments that were not agreed to today. As I said a few moments ago, our work on this issue is not yet finished. The 16 people whom Richard Leonard spoke about and who were convicted under section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 should be pardoned, and I await with interest the reply to the cabinet secretary’s letter, which seeks a robust mechanism for doing just that.
Similarly, the Scottish Greens believe in the principle of financial redress for those who lost earnings, jobs, future employment prospects or pensions as a consequence of participating in the miners strike. We also think that there should be an inquiry to examine the allegations that were made at the time, and repeated at committee, of political interference in police operations and allegations of collusion between the National Coal Board and different parts of the justice system.
Pursuing those measures will be complex and time consuming. If we sought to include them in the bill that is before us, we would delay, perhaps by years, the passing of the pardon. However, we give our commitment to work with the Scottish Government and others to pursue those measures.
Today, therefore, we acknowledge the past, the harm that was done to individuals and communities, and the on-going injustices and inequalities that continue in the former mining communities across Scotland. Although we welcome the collective and posthumous pardon that the bill offers, we must, as we remember and look back on the events and actions that made the bill necessary, learn from the mistakes that were made, and pledge never to repeat them.
Being welcomed into the homes of miners and their families, and hearing from them their deeply personal and intensely emotional experiences, has been the privilege of my life. Some I met for the first time, such as Cathy and John Mitchell, who clung on in heartbreak and hardship when John, after 27 years of working at the Frances colliery, was arrested, convicted, sacked and blacklisted in 1984. There were others, such as Jim Tierney from Sauchie, in the cabinet secretary’s constituency, who I did know but had not met for almost 40 years. He was wrongfully arrested and falsely accused; he spent 26 days and nights in Barlinnie prison. His only crime was being a man of principle and unyielding integrity who stood up for his class.
I heard the anger but also the strength and determination of the women of Auchengeich, Moodiesburn and Cardowan, such as Margaret Martin and her daughters Angela and Caroline, Janet and Nicola Reagan, Donna Lyons, June Johnstone, Mary Johnston, Jackie Fleming and others. At one uplifting evening in the Auchengeich miners welfare, they recounted how the women of the villages went to the picket lines as well as to the soup kitchens.
I have listened as well to the families, still scarred by pain and loss, but every one of them with a rich sense of pride in the principles of their fathers—people such as the late Doddie McShane. I have listened over and over to the young miners who had their futures stolen from them: Watty Watson, Mick McGahey Jr, Willie Doolan, now in their 50s and 60s and still fighting for their communities—each of them, in the words of the late Mick McGahey,
“products of their class and their movement”.
Let me say as well that, if it was not for the commitment of another product of his movement and his class, Neil Findlay, I do not believe that this bill would be before us today. The Parliament heard powerful testimony from Alex Bennett, Bob Young and Nicky Wilson on behalf of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is a reminder that the Parliament exists because of the vision of Mick McGahey and the NUM in making the case for its establishment to the trade union movement in the late 1960s. We owe them a huge debt.
The bill has been amended and now recognises that, back in the strike, the battle for survival was not waged only on picket lines; it was conducted on the streets of towns and villages, in the miners welfares and institutes, in housing schemes and in neighbourhoods. The battle was rightly enjoined not just by the miners but by their families. The bill now recognises that the people who were convicted under the archaic Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875 must also be pardoned, and that must be part of the next step of our journey.
Too often, we have heard the tired old arguments that it is not for this Parliament, not for this bill or not up to us to offer financial redress to these men, who are not criminals but who have been criminalised all these years, which is why I ask members in closing today, what shall we tell the 206 miners who were sacked and the 500 miners who were convicted, and their families? Shall we tell the people who are watching in the public gallery to go back to their communities, be patient and put their faith in Boris Johnson?
The miners know better than anybody else that they have always had to fight for everything that they have. They know and we know that this campaign for justice is not over. Today is an important staging post but, in the words of Cathy Mitchell,
“We keep fighting on. We keep fighting on. We fighting on.” [
Yes—emotions are running high. It is always a bit of a shame that, when people come to support our debates in the chamber, they are not able to express themselves. However, we understand that precedent.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservative Party. It is a pleasure to participate in it.
In reality, there has been much cross-party consensus. I am sure that the bill’s importance to all of us has been demonstrated to those in the gallery and those watching at home.
I grew up in Wales. I was born in Brecon and, as a young girl, I witnessed the heartache of the strikes and the closures of the pits. That was heartbreaking for everyone. I was not directly involved in that, but it affected everybody.
It was vital that the Government got the bill right today. Even though some members do not agree and some of the amendments were not agreed to, the fact that there were so few amendments means that we got it right. It was good to find that, even though I was not involved in the process at the time.
I echo the sentiments of many of my colleagues. I congratulate the cabinet secretary on his approach to the bill, as well as the members of the committee, the clerks and all those who gave evidence during the passage of the bill. Colleagues in the chamber—particularly Richard Leonard, Alex Rowley and Alex Cole-Hamilton—have spoken passionately. I cannot mention everybody who has made a passionate speech. However, I congratulate Christine Grahame on sharing her memories of her family and of growing up and witnessing some of the things that I witnessed but perhaps did not pay so much attention to, because I was quite young. I say to her that I am not being ageist.
The most important thing to take from the debate is not the good work of those involved in bringing the bill to this stage; rather, it is about the people for whom the bill can bring a degree of closure and a sense of historical wrongs being righted. To torture the old cliché, it is about healing the divisions of the past. Although today has been highly charged, it has been a positive day.
As my colleague Alexander Stewart pointed out, John Scott’s review made it clear that there were injustices in some convictions relating to the miners strike. I completely agree with him that it is right to pardon those who have been convicted of crimes relating to the miners strike, as we will do.
Although I did not sit on the committee for long enough to have heard at first hand the testimonies that were made throughout the evidence-gathering process, I have become acutely aware of the strength of feeling on the issue. Listening to the words of those affected by the unjust response to the strike brings home the importance of the bill. There is absolutely no doubt that it could not have been handled any better by parties than it has been today.
The scope of the bill required particularly close consideration. I know that concerns have been raised about the eligibility for pardons, and particularly about Fulton MacGregor’s amendments. We thought very carefully about that, and I know that Fulton MacGregor was very engaging and that he ensured that we were given the details of the amendments. I know that the issue is very important to him because of the links in his constituency to former mining communities and the families in them. I very much respect that.
Fulton MacGregor spoke about extending the bill to cover compensation. Perhaps that is for another day. From speaking to my colleagues as the bill was being considered, I know that incorporating that in the scope of the bill could have meant that the bill would have been delayed and people would not have got the justice that they fully deserve.
How many minutes do I have, Presiding Officer? Am I meant to be closing now?
I do not want to dwell too much on that point, because I feel that discussion among the parties may extend to compensation. However, I echo the sentiments that I expressed yesterday during the debate on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill. Legislation that passes through the Parliament is always dealt with best when we try to work collaboratively. Even though we are talking about a party that carried out some of the decisions 40 years ago, it is important that we now work collaboratively in the chamber, particularly for those who were affected by the 1984-85 miners strike.
I sincerely hope, for those in the gallery today and all those affected by what has happened over the past 40 years, that this debate has shown that the Scottish Parliament is united behind their cause.
The debate has provided a final opportunity to discuss what I think is an important piece of legislation, and I am grateful to all the members who have contributed. Can I be the first person to say that I am, in fact, older than Pam Duncan-Glancy?
As I said in my opening remarks, the bill has enjoyed strong cross-party support from the start. That was to be expected, given the connection to the former coal mining industry that many members have, which the communities that we represent continue to hold close to their hearts. I am encouraged that the Parliament’s endorsement of the bill—if that is what happens—has been reflected to a large extent in today’s debate, and I hope that that endorsement will be crystallised in the bill being passed unanimously at decision time.
The debate has covered a broad range of familiar and fundamental questions relating to the scope of the pardon and the bill; how to maximise awareness of the pardon once it comes into effect; what can be done now to support former mining communities; and what can be done collectively to press the UK Government to consider undertaking a full, UK-wide inquiry into the events of the strike.
I should explain that I never asked for or demanded consensus, although I certainly hoped for it. My point was simply that it is not possible to mock a set of people because they want to make representations to a Government and then say that you want to do the same thing—not with any credibility, at least.
I have listened carefully, and I welcome the opportunity to address some of the points that have been made and to close today’s debate on what is a landmark bill. It is true that the divisions run very deep. I was talking to a Scottish Government employee recently, who was raised in the mining community that Christine Grahame represents. He said that one of his father’s friends had never spoken to his son since the miners strike. If they saw each other in the street, they would cross the road to avoid each other. That gives some idea of the impact of the strike. For those of us who were around at the time to witness it, it was visceral. It was a horrible situation for the people who were there. That is what it was like for those of us who observed it, so we can only imagine what it was like for the miners and their families.
That is why we have tried to keep the focus of the bill on reconciliation. I have always said that the challenge for the Parliament has been to refine the detail of the bill in ways that enhance the aim of reconciliation without diluting its main purpose, which is to remove the stigma of convictions. It is worth remembering that some of these people had never had a conviction in their lives before and have not had one since. Therefore, it is a badge of shame that we are seeking to lift today in order to restore dignity and to heal the long-standing wounds in our former mining communities.
I believe that the bill, as amended at stage 3, which Parliament will shortly be asked to pass, meets that challenge. I have welcomed the constructive elements of the debate on the bill. I recognise that, even when we might not entirely agree with each other on certain points, those views are well intentioned, and I do not want to accuse others of acting in bad faith. I believe that, primarily, we all have the interests of former miners and mining communities in mind.
Alex Rowley captured the idea and the purpose behind this, which is that we might not be able to force consensus but, sometimes, consensus and unanimity send an extremely strong message. I therefore endorse his comments. There was a very powerful speech from Maggie Chapman as well.
Alex Rowley mentioned former member Neil Findlay. I would also mention the former justice secretaries who took on the early parts of the bill—I think that both Michael Matheson and Humza Yousaf were involved in that—as well as the other former members, the former miners and others who gave evidence to the committee.
On the pardon criteria, the bill as introduced went further than the parameters that were set by John Scott’s review group. Following parliamentary scrutiny, the bill now goes even further by making the pardon available to more people and for additional offences. I hope that it is recognised that, where some members still believe that there may be gaps or omissions in the bill, that is due to our having to work within the powers afforded to this Parliament and the need to focus on the key purpose, the key outcomes and the key people we wanted to focus on.
If the Parliament is content to approve the bill, I am committed to working as best I can with parliamentarians across the chamber and at Westminster, including colleagues in other UK jurisdictions, to ensure that the impact and the legacy of the strike are not forgotten and to ensure that pressure is applied to give former miners and communities across the UK an inquiry that will provide the truth and the answers that they require to be able to fully move on.
We will also press for compensation to be paid to miners who lost out on thousands of pounds, having lost their rights to redundancy and pension payments following dismissal for participating in the strike. I previously mentioned the practice of blacklisting, which blighted many families.
However, for now, the bill has the primary theme of reconciliation running through its veins. With that in mind, we should acknowledge the miners and other individuals who fought passionately for their livelihoods and communities and who took action, which they believed was the right thing to do for their families and communities.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the police officers who were caught up in the strike, many of whom, like the former miners, are now retired or, sadly, no longer with us. In most circumstances, they were doing their jobs very bravely in hugely difficult circumstances, to uphold the law in the communities that they represented.
The bill is important, and it has allowed Scotland to lead the way in acknowledging the wounds that were inflicted by the strike and its legacy, which have been endured for too long in mining communities. Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned that the Government should be aware of the sorry state of affairs that the bill brings us to, yet I do not see it in that way. The Scottish Parliament will be the first Parliament in the UK to pass a pardon for miners. We will be the first Government to bring that proposal to a Parliament, and I hope that we will be the first Parliament to vote unanimously for a pardon. I do not think that that is a sorry state of affairs. I concede that it is not finished business, but it is not a sorry state of affairs. I think that the bill is a real achievement.
The bill also allows Scotland to lead the way in taking action to remove the stigma of convictions resulting from the strike and to restore and provide dignity to former miners and their families. It is a collective pardon that applies both posthumously and to those who are living. It symbolises our country’s desire for truth and reconciliation, following the decades of hurt, anger and misconceptions that were generated by one of the most bitter and divisive industrial disputes in living memory.
In the spirit of reconciliation, the pardon recognises the exceptional circumstances that gave rise to the former miners suffering hardship and the loss of their good name through their participation in the strike. That is what really matters to me, and I hope that that is what matters to the Parliament. I therefore urge the Parliament to support the bill and to work collectively, following the bill’s passing, to promote the further outcomes that we know mining communities, miners and the former miners who are in the chamber want to see.
I commend the motion to Parliament.